Where: Prudential Center, Newark, New Jersey | When: 7 PM EDT
Radio: 970 AM WFLA - Online Stream | Television: Fox Sports Sun | Twitter: Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: All About The Jersey, Fire & Ice
Standings still have something to do with the Tampa Bay Lightning season. While the Bolts are just about cemented in the Atlantic Division... Well, they're not entirely. With 95 points on the season, they're just two in front of the Detroit Red Wings. Tampa Bay needs to take home a win, a single win, in these final two contests of the season (tonight against the Devils or Saturday against the Montreal Canadiens) in order to cement their 2nd place status in the Atlantic and home ice advantage for that opening round series with Detroit. The Wings have a test of their own in their final two matches - with the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers - and need three points to overtake the Lightning in the standings... If the Lightning are winless to end the season and the Wings only pick up one win and tie the Bolts for points, Tampa Bay tops them by way of the fact the Lightning have more wins (45 as to 41).
So! Two points, the Bolts need'em. Are they up for the challenge? Now that's the question...
With a short-staffed, aching team, the Lightning announced a pair of recalls this morning to be of substance for tonight. Defenseman Matt Taormina will be joining the Bolts in Newark (Slater Koekkoek has been reassigned to Syracuse) as well as some young fellow you may have heard of at one point or another in his fledgling career: Jonathan Drouin. We don't need to dwell on the drama of the past few months (you can scour our coverage of that here), just know that Drouin has scored 11 goals and notched 2 assists in his 17 games in the AHL. He's also a minus-9 in the plus/minus category. It's hard to read that stat with Syracuse as only 8 players are in a positive plus/minus while 7 others on the club are even. Defensive system is a questionable subject for the Crunch in general; even though head coach Rob Zettler and assistant coach Trent Cull are defense-first coaches.
By the way, in his 19 NHL games on the season, Drouin had 2 goals and 6 assists. The 21 year old was also a plus-1.
Plus/minus and defense are relevant at the moment with the Lightning with thanks to how the club has performed while playing in the boroughs of New York City. Tampa Bay gave up 8 goals total in their back-to-back losses, though it's the latter 3 (scored by the Rangers) that hit the hardest. The Lightning had a 2-0 lead that the Rangers clipped away at and topped in the end. That game seemed to be a continuation of a failed tactic by the Bolts to rest on their laurels with a lead (while there's ample time for a capable opponent to come back). The Rangers pulled off the feat between the 2nd and 3rd periods. With 3 unanswered goals, it just gives the wrong picture (though the Lightning did go full-on with shots on goal, ending the game with 41).
Between that collapse and Monday's grand let-down, in-game responsibility is something that needs uplift. This is where you can debate Drouin's recall as to a call-up of Jeff Tambellini, who has played the game longer than Drouin (in the NHL and in Europe) but has not played with the Lightning this season. Tambellini, 31, has 26 goals and 19 assists in 60 games and an even plus-minus.
I've already said my piece on who I think should be starting goalie for the Lightning tonight (and Saturday's finale against Montreal). At the time that starter has not been dubbed by the Bolts yet. As for the New Jersey Devils, it'll be Keith Kinkaid between the pipes. Kinkaid has had 22 appearances in net for the Devils, posting a 2.79 GAA with a .906 save percentage. The 25 year old also has a just over .500 record (9-8-0).