Forty-one; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Vancouver Canucks preview

WHERE: Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
WHEN: 7:30 PM EST | | TICKETS: Check Availability
MEDIA: Sun Sports (cable), 970 WFLA (radio)
OPPONENT COVERAGE: Nucks misconduct, Canucks Corner, Canucks Hockey Blog, Benched Whale

This is game #41. It's the halfway mark of the season, and it was also the game number of former Lightning goaltender Mike Smith.

In a way, the first half of this season is comparable (to me) to Smith's tenure with the Tampa Bay Lightning. It was hatched with promise and potential. There were flashes of brilliance, but a lot of inconsistency between the pipes, over-aggressive play,a nd injuries. The injuries have helped derail the teams plans, and put it in a bind, but not so much as the inconsistency.

Of course, when I talk injuries, I am not talking goaltending. We've seen Mattias Ohlund go down before the season ever started, we've seen Victor Hedman, Matt Gilroy, Martin St. Louis, Ryan Shannon, Ryan Malone, Dominic Moore, Nate Thompson, Adam Hall and JT Wyman all lose playing time with one injury or another. But to say injuries are the reason the Bolts have struggled is a cop-out. It's a symptom of team failures. Not the ultimate cause.

I got a kick out of a quote from Dwayne Roloson, tonight's starter in net for the Lightning, remarking to reporters about the team's shortcomings:

"You have to respect the process to win....play KISS hockey - keep it simple, stupid. Do what you're asked to do. It's putting your mind to it, your desire, your determination to do whatever it takes to win hockey games."

It's a coincidence I said the same thing, but pointing squarely at Dwayne and goaltending, during the team's Canadian road trip. In the context of this article, the remark is to summarize a critique of the team by RW Martin St. Louis:

"You have those (playoff) expectations and you forget about the process and how we got in," left wing Ryan Malone said. "You have to realize the work ethic and everything we put into it and remember how hard we have to work."

Game 41. Speaking of #41, we'll see Mike Smith again next week when the Bolts go out west for a quick southwest swing through Dallas and then Phoenix... Coincidentally, Smith's former team and current team), back-to-back. But well before that happens, they have the Vancouver Canucks to deal with.

The Vancouver Canucks are kings of the Western Conference at the moment. No, I'm not talking their Western Conference championship from last season, I'm talking the standings. They are the #1 seed in the West, they have a commanding 7 point lead over the Minnesota Wild int eh Northwest Division. 55 point on the season in 43 games played is 18 more than the Lightning have in 40 games.

All of this bestowed upon loyal ‘Nucks fans, and they give back their continuing love-hate relationship with goaltender (and Lightning killer) Roberto Luongo. Don't let his 13-12-2 record against the Bolts fool you. Roberto has .923 save percentage, a 2.44 GAA, and 3 shutouts in 28 career games against Tampa Bay - most of those coming while Luongo played for a rather mediocre Florida Panther team.

‘Course I cite Luongo's stats, I think highly of him... That doesn't mean I'm of the ilk who would propose a fantasy trade of Luongo-for-Vincent Lecavalier that was suggested by the Vancouver Province earlier this season. Luongo-for-Lecavalier trade suggestions have been out there for years, but at the current moment - it does nothing for either team. It shuffles deck chairs, putting big contracts on other teams backs, while Lecavalier gets lost in the shuffle in Vancouver and Luongo is asked to be a savior goalie (while the team avoids finding a realistic long-term answer in net). Luongo being dealt anywhere would be a final-piece-of-the-puzzle move for anyone willing to risk his gargantuan 12-year contract (which is only in its second season).

Everyone looks at Canucks backup goalie Cory Schneider as a trade target, and the 25-year-olds numbers pique your interest... His age makes him the alpha goalie prospect in the league - he's playing NHL minutes and doing better than okay, he's young, he's stuck behind a locked-in veteran (Luongo). His value to the Canucks - as a backup and as a trade chip - is through the roof.

There's no realism in fantasizing about Luongo in trade. That said, it's also a shame the guy is melodramatically ridiculed by the media and expectations of the fans. That's what can happen to overhyped players when they play hockey in Canada - they're either all-world, consistently, or they're derided as nothing.

Other Previews

Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview

Lightning Hockey Blog

Tampa Bay Times

Full game coverage on SB Nation

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