You combine the last three games, the high note at Madison Square Garden and two letdowns that followed, you see the Lightning lost their trip through the northeast by a score of 11 to 9. 5 goals-for to open the trip, 4 goals-for the remainder of the trip. Defense lapsed, goaltending became suspect, and the top-line combo of Valtteri Filppula, Steven Stamkos and Ryan Callahan has become overused enough (at even strength and on the power play) that it's been neutralized.
The moral lesson from this completed trip is to not take success for granted because it's fleeting. Tonight's opponent sort of compounds the point; the Minnesota Wild reminded every Lightning fan about the fleeting aspect of success when they dumped cold water on Tampa Bay last month at Xcel Energy Center. The Lightning were injured but they were competing... and then were humiliated.
This game could go the same way if the mentality is wrong by way of coaching or by way of team attitude. The morning skate was optional with only 13 skaters participating, the Lightning does not play again until Wednesday... If the mentality is wrong, this game becomes the Friday before Winter Break at school, where you and the other kids aren't in the mood for the A-B-C's and 1-2-3's. The only problem is that Minnesota doesn't have the extended time off coming; they'll be back in action on Monday against the Panthers. They're in 5th place in the competitive Central Division but they're only 4 points behind the Nashville Predators who hold the division lead at the moment. They have every reason not to waste an opportunity tonight. They're also on a four game win streak at the moment.
We're past the quarter-mark of the season; the Bolts are in a good place in the standings (second in the Atlantic Division) with a solid record (13-6-2). The last thing we want to see is for complacency to slink in and take hold of the club. We (fans) do not want to see them lose sight of the goal of competing for victory.
There are some lineup changes tonight for Tampa Bay but it is unclear if there will be line combo changes so much. Vladislav Namestnikov is out tonight. It's assumed who is taking his place: Cedric Paquette. Paquette is indeed in according to Erik Erlendsson, while Mark Barberio will also be in the lineup (in favor of Eric Brewer). Victor Hedman participated in the optional skate at the Amalie, wearing the red, no-contact jersey... He's nearing his return and that's going to cause issues with the Lightning lineup in one way or another. It's likely part of why Barberio is seeing playing time now - because there will be less of a chance for it once December rolls around (unless there are, heaven forbid, more injuries on the blue line).
Ben Bishop is tabbed to start, and while I noted in Thursday's preview that his numbers were climbing.... Well, Thursday night was a setback. I won't even post his stats now.
Other Game Coverage:
- Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview
- Full coverage on SB Nation
- Live stream of Tampa Bay Lightning coverage on Twitter