Okay, so we're 16 days into the season, all of two which is part of why you're hearing dismissals from different fans of all sorts, saying "it's early still"), but we get a quirk in the schedule starting tonight at Times Palace. Or would it be more appropriate to call it déjà vu?
Tonight, the Lightning open the season against the Boston Bruins, then have to face Chicago before matchups with Buffalo and Florida. Basically the first four games of the 2013-14 season all over again, but with TB hosting the first three games of this stretch before heading out on the road for the fourth.
Division rival Boston - which is still odd to fathom - has a 4-2-0 record in six games played so far this season, and they've had a lone goalie handle ever game; it's been "Tuukka Time" in Boston, as Tuukka Rask has a .947 save percentage and a 1.51 goals-against average in his 357 minutes of play so far this season. There's no reason he shouldn't be between the pipes tonight for the Bruins, who have yet to give up more than 3 goals in a game this season.
For the Lightning, the drama of the lineup is playing out again: Jon Cooper wants Pierre-Cedric Labrie back in tonight. Labrie was scratched to make room for Brett Connolly on Thursday night. Connolly, who was recalled from Syracuse late Wednesday because of Martin St. Louis dealing with a
foot lower body injury, played on the fourth line in place of Labrie against the Minnesota Wild and had 9:38 of ice time.
So what do you do here? Sit Connolly and carry him as insurance alone? Send him back to Syracuse immediately? Get him into the lineup by scratching Richard Panik or Teddy Purcell? That latter idea would be a poor decision given Purcell's 8 points in the first 7 games of the season (4 goals, 4 assists).
The Lightning will be starting Ben Bishop once again between the pipes. The big man has numbers that directly rival Rask (a 1.57 GAA and .943 save percentage). He didn't play in the season opener in Boston; that was Anders Lindback... It wasn't exactly Lindback's fault the Lightning fell 3-1 in that opener against their Flortheast Division foe - that had to do with special teams and the lack there of. Two shorthanded goals allowed with thanks to mistakes made on the power play... That can't happen again.
In fact, if you play the percentages straight up on power play efficiency and penalty kill strength, the Bolts need to be much more concerned with Boston's PK than their PP: The Bruins are tied for second in the NHL with and 87.5% penalty kill efficiency while they stand at 24th in the league on the power play (13.6% effectiveness). If the Bolts don't make any gaffes on the power play tonight (and are still stopped dead) this game is a 5v5 contest alone. Opening night was a strong contest at 5-on-5; it was the special teams lapse that killed the affair.
The fact that Milan Lucic and David Krejci lead the Bruins in points and have only 3 goals between them tells you what may or may not have already been established with some of the info in this preview: it'll be a game of attrition tonight. If the Bruins get a goal, the objective will be to hold the lead more so than add to it. Compare this to the Bolts style that has turned into a mix of responsible play and offensive relentlessness and you gotta wonder - how many goals will it take to win this game for the Lightning, and how few for Boston?
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