So, it was freezing and below this morning in some parts of the greater Tampa Bay area this morning. Some of you long-time locals are bundled up and complaining about the brutal cold (and, yes, I have dealt with local individuals who use that description when any hint of fall winter weather invades Florida).
You're here at Raw Charge on this article to read about the Lightning's matchup with the Winnipeg Jets. While Tampa flirted with freezing (and has since bounced back to very non-freezing conditions with the dawn of a new days), Winnipeg is cold. I mean, literally it's the definition of "brutal cold" right now: -24 to start the day and it will never get above zero degrees Fahrenheit.
That is winter. What Tampa Bay experiences at this time of year is fall most anywhere else.
Right now, the icy conditions are fitting for where the Bolts are going into tonight's match up with former Thrashers of Atlanta. While the team has a 2-1-0 record on this four game, western Canada road wing, the event on Sunday night are what makes things feel absolutely frigid.
No Ben Bishop.
The MVP of the Lightning season so far had been playing as the best goalie in team history (greetings, Nikolai Khabibulin and Darren Puppa!) 32 appearances, a .935 save percentage, a 1.86 GAA, a 22-5-3 record. The GAA and the record is also due to the team play in front of him.
The loss of Bishop, no matter how short it may be, compares to a wind-out-of-their-sails Lightning moment of the past - 2011-12, when the Bolts were still in contention for a playoff spot and were relying on Mathieu Garon to take them there. Garon tore his groin on a save, and the team deflated. In a much more recent historical context, we can look at the loss of Steven Stamkos in Boston as a comparison point...
And not as a demoralizing one. It's a point that you need to remember - the season was deemed over with the loss of #91 to his broken tibia. The Bolts were expected to roll over and die. They've done anything but that since then. Yes, there have been more bumps on the road (and bruises on the team, to put it lightly). They've pressed on, largely with Bishop as a central figure during that gauntlet.
Instead of getting lost in demoralization and fearful about team fortunes for the moment or even the remainder of the season (authors note: that Olympic break next month is looking like a beautiful thing right now for rest and recuperation for this roster), this needs to be a rallying point, with necessary changes in tactics to coincide it.
If people are looking at Anders Lindback and shuddering (and why not? 13 appearances, a .883 save percentage and a 3.21 GAA), perhaps the focus that should come is to how the game is played in front of him? The style that's worked with Bishop isn't as complimentary to Lindy, and the plan on ice had to change to coincide that.
Tampa Bay has played close games with Bishop being the reason they've been successful. Right now they need to play games where they - the five guys in front of the crease - are the reason they are successful. You can't go entirely loosey-goosey, run-and-gun and hope for the best. It's more about being more rigid regarding puck control and defensive play.
Opportunities will come on offense, but give Lindback as much help as possible by limiting opportunities in the Lightning zone for the Jets (and the Capitals, and any other opponent that the Lightning face with Anders in net). They've worked on this all season with Bishop serving as the proverbial safety net. Now it's time to work without the net.
That isn't impossible. It's also not impossible for Lindback to step up here (note to Anders: be vocal and take charge, these guys are supposed to be working with you, not complications in front of you).
Lindback started the previous game against Winnipeg (back at Times Palace). He made 34 saves on 36 shots, one hell of a game but ultimately lost that one.
The Bolts recalled Cedrick Desjardins from the Syracuse Crunch last night, likely to have him serve as backup tonight in Winnipeg. The entire roster move seems short-term as there was no coinciding (and awkward) recall of Riku Helenius from the Florida Everblades to serve with the Syracuse Crunch in the absence of Desjardins. That should give hope that Bishop's ailment is short term.
A lot of focus today is on the announcements of Olympic rosters for the forthcoming Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. I am not going to touch on this as my focus with the preview is supposed to be on the game at hand (but, uh, I made it about the weather to start, so call me a hypocrite.) Tonight is the final game of the Bolts wet Canada trip, it's also the season finale between Tampa and the former Thrashers.
Despite Gary Lawless' best efforts to run him out of town, Evander Kane has 25 points in 37 games (11 goals, 14 assists). He's not leading the team in points (that would be Bryan Little with 34 - 14 goals and 20 assists), but he's playing much better than the aforementioned Winnipeg writer will give him credit for.
J.T. Brown is out tonight for the Lightning, he's nursing an upper body injury. B.J. Crombeen will find his way back into the lineup. While we're at it, Andrej Sustr will sit tonight and Mark Barberio will be back in the defensive rotation for the Bolts. While we can focus on the two rookies and what they bring to the table, what you can't forget is J.P. Cote and the fact he's not only earned a shot in the NHL but he's earned a continued spot in the starting lineup. Cote, in his 8 games with the Lightning since signing his NHL contract, has 3 assists and is plus-1.
One last note here and I should have said this earlier - the Jets are 2nd to last in the Central Division in the West, they have 43 points on the season. That's evidence that they're better than much of what the Bolts have to contend with in the East, but isn't good enough in the West. Not nearly. They're also on a three game losing skid, which they'll be out to rectify tonight.
Tampa Bay, with that loss in Edmonton on Sunday night, conceded second place (for the moment) in the Flortheast division to the Montréal Canadiens. The Habs have two more games played than Tampa Bay, so catching up is possible. The Lightning remain six points out in front of 4th place Detroit, and 4 points behind division leading Boston.
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