The Tampa Bay Lightning will begin their Stanley Cup defense and look to start a three-peat in a banner-raising, regular-season opener against the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday night.
After losing the entire third line of Blake Coleman (Calgary Flames), Yanni Gourde (Seattle Kraken) and Barclay Goodrow (New York Rangers) in the offseason, Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois found a trio of veteran replacements.
Goalie Brian Elliott, who played 30 games for the Philadelphia Flyers last year, replaces Curtis McElhinney as the backup for superstar Andrei Vasilevskiy, who went 31-10-1 with a 2.21 goals-against average and five shutouts.
Forwards Corey Perry and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare were added for their heaviness and grit for the Atlantic Division favorites.
An opponent of the Lightning in the summer’s Stanley Cup Final while playing for the Montreal Canadiens, Perry will be parked in his usual spot out front of the goal and setting screens for the champs.
“You have a real appreciation for him and why teams want him on their side and why you’re probably not surprised why teams have advanced far with him on their team,” said Lightning coach Jon Cooper of Perry, 36, who won a Cup with the Anaheim Ducks in 2007.
On Monday, the team awarded Cooper – whose nine years with the club make him the NHL’s longest-tenured coach – a three-year extension that will take him through 2024-25.
The Prince George, British Columbia, native sports a 384-197-53 career record.
The five-time Cup champion Penguins are bracing for a start that will have them playing short due to the absence of their two faces of the franchise – Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
After undergoing left-wrist surgery last month, Crosby, 34, stepped onto the practice ice Saturday for the first time this season.
Barring a setback, the timetable for the captain’s return likely would pencil him into the Penguins’ lineup during an eight-game homestand from Oct. 16 to Nov. 6.
Forward Jeff Carter was encouraged by Crosby’s practice presence, saying, “It’s a light at the end of the tunnel.”
“It’s great for our team when he’s back on the ice,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “I think our team had a jump in its step. He just has that influence on the group.”
Malkin, 35, is a more worrisome issue for Pittsburgh, which has made the playoffs 15 straight seasons but lost in the first round for the third consecutive time in May.
A pending free agent like defenseman Kris Letang — the Russian center is sidelined until at least December due to offseason knee surgery – puts the Penguins in a bind with their top two pivots watching from the press box.
Sullivan will rely on Carter, 36, on his top line, while candidates potentially manning the middle in the bottom six get bumped up a peg.
While Teddy Blueger could likely play Malkin’s role on the second line, Evan Rodrigues and Radim Zohorna might see time anchoring the bottom two lines.
The club should get a boost with its first full season of former 33-goal scorer Jason Zucker, an acquisition from the Minnesota Wild in a big February trade.
Pittsburgh’s goalie tandem is Tristan Jarry — who was strong in the regular season in going 25-9-3 record and 2.75 goals-against average with two shutouts but struggled in the playoffs – and backup Casey DeSmith.
On Monday, Seattle claimed Lightning forward Alex Barre-Boulet, 24, off waivers. He played 15 games for Tampa Bay last season, scoring three goals.
–Field Level Media