The Bolts have their second back-to-back game nights of the season,s tarting today with the New York Rangers making a Thanksgiving week visit to Times Palace. The Bolts jet off to Dallas after the game to play the Stars tomorrow night.
But the real story tonight is John Tortorella's return to Tampa. "Safe is Death" and 2004 has long since passed, but the memory and admiration lives on for Torts in the area. As it should and will for a long time to follow. Erik Erlendsson has a story of Tortorella's other side that the hockey world doesn't get exposed to as much.
But this is business, tonight, and Torts knows it:
"I loved my time here," he said. "The community treated my family and I well.
"But when we start playing and I'm coaching the other team, it's about trying to win a hockey game. I have no time to think about anything else. It's not about me. It's not fair. I'm the coach of a hockey team trying to win a game, that's all."
Those in attendance tonight? Do the right thing and give him a standing O when they announce him on the PA -- as long and as drawn out as you want to make it. But the moment you sit down, the moment is over and it's business from that point forward. Forget who is coaching the opponent and start focusing on the fact the Bolts need 2 points. They need a win. Other-guy-be-damned, they have to play the game.
The other story is the return of Vaclav Prospal to Times Palace. Fans will be nostalgic for Prospal, as Prospal will likely be for the crowd... and he'll likely want to prove the Bolts wrong for having bought him out this summer. That may give him an additional spark on his shifts, and an additional reason for the Lightning to give no quarter to their friend and former teammate. He has 24 points in 24 games this season. He's at the top of the offensive-threat list for the Rangers, but not the absolute top. That'd be Marian Gaborik who has 33 points in 22 games (19 goals, 14 assists).
We're going to make the educated guess Antero Niittymaki will be between the pipes tonight. Niitty has started the last two games. The fact that the team is jetting off after the game and playing on the road tomorrow in Dallas is reason enough to wager Mike Smith will be in net for the Lightning for that one (play the rested goalie). UPDATE: The "Lightning Insider" reports that Mike Smith is actually playing TONIGHT.
On the other hand, what we can't wager is if Mattias Ohlund will return tonight after missing the last week of games due to a foot injury he sustained on the road. There have been no announcements about this. If Ohlund can't go, expect the same defensive lineup Wednesday with Kurtis Foster splitting time on defense and at forward.
Foster, in fact, is the most interesting situation on the Bolts roster right now. While everyone is seeing Stamkos and Ryan Malone, VInny Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis all share the spotlight, Foster's transition from defense to wing - however experimental it is - is the biggest gamble of the season so far. Bigger than Steve Downie getting 1st line time, bigger than keeping James Wright on the roster. Foster's booming slapshot is an asset to have in games . However, he hasn't consistently won a spot on the Lightning defense, where David Hale and Lukas Krajicek have found themselves with lumps of playing time.
Kurtis has 3 points (one goal, two assists) his past three games -- all of which he has spent time at forward on. The experiment shall continue until it proves to be a liability. Foster is +1 over that three-game span.
The Rangers are tops in the league on the penalty kill, boasting an 85% kill rate. They are none-too-shabby on the power play either, with a 22.3% conversion percentage, good for eighth in the league. They are allowing 29 shots per game and taking just about that many per game. The Lightning are converting 18.7% of their power plays while are killing off 77.4% of their penalties.
Tampa Bay Lightning Projected Lines
(updated November 24, 2009 by RawCharge subject to change)
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