Crisis of conference; Tampa Bay Lightning versus St. Louis Blues preview

Rob Foldy-USA TODAY Sports

More of an op-ed than a game preview, I note the ho-hum status of the new schedule that forces just too much of a bulk of meaningless games on each team's schedule.

Where:  Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
When: 7 PM EDT | Tickets: Check availability
Media: Sun Sports (cable) |970 AM WFLA (radio)
Opponent Coverage:St. Louis Game Time

The Lightning is playing the flip-side of back-to-back games for the second consecutive weekend. They had the meek last weekend, playing divisional refuse foes Buffalo and Florida and collecting two wins in the process.

This back-to-back series is a little different.  Carolina was a weaker foe, as most of the Metro Division is seen as weak right now... But if Tuesday's game in New Jersey taught Lightning fans anything, it's that they shouldn't take the "underperforming" status for granted.  The end results from last night may make you brush off my concerns all together...  Have it your way in that case.  Yeah, they came, they saw, they conquered.

Now they've got the Blues.

St. Louis (pronounced Saint Lewis) rolls into Tampa tonight on the flip-side of their own back-to-back series.  The Blues (8-1-2) have the same point total (18) as the Lightning (9-4-0) in fewer games played.  They pushed around Florida last night in a 4-0 shutout in Sunrise. The Blues are just behind the Chicago Blackhawks in the Central Division and are a scant 4 points behind that runaway train known as the Colorado Avalanche (who are at 22 points).

So, you know, tonight should be a fight....  It's akin to the Blackhawks games from last month...  But does anyone care?

Oh, I don't mean that as in the Blues are to be dismissed. And I mean that in the same way as if I were talking from the St. Louis side - it's not like the Lightning should be dismissed.  But, I believe they are dismissed.  As the Kings were.  As many yet-to-arrive Western Conference foes will be in the weeks and months to come.

Maybe I'm alone on this, maybe I'm an outlier opinion, but I don't get the sense fans need or want the pushed-for play-every-team-in-the-league aspect of schedule reform that was part of realignment.  That is, in part, with thanks to the NHL's Northeast media-centric partnership with Comcast and Toronto-based Canadian media - the fact that media bias gives off the perception the East is where it matters and then there are 14 other teams, ho-hum, pass the beer-nuts please.  That's a renown failing by the NHL in marketing its  product...  And it's a renowned issue that won't be cured straight-away by playing every team in the league each season.

I'm not against cross-conference play; I'm just against putting more weight on it than there should be.  We have 82 games in a season, and (for Eastern teams) 28 of them are played against non-conference foes.  That's 32 for Western Conference teams.

In an effort to stress divisional rivalry, it feels like the league has put the premium on divisional play in the playoffs - when only 4/5 teams will advance to compete within it.

I don't know attendance numbers for the league regarding how well-attended these cross-conference games are proving to be (Hockey Reference has a game-by-game breakdown of attendance and numbers at Times Palace have not been great so far this season, especially in cross-conference play.)  I do know that it doesn't feel as exciting as it should.  It feels murky, muddled, and just... a mess.  So many games, and less a sense of urgency compared to the abbreviated, home-conference-only schedule from last season.

And, yes, there seem to be plenty of seats available for tonight's scrimmage.

***

The Blues Alex Steen leads the NHL with 12 goals at this point, which is a sight better than the Lightning's current leader, some clown named Stamkos who has 10.  There's been no confirmation about much of anything for today from the Lightning.  I'm assuming Andrej Sustr finds his way back in to the Lightning lineup, and Anders Lindback starts in goal for the Lightning.  That's deductive reasoning there - Ben Bishop pitchd a shutout yesterday, 31 saves...  There's still a chance he starts (playing against his former franchise and hometown team) but it's safer to guess it'll be Lindy.

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