After being the final team in the league to start the season, the Tampa Bay Lightning finally get the chance to be back on the ice Thursday when they host the Vancouver Canucks on Thursday at Amalie Arena.
Tampa Bay has been off since opening the season with a shootout victory against the Florida Panthers on Saturday. Vancouver, meanwhile, already has three games under its belt following Tuesday’s loss at Carolina.
The Lightning, a Stanley Cup favorite this season, looked anything like a top contender despite the victory on opening night after allowing 43 shots on goal to the Panthers. With the extended time off between games, Tampa Bay went back to a training camp mindset looking to have a stronger showing in the second game.
“We need to raise our compete level, we didn’t execute plays like we usually do,” Lightning forward Yanni Gourde said. “We turned too many pucks over and that was part of why we played like we did in the first period. We know we need to work on that and we were out on the ice (for practice) and working hard it it, so that’s good for us.”
Despite the victory on opening night, the Lightning are aware their level of play needs to rise quickly to live up to the expectations they have for themselves, let alone the outside expectations. They should get a boost with the return of Tyler Johnson, who missed the final two weeks of preseason plus the season opener due to an upper-body injury.
Johnson has been practicing all week with the team and expects to be in the lineup when Tampa Bay returns to action. That has forced head coach Jon Cooper to move some personnel around when it comes to line combinations.
“There’s parts of our game we liked from last game and some we didn’t,” Cooper said. “We are trying to find the best mix possible so we can score more than one shorthanded goal in a game. This is what we’re doing now. We’re just trying to find the chemistry a little bit.”
The Canucks don’t have similar expectations in the first year of the post-Sedin era. Vancouver is in the midst of a rebuild with the likes of Bo Horvat, Brock Boesner and Calder Trophy candidate Elias Pettersson.
But, starting the season with one victory in three games leaves a bit of an empty feeling despite the optimism with some of the youth injected in to the lineup.
“Losing sucks,” Horvat told the Vancouver Province. “No matter how many goals you score, if you lose at the end of the day, it’s still a loss. For us, that’s our main focus: We want to win hockey games. That’s the main goal.”
Canucks head coach Travis Green has been moving the lines around to try to find the right mix of offense — which has not been a problem in the early going — and defense, which has been a bit of an issue, allowing 14 goals in the opening three games.