It's almost absurd how much weight has been put on tonight's back-in-action game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Detroit Red Wings. Both teams have been idle with thanks to the All-Star break, just like the rest of the NHL, but it's their statuses in the Atlantic Division that makes the getting-back-to-business contest so important. The Bolts and Wings are tied (along with the Boston Bruins after their 4-3 overtime loss to Toronto last night) for second place in the division, having the same point total (58). The Lightning officially hold second place because they hold two more wins (27 as to 25) over Detroit in 49 games played (both clubs are ahead of Boston because of their game in-hand on Boston's 50).
In the right Atlantic Division race, to have a direct confrontation after the bulk of the rosters have been idle for almost a week? This could be intense... or it could be sloppy. Either way, both clubs have to play with knowing they're trying to hold their ground as well as stave off Boston.
Center Dylan Larkin is turning into a pretty amazing story for the Red Wings. The 19 year-old 2014 NHL draftee (taken four spots ahead of the Lightning's draft choice of that year, Anthony DeAngelo) is in his rookie season and seems to have a looming Calder Award nomination as the NHL's top rookie. He's tied for the Red Wings team lead in points (33) with Henrik Zetterberg... The difference is that Larkin's point distribution is much more even (15 goals, 18 assists) compared to Zetterberg's (9 goals, 22 assists) as well as the fact Larkin has a plus-minus of plus-24 - double the positive of the next player on the roster, Pavel Datsyuk. That's two very big names he's standing with or exceeding in his first professional season of action.
Steven Stamkos leads the Lightning in power play goals with 10 on the season, followed by Nikita Kucherov with 7. The Bolts are 15th overall in the league with an 18.1% efficiency with the man-advantage. The Red Wings are three places and five-tenths of a point behind the Lightning in the power play rankings (18th place with a 17.6 success rate). Gustav Nyquist has the team lead in power play goals (6) with Justin Abdelkader and Tomas Tatar just behind him (5).
On the other side of special teams, just flip the numbers around for the Lightning; they're penalty-kill rate is at 81.1%, ranking them 14th overall in the NHL. Detroit is just behind them in that column with an 80.9% kill-efficiency. Special teams or not, the Lightning are outpacing the Wings in scoring (130 goals on the season as to 122) and defense (117 goals allowed compared to 124).
In net will be a pretty solid goalie duel as Ben Bishop squares off against Petr Mzarek. Bishop's numbers have said a lot this season (a 2.02 GAA, a .926 save percentage) but Mzarek's are on par and slightly better (2.03 GAA with a .932 save percentage in 33 games played). It's these stats on top of the closeness on special teams that makes this a pretty solid match for Rivalry Night on NBC Sports Net.
The question still remains if it'll be intense or sloppy.