Where: Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
When: 1 PM EST | Tickets: Check availability
Media: Sun Sports, NHL Network (cable) | 970 AM WFLA (radio)
Opponent Coverage: Broad Street HockeyBroad Street Hockey, Orange and Black Pack
The buyout of Vincent Lecavalier was the story hanging over Lightning fans heads during the off season - could the Bolts go on without #4 in the lineup? It was more costly to keep Vinny around with his contract (and the shrunken (but due to rise) salary cap. A bad contract was a bad contract and Enzo was sent away.
Could the Lightning survive without him? Could their free agent signing, a converted wing from the Detroit Red Wings system by the name of Valtteri Filppula, cover for the loss of Lecavalier in the Bolts lineup?
Well, perhaps the better question would be if Vinny would have had more success playing in Tampa than he's currently having playing in Philadelphia? While Lecavalier's character has charmed Flyers fans, his production has dropped on a grand scale: 31 games played, 9 goals, 8 assists, 17 points, 23 penalty minutes. Vinny's had injury issues, but his 31 games played out of 44 the Flyers have had in their season so far isn't that far off his 39 games played in the 48-game 2013 season.
What is off is his production. Maybe not goal scoring (he had 10 last season, compared to 9 this season) but assists (20 to 8) is an eye-catching decline. The Flyers were underperforming on an epic scale to start the season, but they are currently hovering in 2nd place in the Metro Division, tied with the Capitals with 50 points. They're not exactly to be overlooked or dismissed at this point, but for the Lightning, that's a truth with any Metro Division opponent (more on that in a bit.)
While Lecavalier's production has dropped, his replacement's production has climbed when comparing things to last season. Coincidentally, Val Filppula had only 17 points in 41 games with the Wings last year (9 goals, 8 assists, just like Vinny this season). This season, Filppula has 17 goals and 17 assists in 44 games and has been the team's top-line center with the loss of Steven Stamkos in November.
So, in essence, Tampa Bay is doing just fine with the absence of Lecavalier in the lineup, at least from a direct statistical point of view.
Now, could Vinny have helped get the Bolts a better record against the (generally considered woeful) Metro Division? I have doubts about that, but I also have confusion just why Tampa Bay struggles so mightily against the Met; 5-7-1 is the weakest record the Bolts have against any division in the NHL (10-3-1 against the Atlantic; 6-0-1 against the Central; 5-4-1 against the Pacific). The Devils and the Penguins have both shamed the Lightning in 4 total meetings, the Bolts phoned it in against Columbus and nearly did the same against the Islanders (most of the game was a phoned-in effort). They dropped another one on Thursday night when the Capitals came in to town and walked out with 2 points; and the Rangers have split their series with the Lightning up to this point.
And then there's Philly who will gladly take advantage of a Tampa Bay lapse right now if the Lightning decide to take that track again. Philly is 8-2-0 in their past 10, totally not worth a brush off that would have been so fitting for them in the early going.
Despite the loss to the Capitals on Thursday, Tampa is still within striking distance of grabbing a share of the Flortheast division lead - while Tampa dropped a game; the Bruins have dropped their last 2 and are 5-5-0 in their past 10.
Two of the Bolts Tampacuse graduates are among the top 10 rookie scorers in the league: Tyler Johnson is 3 points behind Nathan Mackinnon in the rookie scoring race (25 points to Mac's 28) and Ondrej Palat has 22 points along with the NHL's longest point-streak by a rookie (currently at 8 games). While the tandem are just continuing their chemistry that worked so effectively in the AHL, they're additionally enabled working with a certain right-wing to round out their games: Martin St. Louis hasn't always been on the score sheet when Palat or Johnson not goals or assists, but with that pair working with him - he doesn't have to.
This is a (oh no, not another) matinee game that Tampa has a habit of being horrible in. Perhaps they'll break the cycle today? Here's hoping.
Other Game Coverage:
- Game 44 Recap: Late lapses cost Bolts in 4-3 loss to Washington
- Syracuse Crunch forward Brett Connolly is named an AHL All Star
- Seven Bolts will go to Sochi, but St. Louis and Hedman snubbed
- Victor Hedman not on Sweden's roster for Sochi
- Off topic: 2013 Shorty Awards for Hockey recap: A lockout sullied Shorty season