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Tampa Bay Lightning at St. Louis Blues: The League’s best face off

Tampa hopes their recent success at home carries over to their road trip. We do too.

Honda NHL Four Line Challenge Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Tampa Bay Lightning at St. Louis Blues: GAME 30

Time: 8:00 pm Eastern Time

Location: Scottrade Center

Broadcast/Streaming: NBCSN

Opponent SBNation Site: St. Louis Game Time

Preview:

The Tampa Bay Lightning just had a really, really good homestand. Four games, four wins, and plenty of goals (20) has boosted their confidence and kept them atop of the Eastern Conference. Their reward? A four-game road trip that starts in St. Louis, the only team that has managed to match them pointwise through the first 30-some games of the season. Yeaaaaaaah!

The Blues are a mirror image of the Lightning. A high-scoring offense led by a Russian (Vladimir Tarasenko for the Blues) and a “hey that’s better than I thought” defense (both teams sport a 2.52 Goals Against Average). While the Lightning have been lethal on special teams (28.4% conversion rate on the power play), the Blues have done their damage at 5-on-5 with 81 of their 104 goals coming at even strength.

With St. Louis converting their power plays at a paltry 16.8% it might benefit the Lightning to take as many penalties as possible. Hook and slash away boys! Okay, maybe that’s not the best game plan (the best game plan is get the puck to Nikita Kucherov as many times as possible), and the Lightning wisely avoided too many penalties during their October match-up, a 2-1 Tampa Bay victory.

It’s an odd flaw for a Blues team that boasts a variety of offensive weapons, topped by the wildly talented Tarasenko. According to head coach Mike Yeo the problems begin in the defensive end with their breakouts:

“Our breakout, our entries are just too slow,” he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch back at the end of November. He then expanded on the benefits of entering the zone with speed and control, “if you have speed, then there’s no defense for that and you’re either gonna gain with possession or you’re gonna have to (dump it) in but with that speed, you’ll be able to get it back.”

St. Louis goes into the battle of the titans a little banged up. They are without top-end scorer Jaden Schwartz, who is sidelined at least six weeks with an ankle injury. The 25-year-old was enjoying a career year with 35 points in 30 games before being injured. The Blues could also be missing veteran defender Alex Pietrangelo, who is listed as day-to-day and missed their last game against Buffalo.

Despite the injuries, the Blues are also riding a four-game winning streak as Brayden Schenn has picked up the slack in Schwartz’s absence. The former Philadelphia Flyer has six goals and one assist in his last five game. Tarasenko has five points in his last five, including an overtime game-winner against Buffalo in his last game.

As for the Lightning, they have to make sure they packed their offensive firepower on the road trip. They only mustered seven goals on their last four-game road trip, a jaunt that saw them lose three of those games and led to Coach Cooper splitting up the Stamkov line. It seemed to work at home as both top lines continued to score. He did reunite Steven Stamkos, Vlad Namestnikov and Kucherov for the win against Winnipeg.

On the road and unable to dictate favorable matchups, it will be interesting to see if Coach Cooper splits up the duo of Stamkos and Kucherov in order to free one of them from the pressure of St. Louis’ top defensive pair.

Comparison chart:

As you may notice now, I like to give Alan a game off when it comes to preview charts. So instead of the numbers (which I’m sure he’ll still post on twitter - follow him @loserpoints) here is a video of Vlad Namestnikov dropping the mitts against Robby Fabbri in 2016.

I’m not going to lie, I’m mildly impressed by Vladdy’s skills in this fight. His work rate is phenomenal and he even goes old-school by pulling Fabbri’s jersey over his head. Namestnikov isn’t a stranger to the sweet science, he’s averaged at least one fight in every season he’s been in the NHL, including a career-high 3 in 2015-16 (the year of the Fabbri fight). Not bad for a first-liner.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forward Lines

Vlad Namestnikov-Steven Stamkos-Nikita Kucherov

Ondrej Palat-Brayden Point-Tyler Johnson

Alex Killorn-Yanni Gourde-Cory Conacher

Chris Kunitz/ JT Brown-Cedric Paquette-Ryan Callahan

Defense Pairings

Victor Hedman- Jake Dotchin

Mikhail Sergachev- Anton Stralman

Slater Koekkoek-Dan Girardi

Andrej Sustr

Line up notes - it’s about time for JT Brown to cycle back into the line-up. Expect to see him get a game or two during the road trip. Conacher is making it hard for the team to send him back to Syracuse. The third line has played extremely well over the last three games.

Goaltenders

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Peter Budaj

Opponent lines

Forward Lines

Vladimir Sobotka - Paul Stastny - Vladimir Tarasenko

Alex Steen - Brayden Schenn - Dmitrij Jaskin

Ivan Barbashev - Patrik Berglund - Magnus Paajarvi

Scottie Upshall - Oskar Sundqvist - Kyle Brodziak

Defense Pairings

Jay Bouwmeester - Robert Bortuzzo

Joel Edmundson - Colton Parayko

Vince Dunn - Carl Gunnarsson

Goalies

Jake Allen

Carter Hutton