The good news is that this is the last game of this four game jaunt in the Western Conference that's seen the Lightning play sloppy, sometimes tense, hockey in Nashville, Dallas and Denver. There next game after this affair is the cozy confines of 401 Channelside Drive.
The bad news is that they have to play this game first, against one of the titans of the Western Conference this season, the St. Louis Blues. And to make matters worse, viewers at home have to suffer Mike Millbury and the antics of NBC Sports Network while doing it.
In the wake of Sunday's loss to the Colorado Avalanche... Well, I'm still personally not thrilled with the decision by head coach Jon Cooper to keep things exactly the same on back-to-back games going from the southern plains to the Rocky Mountains. That was asking for trouble, especially seeing that Ben Bishop had faced 41 shots the day before.
Dallas, despite their offensive potency, is not the C Colorado Avalanche. And back-to-back games between just about anywhere and Denver is not the same as back-to-back games between other markets. The altitude was clearly affecting an already taxed lineup.
But the Bolts aren't in the mountains now; they're near the mighty Mississippi River and preparing to cross the Gateway to the West on a course back east.
While Anders Lindback is back with the team, defenseman Radko Gudas is banged up with an ambiguous lower body injury (it's his leg). He's listed as day-to-day (but then again, aren't we all?) While Keith Aulie isn't Radko Gudas, sitting Gudas to rest and heal would not be a bad thing; having a banged up defense going into the home stretch of the season isn't something you want. Mike Kostka filled in for Radko on the ice today, paired with Matt Carle.
Speaking of hurting - Tyler Johnson did not participate in the morning skate at Scottrade Center for "body maintenance" and his status for tonight is up in the air. Valtteri Filppula, meanwhile, is back to practicing with Alex Killorn and Teddy Purcell, which would indicate the 2nd line center will be active tonight.
With Johnson out of action this morning, Tom Pyatt was centering Martin St. Louis and Ondrej Palat. Pyatt is a capable center and has seen playing time in the past (though scant) on the top two lines. He's a capable fill-in.
Ben Bishop makes his fourth start ina row. This game is in his home town, so that may prove a perk.
I think the real news for tonight isn't with the Lightning (and it makes it apt that this will be a national broadcast.) It's the fact former Buffalo Sabres' Steve Ott and Ryan Miller will be making their St. Louis Blues debuts. Miller and Ott were acquired via trade, which you likely caught wind of the past few days. The upheaval in Buffalo on the heels of that trade (Pat LaFontaine's resignation more trades reportedly forthcoming) is notable from a division rival standpoint...
But the Blues... The Blues are gearing up for the playoffs and perhaps a Stanley Cup title run. Ken Hitchcock is no pushover of a head coach to begin with and the fact the team has acquired (another) top notch goaltender (let me be honest - Jaroslav Halak is no slouch and Brian Elliot has served the club well) shows how intent they are to go as deep as they can into the NHL playoffs.
The potency of the Blues offensively shines through with the consistency in their scoring - it's not a huge drop off in points scored by the lineup like we've seen from other opponents, it's more gradual. While none of the Blues have (yet) to break 50 points, they've got nine with 30 points or more and five with 40 or more... Including Olympic shootout impresario T.J. Oshie (14 goals, 32 assists.)
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