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The day after; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Buffalo Sabres preview

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A new normal sets in as the Bolts starts the home stretch of the season.

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Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida
When: 7:30 PM EST | Tickets: Check availability
Media: NBC Sports Net (cable) | 970 AM WFLA (radio) | Twitter Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Die by the Blade

We're in the home stretch of the NHL season now; it's the last six weeks of the season and the NHL trade deadline has passed. Nothing for teams left to do now but compete and ready themselves for the spring and what it holds: Either an early beginning to the long offseason or the start of the NHL's second season - the playoffs.
The Lightning have 18 games left in the season and only three direct opportunities to catch the division-leading Montreal Canadiens who are ahead of Tampa Bay by 5 points (with a  game in hand). The Bolts remain a single point in front of the Detroit Red Wings in the standings too while Detroit has that nifty game in-hand thingy to their advantage as well.

The Lightning start a three game homestand tonight against the Sabres and the immediate narrative is adjustment. Unlike last year, the world of Tampa Bay Lightning fans wasn't shaken violently with the departure of the face of the franchise with a new normal needing to come into being on the fly. There is still a new-normal with the departure of Radko Gudas and Brett Connolly and the addition of Braydon Coburn... It's just not as world-rocking as when your team captain asks for a trade and gets it (yes, I'm still bitter, yes it still hurts, but we move forward...).

So what about this Braydon Coburn fellow? What can we expect when he actually plays?  Travis Hguhes of Broad Street Hockey filled me in yesterday morning:

I don't know how you guys feel about the return here, but Coburn will definitely help your team this year. He's ideally the second player on a top-4 pairing (secondary to a guy like Kimmo Timonen for most of his time in Philly, and he can struggle if he's asked to carry a pair), but he's a clear top-4 defenseman. On most teams (maybe not the Lightning) he's a top-pairing defenseman. He'll turn over the puck and he'll make mistakes in his own end at times, but what tough-minute defenseman doesn't? He's great in the neutral zone, can skate surprisingly well for a guy his size, and he can play physical as well. He was a huge scapegoat in Philadelphia because of how the Flyers used him, but he'll presumably have less responsibility in Tampa Bay and I think that will work in his favor.

Coburn was paired with Jason Garrison during the morning skate in the second pairing. This duo enables Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman to once again tandem in the top pair for the Lightning, while Andrej Sustr and Mark Barberio were on the 3rd pairing.

With Brett Connolly absent from the Lightning lineup, Jonathan Drouin moves up to the wing on the third line with Cedric Paquette and Valtteri Filppula. Drouin will see more ice time with Connolly out of the lineup... But will he find more opportunity, and will he light the lamp again? Drouin has only 2 goals so far in his NHL career but he has been a craftsman while not scoring - he's got 24 assists on the season.

It was a year ago that on the day following the NHL trade deadline, the Bolts got Steven Stamkos back in the lineup as they faced the Buffalo Sabres. Again, on the day after the deadline, they face the Sabres who have been dealt, moved, and shipped all over the league. I encourage you to check die by the Blade for their coverage of this season of fire sell-offs by Buffalo. The moves of note happened before and on deadline day: the crease has been cleansed of Jhonas Enroth and Michal Neuvirth in favor of our old friend Anders Lindback and Chad Johnson. Johnson was backing up Jaroslav Halak with the New York Islanders up until he and a draft pick went to the Sabres for Neuvirth. He only played in 19 games for the Isles but his GAA was above 3 and his save percentage is .889... The Sabres gladly took him as they race toward the bottom of the standings and a date with the NHL draft lottery.

Anders Lindback was acquired from the Dallas Stars in a larger deal for Enroth; he has yet to start a game for the Sabres as Neuvirth had been doing all the work. There's no confirmation of who starts tonight but it shouldn't be a surprise if it's Lindy. Anders season with Dallas went less than well: 2-8-0, a 3.71 goals-against average and a .875 save percentage.  But if you're tanking, you're going Lindy on most nights, possibly not tonight specifically because it's the goalie-facing-his-former-team factor and netminders have a habit of raising their game in those circumstances.

Don't underestimate the Sabres, this isn't a given 2 points for the Lightning, they need to show up and take what they want. Don't underestimate the Sabres, this isn't a given 2 points for the Lightning, they need to show up and take what they want.

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