TAMPA, Fla. – Following Tuesday night’s season opener at Madison Square Garden, Lightning coach Jon Cooper noted how special teams was the difference in a 3-1 loss to the Rangers.
Indeed, the Rangers opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal in the second period and scored the game-winner on the power play five minutes into the third.
Cooper also touched on something far more important and what was often a recurring theme last season, which the Lightning overcame on their way to a third straight Cup final appearance.
“We competed,” he said. “We just didn’t execute at all.”
Because of that execution piece, or lack of it, Andrei Vasilevskiy was left to bail out his teammates many times last season. Game 1 of the 2022-23 campaign was much the same as the Lightning were outshot 39-26, a wide margin made closer when the Bolts had the game’s final few shots with the Big Cat on the bench in favor of an extra attacker.
Once again, Vasy was tested far more than he should been and, as usual, he far more often than not came up with the big save to keep things tight.
Of note as well, is that the power play was just 1-for-6 and broke even on the scoreboard.
True, it was only the season opener and in an energized Garden where the faithful wanted nothing more than to see their beloved Blueshirts defeat the team that knocked them off in the Eastern final only four months ago.
Furthermore, it was not as though the Lightning were going for a skate in Bryant Park. In addition to Vasy’s fine play, Steven Stamkos had a team-high five shots on goal, one of them a blast with a two-man advantage that tied the score. The Bolts blocked 22 shots with Mikhail Sergachev accounting for seven, the third-highest total of his career. Perhaps best of all was Brayden Point, healthy again, logging 23:36 of ice time. Now, that is something for Lightning fans to feel good about.
So, yeah, there were some good things Tuesday. It is just that more of them have to surface during the remainder of the Lightning’s season-opening, three-game trip while tidying up the execution part Cooper referenced.
The trip resumes Friday night in Columbus with what will be the Blue Jackets’ home opener. Brad Larsen’s team opened with a 4-1 loss at Carolina on Wednesday evening. The trip concludes Saturday night in Pittsburgh, where the Penguins open their season Thursday night against the Coyotes.
The curtain rises on the Lightning’s home schedule next Tuesday evening against the Flyers, who have a new coach. His name? John Tortorella.