The Lightning kick-off the 2013-14 season in Boston tonight against a Bruins team that is coming off an appearance in the Stanley Cup Final last season. For Tampa Bay, it is a new season, one in which they hope a youthful influx of talent, infused with key veterans, can translate into a playoff berth. Even though he coached a handful of games last season after taking over, the Jon Cooper era officially begins tonight after a full training camp of putting his system in place and instilling his philosophy.
It won’t be an easy start with road games against the Bruins, Chicago Blackhawks and Buffalo Sabres to open the season, but the Lightning would greatly benefit from a good start on the road before coming home for a season-long seven-game homestand that starts against the Florida Panthers on October 10.
A lot of how the road trip will go will depend on how the Lightning’s young players transition from the AHL to the NHL. Players like Tyler Johnson, Richard Panik, Ondrej Palat, Mark Barberio and Andrej Sustr will be expected to play large roles on the Bolts this season and, at least in part, Tampa Bay’s success will be hinged on their ability to quickly adjust. Arguably one of the bigger keys there will be Sustr, who has been practicing in the Top 6, paired with Eric Brewer. The “Top Gun” line, as they were called in Syracuse, of Johnson, Panik and Palat will need to concentrate on playing responsible defensive and also trying to pot a few goals here and there.
Expect Cooper’s team to play a better defensive scheme overall than fans have been used to. That doesn’t mean just the defensemen. The Lightning will play defense as a five-man unit and attempt to control the puck, to effectively keep it away from their opponent. If all goes according to plan, Tampa Bay will not be stuck in their own end for long periods of time. If the Lightning don’t have the puck, everyone will turn into a defenseman.
Anders Lindback gets the start tonight for Tampa Bay. Cooper said part of the decision came from last season, when Linback played an outstanding game here at TD Garden, albeit a 2-0 loss. He made 22 saves in the game and was simply out-dueled by Boston’s Anton Khudobin. The Lightning’s scratches tonight will be Barberio, Keith Aulie and Tom Pyatt.
After the game tonight the Lightning will fly to Chicago with a practice scheduled at the United Center on Friday.
TV: Sun Sports
Radio: AM 970 WFLA
Between the Pipes –
I will say it here and then leave it alone for the rest of the season, but one of the biggest keys for the Lightning this season will be goaltending. Even though Lindback gets the start tonight, it will be goalie by committee, at least to start. Ben Bishop pointed out that St. Louis did it last year and had the best record in the regular season. The Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks also split time with their goalies up until the end. The main thing will be getting consistent goaltending. Lindback and Bishop don’t need to steal games, they just need keep the Bolts in them.
Opening It up –
The Lightning have performed well during season openers, winning eight of their previous 10 games to start a season. They have also won two of the past three road openers.