Although just the first preseason game of the 2011-12 season, Steve Downie appeared to still be in postseason form.
Downie scored the lone goal for the Tampa Bay Lightning in the team’s first contest of the 2011 exhibition campaign, albeit in a 3-1 loss to the St. Louis Blues at the Scottrade Center on Tuesday night.
With the second of two games on consecutive nights scheduled for Wednesday, Tampa Bay played without the majority of its top players in the lineup, but nonetheless fought hard and fared rather well.
Evgeny Grachev scored a pair of goals for the Blues and Matt D’Agostini added the go-ahead goal towards the end of the second period for St. Louis, which proved to be the eventual game-winner. Brian Elliott also stopped 21 of 22 shots for the Blues.
The defeat marked Tampa Bay’s first regulation loss in an exhibition opener since 2003. Previously, the Lightning had gained at least a point in each of its past six opening preseason games, boasting a 5-0-1 record.
Tampa Bay had several opportunities to cash in early on in the contest, but despite receiving three consecutive power-play attempts, couldn’t crack the scoreboard midway through the opening period.
It wasn’t as if the Blues played a solid defensive game either. St. Louis allowed eight power-play chances to Tampa Bay throughout the night and spent a total of 21 minutes in the penalty box, but was able to capitalize where the Bolts couldn’t.
With Lightning defenseman Mark Barberio off for four minutes following a high-sticking double minor, Grachev opened the scoring at 15:56 on the power play after beating Mathieu Garon with a rebound into an open net to give the Blues a 1-0 lead.
Garon, appearing in his Lightning debut, would settle down as the game went on, as he made a spectacular point-blank save with the pad on Jonathan Cheechoo to keep the deficit at one. He gave way to Jaroslav Janus halfway through the game after stopping eight of nine total shots.
Downie made it 1-1 at 9:35 of the second after finally converting for the first time on Tampa Bay’s seventh chance with the mad advantage. With the Lightning forward parked in front of the net, defenseman Pavel Kubina found his teammate at the top of the crease before Downie was able to beat St. Louis goaltender Brian Elliott through the legs to even the score.
St. Louis went back up by one after D’Agostini roofed one over the glove of Janus with 3:07 left.
Janus would go on to make a fantastic save from in-close, but also revealed his inexperience at the NHL level as he left numerous rebounds out in prime areas. It didn’t seem to have too much of an effect as he made 17 saves on 18 shots against throughout the night.
Grachev capped the scoring with his second of the night, bringing the final score to 3-1 with an empty-net tally with 31 seconds remaining in regulation.
Despite the defeat, Lightning general manager Steve Yzerman was pleased with what he saw out of his younger players, albeit with a full understanding that not all are capable of making an immediate impact right away.
“All of our guys have aspirations of playing in the NHL and they’re all highly motivated,” general manager Steve Yzerman said. “They’ll definitely help whether as members of the big club or in improving our organizational depth.”
tampabaylightning.com is the official Web site of the Tampa Bay Lightning. Tampa Bay Lightning and tampabaylightning.com are trademarks of Lightning Hockey L.P. NHL, the NHL Shield, the word mark and image of the Stanley Cup and NHL Conference logos are registered trademarks of the National Hockey League. All NHL logos and marks and NHL team logos and marks as well as all other proprietary materials depicted herein are the property of the NHL and the respective NHL teams and may not be reproduced without the prior written consent of NHL Enterprises, L.P. Copyright © 1999-2013 Lightning Hockey, L.P. and the National Hockey League. All Rights Reserved.