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Tampa Bay Lightning at San Jose Sharks Preview: Charging into the fin

Will the “gritty” play style provide more wins?

NHL: San Jose Sharks at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Tampa Bay Lightning (21-20-5 47pts) at San Jose Sharks (26-16-2 54pts) GAME 47

Time: 10:30pm EST

Location: SAP Center, San Jose, California

Broadcast/Streaming: SN, SN1, CSN-CA, Sun

Opponent SB Nation Site: Fear The Fin

Previous Game Musings

Just one thing. For the love of everything that is holy in hockey, please, Coach Cooper, just keep feeding Jonathan Drouin more ice time with good players. This is something you should’ve realized a while ago, but hey better late than never. Play. Jonathan. Drouin. That is all. Moving on, though…

Preview

The Lightning enter the third game of their six-game road trip with a 1-0-1 record, defeating the Kings and losing to the Ducks in overtime. The Bolts have looked very good during those first two games; they carried play well against both the Kings and the Ducks while also limiting their chances. Impressive, but I’m not entirely sold on this “grit” style that Cooper is advocating right now. The team’s roster just isn’t built for that.

Tonight they take on the San Jose Sharks, last year’s Western Conference Champion. The Sharks have been plugging along this season at a pretty solid pace. They’re in the thick of the playoff race and haven’t really looked bad at any point. They also haven’t looked amazingly spectacular, but I’m sure the Sharks don’t care about that much. They’ve just been winning hockey games, that’s all that matters.

Over their last 10 games, the Sharks have gone 5-4-1, scoring 30 goals and allowing 27, a bit of a mediocre stretch for them. They are, however, a strong possession team, posting the 8th best Corsi For % at 51.64%, but have a poor power play at 16.5% (23rd). This Sharks team is not exactly prolific offensively either; they’ve only managed 117 goals (21st) this season. Defensively, however, they’re one of the best teams in the league, only allowing 102 (4th) goals so far. Their penalty kill is right outside the top ten at 82.6% (13th), and they’re also the second least-penalized team in the NHL. If you’re going to beat the Sharks, you’re more than likely gonna have to do it at even strength.

The Lightning, on the other hand, have struggled mightily over their last 10 game,s going 3-5-2 while scoring 22 goals and allowing 34. They’re just outside the top ten in possession, sporting a 50.68% Corsi For % (12th) but have been plagued with a weak penalty kill 80.3% (20th), especially on the road where the penalty kill is hovering around 78.8% (81.9% PK at home). So far the Lightning have scored 126 (13th) goals and have allowed 135 (25th). The defense again has been the primary problem for the Bolts; offensively the team is doing well enough considering the injuries that have been incurred, however, the defensive play has just not been good enough with either Bishop or Vasilevskiy in net to help supplement it. It’s the biggest reason why Cooper is advocating a more “gritty” playstyle for the team. Grind out the low scoring 1-0/2-1/3-2 games as often as possible.

Yes, the Lightning deserved a better fate against Anaheim, but I wouldn’t hold out hope that the Lightning can maintain this style of play for long. The roster just isn’t built for a “grind it out” style, it’s a roster built on speed and skill. The Sharks are no slouch and this is a team that will bury you if you don’t pay attention. If the Lighting can match the aggressive forecheck and defensive play they managed against Los Angeles and Anaheim, then it’s definitely a game they can win; especially since San Jose is on the tail end of a back-to-back. However, getting into penalty trouble (the Lightning have been penalized 157 times this season, 8th most in the league) even against a mediocre power play is a recipe for disaster; this Sharks team might not be scoring a ton, but they’re not lacking in the skill department and testing the waters by taking too many penalties would not be wise.

I know I’m sounding rather pessimistic, but this team’s battle for consistency has made me skeptical when it comes to maintaining a high level of play. The Lightning have managed to play two games very well and should’ve gotten 4 points, but until that consistency goes for more than four games I’ll be cautiously optimistic towards their chances at making a run (which is slowly getting closer and closer to improbable). Hopefully, Victor Hedman will have gotten over his illness and is able to play, the Lightning are much better when the big Swede is on the ice.

Comparison Chart

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forward Lines

Ondrej Palat - Vlad Namestnikov - Nikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn - Tyler Johnson - Erik Condra

Brian Boyle - Valtteri Filppula - Jonathan Drouin

Michael Bournival - Cedric Paquette - Gabriel Dumont

Defense Pairings

Victor Hedman (?) - Anton Stralman

Jason Garrison - Andrej Sustr

Braydon Coburn - Luke Witkowski

Nikita Nesterov

Goalies

Ben Bishop

Andrei Vasilevskiy

San Jose Sharks

Forward Lines

Melker Karlsson – Joe Thornton – Joe Pavelski

Kevin Labanc – Patrick Marleau – Mikkel Boedker

Timo Meier – Chris Tierney – Joel Ward

Micheal Haley – Ryan Carpenter – Tommy Wingels

Defense Pairings

Paul Martin – Brent Burns

Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Justin Braun

Brenden Dillon – David Schlemko

Goalies

Aaron Dell

Martin Jones