Happy holidays! This comes a few weeks removed from Hanukah, but other annual rites of the winter solstice are on tap for the next week or so. You likely don't need to be reminded of this if you were doing your Christmas shopping over the weekend (why did you wait until the last minute again anyway?!) It's important to let things proceeding in their natural order, though, so while Christmas comes later in the week... Today we celebrate another holiday: Festivus!
Ah, yes, the pop culture derived holiday born from the TV series Seinfeld with all its inanities like the Festivus Pole, the Airing of Grievances and the Feats of Strength!
The necessary feat of strength tonight is Tampa Bay going into the Christmas break with a positive showing against a divisional rival in the Florida Panthers. The Panthers are on the uptick in recent weeks - still near the bottom of the division, but their 33 points in the standings (14-18-5) is a damn sight better than cellar dwelling Buffalo.
As you may be aware, the Panthers waved the white flag on Kevin Dineen's tenure as head coach on November 8th. The deposed Dineen, who will coach Canada's women's Olympic hockey team at Sochi in February, was replaced by San Antonio Rampage head coach Peter Horachek. And the Cats are treading water again, so the switch is showing results; Florida is 7-3-0 in their last 10 and looking to usurp the Ottawa Senators in the division standings.
The Panthers offensive leaders aren't the young up-and-comers, though Jonathan Huberdeau and rookie Aleksander Barkov have 15 points apiece. It's Tomas Fleischman who leads the team in scoring with 19 points (5 goals, 14 assists) and Scottie Upshall with 18 (6 goals and 12 assists) who lead the offense in Sunrise.
Last time around, Upshall found a way to get under the skin of Lightning defenseman Radko Gudas (spraying him with Gatorade from the bench) that resulted in a match penalty by way of a broken-stick. Will Upshall once again taunt the Beard? Or perhaps a more direct confrontation will play out between the two tonight? We'll find out in time.
Oh, and injuries are still an issue for the Lightning. Defenseman Eric Brewer did not participate in the morning skate today and that led to a shift of defensive pairings - Victor Hedman with Andrej Sustr, Mark Barberio with Sami Salo, Radko Gudas remained with Matt Carle. Nothing from Times beat writer Damian Cristodero or Tribune reporter indicated if the Bolts were looking at once again going 11-7... So there's a chance that Pierre Cedric Labrie or B.J. Crombeen may make their return to the lineup as the Bolts skate a full fourth line.
It'll be Ben Bishop in goal for the Lightning with his prevalent 19-5-2 record, 1.96 GAA and .934 save percentage. He'll be directly against Panthers veteran netminder Scott Clemmensen. Clemmer hasn't exactly been bad in his own right - though his save percentage is a mixed .902 and 2.60 GAA is fair enough. He's 4-2-1 in nine games appearances with the Panthers.
If the Carolina Hurricanes Justin Peters can hold off an onslaught by the Lightning (which he did for the majority of Saturday's game - 3 goals on 50 total shots is one hell of a defense by the netminder) then Clemmer has a chance against Tampa... Especially if the Lightning can't find the same mojo they had on Saturday that resulted in shot after shot after shot on net.
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