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Sabres at Lightning preview: Will the real Tampa Bay Lightning please stand up?

Time to nip the four-game losing streak in the butt.

NHL: Nashville Predators at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Buffalo Sabres at Tampa Bay Lightning: Game 43

Time: 7:30 pm Eastern Time

Location: Amalie Arena

Broadcast/Streaming: Sun, MSG-B

Opponent SBNation Site: Die by the Blade

Preview:

We are officially beginning the second half of the season with Game 43. The Lightning have made it. Sure, they’re beaten, bruised — and losing — but the gang’s (mostly) all here. The Lightning are 19-19-4 and four points from the final spot in the Atlantic. Which, frankly, sounds about right with what we’ve seen in the first half of the season. A .500 team that’s within reach but not quite there in the playoff circle? Yup.

You know what the scary part is? Nope, the record itself wasn’t it. The Lightning are four points behind Ottawa in the Atlantic... but Ottawa has three games in hand. The Lightning’s opponent tonight, Buffalo, is one point behind the Lightning in overall standings but have two games in hand and bring a two-game winning streak into town.

Thanks, Homer.

But there are some things to grasp onto, mostly the fact that the Lightning are not out of it. They can make a run (don’t know how because they can’t even seem to walk at a steady pace, but we’re trying to be positive, I guess), other teams can falter... it’s still possible.

That hope is encouraged with the likely return of Ben Bishop. He might be shaky/rusty in the beginning (he hasn’t played in close to a month) but if the team in front of him doesn’t have it together, well, does it really matter which goalie is in net? Besides, Andrei Vasilevskiy seriously needs a break. I’m worried about his mental state right now. Bishop’s ability to handle the puck, to make that long pass is an asset, so much so that Jason Garrison was quoted in the Tampa Bay Times as saying, “It’s like having a third defenseman back there.”

That sounds so nice in theory, but not when there’s a giant gap in skill level between the team’s top defensemen and the rest. Bishop is there, yes, as the last line of defense, but that also could lead to complacency for those in front of him when you’re relying on your goalie to bail you out. And this team should know by now that there’s close to zero room for error. Complacency is what gets you to 19-19-4 and on the outside looking in.

So, which Lightning team are we going to see from here on out? The team that’s fought through various adversities before and made deep playoff runs or a team whose inconsistencies and mistakes will catch up to them? Like a team that’s lost four straight?

Comparison chart:

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forward Lines

Ondrej Palat - Vlad Namestnikov - Nikita Kucherov

Brian Boyle - Valtteri Filppula - Jonathan Drouin

Alex Killorn - Tyler Johnson - Matthew Peca

Gabriel Dumont - Cedric Paquette - Michael Bournival

Defense Pairings

Victor Hedman - Anton Stralman

Jason Garrison - Andrej Sustr

Slator Koekkoek - Nikita Nesterov

Goaltenders

Ben Bishop

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Buffalo Sabres

Forward Lines

William Carrier - Ryan O'Reilly - Kyle Okposo

Marcus Foligno - Jack Eichel - Brian Gionta

Evander Kane - Sam Reinhart - Justin Bailey

Nicolas Deslauriers - Zemgus Girgensons - Matt Moulson

Defense Pairings

Jake McCabe - Rasmus Ristolainen

Zach Bogosian - Cody Franson

Justin Falk - Taylor Fedun

Goaltenders

Anders Nilsson

Linus Ullmark

*Robin Lehner is sick