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A scoring-but-slumping opponent; Tampa Bay Lightning at Ottawa Senators preview

The potency of the Ottawa Senators offensively doesn't fit its fallen-out-of-contention place in the standings.

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Where: Canadian Tire Centre, Ottawa, Ontario | When: 7:30 PM EST
Radio: 970 AM WFLA | Television: FS Florida Sun | Twitter: Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Silver Seven Sens, The 6th Sens

Back-to-back games are being played by the Tampa Bay Lightning to start the week, and what to take the most note of is not where both opponents are in the standings but where they were in the standings back on December 8, 2015, two months ago.

At the end of play on December 8, the Montreal Canadiens (tomorrow's opponent) was in control of the division with 19 wins in 28 games played. The Ottawa Senators, who the Lightning will ace tonight, were second in the Atlantic Division with a 15-8-5 record in 28 games. That creates quite a contrast to where the hockey teams are now. The failings of the Canadiens aren't a suitable focus for previewing tonight. That can come tomorrow. Tonight is about Erik Karlsson and the rest of the Senators club that may have been lower-key than the bleu, blanc et rouge but were just as formidable and had the same bearing as a top team should.

Technically the Senators are a game over .500 at 24-23-6, but seeing how the OT/SO column still denotes a loss - that's 24-29. They sit in 6th place in the Atlantic Division (where the Lightning sat on December 8th, by the way) with 54 points to their credit. That's 8 behind Tampa Bay in the standings, 5 points out of a Wild Card position, and 7 points above the dregs of the Division and Eastern Conference (the Toronto Maple Leafs and Columbus Blue Jackets both have 47 points; the Leafs have 3 games in-hand on Columbus).

The Senators are low in the standings, but don't count production as a reason why the club struggles... or is it? There are six players on the Senators roster with 30 or more points and three of them are at 40 or more points...  Defenseman Erik Karlsson leads the club in points with 59 (11 goals, 48 assists) while LW Mike Hoffman leads the club in goals (23; 18 assists too to give him 41 points on the year).

Production up top can't do it all though. The Senators in general have been outscored 169 - 152. While much pomp and excitement was put into Andrew Hammond as the Hamburglar last season, he's only played in 12 games this season with a 3.10 GAA and a .900 save percentage.  Craig Anderson has been the man between the pipes to start 42 of the Senators 53 games this season, posting a .913 save percentage and a 2.91 GAA. He's also slated to get start #43 on the season today against the Lightning.

What exactly is the ailment for Ottawa? Should coaching be marked off as the problem, or is there no problem and blind, stupid luck has marred the Senators from success into also-ran status? If it has, luck can change on a dime and resurgence could be imminent at any time.  Or not, because that's luck - it doesn't always show up when you need it.

Back-to-back games means it'll be a goalie split for the Lightning: Andrei Vasilevskiy starting in the crease for the Lightning almost guarantees Ben Bishop starts tomorrow in Montreal. Vasy is 8-4-0 and his numbers are comparable to what Anderson is doing for Ottawa: a 2.62 GAA and a .914 save percentage. Some of the games that Vasy has been between the pipes for have been less than stellar. Repeat game plays leads to more regularity and sharpness from the 21 year old netminder; his time with the Syracuse Crunch this season shows that (10 games, a 2.03 GAA and .932 save percentage)... but despite it being repeat play, it still is just the AHL compared to the NHL.

Ben Bishop has some outstanding numbers against the Senators, he wanted to play too.  But the Canadiens should be more of a challenge for the Lightning and a taxed team needs a stronger goalie in the crease in that affair.  That's not to try to write off Ottawa in general tonight (they beat down the Maple Leafs 6-1 on Saturday to show off their own potency) but highlight the challenge of playing back-to-back.

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