It's the 41st game of the 2015-16 season to be played at 401 Channelside Drive tonight where the Tampa Bay Lightning is 24-13-3 for 51 points on the season. That's a far cry from what the Bolts did last season at the Amalie - 32-8-1 for 65 points - but that was last season. You move forward in life and results vary when so many cogs are turned, shifted, changed and appended throughout the NHL game-to-game and between seasons. In fact, how static the Lightning roster turned out to be between seasons is remarkable. Oh, sure, there have been changes (such as Brendan Morrow leaving, Erik Condra being brought in and Jonathan Drouin's departure from the roster while Jonathan Marchessault remains on) but the majority of the staff has been largely static.
It's a part of the reason why "leaderless" and "rudderless" remarks that were dropped on Thursday night in game-thread chatter seem so far off-base. A loss sucks, ladies and gentlemen, but they happen. The only sport that tends to minimize losses in a season (and shutouts) is football (collegiate and the pro game). Hockey is not football for the most part, but it is a team sport and player participation and wise coaching are driving forces in competition. One player doesn't do it all and even a strong vocal member of the roster can't spend the majority of his time trying to rile up efforts. If a player spends more time being a coach, his effort itself wanes and he becomes a target for that factor.
Yeah, the Lightning failed to win on Thursday... It was an unacceptable performance, words spoken by a team leader and published through the media. Should he be hung out to dry for publicly making that remark after the game and not more-so during it? If you believe so, were you in the locker room, on the bench, or on ice during game play to be able to say with proof that criticism and pressing was absent from those wearing the "C" or the "A" to coincide lackluster results from the club?
For those who believe in a lack of leadership in the club that results in a lesser results compared to last season, I can say that changes are due for the roster. But using Thursday as an excuse to take aim at captain Steven Stamkos, assistants Ryan Callahan and Victor Hedman or head coach Jon Cooper and suggesting they be the ones let go is continuing on the wrong path of reaction. This team didn't accomplish what it did last season because of a "rudderless" / "leaderless" aspect at critical times.
With that being said...
Cory Schneider is making his first start in net for the New Jersey Devils since March 4th against the Dallas Stars. That may be a rallying point for the Devils who are now out of playoff contention. Schneider was 26-23-1 in his 55 appearance for the Devils before his injury. That stat won't impress the reader, but you should be impressed at his performance numbers: A .923 save percentage and a 2.17 goals-against average. He also blanked opposition 4 times. While the Devils themselves have been a mix in the result column and production (37-33-8; 175-197 goals for-against) the overall performance by their #1 goalie was sound to say the least.
The lack of potency from the Devils lineup stands out pretty strongly when looking at the roster in general. Only 5 players have more than 20 points on the season after 78 games. Kyle Palmeri leads the team with 54 points (29 goals, 25 assists) while center dam Henrique is next with 47 (27 goals, 20 assists). Henrique also has a plus-12 plus/minus rating and that technically leads the forward corps. Technically because Michael Cammalleri has a plus-15 but also only has 42 games played, 34 less than Henrique.
Ben Bishop is slated to start in net tonight for the Lightning. Despite giving up 2 goals (one was an empty netter) on Thursday, the Bish-man's performance numbers remain stellar: a 2.02 GAA with a .928 save percentage. His 6 shutouts on the season are just south of the single-season lead (held by Nikolai Khabibulin, accomplished in 2001-02). Also of noted specifically with Cory Schneider in mind: Bishop has appeared in 58 games on the season. With Schneider being out for a month and being only 3 games behind Bishop, it gives you an idea of how much the Devils have relied on the efforts of Schneider.