WHERE: HSBC Arena, Buffalo, New York
WHEN: 7:00 PM EST
MEDIA: Sun Sports (cable), 620 WDAE (radio)
OPPONENT COVERAGE: Die by the Blade
Matt Smaby is being put on Injured Reserve today, to go along with Simon Gagne and Vincent Lecavalier. The BOlts will be recalling defenseman Mike Vernace to compensate. Also, you may have missed it but James Wright was sent back to the AHL yesterday. The Bolts will be calling up Blair Jones for tonight's game in Buffalo.
Of course, the focus around the league is not on the Lightning injuries and call-ups. It's a certain center-man named Steven Stamkos. #91 just happens to lead the league with 19 goals in 19 games -- five more than 2nd place Sidney Crosby. He also leads the league in points with 34 -- one more than Mr. Crosby.
In fact, after his hat trick on Thursday night in Philadelphia, Greg Wyshynski wondered if Stammer could score 50 goals in 50 games, a feat that hasn't been done in nearly 20 years.
Can Stamkos stay healthy and go 50-in-50? It's a distinct possibility. But even if he doesn't, we're witnessing an extraordinary offensive season from what is right now -- and due respect to Alex Ovechkin and Alex Semin of the Washington Capitals -- the most exciting player in the NHL.
The most exciting player in the NHL and the most potent tandem in the NHL... Right here on the Tampa
Mike Smith will start in goal for Tampa Bay tonight, but after Thursday, I think it's become abundantly clear there is no go-to guy in net for TB. There isn't a designated #1 goalie for this team, and neither should have won the confidence of management. Though Dan Ellis got the back-to-back starts in New York and Philadelphia, he wasn't able to compete in both those games (he faced 10 shots on Thursday in 15:34, making six saves).
Revisiting our last preview, I hold to Jon Jordan's idea that Smith should have started Wednesday against the Islanders, while a rested Ellis would have gotten the start on Thursday. But what's done is done, and the Bolts have won both games -- even if Thursday's win was ugly from a defensive/goaltending standpoint.
The Sabres are playing on back-to-back nights, beating the LA Kings 4-2 last night.... Though the Lightning had yesterday off, they are playing their third game in four nights... Which is the same for the Sabres, having played Wednesday, Friday and tonight.
The Lightning power play remains 4th in the NHL, improving their conversion percentage to 25.3 (22 for 87). Buffalo has converted on just over 13% of their power play opportunities, ranking them 26th in the NHL (11 for 84). On the defensive side of special teams, the Bolts have a kill-rate of 88.8% this season, allowing only 9 goals while killing off 80 man-disadvantages. The Sabres, who were ranked high last season with the efforts of Ryan Miller aiding them, are ranked 23rd at current, allowing 17 goals in 80 chances.
Just a reminder -- the Lightning hold their third watch party of the road trip tonight at Curtis Hixon Park. It's outdoors, so dress appropriately...