The Lightning open up inter-conference play tonight in the "Hockeytonk" town of Nashville. Nashville, deep in the south but in the Western conference. Nashville, aka Smashville, which could be a rival for the Bolts in time if the NHL puts together a (sane) re-alignment plan for the league for 2012-13.
The Lightning have the opportunity here of going to .500 record for the season. Yeah, .500. Don't let the more-wins-than-losses record throw you off. The Bolts have lost 5 games this season (3 in regulation, 2 via shootout). 10 points in spite of a mediocre start to the season is nice, but it's 10 points in 9 games. They have to do better.
Yet Tampa Bay has also found new life over the past three games, and plan to stick with the lineup that has made them successful of late, with Mathieu Garon in net, Blair Jones and Tom Pyatt starting, while Mattias Ritola and Ryan Shannon watch from the press box.
Going to five wins, 12 points, will let them leap-frog the Florida Panthers into 2nd place in the Southeast Division:
After playing better on defense last week in wins at home over the Islanders and the Sabres, the Bolts went from giving up 17-22 shots, to letting Buffalo shoot freely at Garon 39 times. Of course, the Sabres are playing a high-octane game this season, and up until playing the Bolts, were flying high. Still, 39 shots against? As compared to 23 shots for? That type of disparity isn't encouraging. It's going back to the trouble from earlier this season before rediscovering winning against the Islanders last week.
The Predators are looking for their first win at home this season, with Pekka Rinne starting in net. Rinne gave up 4 goals in his lone game played against the Lightning... But ultimately took home the W for his effort.
We'll also note that Nashville is playing better on both the power play and the penalty kill than the Bolts right now. Tampa Bay has a 13.3% conversion rate on the power play. And after it's vaulted oh-fer start on the penalty kill, they have are killing off 84.1% of opponents power plays. That's 15th in the league.
Nashville? 10th in the league on the penalty kill with an 86.8 kill rate.. They're 13th in the league on the power play at this point, converting 17.2% of their chances.
Game time is 8 PM, and our game thread goes live at 7:30.