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"For the second straight game"; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Detroit Red Wings preview

Making up games in back-to-back fashion is a nice little challenge the Detroit Red Wings are going through at current. The Lightning hope to take advantage of the fact.

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Ondrej Palat will be chasing down Red Wings at the Amalie tonight.
Ondrej Palat will be chasing down Red Wings at the Amalie tonight.
Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Where:  Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida
When: 7:30 PM | Tickets: Check availability
Media: Sun Sports, NHL Network (US), TVA Sports, Sportsnet 360 (cable) | 970 AM WFLA (radio) | Twitter Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Winging it in Motown, Abel to Yzerman

"For the second straight game" is a weird phrase to use in the instance of tonight's contest between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Detroit Red Wings. Schedule wise, "second straight game" does make sense because there is continuity (on paper) between one game and the next. In that instance, for the second straight game, the Lightning will be playing one of the top teams in the Atlantic Division and a will-be Eastern Conference playoff team in the Detroit Red Wings

"Second straight" comes by way of four calendar days without a game for the Lightning. A much needed break from the marathon of the NHL season. It's been a time to regroup, recuperate and prepare for the final gauntlet of the NHL regular season.

The phrase "second straight" takes on a whole different dynamic when it's applied to the Detroit Red Wings, a literal dynamic at that. Detroit's last 16 games of the season - some which have been played have four back-to-back series in them. The first was last weekend in Pennsylvania - road games against the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins. After a few days away from play, they go back-to-back again. It started last night with their 3-1 loss to the Florida Panthers at BB&T Center in Sunrise and concludes tonight at Amalie Arena.  Tampa Bay actually plays in another one of those back-to-back series of games, March 28th at Joe Louis Arena (the next day, Detroit faces the New York Islanders).

It does seem like a scheduling mishap for any team to get so many back-to-backs within the last month of the season, but considering Detroit has had games in-hand almost all season... well, they had to make those games up sometime.  That time is now.

Will Ondrej Palat return to the Lightning lineup way ahead of time? The left wing, who has been out since Tampa's 1-0 victory in Montreal 10 days ago, is contemplating it.

"We'll see," Palat said of playing tonight. "I think it's too early to make that decision. I'll have to see how it feels after this practice, and then I'll see."

Perhaps the "way" ahead of time remark is off base as Palat was due to be out 14-21 days with his lower body injury (injured foot after blocking a shot at Bell Centre). A return to the lineup sooner-than-later was expected from Cedric Paquette before Palat. The thing is that someone is coming back after this morning's roster move: Mike Angelidis has been returned to the Syracuse Crunch. Angelidis was recalled on an emergency basis because of the roster depletions by way of injury.

And just as this author prepares to publish this preview, it's confirmed -- Ondrej Palat returns to the lineup tonight.

The Bolts morning skate was optional and Paquette still wore the red, no-contact jersey... so the focus is on Palat returning to the TKO trio tonight. Will it happen will become clear as the day progresses.

Jimmy Howard has been named the starter for the Red Wings tonight in goal. He's basically got a .500 record on the season (20-11-9; remember that third column are still losses). His GAA is a solid 2.39 while his save percentage is .913. The scary thing is that the biggest difference statistically between Howard and the Lightning's Ben Bishop is the record of the goalkeepers. Bishop has posted a 34-11-4 record - a .684 win percentage. The regular goalie stats are much more comparable - a 2.32 GAA and a .915 save percentage while Bishop has one more shutout than Howard does this season.

Is that a telling tale of how the team in front of Bishop is sounder than the team in front of Jimmy Howard, or is it a sign the Red Wings are moving away from success with Jimmy and finding it with Petr Mrazek? Mrazek's GAA is higher (2.50), save percentage is almost no-better (.914) but his record is 14-6-1. There's a larger story here that a Wings fan blogger would sooner tell or clarify. I'll leave that to them.

Detroit's power play unit remains one of the top forces to be reckoned with in the NHL; they're converting 25.1 (a quarter) of their man-advantage opportunities, which rank them second in the league in that stat. With how potent the Bolts play at 5-on-5, you'd expect them to be ranked higher in the same category but alas... an 18.4% conversion rate pits them currently at 15th in the league. They're actually tied with Winnipeg and Edmonton at 13th in the NHL, but the conversions/opportunities stats separate the three clubs.

The penalty kill units for the two clubs can hold their own, though Tampa's 9th ranked unit (with an 83.2 effectiveness is 2 points higher than Detroit (81.2) when down a man. That ranking places Detroit 15th in the league.

One last note - while Detroit is playing the flip-side of back-to-back games for the second time in the week, the last time they did (in Pittsburgh) they shamed the Pens after losing the night before. Keeps that in mind going into this one as Detroit lost 3-1 last night. They may have lost, but they're still capable.

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