Day-After Digest: Game 1 (Lightning 6, Capitals 3)

The Day-After Digest is a new series that will appear regularly after every Lightning game as part game recap, analysis and scouting report.

By Mike Gallimore

The Rundown

The Lightning opened the 2012-2013 season in highly entertaining fashion by racking up six goals, including three in the third period, to defeat their visiting division rivals in front of an exuberant sellout crowd. The Lightning never trailed but early penalty woes caused the ice to seem tilted towards their net in the first period and three squandered leads by the conclusion of the second period could have been cause for panic.

"A lot of emotions," captain Vinny Lecavalier said, "but we calmed down and I thought everybody played with a lot of poise."

Fans were treated to a thrilling blend of past, present and future as Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis combined for five points, Teddy Purcell notched three assists and Cory Conacher managed two points in his NHL debut. Eric Brewer, with two goals, doubled his total from all of last season.

After downplaying the need for getting off to a hot start and just wanting to see consistency in effort in Friday's press conference, coach Guy Boucher allowed after Saturday's contest that the home opener was "a pressure game" in that the players were eager to reward fans, especially the vast majority of the season ticket members who did not demand a refund during the lockout, with a memorable return.

Five players (Conacher, B.J. Crombeen, Anders Lindback, Benoit Pouliot and Sami Salo) played their first game with the team.

Prospect Watch

Keith Aulie

  • Game/Season Stats
    G A +/- SOG PIM ES-TOI SH-TOI PP-TOI TOT-TOI
    0 1 +0 1 0 9:56 0:14 0:00 10:10

Aulie was often partnered with Brian Lee, who saw several more minutes of ice time than him, but it'd be hard to imagine Lightning brass would be anything short of encouraged with what they saw from the young defenseman last night. Aulie was poised and decisive in his own end and in the neutral zone and even threw a bone to those fans eager to see one of Tampa Bay's big-bodied blueliners use their frame willfully with a heavy body-check in front of the Lightning bench during the first period.

"I need to bring toughness, I need to bring hits, get in their face and wear them down," Aulie said in reflecting on the play and his role, "I like it."

There were no fights in the contest but Aulie was in the thick of at least a couple post-whistle stare-downs and exchanges of pleasantries, which he said were just a matter of emotions running high.

Cory Conacher

  • Game/Season Stats
    G A +/- SOG PIM ES-TOI SH-TOI PP-TOI TOT-TOI
    1 1 +1 2 0 8:54 0:14 4:42 13:50

Conacher finished with a night to remember but his career in the NHL got off to a less-than-glorious start as his first shift ended abruptly after Brian Lee was whistled for an infraction, his very next shift was mostly spent chasing the opposition and soon after he received a big-league received a big-league body-check from none other than Alex Ovechkin before reaching the first intermission.

"It's nice to know I can get hit just about as hard as possible and still get up," Conacher said, adding, "I'm not scared. I'm sure I'm going to continue to get hit."

Conacher's fortunes, much like the Lighting's overall play, improved with the onset of the second period. Boucher talked throughout the past week about Conacher being relentless and, sure enough, his first career point, an assist on Martin St. Louis' first goal of the game, came as the result of his hustling and winning a race to a loose puck. His first career goal was largely the work of Teddy Purcell, who found an extra gear knifing through the neutral zone and into the Capitals end to spring a late-developing odd-man break, but Conacher raced into position to receive a backdoor feed that wasn't a sure bet with Holtby moving right-to-left in anticipation.

"He's not a project. You see speed, he's first on the puck and physicality doesn't faze him at all." Boucher said after the game. "He wants that net, he drives that net like it's a magnet for him and I love it."

By the Numbers

Boucher spoke Friday about there being "no experiments" in his defensive rotation and how pleased he was with the off-season additions and the top pairings. Tonight's usage bears that out. Matt Carle and Salo were the only two Lightning defensemen to crack 20 minutes of ice time as both accrued lots of time on power-play and penalty-kill units. Salo alone rang up 6+ minutes with the man-advantage. Victor Hedman was also used in all situations but, at 14:30, relied on the most at even-strength. An all-purpose workhorse last season who regularly skated 20+ minutes a night, Brewer's total came in at 18:18. He tied Carle for the most minutes played short-handed.

Shots on goal were 17-8 in favor of Washington at the end of the first period but there was a noticeable shift in momentum, at least in terms of which team was carrying the play, and Tampa Bay finished with a 34-30 advantage. The Lightning, which had just a single power play while taking three penalties in the first period, had six more opportunities with the man-advantage while allowing Washington just one more over the course of the final two frames. Boucher thought fatigue was an obvious factor and hit the Capitals players harder than his own. "We were less tired than them," he said, adding, "It's a credit to what they've done before [training camp] to stay ready."

Best of Boucher

"Teddy Purcell looked like a jet out there. He had a third skate."

Looking Ahead

The Lightning (1-0-0, 2 PTS) begin a two-game road trip with an early afternoon, 1 p.m. to be exact, match against the Islanders (0-1-0, 0 PTS). The two teams split last season's 4-game series between the two clubs but, while the Lightning opened this year with a victory, the Islanders lost a close match to the Devils on Saturday night.

It's no secret that the Islanders are top-heavy club and on Saturday night, New York got just 2 shots on goal from key cogs John Tavares and Matt Moulson, both of whom skated over 20 minutes, including 3+ minutes with the man-advantage. Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo and Michael Grabner present decent-enough secondary threats but, with Josh Bailey and Joey Joensuu injured and P.A. Parenteau, the club's breakout dynamo last season, now skating with Colorado, goals should be hard for the Isles to generate from up front if the Lightning can neutralize Tavares and Moulson.

Depth is also a problem for New York's blueline. New York leaned heavily on Travis Hamonic, their 23-year old crown jewel of the club's defensive corps, as well as Andrew MacDonald and Ron Hainsey against the Devils, each skating 25+ minutes with just Matt Carkner, Joe Finley and Brian Straight to round out the defensive corps. Thomas Hickey, recently claimed off of waivers from LA, and longtime Islander Radek Martinek, who played just 7 games last season with Columbus, were both scratched.

Goaltending may prove to be New York's position of strength, even accounting for the disaster that is Rick DiPietro. Evgeni Nabokov, who established himself as the club's workhorse with a solid half-season in 2011-2012, was excellent in net for New York's opener. Nabokov may have be prone to postseason meltdowns but he is almost always reliable in the regular season.