The Tampa Bay Lightning's expansion brethren, the Ottawa Senators, are in town to start their new division rivalry. The two Ontario teams (the Sens and the Toronto Maple Leafs) are the only divisional foes that the Lightning hasn't yet faced this season.
Ottawa and Tampa Bay share a second link at the moment (outside of both joining the league in 1992-93), that link being a trade that sent rookie prospect Cory Conacher to the Senators (along with a 4th round draft pick) for goaltender Ben Bishop. The 6th Sens does a lengthy breakdown and review of the Bishop-for-Conacher deal that would be more worth your time than me trying to review the deal from the Lightning standpoint. The only thing that needs to be said here is that Conacher continues to have a special place in Lightning fans hearts, even though his offensive struggles this season have basically suffocated the mantra of the three certainties in life (Death, taxes, and Cory Conacher.) Conacher has 5 points in 28 games for the Senators.
Both teams are currently in a mediocre stretch, winning only 4 of their past 10 games each. The biggest difference being the Lightning securing a loser point during this stretch while Ottawa has seen all of its losses in regulation.
Bishop will get the nod in net against his former squad. While the Lightning has been mediocre in their past 10 games, Bishop remains dominant between the pipes: a 2.03 GAA, a .932 save percentage. His 21 games-played this season ifor the Lightning is 2 shy of the total number of games he appeared in with the Sens during his time with the club, and blows away the 13 games played total with the St. Louis Blues.
For the Senators, it'll be the usurper - Robin Lehner - who made Bishop expendable. Lehner's save percentage is on par with Bishop's (.933) while his GAA is higher (2.44), the big difference being that Lehner has been sharing time in net and has only made 13 appearances this season in the crease for Ottawa (while Bishop has been the workhorse in Tampa).
The Lightning will go with the 11/7 roster split tonight, likely. Richard Panik was skating with the injured Eric Brewer and P.C. Labrie today (though there was no official morning skate) and will likely be scratched. Things could change though. This means recalled defenseman Matt Taormina will be playing tonight.
Eric Brewer indicated to Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune that he's aiming for a Saturday return, which is also the target date for a return from defenseman Radko Gudas. Here's hoping that takes place, because right now the Bolts triage-unit defense is tempting fate with Taormina. Not to doubt Matt's abilities or skill set (that's not my intention at all), but his own health. Matt's had back issues in the past - he hung around with the Lightning after training camp because of his ongoing back issues, which had also made him miss significant time in Syracuse last season.
The fact is that if either (or both) Brewer and Gudas will be playing on Saturday, Taormina will be sent back to Syracuse post-game tonight... And he'll be slated to play for the Crunch who begins a weekend series against the Norfolk Admirals.
Syracuse is battling their own injury and depth issues, helped along by Tampa Bay's injury issues. Losing Taormina would not be something positive for the organization in general, as the defenseman is a vital veteran on the Crunch roster.
The point being that playing a guy with back issues at the NHL level might not be the wisest, especially when he's vital (even if brittle).
Other Game Coverage:
- Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview
- Full coverage on SB Nation