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A fight at the top; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Detroit Red Wings preview

Detroit, Tampa Bay and Montreal are divided by all of 2 points total for the Atlantic Division lead.

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Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports

Where:  Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida
When:7:30 PM EST  | Tickets: Check availability
Media: Sun Sports (cable) | 970 AM WFLA (radio) | Twitter Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Winging it in Motown, Abel to Yzerman

Tuesday in Raleigh was a disappointing loss, but the entire game was a trap in one way or another. The Lightning were coming off the All-Star break that spanned a week, and the Hurricanes are a bottom-dweller of the NHL at current. The mind-set for the club was going to be off no matter what with tonight's game coming up.

Earlier in the month, the Atlantic Division lead was the Lightning's with the Montreal Canadians very close in the rear view mirror.  All the while the Detroit Red Wings were gaining momentum and rumbling forward.  And now they've rumbled ahead.

Detroit leads the Atlantic Division with 65 points and a 6 game winning streak to their name.  They're 8-2-0 in their past 10 and still have a game in-hand on the Bolts.  Montreal hasn't exactly faltered in this time - they're 1 point behind the Lightning and 2 behind Detroit, they've got games in-hand on both clubs (3 on the Lightning, 2 on Detroit); a 7-2-1 record in their past 10 and a current 3 game win streak doesn't hurt either.

It's not like Tampa Bay has played poorly in their past 10 games (6-4-0) but the opportunity for divisional opponents to overtake them has arrived. Those games in-hand and the Lightning playing against the formidable Western Conference teams in the coming days and weeks enables it. That's not to shed doubt on the Lightning as if they've been fooling everyone all season long (you don't get 30 wins in 48 games out of sheer luck) but it is an admission things get formidable right around now.

Detroit is flying, Henrik Zetterberg has been healthy and showing his moxie night after night; he leads Detroit in points with 45 on the season (15 goals, 30 assists). Tomas Tatar leads the team in goals (21) with Pavel Datsyuk rocking in less games-played per usual (15 goals, 20 assists in 37 games played). While there's a drop-off between Zetterberg and Nyquist regarding points, what is impressive is the consistency of offensive output from the Wings - 9 players have 20 points or more at this point in the season. That's equal to the Lightning.  Both clubs also have another player at 19 points (defenseman Danny Dekeyser for the Wings and forward Jonathan Drouin for the Bolts).

The difference being Zetterberg is the only forward with 40 or more points while Tyler Johnson, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov have all crossed the 40-point threshold.

Speaking of DeKeyser, don't expect an on-ice reunion between him and former defensive-pair/roommate at Western Michigan Luke Witkowski; Luke will be a scratch tonight for the Lightning (along with Brendan Morrow).

Detroit has the second most effective power play unit in the NHLO right now, converting more than a quarter of their power play opportunities (25.3% conversion rate). This is a sharp, sharp contract to the Lightning's continued deflation on the man-advantage (currently ranked 16th in the league with an 18.1% conversion rate). The numbers for the Bolts only give you a glimpse of how bad it's been lately; power play goals have turned into a running mock-point among Raw Charge community members on game threads.

The difference between the two clubs is less on the penalty kill. Detroit is more effective staving off opposing power plays with their 83.2% kill-rate. The Bolts are shunning the opposition 81.8% of the time...

Is this game lost on special teams? Perhaps; it certainly will be a trial. Tampa Bay would be playing to Detroit's strength by parading to the penalty box. Detroit doesn't need to have the same concern if there play gets sloppy - the Lightning aren't effective on the power play despite all the firepower the has at its fingers.

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