Ah, the winter rite of passage in Florida: A hockey game against a Canadian opponent, a sold out, mixed crowd of Tampa Bay Lightning fans and vacationing/transplanted Canadians, flocking to the soon-to-be Tampa Bay Times Forum.
Will we see it more often with the re-invention-of-the-wheel realignment plan set forth by the NHL? The Bolts will have three home games against the likes of the Maple Leafs, Sabres, Bruins, and tonight's opponent -- Les Habitants de Montreal. All four teams bringin a good sized crowd of their own supporters to games, and one of the common thoughts is that the divisional alignment will help the Bolts and Panthers (the two misaligned teams in an upper-Northeastern conference) sell tickets.
But the Lightning weren't having problems selling tickets. And the Pantehrs? They've suffered, but their product on ice has been mediocre for a decade, which had turned off local fans. They relied heavily on snowbirds to witness their own teams compete against the Cats.
Whatever the case, there's a packed house tonight. Which will do a better job of diminishing chants of "Olé" during the game: the Forum pipe organ, or the Tampa Bay Lightning?
Eric Brewer is fine, ladies and gentlemen. He disappeared from Tuesday's game against the Philadelphia Flyers (after getting pummeled by Wayne Simmonds) to have a cut stitched up. He'll be active for tonight against the Canadiens. Also back in teh swing of things? Matt Gilroy, who has been out for the past week-plus with an undisclosed lower body injury.
yet, before you sigh in relief that the Lightnign defense is in better shape than it looked (health wise) for moments against the Flyers, it's important to note Victor Hedman is out. Why he is out, is undisclosed. "Upper body injury" sustained when he ran into the boards.
Erik Erlendsson at the Trib laid it out pretty directly on Twitter:
Victor Hedman not yet speaking to the media, under evaluation for the next few days; nobody saying it's a concussion, but . . . .??
That's certainly not encouraging news. As has been stated elsewhere, the Bolts are already hurting without Mattias Ohlund this season. Hedman has filled in those minutes, though not with the same bruising style as Ohlund.
No matter your opinion of his play, Hedman served as one of the piilars on defense this season. His loss on the blueline is a major blow. While Matt Gilroy served well in filling Hedman's spot earlier this season when Victor went down with an injury, Yet, right now, Gilroy isn't at his physical best and shouldn't be expected to absorb the minutes like he had in November.
It's going to take everyone to make up for the loss of Victor.
Expect Evan Oberg to be recalled by the Lightning before the game. Though, for Yo-Yo's sake, I wouldn't mind someone else being recalled to sit and watch the game from the press box. Obverg has been recalled and demoted numerous times, but has not played a single NHL minute. In a way, he's in limbo: He's not spending as much time becomign part of the Norfolk Admirals team, and yet he isn't part of the Lightning roster either. His recalls serve as an insurance measure for the Bolts, but do nothing for the player's development.
Nate Thompson will also be out tonight for the Lightning.
One final note, not tied to tonight's game: Brett Connolly, playing for Team Canada at the 2012 World Junior Championships in Alberta, scored last night.during Canada's 5-0 win over the Czech Republic: