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Tampa Bay Lightning at Minnesota Wild Preview: The wilderness awaits

Can the Lightning extend their winning streak?

NHL: Minnesota Wild at Tampa Bay Lightning Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Tampa Bay Lightning (24-24-6 54pts) at Minnesota Wild (35-12-6 76pts) GAME 55

Time: 8:00pm EST

Location: Xcel Energy Center, St. Paul, Minnesota

Broadcast/Streaming: NBCSN, TVAS

Opponent SB Nation Site: Hockey Wilderness

Previous Game Musings

Getting a shutout is one thing but, routing the Los Angeles Kings 5-0 in a rather dominant fashion is downright impressive. Outside of a shaky first period, the Lightning took the Kings to the woodshed and back. They forced the Kings to play a style of game that didn’t suit them: speed.

It was refreshing to see the Bolts come out and play this well, the past few months have been extremely rough on the fan base. The team’s lethargic performance has effectively drained any form of optimism from the fans.

Will this winning streak (as small as it is) spur the Lightning to make a late surge in the standings (the Lightning are still in the basement of the Eastern Conference)? We shall see, it’s a long road to even sniff a playoff spot. Six points don't sound like a lot, but consider how many games the Lightning have already played and who they have to catch up with, and then hoping that as the Lightning win the other teams lose... There is still time, yes, but it will be a monumental achievement if the Lightning pull it off.

Preview

Tampa Bay begins a four-game road trip tonight with a visit to the Western Conference leading Minnesota Wild. Funny scheduling quirk, the Lightning will end up playing 10 games during the month of February; eight of them will be against Western Conference foes.

After defeating the Anaheim Ducks and the Los Angeles Kings the Lightning have their first winning streak of 2017, a joyous moment indeed. What better way to try and extend that streak than to take on the best team in the Western Conference? At first glance, this looks like it could get ugly, and it might get to that point, but there is a sliver of hope that the Lightning could earn a win up in St. Paul.

The Wild are basically the western version of the Washington Capitals, just slicing through the league like a knife through butter. Minnesota has shown the ability to score with 179 goals (4th), and the ability to stifle opposing offenses by allowing 125 goals (2nd). Their power play and penalty kill are both effective at 20.3% (13th) and 82.1% (12th) respectively.

Where it gets a little hazy is their possession game. The Wild’s Corsi For % is 24th in the league at 48.36%. That is basement dwelling, so how are the Wild the best team in the Western Conference? Two things: goaltending and shooting percentages. Devan Dubnyk leads the league in wins (29) and is 2nd in SV% at .933.

What has also helped the Wild is a huge spike in the team’s shooting percentage. Over the last four seasons, the Wild have averaged a team shooting percentage of 8.90% which is around the league’s average over that time span, there are a few teams that have consistently shot in the 9’s, but that isn’t too crazy.

The craziness begins once a team is shooting above 10%. The Wild are one of three teams (the Capitals and Rangers are the other two) that are shooting an insane 11%. Just for reference, here are the top three teams from the past four seasons in shooting percentage:

**48-game lockout shortened season, 5 teams finished above 10% that season**

Now here is the Wild’s team shooting percentages during those seasons:

2015-2016: 8.97%

2014-2015: 9.00%

2013-2014: 9.12%

2012-2013: 8.54%

This is a huge difference. It was to be expected that the Wild would score more with Bruce Boudreau coaching the team, but this jump is completely unsustainable. At some point, regression is going to hit the Wild and if they’re not careful it will bite them.

The Wild have been successful over their last 10 games, sporting a 7-2-1 record while scoring 39 goals and allowing 29. Where the worry lies is the uptick in goals allowed, over the course of the season the Wild have allowed an average of 2.35 goals per game, over their last 10 they have allowed 2.9.

They’ve compensated for this by scoring more during the stretch, but shooting 11% (12.3% during their last 10 games) isn’t going to last forever. Their possession game isn’t great and they have had some slight trouble with teams that have speed. If the Lightning can bring the same intensity and desperation that they did against Anaheim and Los Angeles, then winning in Minnesota isn’t as crazy as it seems.

As for Tampa Bay, the numbers aren’t flattering. They’re 15th in scoring with 149 goals and 22nd in goals allowed with 157. The power play has been the only bright spot which is currently 8th best in the league at 21.4%, while the penalty kill ranks 21st at 80.2%. The Lightning are still a top-ten possession team with a Corsi For % of 51.03% (8th), but the defense and goaltending’s inability to find real consistency has effectively handicapped the Lightning from any real progress as the season has gone on.

The last two games of the recent homestand has caused some optimism to return for the Bolts, however, the Wild are hot right now and even if they’re shooting an absurd percentage the Lightning are going to have to emulate the last 40 minutes of the Kings game to have any real chance of defeating the Wild. This is still a team that is rock solid defensively, so if Minnesota’s shooters suddenly do go dry they still have Devan Dubnyk in net to make life hell for opposing offenses. This is hockey, though, anything can happen once the puck drops.

Comparison Chart

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forwards

Vladislav Namestnikov - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov

TBA - Brayden Point - Jonathan Drouin

Brian Boyle - Valtteri Filppula - TBA

Gabriel Dumont - Cedric Paquette - J.T. Brown

Defense

Victor Hedman - Jake Dotchin

Jason Garrison - Anton Stralman

Braydon Coburn - Andrej Sustr

Goaltenders

Ben Bishop

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Minnesota Wild

Forwards

Zach Parise - Eric Staal - Alex Tuch

Jason Zucker - Mikko Koivu - Mikael Granlund

Nino Niederreiter - Charlie Coyle - Jason Pominville

Chris Stewart - Erik Haula - Tyler Graovac

Defense

Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon

Marco Scandella - Mathew Dumba

Gustav Olofsson - Christian Folin

Goaltenders

Devan Dubnyk

Darcy Kuemper