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Lightning to depend on G Jonas Johansson as season opens vs. Predators

Tampa Bay will begin its quest for a fourth Stanley Cup on Tuesday by hosting the Nashville Predators, but the Lightning will do it under decidedly unfamiliar circumstances.

Coach Jon Cooper’s group will be without star goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy for at least the first two months after the 2019 Vezina Trophy winner underwent back surgery in late September.

That predicament — playing perhaps one-third of the season’s games without one of the NHL’s premier backstops — adds pressure to not let the campaign slip away before 2024 arrives.

Cooper will turn to Swedish goaltender Jonas Johansson, 28, whose track record over 35 career NHL matches suggests the Lightning’s offense will need to be in top form.

Over his four-year career, Johansson is 11-13-4 with a 3.35 goals-against average and an .886 save percentage, though he did play his best hockey in two recent stints with the Colorado Avalanche.

In his first two starts this preseason, he denied a combined 67 shots in shutouts over the Carolina Hurricanes (42 saves) and Florida Panthers (25).

“He’s a kid who’s been in the league a little bit but has not really gotten his chance,” Cooper said of the 6-foot-5 Johansson after the Carolina win. “He obviously signed here knowing he wasn’t going to be the starting goaltender, and all of a sudden, he’s thrust into a situation where his playing time might go up.”

Last season ended in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs, where the Lightning fell to the Toronto Maple Leafs in six games.

The Lightning will look to their top three scorers to provide more punch in Vasilevskiy’s absence – right wing Nikita Kucherov (30 goals, 83 assists, 113 points) and centers Brayden Point (51-44-95) and Steven Stamkos (34-50-84).

After finishing 42-32-8 (92 points) and fifth in the Central Division, Nashville has gone all-in on newness — starting with general manager Barry Trotz and coach Andrew Brunette, who take over for David Poile and John Hynes, respectively.

The Predators sent top center Ryan Johansen to Colorado, bought out the final three years of center Matt Duchene’s contract and inked three-time All-Star center Ryan O’Reilly for four years and $18 million to replace Johansen as the No. 1 pivot between Filip Forsberg and Juuso Parssinen.

O’Reilly, 32, earned the Conn Smythe Trophy as he carried the St. Louis Blues to the 2019 Stanley Cup championship and was acquired by Toronto to do the same last season when he was traded on Feb. 17.

“He brings everything everywhere,” Brunette said. “He’s an extremely intelligent player, very cerebral, one of the smartest players in the league on both sides of the puck. His timing is impeccable.”

The organization hopes Reilly and free-agent acquisitions Gustav Nyquist and Luke Schenn will make an impression on its young group.

“I was looking for serial winners,” said Trotz, who is Nashville’s second-ever GM. “I wanted a path for our young guys to develop and be surrounded by those type of people.”

Cody Glass, 24, will be in the middle of the second line after producing 14 goals and 21 assists in 72 games.

From the second week of February to season’s end, 26-year-old Tommy Novak led Nashville with 32 points (13 goals, 19 assists) over 31 games and will center the third line.

On Oct. 2, the Predators claimed winger Samuel Fagemo from the Los Angeles Kings and played him in the preseason’s middle-six forward lines.

–Field Level Media

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