The Crunch Bunch; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Montreal Canadiens preview

Richard Panik becomes the third Tampa Bay Lightning prospect to make their NHL debut this season when he plays against the Montreal Canadiens tonight. He's one of 5 players form teh Syracuse Crunch at current on the Lightning roster. - Photo via and © Scott Thomas and used with permission

Five Syracuse Crunch alumni are currently on the Tampa Bay Lightning's roster, two have made their NHL debuts so far this season, a third will do so tonight when the Bolts take on the Montreal Canadiens at Times Palace.

WHERE: Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
WHEN: 7:30 PM EST | | TICKETS: Check Availability
MEDIA: Sun Sports (cable), 970 WFLA (radio)
OPPONENT COVERAGE: Habs Eyes on the Prize, All Habs

Keith Aulie on defense was a shoe-in for a spot on the Tampa Bay Lightning roster to start things off; add forwards Cory Conacher, Pierre-Cedric Labrie, Alex Killorn and now Richard Panik and you have an invasion of AHL players on the Lightning roster. Mind you, these are not AHL caliber players (bubble guys who bounce around between the minors and the NHL) as three of the five will have made their NHL debuts this season, but they are AHL players none-the-less; AHL players and Calder Cup champions with the 2011-12 Norfolk Admirals.

Call them "The Crunch Bunch", all playing on the Lightning with the influence of where they came from still fresh in their hearts. Their time with the club may be fleeting (Panik, replacing Ryan Malone, may only be on the Bolts roster for a month as that is the expected duration of Malone's recovery time), but it's a starting point for each of their careers. Conacher had a goal and an assist in his first NHL game (opening night), Killorn had an assist in his first NHL game (Sunday's drubbing in New York)... Will Richard Panik join them on the NHL-debut score sheet tonight versus the Canadiens?

One last point before going into game-day details let me quote Kyle Alexander (writing on @lightning101):

Indeed, this is an interesting fact and head scratching, to a degree. Brett Connolly has NHL experience that the aforementioned Conacher, Killorn and Panik lack. At the same time, Connolly has had consistent playing time issues in juniors with thanks to injuries, and was bounced around during his pro debut last season with the Lightning - leaving the team in December 2011 to play for Team Canada in the World Junior Championships, and struggling with the big club on his return, without a consistent role to play on the team.

It would appear Steve Yzerman wants Connolly not only to get consistent playing time in the AHL, but consistent time in one place instead of possibly being shuffled between the AHL and NHL (Conacher, Killorn and Panik could be returned to Syracuse at any given time). Connolly has so far played in 45 games with Syracuse, scoring 19 goals and 21 assists in those contests.

On to tonight's game...

One might take a casual glance at the standings and see the Montreal Canadiens in 4th place in the Northeast Division and think the Bolts have a chance against a weaker opponent... But shift your eyes to the right and the "points" column: Montreal has 13, more than Tampa Bay, after 11 games. The entire Northeast Division is a force, to one degree or another (Buffalo may be the only team in the division with a losing record, but that can turn around in a flash).

For Les Habs, Carey Price is keeping them in contests with his 2.21 GAA and .919 save %, while the Lightning will start Anders Lindback between the pipes. Lindy was supposed to have Sunday off, but got called in with Mathieu Garon's poor showing in Madison square garden (3 goals on 19 shots), but he wasn't much better himself (2 goals on 13 shots).

The team playing in front of both goalies wasn't helping matters much. 32 shots on goal allowed to the Rangers, careless turnovers leading to too many of those shots and goals. Tampa Bay needs to improve their puck possession skills. That doesn't jus mean improve turnovers, it also means improving zone entry and stop giving possession away with dump-ins or cross-zone passes through traffic.

Marc-Andre Bergeron, Brendan Mikkelson and Pierre-Cedric Labrie are the healthy scratches for the Lightning tonight, and Panik will be wearing #71.

Other Previews

Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview

Full game coverage on SB Nation

Tickets -- Check Availability

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