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Thursday night marked the season opener for the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena. Taking on the Philadelphia Flyers, the Bolts came away with the 3-2 overtime victory in the first game in NHL history to have a 3-on-3 overtime. Aside from learning that 3-on-3 hockey is extremely fast paced and heart stopping excitement, we also were able to make some early season observations about the Lightning.

The First Line

The Lightning first line is dangerous. Ryan Callahan was placed on the third line midway through last season to lend support to a young and inexperienced J.T. Brown. Callahan helped Brown thrive and Brown turned into a real threat in the postseason. This season Callahan is starting on the first line with Steven Stamkos and the young and talented Jonathan Drouin. Similar to last season, Callahan is going to attract a lot of attention, but Stamkos will attract even more, that will leave the highly touted prospect Drouin, who had two assists in the season opener, with a lot of opportunities for points. It seems like the triplets line is not the only line to be worried about this year.

The Defense

The Lightning had a defense that was very involved on the attack last year but it seems like it will be even more aggressive on the offensive end this year. Two of the three goals and numerous shots came from defensive players on Thursday. Jason Garrison led the way for the defensemen with two goals including the overtime game winner. Victor Hedman was doing Victor Hedman things again, feeding nice passes to the wings and firing shots from the point. Matt Carle even had a few opportunities for a goal in the second period when he skated the puck deep into Flyer territory. The Bolts defenseman look like they will be getting a lot of freedom to skate into the attacking zone this season.

Physical and Fast

The Bolts are building their physical and fast reputation. One of the fastest teams in the league certainly looked like it on Thursday. Winning loose pucks and the race for offside, they showed off their superior skating ability. They also demonstrated that they will not go soft on anyone with big hits coming from guys like Callahan, Filppula, and Stamkos. Also, two of the most physical players on the ice on Thursday were two of the smallest guys on the ice, Tyler Johnson and J.T. Brown. Johnson almost initiated the first fight of the season when he punched a Flyer defensemen in the face after he took a late hit and Brown came close to a scrap early in the first period. Neither of these two will back down from a bigger opponent and they will deliver a shot to anyone in their way. The fore check and the physicality at center ice was very evident through most of the game, something I expect to be a mainstay for the season.

Ben Bishop

Ben Bishop is making a case for best goalie in the league. Bishop built on his impressive 2014-2015 campaign with a great showing in the season opener with 23 saves on 25 shots including two that came on penalty shots, one of which was in overtime. Bishop was able to save the Bolts from some sloppy passing and shaky defense at times. He looked to be in midseason form right from the gun.

Overtime

Finally, the Lightning might be unstoppable in overtime. The scoring depth on the Bolts roster will prove to be challenging for any team to overcome in a 3-on-3 overtime. With the ice being wide open allowing for more speed and stretch passes, overtime plays right into the strengths of Tampa Bay.

It is early in the season but the Lightning showed a lot to be excited about. The Bolts look as if they have improved on their impressive team from last season. Obviously there was some sloppy passing and some missed opportunities that need to be capitalized on later in the season, but that is to be expected in the first game of the year.

 

Sports Kings Around the Rink Contributor Zac D’Urso @ZacHockeyWriter

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