WHERE: St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
WHEN: 7:30 PM EST
MEDIA: Sun Sports (cable), 620 WDAE (radio)
All hell has broken loose in the transaction column for the Lightning today. Antero Niittymaki is indisposed at the moment as he's about to welcome a new additiion to the Niittymaki family... Mike Smith is guaranteed a start tonight versus Atlanta. Backhim him up will be Riku Helenius who was recalled from Norfolk.
It gets worse though...
Defenseman Matt Walker and forwards Jeff Halpern and Todd Fedoruk have all been placed on Injured Reserve. Walker sustained his injury in St. Louis during the Bolts recent extended road trip through the midwest. Halpern was banged up against the Flyers on Tuesday. Due to the extended depletion of the defense corps, Mike Lundin was also recalled from Norfolk.
Anarchy at home in December, it wouldn't be the holidays without it!
The Thrashers are hot and formidable. if the Lightning are mired in inconsistency and mediocrity, the Thrashers are well above it with an 18-14-4 record. The difference isn't the fact the Thrashers are juggernauts, beating everyone and anyone, but instead of playing middling games that lead to one point or disappointment, they're closing the deal and getting wins. They're currently the sixth seed in the Eastern Conference standings.
Yet they are only five points in front of the Lightning. This should add an immense weight to this game if the Bolts want to be contenders and not pretenders. The sad part is? Too many times, the players themselves are not putting the weight of these games into the effort on ice.
One of Atlanta's strengths is the team's effectiveness on the power play, converting 22.2% of it's opportunities which ranks the team 6th in the league (compared to the Bolts with a 17.9 conversion rate). Meanwhile, the penalty kill for the Thrashers is middle-of-the-pack: They're currently ranked 17th in the league with an 80.0 kill-rate. One percentage point higher than the Lightning (79.0 -- 22nd).
Then comes the Thrasher's offense.
14 of the 21 skaters listed on the Thrasher roster have double-digit point totals this season. The team is led, as always, by Ilya Kovalchuk with 39 points (21 goals, 18 assists(, and followed by Maxim Afinogenov (34 points, 13 goals, 21 assists) and Rich Peverley (33 points, 12 goals, 21 assists). All in all, five players with 29 points or more to go along with the well rounded contributions from the rest of the team. But there're not just doing it by overpowering the opposition with shots -- the team averages 28.9 SOG per game. That's not much higher than the Lightning's own 28 SOG per game.
The defense, though, is lacking. The team may have a good goaltending tandem with Johan Hedberg (2.44 GAA, .922 save percentage) and Ondrej Pavelec (3.39 GAA, .907 save percentage) but allowing 34.5 shots against per-night, the worst in the league, will not take the Thrashers far into the playoffs (if they get there, there is still a lot of the season that is yet to be played).
Tampa Bay Lightning Projected Lines
(updated December 26, 2009 by RawCharge subject to change)
Ryan Malone -Steven Stamkos - Martin St. Louis
Alex Tanguay - Vincent Lecavalier - Steve Downie
Blair Jones - Paul Szczechura - Stephane Veilleux
James Wright - Zenon Konopka -David Hale
Mattias Ohlund | Andrej Meszaros
Victor Hedman | Matt Smaby
Kurtis Foster | Mike Lundin
Mike Smith (starter)