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(Just Like) Starting Over; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Detroit Red Wings game 1 preview

Everything resets to zero, but the accomplishments and failings of the recent season do hold a legacy that need to be matched or overcome.

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Note: Basic game info normally posted on game previews can be found on the StoryStream summary for today's game.

An even season series re-commences tonight at the Amalie as the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Detroit Red Wings. Standings in the Atlantic Division aren't a guiding weight, recent outcomes need to be dismissed from mind too (and I'm not just talking about the Lightning's mediocrity during the regular-season conclusion... I also mean the Bolts taking the final two games against the Red Wings in the regular season series).

Some things, though, you just can't dismiss. You already know Steven Stamkos is out. You know Anton Stralman will not play. You're aware Tyler Johnson got rocked in Montreal (and that wasn't good enough for the Department of Player Safety to do anything about; he's a game time decision). You should be aware Victor Hedman has been dealing with his own pain of late (but will return for the playoffs), and Ryan Callahan has been overcoming a hand injury and Nikita Kucherov his own impairment (both are also in for tonight).

Oh, and the power play...oh, that "power" play... Tampa Bay finished the 2015-16 regular season with a 28th ranked man-advantage. Their 15.8% conversion rate was just in front of the Toronto Maple Leafs (15.4) and Winnipeg Jets (14.8) in the shallows of team rankings. Conversely, the Detroit Red Wings were ranked 13th --- 15 damned places in front of the Bolts!! - with an 18.8% conversion percentage. Yeah, the differential is just 3 points, but how many opportunities equate to those 3 points? Answer: Too many opportunities that came up empty.

That factor - the man-advantage - holds relevance going forward because Tampa Bay is a team trying to contend without a leading goal-scorer and with certain chips carrying ills that will constrict the offensive prowess of the club. That doesn't mean the Bolts can't score on Jimmy Howard or the Red Wings (who had a goal differential of -13 this season (211 goals for, 224 goals-against), it means that the team has got to take advantage of every opportunity it receives. The power play is one of those opportunities that the Lightning has failed on time and again during the season.

But this is the second season. All that we knew amounts to utter tripe now... well, except those physical ailments and roster lacking that were brought up above. Those are challenges added to contention, story arcs that will either be detrimental or overcome which will be determined going forward.

The Red Wings ended the season with one hell of a balanced offensive attack, Henrik Zetterberg lead the team with 50 points, there was a steady output of offense from the likes of leaving-the-Red-Wings Pavel Datsyuk (13 goals, 33 assists), Tomas Tatar (21 goals, 24 assists), rookie Dylan Larkin (23 goals, 22 assists), and among others Lightning alumni / didn't-we-face-him-in-the-playoffs-last-season Brad Richards (10 goals, 18 assists).

So a necessary fact to take is that the Red Wings may not have an over-the-top, prolific points man, but the roster in general is capable of chipping in from the top level down.

It's not like Tampa Bay hasn't shown it has offensive capability in general (227 goals for, 201 against) the offense has hinged on contributions by Stamkos and Johnson along with enabling assists from Stralman and Hedman. Stamkos finished the season second on the team with 64 points (36 goals, 28 assists) while Victor Hedman was 3rd on the club (10 goals, 37 assists)... that's a big step down in point production, eh? 64 to 47 points produced by the second and third top scorers on the roster? That doesn't mean the Lightning offense was incapable, it just means it was a top-heavy attack.

In the crease, it's Howard versus Ben Bishop. The Bish-man ended the NHL season with a 2.06 GAA and a .926 save percentage. He has only 25 career starts in net in the playoffs, with everything having occurred last spring. He's 13-11 with a 2.18 GAA, a .921 save percentage; he also pitched three shutouts in that run. That's one heck of a bar to try to reach or exceed.

Meanwhile, Jimmy Howard likely goes for Detroit tonight unless something unforeseen transpires. Howard's in-season numbers aren't rosy but that was that season: A 2.80 GAA with a .906 save percentage. Those numbers don't matter though (and only got created through 37 appearances). Everything starts fresh and new tonight. Howard's career playoff numbers are amassed from 6 seasons of post-season participation: 46 games played-in, a 21-24 record, a 2.54 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage and 3 shutouts total during that span.

Will the historical numbers for either man have bearing on tonight? We'll find out together starting at 7 PM.

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