Like most NHL teams this early in the post-lockout season, the Tampa Bay Lightning have yet to find the consistent form they'll need to make the playoff push they expect following a disappointing 2011-12 season. In front of the sellout home crowd Saturday night, they were all over the Washington Capitals. Monday afternoon, in Nassau, it was the Islanders who dictated play most of the game. Though the Bolts put together a 3-goal-in-6-minutes surge in the final frame, it wasn't enough, as they went down in the 4-3 loss. Steven Stamkos scored his first goal of the season as part of the attempted comeback.
If the compete-level from one game to the next was not consistent throughout the roster, after two games, you can't overlook the contributions coming from vet Martin St. Louis and rookie Cory Conacher who, with 5 and 4 points in 2 games respectively, apparently share more than just their small stature.
|2012 - Martin St. Louis||3||2||5||1||0|
|2012 - Cory Conacher||1||3||4||2||2|
With newly-acquired netminder Anders Lindback facing 44 shots (stopping 40) from the Islanders yesterday, tonight might be the season debut for his partner, Mathieu Garon. In his career, the 35-year-old Garon has faced the Canes six times, with a 3-3-0 record, 3.30 GAA, .887 Save %. Last season, Garon's record vs Carolina was 2-1-0, allowing 10 goals in those three games. He was pulled after 15 minutes in one game last year after surrendering 3 goals on 8 shots, taking the loss.
Carolina will return to the club's goaltending workhorse, Cam Ward, who lasted only one period vs the Florida Panthers Saturday, allowing four goals on twelve shots against, before Dan Ellis came in in relief. Despite the poor showing, or perhaps because of it, Head Coach Kirk Muller will start his #1 goalie and expects Ward to be focused and ready to prove himself vs the Lightning tonight.
Ward has 36 games vs the Lightning club in his six years leading the Hurricanes, with a 19-18-3 record, a 3.00 GAA and .898 Save %. If Dan Ellis should make an appearance Tuesday, it will be only his 3rd vs the Bolts since he spent a year in Tampa Bay back in 2010-11. February 2011 saw trade deadline deal that sent Ellis to Anaheim. Ellis had become the odd-man-out in Tampa with old man Dwayne Roloson as the team's anointed #1 starter and goalie Mike Smith (who had been injured and displaced in the shuffle) recalled from Norfolk of the AHL.
Hurricanes making adjustments
Unlike the Lightning, who are coming off a tight turn-around and are playing their third game in four nights, the Hurricanes have had two days off to review and address what went wrong Saturday. Muller seemed to be tweaking all his lines and pairings Monday, with young gun Drayson Bowman getting promoted to the left wing slot along side Eric Staal and Alexander Semin. Jiri Tlusty and veteran Chad LaRose moved up from the checking line role Saturday and now flank Jordan Staal.
While the Staals and Semin are the headliners among the Hurricanes re-tooled forward corps, keep an eye on both Bowman, a elite goal scorer who has been a dominant player in Charlotte (AHL) this fall and on Tlusty, who was tearing up the Czech League during the lockout playing on the top line in Kladno with Jaromir Jagr and Tomas Plekanec.
Jeff Skinner drops to Jussi Jokinen's left wing; he and the Finn have shown great chemistry in the past so this may be more about finding comfort/chemistry among linemates than meting out ice time. The other Finnish forward the Canes rely heavily upon, rough-and-tumble Tuomo Ruutu, is out through April following hip surgery earlier this month.
As for defensive pairings, Joni Pitkanen and sophomore Justin Faulk were paired in Florida and were the strongest that night, each playing over 25 minutes and finishing +1 in the 5-1 loss. Whether Muller keeps them together or splits the two to shore up other pairings wasn't clear from practice Monday.
NHL regular Jamie McBain was the healthy extra Saturday, and thus far seems to have been pushed down the depth chart by former New York Rangers first rounder Bobby Sanguinetti, whose offensive contributions are somewhat less depreciated by defensive lapses than are McBain's. One match-up to watch would be between Sanguinetti and Conacher, who know each other well from last season in the American League, when Norfolk and rival Charlotte squared off eight times in the regular season.
Untimely penalties and poor special teams were particularly costly for the Canes Saturday. Giving up 3 goals in 6 penalty kills, Carolina's battery of offensive threats came up empty on 6 opportunities with the man advantage. Expect those elements to be under pressure to improve.
If you like NFL celebrity connections, Kevin Westgarth, a gritty fourth liner, could make his Hurricanes debut in front of family. Westgarth, who spent his entire career with the Los Angeles Kings, winning the Stanley Cup last June (even as a healthy scratch for the entire postseason), was acquired in a trade (for Anthony Stewart and some late picks) just 9 days ago. Westgarth is married to the daughter of former NFL coach Bill Cowher, who makes his home in Raleigh; I think we can expect them to be attendance.
This is the home opener in Raleigh. The Caniac Nation's tailgating reputation will be tested by the sub-freezing temperatures outside, but you can expect the PNC Arena to be raucous and supportive in the early going as the game sold out in matter of hours last Wednesday. This will be Jordan Staal and Semin's introduction to their new hometown crowd - emotions should be running high.
For more on the Lightning, who could skip a morning skate given their travel schedule, you should check out the following previews for updates on who Guy Boucher selects as his starter in goal and other personnel decisions.
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