A downhill climb for contention at the midway point; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Winnipeg preview

USA TODAY Sports

The Lightning are at the midway point of the season and find themselves in a mire outside the playoffs. Can the Bolts climb back into contention? With the next five of six at home, the opportunity is there. It starts tonight versus a Jekyll-and-Hyde Winnipeg team.

WHERE: Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
WHEN: 7:30 PM EST | | TICKETS: Check Availability
MEDIA: Sun Sports (cable), 970 WFLA (radio)
OPPONENT COVERAGE: Arctic Ice Hockey

The midway point of the 2013 NHL season has been reached. From amazing feats by one Steven Stamkos to the hapless woes of loses upon loses the past few weeks, the first 23 games of the season have been a lot of offense and a lot of holes working against the team.

A potent offense, a porous defensive effort; many many goals and an all-out offensive attack cannot do it alone for the Lightning. That's the lesson that's been commanded the past few games... But is it a lesson that's been learned?

The Lightning and former Thrashers of Winnipeg are tied in the standings at 21 points a-piece, second place in the woeful Southeast Division, well below that of frontrunner Carolina (who has 27 points. Both teams are a scant three points below the New York Rangers in the quest for the #8 seed and a playoff berth, but the Rags have fewer games played than both teams as well.

And don't look now, but the Florida Panthers and Washington Capitals are both on the rise with 19 points each.

In essence, the division is a mire of mediocrity. One contender in the division; everyone else is an also-ran.

Regarding tonight's contest, however, the franchise from Winnipeg (by way of Atlanta) is winless in regulation at Times Palace since the 2008-09 season. February 10th, 2009 saw the Thrashers beat the Lightning 3-2. From that point on, the Bolts are 9-0-2 against them when playing at the Tampa Bay (nee St. Pete) Times Forum, including the8-3 victory last month.

Unlike last time, however, the Jets aren't playing the flip-side of back-to-back affairs. They are, however, losers in their last two and looking for a rebound and redemption from that humiliation suffered last month. Only able to muster one goal in those two contests, the Jets may be pleasantly surprised to find the Bolts more than willing to get too aggressive on offense, paving the way for an odd-man rush against Anders Lindback and opportunities on the Lightning net.

So, my question is - can the Lightning build off their win in Newark from Tuesday, or sill we see more of the same from three of the past four games - nice effort, but ultimately pointless?

Mathieu Garon had an MRI on his infamous lower-body injury and was given an all-clear. He'll skate in the next few days and re-assess things. He's day-to-day, not on IR. Cedrick Desjardins continues backup duties for the time being. And yes, that translates into another start for Anders Lindback.

Speaking of returns, everyone's favorite tattoo afficianado on the Lightning, Mister Ryan Malone, is expected to return to the lineup. How that affects things is yet to be determined. I wouldn't be shocked to see B.J. Crombeen sat instead of Pierre-Cedric Labrie (but likely its vice-versa).

Steven Stamkos had his 10 game point streak snapped in Newark; he may lead the league in goals (with 17), but he's minus-2 in his past three games with some very ill advised and ill timed turnovers.

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