TAMPA — Before Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh, the Lightning had been kicked around pretty good by the Penguins in recent meetings.
In the previous six games between the teams, the Penguins won all six, by a combined 33-15 score. So Lightning coach Jon Cooper had the first meeting with Pittsburgh this season circled on his calendar, curious to see how Tampa Bay would stack up against the Penguins this season.
Though Tampa Bay lost 5-4 on a last-minute power-play goal, the Lightning showed they can skate with the Penguins, and they were not pushed around either on the ice or the scoreboard.
“I thought we were fine ... I don’t think anybody can sit here and say that they outplayed us,’’ Cooper said.
Perhaps some of that came from what transpired off the opening faceoff, as Ryan Malone — a Pittsburgh native and former Penguin — dropped his gloves four seconds into the game for a lengthy fight with Pittsburgh’s Craig Adams. Malone said it wasn’t planned, but when he saw who the Penguins had in the starting lineup — Tanner Glass and Adams — he had a feeling how the game would start.
“Just trying to set the tone for the game,’’ Malone said. “They started (Adams) and Glass, so they were trying to set the tone for the game, so nothing crazy.’’
Art of the draw
Heading into action Sunday, the Lightning were ranked 12th in the league in faceoffs, winning 51.7 percent of draws.
That percentage, however, is a bit skewed because of the struggles of C Steven Stamkos in the first two games of the season, when he went up mainly against Boston C Patrice Bergeron and Chicago C Jonathan Toews and combined to win 13 of 43 faceoffs (30.2 percent) in the first two games.
Tampa Bay’s other three centers, however, have been stellar.
Rookie Tyler Johnson ranks 14th in the league, winning 58.2 percent, while C Valtteri Filppula is ranked 25th at 56.4 percent. Nate Thompson leads the team at 67.4 percent, but he does not have enough faceoffs to qualify to be among the league leaders.
Area of concern
One of the areas of emphasis heading into the season for the Lightning was cutting down on the goals against. At even strength through five games, Tampa Bay has done a good job, allowing five goals during five-on-five play, tied for sixth-fewest before Sunday.
The penalty kill, however, has been abysmal to this point. After shutting down the Bruins on opening night, killing off all three chances, the Lightning have allowed seven power-play goals in the past four games. The seven goals allowed — including three in Saturday’s loss to Pittsburgh — were the most in the league heading into Sunday, while the 68.2 penalty kill percentage ranked 26th.
Nikita Kucherov enjoyed quite the first game in front of the home fans in Syracuse on Saturday as the Crunch, Tampa Bay’s American Hockey League affiliate, opened their home schedule with a 5-1 victory against Rochester.
Kucherov, in his second game as a pro, had a hat trick and added an assist for a four-point night. The 58th overall pick in the 2011 draft had 29 goals and 63 points in 33 games in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League last season, with Quebec and Rouyn-Noranda.
Also in the Syracuse victory, D Artem Sergeev picked up his first career goal, while D Nikita Nesterov recorded his first professional point, finishing with two assists.