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Tampa Bay Lightning get taste of what’s to come in season opener







by Erik Erlendsson |  @Erik_Erlendsson |  Like us on Facebook
October 13, 2021

TAMPA – To be the champ, you have to beat the champ.

When you’re the back-to- back champion, the target is doubled in size.

And while things look normal this season, and in many ways feels normal in these still abnormal times, it’s not the same for the Tampa Bay Lightning as they embark on a full 82-game season for the first time since 2018-19.

Coming off consecutive Stanley Cup titles, the Lightning this season will see 31 opponents looking to take a piece of the champions, not seven.

The struggle will be real, and opening night was a precursor of what the Lightning.

{mprestriction ids=”1,2″} Not to take the Lightning off the hook for how things played out during Tuesday’s game. Tampa Bay, to put it bluntly, was not very good.

They lacked energy. They lacked emotion, which coming off the pregame banner raising ceremony, didn’t fit the script.

A seven-game winning streak in opening games was emphatically snapped at the hands of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

But what the game did show from Tampa Bay’s perspective was that it doesn’t matter the opponent, if they don’t find a way to show up and put in the compete level, the end result is going to look more like the first game of this season than the final game of last season.

Different teams every night will be the test the Lightning face.

“Absolutely, you didn’t quite see that as much last year,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “We’re getting a taste of all the other teams in the league again. It’s getting back to a normal schedule and anytime you play the defending champs, you’re going to get the other team’s best. So it’s not an excuse by any means, we have to expect that. So we have to elevate our game, and I believe we’ll have a good response the next game. We usually do after games where we don’t really bring it.”

That next game comes on Thursday as the Lightning will be in Detroit for the Red Wings’ season opening game and Tampa Bay’s first road game of the season.

Detroit is one of the teams that the Lightning did face last year in the realigned divisions as the teams faced each other eight times, posting a 5-2-1 record against the Red Wings. And pretty much every one of those games were hard games to play as Detroit made it hard on the Lightning.

There’s no doubt, with a new goaltender in Alex Nedeljkovic and a few former Lightning players in the lineup (Adam Erne, Mitchell Stephens, Vladislav Namestnikov and Sam Gagner (no, seriously)) that Detroit is going to be a difficult opponent. And it might just be what the Lightning need, because it’s an understanding that it’s going to be a nightly occurrence. 

“I think people are gonna want to beat us,” Pat Maroon said. “And there’s a bull’s eye on our back. We won a certain way in last two years and teams know we want to play like that and will want to mimic the way we play at certain times. So we’re going to see that kind of pressure.”

That’s what the Penguins did. Head coach Mike Sullivan, a former Lightning assistant coach, was able to put together a game plan to take the Lightning out of their game, from disrupting passes out of the defensive zone, taking away the boards as an exit point and not letting Tampa Bay set up a forecheck and get sustained pressure by cycling the puck.

Pittsburgh neutralized everything the Lightning do well and Tampa Bay didn’t have the compete level to combat it or fight through it at all.

And the Lightning are going to have to expect to see that on the opposite side of the ice on a nightly basis.

“You know the system stuff we can draw it up all we want, but just comes down to who wants it more,” Maroon said. “I think, Pittsburgh, it’s going to be like that all year against us. People are going to want to beat us and, and take it to us every single night. So that’s a challenge for us, I think that’s good for us as a way for us to get motivated every single night. I think this is a good result, I think, in realizing it doesn’t matter. It’s a hard league to win in every single night doesn’t matter who you play.”




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