RALEIGH NC - JANUARY 29: Martin St. Louis #26 of the Tampa Bay Lightning shoots on Carey Price #31 of the Montreal Canadiens during the elimination shootout in the Honda NHL SuperSkills competition part of 2011 NHL All-Star Weekend at the RBC Center on January 29 2011 in Raleigh North Carolina. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)
The Montreal Canadiens visiting the Tampa Bay Lightning may be the opening match-up of a four-game home stand, but this should be looked at as anything but a breather. Lets start by noting the sell-out crowd (with heavy helping of snowbirds in attendance) and Times Palace has the potential to be a hostile environment for tonight (and the week going forward).
While local media has gone to the dogs with inanities, the health of the Lightning roster remains in flux: Marc-Andre Bergeron is probable for tonight's game, Vincent Lecavalier is a game-time decision (but left the ice early during the morning skate), Steve Downie is doubtful and did not participate in the team's morning skate. Add to it Mike Lundin and Ryan Malone are still on injured reserve and other guys are playing hurt... And you have a nice helping of adversity before the puck ever drops.
Now add the aforementioned Les Habs, Washington Capitals, and Chicago Blackhawks to the upcoming schedule -- three teams jockeying for playoff position. There's also the Ottawa Senators - a team the Bolts traditionally play poorly against. This on the heels of the back-to-back losses in the northeast earlier this week.
Yeah, fun times ahead at Times Palace.
The good news regarding injuries is that defenseman Mike Lundin has been skating with the team as of late, he is wearing the red, no contact jersey, but he's skating and prepping for a return possible later in the week against Chicago or Ottawa.
But you have to get through Montreal and Washington before you can anticipate Mike's return to the team.
Les Habs are 5-3-2 in their past ten, which includes taking down the West's best in the Vancouver Canucks on February 22nd. They've also won their previous three games, the last coming on Thursday against the Florida Panthers.
One last note about tonight (and the last few games): There's been some scrutiny put on Steven Stamkos and his slowed pace of goal scoring. he still is 2nd in the NHL in points with 78 -- a single point behind Daniel Sedin. He still leads the NHL with 41 goals -- still eight in front of his next nearest rivals (Ryan Kesler and Patrick Sharp). And while Stamkos' own production may be down, others on the team (read Teddy Purcell, Lecavalier, and Stamkos linemate Martin St. Louis) have had their own recent production spike.
The team has enough talent where Stamkos doesn't have to do everything. But what he is capable of doing makes us yearn for more.