TAMPA, Fla. -- Entering the Tampa Bay Lightning's season opener against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Tuesday, Coach Jon Cooper said the game would serve as a good measuring stick.
Instead, the 6-2 loss seemed like a reality check.
It was a memorable night. Amalie Arena was back at capacity -- there was a sellout crowd of 19,092 -- to witness a second consecutive Stanley Cup banner rise to the rafters, something fans didn't get to experience last opening night.
The excitement resembled the last hockey game here, when the Lightning paraded the Cup around the ice after dispatching the Montreal Canadiens in Game 5 of the final. In fact, stray pieces of confetti from that night three months ago still fell from the rafters throughout the game.
But with a national television audience watching, the Lightning kicked off a new NHL season with a performance that hardly resembled the team that won back-to-back Cups.
In Tuesday's loss, the Lightning struggled to create offense and had lapses on defense.
Even without their top two players -- forwards Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were sidelined with injuries -- the Penguins were a better team.
Pittsburgh's first goal came on a rare mistake by goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy during the first shift of the second period.
Vasilevskiy turned the puck over trying to clear it from behind the net, flicking it to Jeff Carter from below the goal line. Carter found Danton Heinen, who charged through the right circle uncovered and flicked the puck into an open net before Vasilevskiy could get back into position.
The Lightning again were slow afoot on Pittsburgh's second goal, allowing former Tampa Bay forward Brian Boyle to sneak behind the defense on the left side. Sam Lafferty found Boyle from the blue line, and Boyle beat Vasilevskiy with a wrister to the goalie's stickside 4:11 into the second.
The Penguins got an insurance goal with 8:28 left in the third on seemingly harmless shot that Dominik Simon put on net, but it deflected off rookie Taylor Raddysh, who blocked Vasilevskiy's line of sight.
The Lightning finally got on the board when -- with Vasilevskiy pulled for an extra attacker -- Anthony Cirelli scored with 5:47 remaining. But the Penguins got the goal right back when Teddy Blueger scored into an empty net just 30 seconds later.
The sequence repeated itself a couple of minutes later, as Alex Killorn scored with Vasilevskiy on the Lightning bench with 3:11 to play only to have Blueger and Bryan Rust score into the empty net shortly afterward.
Tampa Bay looked sluggish on the ice, unable to really muster any real offensive chances until its first power-play opportunity with 7:04 left in the second period. Going into that man advantage, the Lightning had just 11 shots on goal and just four from their forwards.
Brayden Point, who didn't have a shot attempt until that point, had two looks in the front of the net, and Alex Killorn couldn't clean up a loose puck in the crease as the power play expired.
Vasilevskiy kept the Lightning in the game early, foiling a pair of Penguins breakaways in a first period that saw him turn away all 14 shots he faced. Vasilevskiy finished with 29 saves on 32 shots faced.