Montreal Canadiens (21-9-4) at Tampa Bay Lightning (17-15-3) GAME 36
Time: 7:30pm EST
Location: Amalie Arena, Tampa
Broadcast/Streaming: Sun, SN360, SNE, RDS
Opponent SB Nation Site: Habs Eyes on the Prize
It’s been rough going for the Lightning so far. Injuries and inconsistent play have been the culprits for an underwhelming season. Currently the Lightning sit 3 points behind Boston for the final divisional playoff spot after the Christmas break. With the extra time to heal, the Lightning are looking to spark a winning streak that will put them firmly into playoff contention.
The last time these two teams played was back on October 27 with the Lightning blowing a 1-0 3rd period lead as Montreal emerged the victors by a score of 3-1. Since that last meeting, the Lightning have gone 13-13-2 while Montreal has gone 14-11-1. Montreal currently holds a 3-point edge over Ottawa for first place in the Atlantic Division (and a 9-point lead over the Lightning).
After finally stringing together consecutive wins for the first time since the middle of November and building some confidence, the Washington Capitals played the role of the Grinch and blew the Lightning out 4-0 to send them into the Christmas break feeling a bit down and battered. It’s been a lot of treading water since that 4-game winning streak a month ago, but looking at the injuries the Lightning have accumulated it’s hard to ask for much more. Stamkos, Bishop, Palat, Kucherov, and Callahan have all missed extended time, and the team’s defensive play has been very inconsistent.
Even with these negatives the Lightning are still in the playoff hunt, and are one of only 9 teams to have scored more than 100 goals so far this season. Every other team that has scored over 100 goals is in a playoff spot. The Lightning have the talent and depth to scrape their way back into a playoff spot, but defensive stability, consistent goaltending, and better special teams (looking at you, suddenly lackluster Penalty Kill) must be the foundation of a comeback.
Coming into Wednesday’s game against the Canadiens there are some bright spots for the Lightning. Jonathan Drouin has been the Lightning’s best player these past 10 games, he has 7 goals 6 assists for 13 points in his past 10. The emergence of Drouin as an elite player for the Lightning is unbelievably welcomed, his play has helped keep the team’s head just above water. Victor Hedman continues to be a stud on the backend (1-10-11 in his last 10 games) while trying to stabilize a defense that, outside of the top pairing, has looked like it’s regressed.
Some of the line combinations that Jon Cooper has concocted have been a pleasant surprise as well. I personally never would have thought Filppula, Boyle, and Drouin would be so effective, but I will take production wherever I can get it at this point. The Namestnikov, Point, Killorn line has created some good chances as well, but some closing power would make me feel a little fuzzier on the inside (side note here, but holy crap Nesterov playing forward was actually immensely impressive).
I’d love to display possible line combinations, but…this is Jon Cooper. If I was a close friend of Mr. Cooper, I would have gotten him a new blending machine since I’m near certain he has broken at least 2 so far this season.
You can bet Montreal is going to play Carey Price, so I’m expecting Vasilevskiy to get the start to kick off the season post-holiday. A positive aspect heading into this game would be that Montreal has been rather mediocre recently. They’re 5-3-2 in their past 10 games scoring 35 goals and allowing 24, but a large reason for those 35 goals was the Colorado game where Montreal pumped 10 goals. Taking that one game away and Montreal only has 25 goals in their last 10 games, which is the exact same as the Lightning have scored. This is a game the Lightning can win.
A strong showing Wednesday paired with a win (cause strong showings in losses is something we can’t afford to keep doing) against one of the best teams in the league will build some confidence in the team. Something sorely needed since the next 10 games aren’t entirely friendly (TOR, CAR, WPG, NSH, @PHI, @PIT, BUF, CBJ, @LA, @SJS).
Looking at those next 10 games…oh boy. These next 10 could either sink us out of playoff contention (barring an impression of the 2014-2015 Hamburglering Ottawa Senators) or put us right back in the thick of things.
Max Pacioretty - Phillip Danault - Brendan Gallagher
Paul Byron - Torrey Mitchell - Alexander Radulov
Artturi Lehkonen - Tomas Plekanec - Brian Flynn
Daniel Carr - Michael McCarron - Chris Terry
Nathan Beaulieu - Shea Weber
Mark Barberio - Jeff Petry
Joel Hanley - Zach Redmond