Debuting the new, black alternates tonight at home against the San Jose Sharks, of all teams, is either a hilarious coincidence or A+ trolling from the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The Sharks, who have been wearing their own black alternates in the playoffs since 2010-11, announced in September that they'd stick with the regular teal home sweater moving forward.
But aside from the fashion, there's an important game to be played tonight for the Lightning, looking to start a new winning streak after dropping a 3-2 shootout decision to the Chicago Blackhawks two nights ago. The San Jose Sharks are looking to get back on track, too, following a loss to the 'Hawks and a disappointing 4-1 defeat at the hands of the Florida Panthers.
Those losses might be bad news for the Lightning, however, as the Sharks appear to be tweaking their lineup to get a little lighter, a little faster, and a lot more skilled. Both Adam Burish and John Scott -- exploitable bottom-6 forwards -- appear to be out tonight, replaced with a new-look bottom six that can actually play hockey a bit. The typical 4th line advantage Tampa Bay has enjoyed with careful deployment of Jonathan Drouin, Vlad Namestnikov, and Cedric Paquette might go away, and the Sharks have enough scoring power in their top-6 to hang with the Lightning offensively.
Meanwhile, the middle of the Lightning lineup is coming back into focus; Alex Killorn appears ready to go tonight, and Tyler Johnson has gone from doubtful to questionable to probable in an 18-hour span. His speedy recovery would seem to indicate a lack of structural damage to his ribs/chest, and hint that playing tonight hinges on how well he can manage the pain following the crosscheck from Brent Seabrook. Lines at the morning skate looked the same as they did in Chicago, with Steven Stamkos getting some rest and Alex Killorn skating in his spot.
Who the extra forward will be is all speculation at this point, but a few signs seem to point to Jonathan Drouin perhaps being healthy scratched if Killorn and Johnson both go. Brett Connolly is now day-to-day, rather than week-to-week, but won't play tonight. Soon, but not yet, so tough decisions about guys like Cedric Paquette (who has played well) are coming soon.
The key for the Lightning tonight? Stay out of the box.
Tampa Bay has been outstanding at 5v5, but victimized on the penalty kill, especially of late. Their percentage on the penalty kill has now fallen to 78.8% (17th in the NHL) which is more in line with what the advanced statistics tell us: the Tampa Bay Lightning are the worst team in the NHL at preventing shot attempts at 4v5. They give up a whopping 110.86 shot attempts for every 60 minutes shorthanded. Minnesota, the best team in the league by this metric, gives up just 66.30. It's fair to say that to this point, the Lightning PK strategy has been "stop the puck, Ben!". Compare that to San Jose's ability to generate lots of shots in their power plays -- they're 4th in the NHL with 112.63 CF/60 -- and you have a recipe for disaster if Tampa Bay can't keep this a 5-on-5 game.
Evgeni Nabokov, who holds basically every San Jose goaltending record, is expected to back up Ben Bishop tonight. The Sharks will go with Antti Niemi, as Alex Stalock is on IR with a knee injury he had a minor procedure today to address:
Niemi starts tonight for #SJSharks, as expected— Curtis Pashelka (@CurtisPashelka) November 13, 2014
Other Game Coverage: