WHERE: Verizon Center, Washington, District of Columbia
WHEN: 7 PM EDT | | TICKETS: Check Availability
MEDIA: Versus / NBC Sports Net* (cable), 970 WFLA (radio)
OPPONENT COVERAGE: Japers' Rink Kings of Leonsis, Rock the Red
Sometime in 2010 when Guy Boucher was hired as Head Coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the word got out that Boucher expected his teams to be proficient in stopping shots – be it through blocking shots or making it physically tough for opposing teams to get quality shots on goal. Keep opponents shots down at 20 or below. Anything above that is a failure and must be improved upon.
At the same time, Coach Boucher made a point to stress his teams making shots on goal. He expected a constant peppering of the opposing goalie with shots from all over the ice. 40 shots per game would be ideal, if not more.
The 40-for-20-against protocol may be outright unrealistic to expect in the NHL, but it’s an ideal worth striving for none-the-less. That’s part of why the first two games of the 2011-12 season are a concern – even if it’s early.
Between contests in Raleigh on Friday and Boston on Saturday night, the Bolts have given up an average of 37.5 shots on their own net: 33 shots-against in Raleigh, 42 shots-against in Boston. They’ve produced 30 shots on average between the two games (34 shots-on-goal in Carolina, and 26 against the B’s).
While the 2011-12 season is a new start, new beginning, and there should be no perceived continuity between last season and this season… I can’t help remember that the Bolts were routinely out-shot during the 2011 playoffs, with certain games feeling more like escape than clear-cut victory. Game Two of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Washington Capitals, tonight's opponent, was an example of such.
Guy Boucher dismissed the shot differential at the time by addressing shot quality. The team was doing just as coaching wanted, and that made the SOG differential a non-issue.
That was the do-or-die days of the playoffs, though. This is the marathon of the regular season, and we’ve only just crossed the starting line. This isn’t panic, of course, though it's a voiced concern: the bombardment of Lightning goalies can’t remain a constant as the regular season progresses, can it? Will it?
This is the third game in a row where "revenge" could be tossed around by one of the opponents. Carolina was out for it on Friday Night, seeking to avenge being denied the playoffs by the Bolts. Saturday? The Lightning weren't going to get all emotionally worked up about being bounced from the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals (and denied a chance to play for the Stanley Cup) at the hands of the Boston Bruins.
And now there's the Capitals, swept away at the hands of the Lightning during the playoffs last season. The Capitals aren't approaching this in a bitter, vengeful light... But they're motivated:
"We’re not going to get revenge on them by beating them [in this first meeting of the season]," center Brooks Laich said. "We’re never going to come full circle like that. But we obviously know what happened last year, and we’re not happy about it."
Brooks gets it: It's not like they are going to offer tea and crumpets to the Bolts, but they aren't going to get lost in the memory of last May when they have to work towards the 2012 playoffs. Last season, last playoffs, it's all said and done.
But how bitter things get on ice between the two rivals tonight, that's something to keep an eye on.
Dwayne Roloson will likely get the start in net tonight for the Lightning. Sunday's game notes from the St. Pete Times pointed out that forward Teddy Purcell was limited in ice time on Saturday due to illness, not the doghouse as was speculated. On the other hand, defenseman Matt Gilroy is still adjusting to the Lightning defensive scheme. Could he sit tonight in favor of Bruno Gervais? Probably not tonight, but we may see that later in the week when the Bolts head to Uniondale and a meeting with the New York Islanders.
The Caps opened the season on Saturday night with a 4-3 win over the Carolina Hurricanes. They went 2-for-5 ont eh power play, Their penalty-kill unit allowed 2 goals on 4 opportunities. The Lightning penalty kill has not allowed a goal in 11 opportunities so far, and the power play is 2-for-11 after two games this season.
*Versus will be renamed NBC Sports Net starting in January 2012. Both names were used here in order to hammer home the association before the name change, and I'll try to continue the reminder as the season progresses.