WHERE: St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
WHEN: 7:30 PM
MEDIA: Sun Sports (cable), 620 WDAE (radio)
Coming off the big win (and big hit, and big fight) Tuesday against the Capitals, the Lightning finish up their mini-homestand tonight against the Florida Panthers. Including Tuesday's game, five of the next six game son teh Lightning schedule are against the Southeast division teams.
One of the big stories coming into the game (and for the next few games, at that) is goaltender Mike Smith's neck injury. He declined to comment to beatwriter Damian Cristodero on Wednesday about what was going on... Actually, declined is another way of putting it:
In fact, he said he is "not allowed" to talk about it.
This is a head scratching ordeal. Look either for a transaction (promotion) in the next few hours as the Lightning call up a goalie to back-up Antero Niittymaki tonight... Or be outright surprised as Mike Smith starts.
But who gets called up tells a big story.
If Riku Helenius is called up, that means he is simply playing backup "to Frank Nitti" while Smith mends. But if Dustin Tokarski -- the starter for the majority of the games in Norfolk -- gets the nod, the prognosis for Smith's injury looks to be a longer-term situation than a day-to-day ordeal.
In other news, the Lightning have reassigned Martins Karsums to HC MVD Balashikha of the KHL... You'll recall Karsums was waived from the Norfolk Admirals in order to release him to Europe.
For the Panthers, they are coming off a disappointing loss to the Caps last night -- 5-4 in the shootout. They've been within striking distance fo the Bolts for quite a while - only a point or two behind in the standings. This home-and-home series that will be played out tonight at Times Palace and Saturday at Bank Atlantic Center is a chance for the Lightning to put some true distance between the two clubs.
The Panthers are mired in their own mediocrity. Last night's collapse was characterized as thus on Litter Box Cats:
Of course, it's not that coach Pete is engineering it to wind up this way. Nor are his players.
But when does the fabulous "upside" of all these difficult days kick in?
I know for a fact that I was not the only viewer nervous with the Cats holding a 4-1 lead. Many if not most of you were as well. And if we all were, chances are pretty solid that the team collectively was, too.
And obviously that was indeed the case, hence the meltdown. But previously it had been two-goal leads that were impossible to seal. Now they will freak out with an even cushier margin, simply because it happened.
Why has the attitude not improved/changed/evolved? How must that be addressed? No matter the number of personnel changes which may be wrought, the smell's not leaving the dressing room as things stand now.
I don't know about you, but that sounds awfully familiar, and familiarly awful.
The Lightning are currently seeded 12th in the Eastern Conference -- all of two points behind the Ottawa Senators for the 8th and final playoff spot. That shows how important it is to capitalize on perceived weaker opponents such as the Cats and the Hurricanes over the next three games. Especially with the Panthers seeded 13th in the east and all of two points behind the lightnign and four points out of playoff contention.
The Bolts and Cats go into this series as 21st and 22nd in the league on the Penalty Kill, respectively. Tampa Bay's PK, which gave up four goals against the Caps on Tuesday, is at 80.1% while the Panthers are at 79.9%.
On the other hand, the Lightning have moved up to 14th in the league on the power play (18.5% conversion rate) after Tuesday night's showing. The Panthers are ranked 20th with a 17% conversion rate.
The Panthers are taking 29 shots on average nightly while giving up a league-worst 34.3 shots to their opponents. But here's an interesting quirk in that stat: The Panthers are 14-12-7 in games where they are out-shot by their opponents. That accounts for 35 of the Cats 44 points on the season. When they out-shoot opponents? They are 4-6-1.
Humane Society events and Operation Spare Change
Remember that the Humane Society is accepting dry dog and cat food as donations, and those who donate will receive a raffle ticket for the chance to win a Martin St. Louis autographed jersey. Operation Spare Change -- accepting cash donations for troop care packages -- is still ongoing in the West Plaza. More details about both events can be found here.