Preview: Philadelphia at Tampa Bay
When: 7:30 PM ET, Thursday, October 8, 2015
Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida
The Tampa Bay Lightning begin their quest for a return trip to the Stanley Cup Final with a narrowed focus as they host the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday in the season opener for both teams. “We have to realize how hard it was to reach where we were at the end of the season,” Lightning forward Ryan Callahan told the Tampa Tribune. “It’s important for us not to look at the big picture.”
Captain Steven Stamkos said a strong start propelled Tampa Bay in 2014-15 and his team needs to find the same hunger that led to a franchise-best 50 victories. The Lightning welcome an early battle with the Flyers, whom they have beaten in nine of the last 11 meetings. Philadelphia looks to find its way back into the playoffs after failing to qualify for the second time in three seasons and has not made any major changes to the lineup for new coach Dave Hakstol. The Flyers will lean on highly-productive forwards Jakub Voracek (81 points last season) and captain Claude Giroux (73) while hoping improvements can be made to a defense that tied for 21st in the league last campaign.
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, TVA2, CSN Philadelphia, Sun Sports (Tampa Bay)
ABOUT THE FLYERS (2014-15: 33-31-18, 6TH IN METROPOLITAN): High-priced veteran Andrew MacDonald was sent to the minors after clearing waivers as Hakstol retools his defense corps in front of Steve Mason, who went 18-18-11 with a .928 save percentage last season. Forwards Sam Gagner and Vincent Lecavalier, along with defenseman Radko Gudas, are expected to be scratched in the opener. The Flyers hope to get more from forwards Brayden Schenn (18 goals in 2014-15) and Sean Couturier (15) while promising 21-year-old Scott Laughton could add a boost up front.
ABOUT THE LIGHTNING (2014-15: 50-24-8, 2ND IN ATLANTIC): Forward Erik Condra is the team’s only addition, replacing Brenden Morrow, but the Lightning could get a big infusion of offense from Jonathan Drouin. The 20-year-old recorded four goals and 32 points in limited ice time a season ago and is expected to start on a line with Stamkos and Callahan after a strong preseason. Tampa Bay topped the league in scoring in 2014-15 and should be dependable defensively, with Norris Trophy candidate Victor Hedman featured on the blue line and Ben Bishop (team-record 40 victories last season) guarding the net.
1. Tampa Bay’s line of Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov combined for 200 points and a plus-102 rating last season.
2. Philadelphia RW Wayne Simmonds led the team with 28 goals in 2014-15 – one shy of his career high.
3. Stamkos has scored 18 goals in 23 career games against the Flyers, including four in three contests a season ago.
PREDICTION: Lightning 5, Flyers 2