Some may look at today's game on the schedule between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Winnipeg Jets and think it is just one of those non-crucial games against a Western Conference foe. But with only 26 games left on the Lightning schedule, and the team currently fighting to stay in playoff contention as of late, this game is very crucial before it hits the road this weekend.
After winning 9 of 11 games in January through early February, The Lightning has so far lost more games than it has won in the month of February (3-4-0). Though this game is against the Jets (7th in the Central Division), a Western Conference team with well-documented struggles of its own this season, it is not one that the Bolts can afford to lose. This game has the potential to be, dare I say, a "trap game."
It is a great opportunity to turn the ship around, though, and get back on the right track. The Bolts hold the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference at the moment, and are only three points behind the Detroit Red Wings for the third spot in the Atlantic Division. Detroit plays the Pittsburgh Penguins this evening on the road.
I will admit that, despite the recent losses, the Bolts have enjoyed strong starts. It will be important to continue that trend this evening, of course, as it is always easier to play ahead than from behind. The Lightning are 5-11-2 when trailing after the first period. In contrast, when leading after the first period, they are 8-3-0. (Just as a side note, this information was very difficult to find on the NHL's new stats page.)
After sitting out last game against the Sharks with an upper-body injury, Vladislav Namestnikov was seen practicing in the morning skate. That seems like a pretty good indication he will draw back into the lineup. Ondrej Palat did not attend the morning skate this morning. Though there were no obvious signs of an injury after the game against the Sharks, it will be interesting to see if he plays this evening. There has been talk of the flu going around the Lightning locker room. It remains to be seen if Slater Koekkoek, who has been called up from the Syracuse Crunch in the absence of Jason Garrison, will get the opportunity to play this evening.
Finally, according to Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune, Andrei Vasilevskiy was the last goalie off the ice, an indication that he will get the start in net this evening. It would make sense to have him start tonight and have Ben Bishop rest up for Saturday's road game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.