It feels like the schedule ahead for the Tampa Bay Lightning is an inconsistent one. It's sort of road-heavy, and I don't mean more games on the road than games at home, I mean a lot of travel miles are forthcoming over the next six weeks as the Lightning see playing time against the Western Conference here and there as well as making trips to the northeast. A two game trek to Philadelphia and Boston are in the cards immediately after tonight's game against the Buffalo Sabres. Tampa Bay has back-to-back games to boot with the Flyers coming first and the season-series opening match against the Bruins coming next.
Tonight marks the 21st home game of the season for the Bolts, where they've amassed most of their 56 points on the season (15-4-1, 31 points).They've been a .500 team on the road though, with an 11-8-3 record (those overtime and shootout losses are still losses).
Including tonight, Tampa Bay has 21 more games at home and 19 on the road. 18 matches total are to be played against the Western Conference in this second half of the season, with current titans in the standings (the Predators, Blues, Blackhawks, Ducks, Canuck and Sharks) outnumbering the bottom dwellers of the conference (the Oilers, the Avalanche, and Coyotes) on the docket of games to be played. Even "bottom dweller" is a subjective statement, as the West is much more competitive than the East.
At any rate, the Lightning face a Buffalo Sabres team tonight that is on a nosedive losing streak, and playing the flip side of their own back-to-back series; they were in Raleigh last night and were smacked down by the Hurricanes. This is the type of game the Lightning has every reason to win handily, and yet that mindset could lead to them being made to look foolish. While the Sabres are woeful, they've also shown they can and will compete. Jon Cooper said it last month, "standings don't mean S-with-a-T," and that goes here quite well. Standings alone don't win games. If that was the case, the Bolts wouldn't have dropped one in Edmonton in October, and quite a few others since then.
Jhonas Enroth got the start in Raleigh last night, paving the way for Michal Neuvirth to get the nod for the Sabres tonight. That name should sound familiar to Bolts fans and Neuvirth had played for the Washington Capitals and squared off directly with the club a number of times before (6 games played, a 3-1-0 record). The interesting note is that his career stats against the Lightning (a .907 save percentage and 3.01 goals-against average) mirror his current stats after 15 games for the Sabres this season (.906 save percentage, but with a much higher 3.46 GAA on a team with a weaker defense).
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