WHERE: St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
WHEN: 7:30 PM EST
MEDIA: Sun Sports (cable), 620 WDAE (radio)
OPPONENT COVERAGE: The Cannon
At face value, tonight's home game (the first of 13 out of 15 for the Lightning) is an out-of-conference dust-up between two teams that started hot but have cooled --- one slightly, the other substantially. The Bolts are clinging to the Southeast division lead while the Blue Jackets, who amazed with their hot start, have fallen to 13th in the Western Conference.
There's an underplayed (at least locally) sub-plot to tonight's game: Guy Boucher. Yes, head coach Guy Boucher. For those of you who followed the reconstruction project that is the Lightning through the 2010 off-season, you should , you already know the story. Or might be aware of it.
For those of you who didn't, and have only recently picked up the Lightning's most competitive season in ages, the story is quite simple: It's the fact Guy Boucher was all but given the Columbus Blue Jackets job, and pulled a Bill Parcels/Tampa Bay Buccaneers type thing -- He left them at the altar and went to Tampa Bay.
It's just an interesting twist on tonight's game. The Columbus Dispatch brought it up in their preview of tonight's game (as well as touching on Guy Boucher's scar -- reason enough for the curious to click-thru) while Matt Wagner over at The Cannon declares the subject moot in his preview of tonight's game:
I will repeat, in my opinion, that it doesn't matter. We got Scott Arniel out of the deal, and anyone who has talked to him is likely to tell you that Arniel is exactly the right sort of coach for this club.
It really doesn't matter in the scheme of things -- the Lightning need to get back on track, and the Blue Jackets (1-5-1 in their past seven) are looking to do the same thing.
Two big wins in two weeks, three wins total, and four humiliating loses. The Lightning are .500 since the beginning of 2011. Realizing the Bolts are at .500 for the year in 8 games played may seem surprising with how some of these games have gotten away from them.
And while we're talking about things getting away from them, we need to talk about special teams. It was the bread -and-butter of this club for the first half of the season -- always in the top-10 (more often top-5) league-wide in both power play percentage and penalty kill prowess.
But things change.
The Lightning power play has dropped to 7th in the NHL (20.8% conversion rate), continuing ice-cold through the new year. They have scored all of two goals with a man-advantage in their past 31 chances. Playing a man down has also deflated considerably. The team is now ranked 10th, still in the upper tier but quite below where they were as of recent, with an 82.9% kill-rate. You may recall the Carolina Hurricanes' power play picking apart the Lightning just this past Saturday.
Is the power play deflation helped along by Steven Stamkos' injury that Guy Boucher alluded to? Perhaps it's just a road wary team finally having the pace of the 1-3-1 catch up with them? Whatever the case, some adjustments are needed on both units.
Columbus is 28th in the league on the power play, with a 13.1% success rate. Their penalty kill is ranked 23rd in the league, stopping 79.6% of opponents power-play opportunities.
Simon Gagne seems to have awoken to one degree or another -- posting three goals in the past three games. He's been shifted to Steven Stamkos line, while Martin St. Louis has been reunited with captain Vincent Lecavalier. Knowing Boucher, going with what works will continue.