Author note: our usual game-basics information can be found here)
A former 7th round NHL draft pick and two former 1st rounders were grouped together during the Tampa Bay Lightning's last game, against the Colorado Avalanche, and sparks flew. A three-year difference in drafting exists between the selection of Steven Stamkos and his linemates, Vladislav Namestnikov and Ondrej Palat, but they were playing like they had been doing their thing together for ages.
The Bolts have been lacking a chemistry that was on display Tuesday night in Denver... And while it was one game, that sole effort lights up optimism because the rest of the club played a heck of a game against an opponent that is on-par with Tampa Bay (by way of NHL parity in 2015-16). Of the 7-1-1 line, the members had a combined 7 points in the 4-0 victory.
We will see tonight if the Lightning and that 7-1-1 line combo can do it again as they start a home stretch. Game one of a six-of-seven game homestand (the sole non-home game being in Sunrise) is against the Penguins, an on-par club that's on the outside in the Eastern Conference playoff chase. They're only 2 points behind the Bolts in the East, and while the club is studded with offensive stars in Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, they're more anemic on offense than the Lightning have been this season. While Tampa Bay has a healthy goal differential (111 to 102, plus-9), the Pens are more on the anemic side (99 - 103, minus-4 status). Offense output doesn't erase the close-race status though as Pittsburgh is only 2 points behind Tampa Bay in overall Eastern Conference standings and has a game in-hand as well.
Malkin leads the Penguisns in scoring with 39 points (19 goals, 20 assists) and captain Sidney Crosby is next with 33 points (12 goals, 21 assists). While the situation in TB is on-edge a bit by way of Steven Stamkos' contract situation on top of other drama playing out at the moment, some discontent with Crosby's performance this season has instigated trade speculation.
There's also a familiar factor playing out in Pittsburgh that's got a hand in the Penguins performance: Franchise sale. We've seen it several times in Tampa Bay where the team struggles a little more while ownership is in flux (2007-08, 1997-98) and sale issues are a part of the Penguins season. Mario Lemieux and company are seeking a load for the Penguins franchise and it's not going swimmingly.
A sign in similarity and difference between the clubs plays out in the crease; Marc-Andre Fleury has a .926 save percentage, which is what Ben Bishop is posting for the Lightning. It's goals-against average where Fleury is weaker (2.26 as to 2.00 for Bishop). Fleury has faced more shots than Bishop (925 as to 907) but has only allowed a single extra goal in his 30 games-played. The fact Fleury's faced more shots in fewer games played than Bishop (30 games to 34 appearance / 33 of them starts) is a knock on the Penguin defense and an accolade for Fleury to hold the line.