And so it begins. The Lightning open the 2013-14 season tonight in Boston (and yes, folks, the game is televised; this isn't practice after all). It's the christening of the Bolts entrance into the Atlantic Division, fondly referred to as the "Flortheast Division".
It doesn't change the fact Beantown has been unlucky for Tampa Bay in the past... Like all-twenty-one-years-of-Lightning-hockey past. The Bolts are 5-32-6* in Boston. That * stands for 6 "ties" listed on MCubed's all-time series record, and I can't differentiate if all those games were truly ties or any of them were overtime/shootout-losses or not. It's also worth noting the Lightning have given up 3.6 goals per game on average in Boston since 2010, and are 2-10-0 since the start of the decade. Head coach Jon Cooper talked about this pesky record thing with the Tampa Bay Times yesterday.
[Note by John Fontana, 10/03/13 2:05 PM EDT ] Mcubed lists OTL's/SOL's as losses. They also include playoff games, it seems, in their all-time record page. So the Lightning's all time record in Boston is a bit obfuscated by the source I cited.
Right, cheery stuff to read... It is game day, you're thrilled, and you don't want to focus on that grim stuff! It's hockey time!... and you're going to have to wait for the Bruins to raise their 2013 Eastern Conference Champion banner before the game, and probably other festivities to dole out praise for last year's squad.
There's the potential for the Bolts to have five rookies in the lineup tonight... Rookies, by way of the NHL's somewhat-arcane rules about rookie-dom (and eligibility to win the Calder Trophy):
...a player cannot have played any more than 25 games previously in any single season, nor have played in more than six games in each of two separate preceding seasons in any major professional league.
Defensemen Radko Gudas, Mark Barberio and Andrej Sustr along with forwards Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat all fit the bill (though all players made their NHL debuts last season. LW Richard Panik doesn't fit, having 25 games under his belt after making his NHL debut last season. Same thing with Alex Killorn (who played 38 games last year).
That doesn't mean all five rookies will start. Gudas is likely to play, as are Johnson and Palat (who earned roster spots with thanks to the chemistry of their "Top Gun" line), but Sustr or Barberio? That's up to coach Jon Cooper to decide, though it's not out of the realm of possibility to happen. Sustr was practicing with the top-six earlier in the week, paired with Eric Brewer. The Lightning are very high on the guy.
No starting goalie has been named for the Lightning as of this writing, while it'll be Tuukka Time in Boston, with Tuukka Rask in the crease for the B's. Rask had a .929 save percentage last season for Boston, and a 2.00 GAA, that's almost a full point better GAA than what Anders Lindback had with Tampa last season, and a .027 higher save percentage. It's a testament on how much pressure is on both goalies and Lightning defensemen to improve this season - since 2010, no Lightning goalie who has started the season in Tampa has posted a save percentage better than .902 or a GAA under 2.86.
There are a lot of things not talked about in this preview, because a lot of things are still unknown: Defense, power play, penalty kill (well, one thing we do know is that everyone plays the PK again for the Lightning, including Steven Stamkos and Martin St. Louis, this isn't a specialist gig alone any more). I know I didn't praise Boston as much as they deserve... Bring it up in comments if you'll please, sirs and madams.
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