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Tampa Bay Lightning at Florida Panthers Preview: Closing out the road trip

Desperation is the key word being thrown around. Is it enough to defeat the Panthers?

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at Florida Panthers Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Tampa Bay Lightning (22-22-5 49 pts) at Florida Panthers (20-19-10 50 pts) GAME 50

Time: 7:30pm EST

Location: BB&T Center, Sunrise, Florida

Broadcast/Streaming: FS-F, SUN

Opponent SB Nation Site: Litter Box Cats

Previous Game Musings:

It was desperation time for the Lightning up in Chicago. Or, at least that is what Coach Cooper stated after the Bolts came back to defeat the Chicago Blackhawks 5-2 at the United Center.

This ‘’desperation” isn’t something I’m buying, though. It’s game 50 and the Lightning are five points out of a wild-card spot, and six points out of a divisional playoff spot. Every team ahead of them in the standings have played fewer or the same amount of games except for Boston (the Bruins have played 51 games and have a five-point lead on the Lightning).

This Lightning team should’ve been playing with “desperation” a month ago. So the Bolts hitting the very bottom of the Eastern Conference will “wake them up” and get them playing correctly? I’m sorry, but the previous 49 games this season have shown how far this team needs to go.

The defense is the biggest culprit in the Lightning’s regression, and until moves are made to address this problem, I just don’t see them scrounging up a playoff spot. It’s still possible, but count me as one who thinks it’s too little too late for the Lightning to suddenly gain 41 out of a possible 64 points remaining (90 points is currently the estimate for making the playoffs). Which, by the way, means the Lightning would have to win at least 20 of their last 32 games (62%). Moving on, though.

Preview

The Lightning end their six-game road trip tonight in Sunrise, playing the Florida Panthers. My, what a difference injuries and inconsistent play can do to two playoff teams from last season. Neither team is “hot” at the moment. Tampa is 3-6-1 in their last 10 games, scoring 24 goals and allowing 32. Florida has gone 4-4-2 over their last 10 games, scoring 21 goals and allowing 28.

The Lightning have been plagued with injuries on both sides of the puck which have contributed to the team’s regression, however, the defense and the subpar goaltending have been the primary culprits. The Bolts are still a good possession team, sitting 9th in CF% at 51.09%, and they can still score in the top portion of the league (135 goals have the Lightning sitting at 12th). Where the problems begin to show are the goals allowed, which, at 144, ties the Lightning with Detroit for the second-most goals allowed in the Eastern Conference (Philadelphia has allowed the most at 154).

Yes, the goaltending has not been great this season. Ben Bishop has a GAA of 2.78 and a SV% of .905, while Andrei Vasilevskiy has posted a GAA of 2.82 and a SV% of .908. The Lightning are 11-11-3 with Bishop and 11-11-2 with Vasilevskiy. The narrative that the team doesn’t play well with Vasilevskiy needs to be shelved; it’s a lazy attempt at analysis. The team hasn’t played well in front of either goaltender, and both have had their struggles.

Tampa still has a top-flight power play this season, currently sitting at 22.7% (5th), but also a poor penalty kill at 80.5% (20th). The amount of penalties this team takes really does baffle me. The Lightning have taken 164 penalties this season, which is the 10th most in the league (72 at home and 92 on the road). With how poor the PK has been all season, being this undisciplined is just a recipe for disaster.

Florida has mirrored the Lightning’s struggles. Injuries to important players and inconsistent play from their healthy ones has them just one point above the Bolts. The Panthers are a strong possession team with a CF% of 52.03 (5th) but they have had a very difficult time producing offense. The cats have scored 114 goals (26th) while allowing 135 (17th). Their power play ranks 24th in the league at 15.2%, but their penalty kill is one of the best in the league at 84.3% (5th). This team might not score a ton, but if it’s close and low scoring, the Panthers aren’t a team to laugh at.

This will be the third meeting of the season between the Lightning and Panthers. Given “desperation,” it isn’t out of the question that the Lightning defeat the Panthers. Although the Lightning have struggled with the cats recently, the Panthers have won 3 out of 4 last season, and have split with the Bolts so far. But the Cats’ scoring woes might be a bit too much to overcome.

As long as the Lightning can maintain an aggressive forecheck and don’t break down too much defensively, they can get back-to-back wins for the first time in over a month (we haven’t won consecutive games since defeating Detroit and St. Louis back in December).

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forwards

Ondrej Palat - Vladislav Namestnikov - Nikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn - Tyler Johnson - J.T. Brown

Brian Boyle - Valtteri Filppula - Jonathan Drouin

Michael Bournival - Cedric Paquette - Gabriel Dumont

Defensemen

Victor Hedman - Anton Stralman

Nikita Nesterov - Andrej Sustr

Braydon Coburn - Jake Dotchin

Goaltenders

Ben Bishop

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Florida Panthers Lines

Forwards

Jussi Jokinen - Vincent Trocheck - Reilly Smith

Jonathan Marchessault - Jared McCann - Jaromir Jagr

Derek MacKenzie - Michael Sgarbossa - Colton Sceviour

Shawn Thornton - Nick Bjugstad - Paul Thompson

Defense

Keith Yandle - Mark Pysyk

Michael Matheson - Jason Demers

Alex Petrovic - Aaron Ekblad

Goaltenders

Roberto Luongo

James Reimer