There have been a lot of moments of déjà vu this season with the Tampa Bay Lightning; little quirks that seem awfully familiar (and sometimes familiarly awful). The last incident of such was a battered and hurt Bolts team heading into Montreal to take on Les Habs after suffering major injuries (and a big loss) the previous game.
This time around, you have to go back further than three months to find the comparable point: We're at the Olympic break and the Lightning has dropped their past two games. In 2010, Tampa Bay had improved itself in January and was in the hunt for a playoff spot. The 2009-10 team wasn't great, but it had incredible scoring coming from the likes of second-year pro Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and Steve Downie... A mismanaged lot, that roster was, with thanks to former head coach Rick Tocchet and GM Brian Lawton, but they were close to getting a playoff berth, at least before the Olympic break.
All hell broke loose with that team during the break though, leading to the Lightning tanking in March of 2010; that's one of many many major differences between that team and this team, that process and this process of becoming.
You're not going to see an impulsive coaching change by a go-it-alone GM this season that upsets everyone in the locker room. The Bolts need to prevent themselves from going into the break on a down-note, but they're not on poor footing like the 2009-10 team was with bad management and horrid ownership. Not nearly.
Ben Bishop left Thursday's game against the Leafs with an upper body injury, being relieved by Cedrick Desjardins. Well, Bishop took about 10 minutes of practice this morning according to Erik Erlendsson and left the ice. It's an optional skate, and you can't take much from what happened but it opens the possibility it could be the Syracuse tandem of Desjardins and Kristers Gudlevskis as the goalies carried into tonight's game.
But that doesn't mean Bish won't start. It's unclear. If he can't go, Desjardins starts.
Vladislav Namestnikov will be rejoining his comrades from Syracuse from earlier this season (Nikita Kucherov and J.T. Brown(ov) on a line... We'll assume that's third line, but with their success in Syracuse, don't be surprised if they see second-line minutes.
What confusion this causes is - who's playing second-line center? The Bolts have three other healthy players who can play center (four if you include Alex Killorn). You know Tyler Johnson is playing top-line center with Ondrej Palat and Martin St. Louis on his wings. Really, the situation is dependent on if the Bolts go with 11 forwards tonight or 12.... Or not? Nate Thompson is my chief choice to play 2nd line center, but he's known for his defensive forward play more than his offensive abilities. Tom Pyatt has been a third or fourth liner for most of his time with the Bolts, but he does have an offensive touch that hasn't been utilized this season. Perhaps giving him a chance with Killorn and Teddy Purcell wouldn't be a bad idea?
While the Lightning are flailing in the standings - second place in the division is theirs by one point and one point alone - the Detroit Red Wings are trying to climb back into contention. They have 64 points on the season, good for fourth place in the Flortheast, and are 6-2-2 in their past 10 games. Like the Lightning, the Wings have two games in-hand on the Toronto Maple Leafs and a single game in-hand on Les Habs. There's opportunity to get further into the mix in the standings... But they could use a healthy Jimmy Howard in net, not the playing-while-hurt Howard they've had.
And no, I'm not bitching about that due to USA Hockey clinging to Howard as their third goalie on the roster. It's about the player and the division rival and one of the storied franchises in the NHL battling bruises left and right - Johan Frazen is out, Henrik Zetterberg has battled injuries all season, Pavel Datsyuk has had his own issues to contend against... And then there's Howard, whose knee has been a touchy subject for too long this season. Where the club goes is dependent on if Jimmy's go or no-go.
While this is the finale before the Olympic break for both clubs, this is also the season series finale between the Bolts and the Wings. Tampa has incurred as many wins against Detroit this season (3) as they had in their previous 20 years of existence (6-24-1 with 2 ties). It's not right to say that a win tonight will be the first time the Bolts have swept a season series against the Wings, mostly because "series" in seasons past were sometimes solitary games, but it arguably will be.
Other Game Coverage:
- Tampa Bay Lightning recall Syracuse Crunch players, yet make preparations for the Olympic Break
- Answer This: The Olympic Effect
- Captain Martin St. Louis joins the 2014 Canadian Olympic team roster - open thread
- Steven Stamkos' comeback temporarily thwarted by x-ray results; will not participate in Sochi Olympics for Team Canada
- Objects in mirror may be more broken than they appear; Bishop, Lindback, Filppula all hurt