You can see it as a major confrontation before the first week of the NHL season has even expired. It's the fourth game of the season for the Tampa Bay Lightning and the third for the Detroit Red Wings, who haven't played since October 10 (the flip-side of their opening back-to-back games against the Maple Leafs on Oct. 9 and Hurricanes on the 10th). It's very early going for all NHL clubs but the line of Dylan Larkin, Henrik Zetterberg and Justin Abdelkader has been remarkable with a combined 13 points (6 goals, 7 assists). Intimidation still applies to the Wings second line with Johan Franzen, Brad Richards and Tomas Tatar yet the second line combo has only 3 points (1 goal, 3 assists) and Richards has zero. Half of the roster has yet to score a point this season, in fact... but you know they're capable of it and they'll show it.
Now they get to play the Lightning, who played yesterday afternoon and who have played three games total since their seasons started last Thursday. They get to face Ben Bishop in goal, who started for the Lightning yesterday and stopped 27 of 30 shots faced. The three goals allowed to the Boston Bruins all came while on the penalty kill.
Is that a wise decision, for Bishop to be starting back-to-back games? While the question is posed, the prime opportunity for backup Kevin Poulin to be used was yesterday against the struggling Bruins. To have Poulin start today as the fresh netminder would show some confidence in him (or raise into question the health status of Bishop) but would have provided him a more worn-down team playing in front of him. That's not exactly the wisest of choices against a performing club like the Wings.
Head coach Jon Cooper has made it a habit to start Bishop in back-to-back games. It's a faith that would work against trying to develop Andrei Vasilevskiy if he were playing with the team at the moment and not recovering from his blood clot surgery. A workhorse goalie sharing playing time with his fellow goalie on the roster is not quite the same workhorse... he can be better as a player (fresher, in fairer shape) when tested against more challenging opponents.
And while the Wings have been top heavy offensively in two games played, everyone who has played on the Lightning roster so far this season (sans Andrej Sustr, Matt Carle and Ben Bishop) has recorded points. While Abdelkader and Zetterberg lead the charge in Detroit, it's a much more consistent offensive show for Tampa Bay. Victor Hedman leads the team in points with 4 assists. Six players have three points cooked up through various combinations of goals and assists (Valtteri Filppula, Ryan Callahan, Jonathan Drouin, Anton Stralman, Tyler Johnson and Jason Garrison). The offensive depth paints the Lightning as a greater threat... but then again, they've played one more game than Detroit... and Detroit is playing their first game since the 10th. We'll see if depth potency can top freshness tonight.
Jimmy Howard will get his second start of the season for the Red Wings in goal. He was the netminder responsible for shutting out the Maple Leafs.