With the Bolts victory in Toronto last night, there is a degree of breathing room between the two clubs... Just a degree - 3 points separate the two clubs, with the Lightning having two games in-hand still. That changes to 1 game in-hand after tonight when they face the Ottawa Senators.
This is a failed season for Ottawa, who seem lost without former team captain Daniel Alfredsson (who is now on the Detroti Red Wings). They've had their moments, and of course they are not to be underestimated. With only 69 points after 68 games played, they're 6 points behind the Detroit Red Wings and 11 behind the Leafs. They have 14 games and a possible 28 points remaining in their season; it's possible they make a push for a wild card spot, but it's unlikely.
While the Lightning comes off their 5-3 victory from last night, the Senators had a day to dwell on their 8-4 loss to the Rangers on Tuesday night (former Lightning team captain Martin St. Louis had a single assist in that game.) While one of those 8 goals was on an empty net... Wait, wait, wait; you're down 7-4 and you pull the goalie? There are valiant, last-ditch efforts and there are exercises in futility; pulling the goalie with a 3-goal deficit is an example of the latter. Yeah, the Senators are still in playoff contention and could have used those two points very much, but instead of making a bad loss worse, don't make it more of a morale killer. Count the loss, regroup, and go out next game and don't make the same mistakes again.
While I'm at it complaining about tactics, let me ask head coach Jon Cooper to please consider using your bench for this one. Going into the second half of a back-to-back series of games happens to test even the most productive lineups. Nikita Kucherov and Richard Panik are fully capable of being inserted into the lineup and for filling a role on the third or fourth lines, while Mark Barberio is ready to step in as a seventh D if you get that itch and want to scratch it. The point is, this is game 70 on the season, coach, and this isn't the AHL. If you don't have confidence in your bench, it's wise to ask Steve Yzerman/Julien BriseBois to make a recall from Syracuse while demoting guys you don't trust.
One aspect of the Bolts you do not want to change right now is forward Valtteri Filppula. Val Is absolutely on fire since certain distractions took place on March 5th: 2 goals, 8 assists, 10 points in a 7 game span. His linemate, rookie Ondrej Palat, has also been burning it up with 9 points over that same seven game span (4 goals, 5 assists.) The guy they're working with on their right wing, Ryan Callahan, hasn't exactly been quiet either; he's got 4 points (1 goal, 3 assists) since coming to Tampa Bay.
There's been no word on who starts for the Lightning tonight but given Cooper's habit of starting Bishop back-to-back, you could assume that Ben will be between the pipes even though he faced 39 shots last night (with 36 saves.) Bishop starting against his former team is supposed to give him the proverbial goalie boost, but with 54 appearances on the season, you're tempting fate.
I do realize Anders Lindback doesn't illicit much confidence, nor does the effort by the team in front of him when he starts in net. The problem is, after tonight there are another 12 games for the Lightning this season as well as playoff hockey. If Bishop is run into the ground in those last 12 starts, the Bolts playoff appearance is going to be short lived. And while Lindback himself doesn't inspire faith, this (Lindback's inconsistency and weakness) is just par for the course on Frantz Jean as Lightning goalie coach. Bishop's play remains the aberration, while every other goalie Jean has overseen from start-to-finish in a season while in Tampa has been mediocre at best and south of abysmal at worst.
Robin Lehner will be the starter for the Senators, the guy whose play last season made Bishop expendable in Ottawa. Lehner has a .907 save percentage and a 3.24 GAA in 28 appearances this season for the Senators.
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