The Buffalo Sabres have been perceived as the absolute worst team in the NHL for the first half of the season, and who can really argue with it? Racking up 26 points in 41 games (they now have 28 in 42 games), only 11 wins, a total organizational restart with the front office and coaching staff changed on the fly. Buffalo was a disaster in the first half of the season and there are few situations comparable...
Yeah, well, let me re-introduce you to the Edmonton Oilers, who the Bolts soundly defeated in November. The Oilers currently have 31 points in the standings, which is 3 in front of Buffalo. The Sabres will have 3 games in hand on the Oilers after tonight though. The Sabres also willingly made a change from the top down because the direction of the club has not improved with the status quo. Edmonton, on the other hand, is beholden to can't-do-wrong Kevin Lowe and the in-the-bubble mentality that Edmonton (members of the organization) is the absolute and we're (critics, outside parties) all just peons. They know what's best and critics are to be ignored, dismissed, and locked out.
That's not saying Edmonton fans take that position, the organization on the other hand? Well...
Lowe remains the standard and low remains the standings for the Oilers.
In a way, they're looking like the 2013 Tampa Bay Lightning: Taylor Hall has 39 points (15 goals, 24 assists), David Perron has 33 (17 goals, 16 assists), Jordan Eberle has 33 (12 goals, 21 assists), Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has 31 (11 goals, 20 assists)... And the four players are a combined minus-39. No regular player on the Oilers roster is a plus in the plus-minus ratings.
Hall, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins will be playing together on the same line tonight; the high concentration of offensive firepower is necessary in the face of the challenge Tampa Bay puts forth.
I made the Tampa Bay Lightning 2013 team comparison because the Oilers can score at will, but they can't hold a lead or protect a lead. Goaltending has been mediocre when it's been at its best... Hello, Ilya Bryzgalov - and I do say that with respect. He's 2-5-3, a porous 3.13 GAA should be dismissed and his .910 save percentage focused on. He's doing his job as best he can in light of things - the Oilers give up nearly 32 shots a game and a moderate save percentage is going to help but not be the absolute savior for the club.
I worried that the Calgary game could be a trap game for Tampa Bay, as the Bolts might look past the woeful Flames toward the high flying/nose-diving Oilers. The same applies here - the Oilers can be dismissed at your own peril, they have enough potency to win a game now and again... Tampa has a much more formidable opponent forthcoming when they travel to Winnipeg after the game to take on the Jets. I have doubts, however, that the true "trap game" mentality exists on a cross-conference spin.
While the Oilers are reeling, the Bolts are keeping their head above water. They're a single point in front of the Montréal Canadiens in the Atlantic Division standings and trail the Boston Bruins by 4 for the division lead.
Damian Cristodero reported on Twitter today that Sami Salo is practicing again with the team and is likely back in the lineup tonight. Salo's missed the last several contests with one of the NHL's patented undisclosed injuries.
Ben Bishop starts in net for the Lightning. Ben recorded his fourth shutout of the season in Tampa Bay's Friday night matchup with the Flames. Though this will possibly jinx things, you have to start wondering if Ben will get anywhere close to the team record for shutouts in a season (Nikolai Khabibulin holds the record with 7).
There are a lot of little things I could report here, but instead of running this long and giving you power play / penalty kill numbers, I'd like to point to the anomaly of the Lightning scoresheet that finally cleared itself up: It took 41 games for Teddy Purcell and Alex Killorn to earn 23 points (which they both respectively have). They're now tied with Steven Stamkos for third on the team with points. Stamkos held his top-3 position in scoring for the past 24 games despite being out with his broken leg since November. I guess this is a clear tell-tale difference between the Oilers and the Lightning too - the Bolts have been competing, but they haven't been trying to run up the score to overcome shortcomings. They do have players who contribute secondary scoring after Marty St. Louis and Valtteri Filppula, but there job is to play the game on both sides of the red line. Besides Richard Panik (minus-8), no Lightning regular is a negative plus minus at this point (I don't qualify Ryan Malone as a regular at this point as he had been out for so long with his ankle injury - he's minus-1).
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