We're 15 games into the NHL season and the Tampa Bay Lightning has been fortunate to have played nine of those 15 games at home, going 7-2-0. The 4-2-0 record on the road isn't too shabby either... 22 points in 15 games outpaces the second and third place Flortheast (Atlantic) division teams - the Toronto Maple Leafs and tonight's opponent, the Detroit Red Wings. The Lightning has games in-hand on every divisional opponent except Boston.
But the pace of season picks up this month for the Bolts, with seven of the month's remaining 11 games on the road - including a west coast spin.
Tonight, Tampa Bay faces the storied Red Wings, who will be their seventh Western Conference oppone-wait, what's that? I beg your pardon? I already said they're divisional foes with us now? Is that right? Okay... Uh... Yeah, Detroit... That mainstay of the storied Flortheast Division and a standard bearer for the NHL's Eastern Conference...
You know, for years I've bitched about Detroit being in the west (and the general geography failure of the NHL's alignment) but this still is tough to swallow. Tampa Bay doesn't just face Detroit tonight; they face Detroit regularly as a divisional foe now.
Do you know how many times these two franchises have played, total, since the Lightning came into being in the NHL? 32 times. 32 times total. It's an odd coincidence that this is Tampa Bay's 16th game of the season because it's also their 16th time ever venturing to Joe Louis Arena to take on the Wings. Their record at storied building a horrible 1-13-0 with 1 tie. The record when Detroit goes to Tampa isn't any better - 4-12-0 with 1 tie.
Yeah, those are encouraging numbers, huh? But they were secured in years where Tampa Bay played Detroit once, maybe twice, a season. While the Red Wings are a well oiled machine, I think we've all noticed that the Lightning aren't too shabby themselves this season, and have a knack for playing up (or playing down) to their opponents.
Translation: Those previous 32 contests mean absolutely nothing. This is game one of what should be a healthy rivalry between the two franchises.
Both teams are currently boasting strong penalty kill units - their kill-rate is in the 84% area, with a tenth of a percentage point lead for the Lightning over the Wings in that standing. The power play, on the other hand, sees the Lightning tied for 9th (or standing at 10th) with a 20.7 efficiency with the man-advantage (they're tied with Pittsburgh). Meanwhile, Detroit is 17th in the league with a 17.6% effectiveness.
Ben Bishop gets the nod between the pipes for the Lightning.
The "Top Gun line" looks to be back together for this one -- Richard Panik practiced with Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. Panik did not endear himself to Grand Rapids Griffins/Detroit Red Wings fans during the 2013 Calder Cup Finals several months ago. We'll surely see how much of a grudge is held tonight.
As for Detroit, it'll be Jimmy Howard between the pipes. He's got a .911 save percentage this season and a 2.73 GAA in 13 games. Those are serviceable numbers, but the record for Howard is a lot less than what the Red Wings can use: They're 5-5-3 with him in the pipes.
Here's something for tonight's game that I don't think anyone will focus on going into the game (unlike other stories): Teddy Purcell hasn't scored a goal in his past nine games, and has not recorded a point in his last three. There have been people - fans, some pundits - talking about a lack of secondary scoring for the Lightning, and Purcell is the focal point regarding Lightning secondary scoring. While many (myself included) took Purcell's hot start as a smack in the face of his critics, his disappearance from the score sheet is ammo for those who wish to ridicule the right wing.
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