WHERE: St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
WHEN: 7:30 PM EST
MEDIA: Sun Sports (cable), 620 WDAE (radio)
OPPONENT COVERAGE: Five For Howling
Tonight is game 60 of the Tampa Bay Lightning season. 22 games remain in th 2010-11 NHL season. The Bolts stand with 75 points -- a single point ahead of the Washington Capitals for the Southeast division lead. We've been hyping up games now for a few weeks on end -- playoff-caliber matchups against the Flyers, Red Wings and Capitals. Important games were being played against Southeast division foes with the Carolina Hurricanes, Atlanta Thrashers and Florida Panthers.
Now you see the opponent -- the Phoenix Coyotes -- and you might shrug. Relevance? Importance? It's a cross conference matchup, who cares?
It's another litmus test on par with last weeks match-up against the Detroit Red Wings. What the Coyotes lack in mystique, in history, they make up for in current dominance. They're on an eight-game winning streak -- including last night against the Eastern Conference leading Flyers.
Don't expect snowbirds ruining the experience at tonight's game... But if the Lightning don't come to work and bring their A-game (yet again) they will be ruining the experience at Times Palace all on their own.
The Coyotes dragged into Tampa early this morning after playing (and beating) the Flyers last night. So it's not incorrect for me to point out the fact that once again the Lightning have an opportunity to take advantage of an opponent playing on back-to-back nights. Last time they had this opportunity -- opposing someone on the flip-side of back-to-back games -- was just a matter of days ago against the Panthers. Florida had faced the Red Wings just hours earlier and found a way to come back against the Lightning, and then win in the shootout.
Florida gaining points in the standings wasn't the issue. It was the issue of Tampa Bay leaving the door open for other teams (read: Washington) to make up ground. It's almost deja vu from last season: The Lightning failing to close the door, by way of losing to lower-tier opponents.
But the Bolts aren't just failing against the lower tiered opponents. The shootout loss to the Flyers last monday and the drubbing at the hands of the Red Wings were reminders that the Bolts are a project. We may be thrilled that Steve Yzerman has made moves to ensure the Bolts competitiveness this season (acquiring Dwayne Roloson to shore up the goaltending issues; trading for Eric Brewer to beef up the blue line), but the team is not firing on all cylinders at this point and going all-out at the trade deadline won't necessarily get things back on track.
The Bolts shut-out the Coyotes in Glendale earlier this season, game 10 of the season to be precise. The 'Yotes weren't playing anywhere near how they are playing now though. Yet, the Coyotes are doing this without special teams help. Their Power play and penalty kill are ranked 22nd and 23rd int he league, respectively. The Bolts penalty kill has fallen out of the top-10 in the league (13th) and the power play continues to slowly fade.
I'm expecting Dwayne Roloson back in net for Tampa Bay tonight, but would not be shocked tos ee Dan Ellis get another stab at things. I also am wondering if coach Guy Boucher will stick with the 7-defenseman attack he's been utilizing the last few games, even with the lackluster results?