It's fitting that the Lightning end the first half of the NHL season with a showdown with the Union Army and the Columbus Blue Jackets. Why fitting? Because the Bolts have sacked and raided the Confederate stronghold of Norfolk over the past few weeks. Oh, they have good reason to have done it (with injuries, injuries, and more injuries to the Tampa Bay Lightning roster) but ... well, Ads fans can't be too happy with that.
Dana Tyrell, J.T. Wyman, Pierre-Cedric Labrie, Trevor Smith, Evan "Yo-Yo" Oberg, and now Mike Angelidis have all been recalled at one point or another for the Bolts. Angelidis and Oberg were both formally recalled this morning (with Evan having been sent back to Norfolk immediately following the Lightning's victory in Phoenix on Saturday night). While recalls have happened, and have had to happen, the Admirals can and should be feeling the crunch from losing key players off their roster.
With 42 games played in their season, the Ads are a scant few percentage points behind the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and the Hershey Bears In the Eastern Division standings. They're seeded sixth in the AHL Eastern Conference.
While Bolts fans have been desperate to see the likes of forward Carter Ashton, defenseman Radko Gudas and goalie Dustin Tokarski in Tampa Bay Lightning uniforms, those players (and others like Mark Barberio, Cory Conacher, and Jaroslav Janus) are integral in keeping the Admirals afloat and in contention in their own playoff race. While we're used to the Lightning focusing on the NHL team and nothing else, the current Lightning brain trust want to develop a winner at all levels.
So while the great raid of Norfolk has occurred, don't expect it to last or go further. As players like Ryan Malone, Ryan Shannon, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Victor Hedman, Tom Pyatt, Tyrell, Adam Hall and (maybe even) Mattias Ohlund heal and return to the Lightning lineup, the likes of Wyman, Smith, Labrie, Oberg and Angelidis will go back to Norfolk to help with the playoff push and vying for the Calder Cup (the AHL's championship trophy).
The Bolts are in the midst of unfamiliar territory this season. For the uninitiated, Tampa Bay having won three (3) games in a row are on what is known as a "winning streak". That means they have won several games in succession, or consecutively.
Yes, I'm being sarcastic.
The Bolts, hosting the league cellar-dwelling Blue Jackets, look to close out the first half of the season with their longest winning streak of the year. That's right, Tampa Bay hasn't won four in a row all season.
Of course, they're doing it with an injury-depleted roster, as I noted above. Angelidis was promoted because Tyrell is back on the shelf. Evan Oberg is back in Tampa because Bergeron is not ready to return to the lineup.
For th Blue Jackets, there has been a change since the two teams squared off last month. Coach Scott Arniel was given up on by Columbus management and fired on January 9th. Todd Richards took over, and the Jackets are 2-4-1 since then. Tonight, they're playing the flip-side of back-to-back games; they were in Nashville last night and lost to the Predators.
There is danger in this game if the Bolts are thinking ahead to the 6 day layoff after this game. The majority of the Tampa Bay Lightning get to rest and heal until next Tuesday (a home date with the Washington Capitals) while Steven Stamkos gets to pack his bags for Ottawa, Ontario, and the 2012 NHL All-Star game. The league's leading scorer is Tampa Bay's lone representative in this year's game.
The good news from the morning skate is that Victor Hedman practiced with the team, albeit with a red, no-contact, jersey. That's a bit of positive news. The Bolts have been without Hedman since he was concussed on December 27th, 2011. Victor needs to work on his conditioning, but he told local reporters that he has hopes to play next week when the season resumes against the Capitals.
Mathieu Garon gets the start in goal for the Lightning tonight. He was the goalie of record in the Bolts win against Columbus from December (a 3-2 victory).
Last, and certainly not least, is Erik Erlendsson reporting that Evan Oberg may very well be making his NHL season debut tonight. That's right, the myth of Evan Oberg may be coming to a close, but the legend will live on forever! (Note: It's confirmed by the team now, Evan Oberg will play tonight)