The season series finale between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Buffalo Sabres gets underway at the standard hour of home game play at Amalie Arena in Tampa-- wait, what? Finale? What kind of crap is this?
There have been a few times in the first month of play of the Lightning season where you could be vexed or confused on the logic of the scheduling - the back-to-back play, the Central Division domination of the schedule, the habitual Saturday play - but this one seems to be the grandest disrespect of them all toward the weight of the schedule and the importance of in-Division play. For years and years (and for years and years to come) you've seen the importance of rivalries in the league, and how some clubs have traditional rivalries that go back by way of important divisional and conference matchups late in the season. Rivalries mean so much and they help market the league and rivalries have helped shape realignment and this-that-and-the-other-thing and...
How the hell does the NHL justify concluding a divisional series of four games within the first month of the NHL season? And don't even try to give Buffalo the brush off because they're not crème-de-la-cream of the league; they have 12 points and a 6-8-0 record, four points behind the Lightning with two games in hand. Are they firing on all cylinders? No, but they're going to get their traction as the season progresses. If injuries or other drama don't get in the way, the Sabres may vie for a playoff spot. It doesn't mean they'll land it, but they're going to make a showing... And with the overall state of the Atlantic Division - one team dominating and everyone (sans Toronto) in striking distance of each other - there's value on these divisional games. The matter and carry weight.
...and the NHL contradicted the importance of division games and rivalries and all that jazz by stacking a complete divisional series in a one-month span at the very start of the season you contradictive, selective hypocrites.
That little burst is a show of respect toward Buffalo. They matter and they shouldn't be treated like a club to brush off (and vice versa - we should carry weight in their own schedule because we're the Atlantic Division club they have to overcome).
Ondrej Palat is out - until the holidays it would seem. That being said, a kid wearing #27 has retaken the left wing slot on the 1st line with Steven Stamkos and Valtteri Filppula. Jonathan Drouin had missed several games with an undisclosed lower body injury, but returned to the lineup on Saturday in the loss to Minnesota. His original role for that game was on the 4th line. Has he passed his injury or will it still limit him remains to be seen.
Mike Bluden , who was recalled last night from Syracuse, was practicing on the 4th line during line rushes in the morning skate. J.T. "Finn" Brown was reported on the 3rd line... but also MIA. It depends on which beat reporter you followed on Twitter; Bryan Burns listed Brown while Joe Smith had Vladislav Namestnikov taking line rushes on wing with Cedric Paquette at center. Paquette is questionable for the Lightning - he did not skate yesterday and but did participate today. Chalk him up as a game-time decision.
In the crease: Vasy Cometh for Tampa Bay. Andrei Vasilevskiy has made 3 starts since his return from a blood clot; he's 2-0-0 with a 2.00 GAA and a .930 save percentage (4 goals allowed on 66 total shots faced).