Tampa Bay Lightning (33-26-9, 75 points) at Ottawa Senators (39-22-6, 84 points): GAME 69 (NICE!)
Time: 7:30 pm Eastern Time
Location: Canadian Tire Center
Broadcast/Streaming: RDS2, SUN-S
Opponent SBNation Site: Silver Seven Sens
I started with the comparison chart for two reasons. First, I made it and I’m writing the preview so I can do what I want. Second, look at it. If I told you one of those teams has 84 points and is second in the Atlantic while the other one has 75 points and is out of the playoffs, you would undoubtedly say the Lightning are the team with more points. But that’s not the cause because...well...hockey.
The Sens have been the most fortunate team in the league this season. They sit comfortably in the playoffs with a chance to win the division despite being a bottom-ten team in both score adjusted shot share and expected goal share according to corsica.hockey. This isn’t to say the Lightning are a power house. They’re in the middle of the pack league wide. But they’ve been better than Ottawa by just about any measure except wins and losses.
Unfortunately for the Lightning, none of that matters. The Sens are locked into a first round matchup likely against the Bruins or the Rangers. The Bolts will have to continue winning almost every night just to win the booby prize of running into a juggernaut Washington Capitals team in the first round.
The Lightning are still depleted at forward. Cedric Paquette is not on the road trip. Tyler Johnson hasn’t skated since his injury. Vladislav Namestnikov aggravated his injury last night making it unlikely he’ll play. If that’s the case, look for either Matt Peca or Cory Conacher to be recalled. I’ve pencilled in Peca in the lines but that’s just a guess.
Last night against the Rangers, the Lightning relied heavily on one line to carry them. Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov, and Ondrej Palat bore almost all the responsibility for putting any pressure on the opposition. That will have to change if the Lightning want to keep winning. They need at least one more line to step up and be able to share the load. That will likely have to be the Drouin, Killorn, Gourde line but that combination hasn’t yet been effective. Neither Gourde or Killorn plays with the pace or creativity of Drouin, who thrives when he has a skilled partner like Point or Kucherov with whom to combine.
The Senators are also without one of their best players in Mark Stone. Bobby Ryan is injured as well. But even without Stone and Ryan, the Sens still bring a strong first line including newly acquired Alex Burrows, who has looked solid since joining the Sens. Of course, the biggest threat from Ottawa comes from the blue line. Erik Karlsson is one of the best defenders in the league. He’ll face his fellow Swedes Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman, which is always fun for those of us who enjoy Swedefenders.
The Lightning will enter this game on the second half of a back to back with a depleted roster against a well-rested team. But because they started backup goalie Peter Budaj last night against New York, Tampa will have Andrei Vasilevskiy in goal tonight. That might be their best hope at finding a path to victory. If the top line can play the way they have the last two games, and Vasilevskiy continues to perform at his best, the Bolts might just be able to steal another game on the road.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn - Yanni Gourde - Jonathan Drouin
Adam Erne - Byron Froese - Matt Peca
Gabriel Dumont - Greg McKegg - JT Brown
Jason Garrison - Anton Stralman
Victor Hedman - Andrej Sustr
Braydon Coburn - Jake Dotchin
Matt Hoffman - Derik Brassard - Alex Burrows
Ryan Dzingel - Zack Smith - Chris DiDomenico
Phil Varone - J.G. Pageau - Tom Pyatt
Viktor Stalberg - Chris Kelly - Tommy Wingels
Marc Methot - Erik Karlsson
Dion Phaneuf - Cody Ceci
Frederik Claesson - Chris Wideman