Continuing trial by fire; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Los Angeles Kings preview

Harry How

The season so far has had the Lightning square off with some of the best hockey teams in the NHL, and tonight's scrimmage against the LA Kings is no exception.

Where: Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
When: 7:30 PM EDT | Tickets: Check availability
Media: Sun Sports (cable) | 970 AM WFLA (radio)
Opponent CoverageJewels from the CrownThe Royal Half, Battle of California

The Lightning have stood toe to toe with some of the big guys of the NHL. No, no, wait a second...  Let me try to give you a better glimpse of what the Lightning are going through to open the NHL season (and I should have done this when the schedule was released months ago):

1) Boston Bruins

2) Chicago Blackhawks

3) Buffalo Sabres

4) Florida Panthers

5) Pittsburgh Penguins

6) Los Angeles Kings

7) Minnesota Wild

8) Boston Bruins

9) Chicago Blackhawks

Six of the first nine games of the NHL season are against teams that have recently won the Stanley Cup.  All five of the last Cup champions have been on the docket.  The month will close out with another Stanley Cup Finalist (2012 - New Jersey Devils).

Five games in to this trial by fire for the Bolts, they tread water with a 3-2-0 record.  They beat the teams they ought to beat in Florida and Buffalo, and stood toe-to-toe with the league's elite up to this point (1-2-0, outscored 10-8 in those contests).

Tonight, with the Los Angeles Kings in town, the Bolts get to face one of the Western Conference's elites. Much like Chicago next week, we get to play the Kings twice this season with thanks to realignment and schedule reform that has every team facing off against each other at least twice.

The Kings are not at the top of the Pacific Division, but they aren't exactly struggling at this point either:  4-2-0 in six games.  Jonathan Quick hasn't quite been up to his usual tricks: a 2.64 GAA and a .905 save percentage are below his career averages for both categories, but it's early.  He'll be starting in net tonight for the Kings.  On the offensive side, the usual suspects (Jeff Carter, Anze Kopitar, Mike Richards, Justin Williams and Dustin Brown) are all at the top of scoring for the Kings.  Carter leads the team in goals (4) and is tied with Kopitar for the team lead in points (5).

For the Lightning, Ben Bishop makes his return to the starting role after being scratched from Saturday's game.  He was listed as day-to-day (but then again, aren't we all?) with a lower body injury that was never deemed as serious.

The Lightning lineup is scheduled to stay the same as from recent days:  Tom Pyatt is out with an injury, Mark Barberio and Keith Aulie sits.  It actually makes me wonder just when we'll see the 11/7 roster split invoked, and Barberio (or Aulie) getting ice time because of it.

The Kings power play stands at 8th in the league with a 25% conversion rate, while Tampa Bay's power play is 4th in the NHL, converting on 31.6% of their chances.

After getting lit up by the Penguins, the Bolts penalty kill is... Well, atrocious: a 68.2 kill rate.  Los Angeles, on the other hand, is 10th in the league with 84% efficiency on the penalty kill.

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