Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida | When: 7:30 PM EST
Radio: 970 AM WFLA | Television:
Sun Sports FS Florida Sun | Twitter: Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Blueshirt Banter, Blue Collar Blueshirts, Rangesr Pundit, Save by Richter
Revenge is a dish best served cold is an old Klingon proverb (more aptly, it's a great piece of writing by Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek) which seems fitting tonight in what the Lightning faces coming from the New York Rangers tonight. The Blueshirts were ousted in the 2015 NHL playoffs by way of Tampa Bay... Heck, the last time the Rangers played a game in Amalie Arena they put the hurt on a sick Lightning team and forced game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. The Lightning still bounced them from the playoffs and rid them of a Stanley Cup Finals berth. They're not happy nor do they take pity in the Lightning's misfortunes.
This'll be game 19 of the NHL season for the Rags, and while the Lightning are in their struggles... Well, the Rangers are right back to where they were last season when they won the President's Trophy for having the best regular season record in the NHL. They stand at 14-2-2, tied with Le Bleu, Blanc et Rouge of Montreal for the conference lead. Those two clubs and the Dallas Stars are atop the overall NHL league standings.
Now admit it, that's where you expected the Lightning to be at this point - vying for the overall lead in hockey and scoring buttloads of goals because they were that damned good last season. Expectations were the Stanley Cup and a Mars landing by the club (...after the season) far before the preseason ever started. There's just one aspect that has marred those elaborate expectations -- a different outcome. Injuries hobbling the club, scoring hasn't been through the roof (where expectations have had them) and the power play and penalty kill were liabilities to start the season. That last point - special team struggles - has vastly improved despite continued fan expectations of productivity; the power play now stands at 19th in the league with a 17.7% conversion rate and the penalty kill is light years ahead of early going with a 80.5% kill rate. On that subject, the Rangers are 17th overall in the league with a 18.6% power play conversion rate, while their penalty kill is 3rd in the league at 86.4%.
Back to that hurt point for the Lightning - the pain is certainly there if a total of five players from the Syracuse Crunch are to be on the Lightning roster come game time. Tampa Bay has recalled defenseman Luke Witkowski (...and reassigned defenseman Matt Taormina to Syracuse) and Mike Angelidis this morning to go along with Joel Vermin (recalled last night), Jonathan Marchessault and Mike Blunden. With Angelidis joining the Bolts, the Crunch only have 10 healthy forwards as the team ventures to St. John's, Newfoundland, to play the IceCaps this weekend.
Why all the recalls? The forward corps is depleted for the Lightning; Tyler Johnson, Cedric Paquette and Jonathan Drouin are all out tonight while former Ranger captain Ryan Callahan is a game-time decision. With how the club hasn't had fortune favor its ailing players this season, it wouldn't be a horrible idea for Callahan to sit out tonight... but it further adds a complication to the game that should feature the Rangers coming full tilt at Tampa.
Mats Zuccarello leads the Rangers in scoring with 18 points (9 goals, 9 assists), while Henrik Lundqvist has been... well, King Henrik. A .947 save percentage and a 1.69 GAA in 14 games played is phenomenal... and not the lowest GAA on the team! Antti Raanta has only played in 4 games for New York but has a 1.25 GAA and a .935 save percentage to go along with it. With both netminder and the solid defense shown by the club, there's a good chance that another low-scoring affair is on slate for the Lightning.
Ben Bishop will get the start in goal for the Lightning tonight. His last effort, Saturday against the Panthers, was less than stellar (4 goals in regulation on 21 shots), but neither was Roberto Luongo's effort for the Panthers that night (4 goals in regulation on 22 shots).