Look past names, and locations. Look past the rhetoric and the politics of capitalism and the NHL Board of Governors. Forget the different logos, the different uniforms.
The difference that does count tonight in the Lightning's first game of the season against the relocated franchise formerly known as the Atlanta Thrashers, is the change in coaching and management. Head Coach Craig Ramsey and General Manager Rick Dudley - both formerly with the Tampa Bay Lightning in years past - were not invited to make the trip to the Great White North with the franchise. Instead, Kevin Cheveldayoff and Claude Noel are charge now oversee the team in a General Management and coaching role.
So why do I bring this up? I mean, a coaching and GM change? Of course there are changes on the roster for Winnipeg worth mentioning, too... But coaching and the front office guide the direction of the franchise. They're charged with assembling the team and readying the team.
And in this case, the team has to be ready and primed to challenge what has become the status-quo for the franchise: Being beaten by the Lightning. Game one of the 2011-12 season versus the former-Thrashers is a chance for the Lightning to extend the unbeaten streak against the franchise to 12 games. The last time the Lightning lost to the Thrashers was opening night, 2009.
Yes, these are no longer the Atlanta Thrashers. Their identity isn't entirely Winnipeg, either .
Do not attempt to adjust your TV set when you see Dwayne Roloson sporting a pink goalie stick tonight. It's Tampa Bay Fights Cancer night at Times Palace and you should see evidence of that in the building.
Also, do not adjust your TV set upon noticing a fellow named Shannon skating for the Lightning. Ryan Shannon is expected back in the lineup tonight for the Bolts, with Blair Jones sitting in his stead. Ryan sat during the Bolts past four games, as had Dwayne Roloson for the most part (he had mop up duty during Thursday's loss in Nashville).
Roloson has gotten back to basics, fundamentals, bare bones stuff. "Keep It Simple, Stupid". With the team playing better hockey in front of the crease up until Thursday's drubbing in Smashville, having Rollie back on his game could equal success.
But Thursday's loss does leave a bad taste in one's mouth. Coach Guy Boucher told reporters today that he's considering a change on defense. Directly, that means Bruno Gervais could start. That leads to wondering just who would sit with that move. Gervais had found himself playing in Matt Gilroy's spot when he had cracked the lineup, and though Gilroy is a candidate to be replaced, he wasn't one of the defensemen cited for mistakes on Thursday.
How far has Marc-Andre Bergeron come with the Lightning? Signed in December of 2010, he was the seventh D-man when he did see playing time with the Lightning last year. This season? He's an irreplaceable cog at this point, leading the NHL with 10 assists in early going. He's among league leaders with 12 points overall.
Winnipeg is coming off an epic win against the Philadelphia Flyers, in which 17 goals were scored by both teams combined. That harkened back to the Bolts own contest with the Flyers last season that resulted in the same back-and-forth, tit-for-tat goal scoring
Don't expect that kind of game to be played tonight.