Time: 9:00 PM Eastern Time
Location: Xcel Energy Center
Broadcast/Streaming: SUNS, FSN
Opponent SBNation Site: Hockey Wilderness
The good thing is, teams tend to lose their first game after a Bye Week. Bolts lost theirs with aplomb in game #45 against their cross-conference rival, and are now heading to Minnesota to help the Wild lose theirs (hopefully) on Hockey Day in Minnesota. “Isn’t hockey more of a lifestyle there than just one day of celebration?” You ask, or at least I did. Yes, but the State of Hockey finds it important to dedicate one day to NOTHING BUT. More on that below.
The Wild emerged from Bye Week having sunk in the standings. The Central Division played nine games during their week off and, according to the Wild’s beat writer, won eight of them, meaning that Minnesota is now in a three-way tie with the Avalanche and LA Kings for the second wild-card slot in the west; the Dallas Stars are three points ahead of them in the first wild-card slot. The Wild have 36 games left in their season to make the playoffs.
In their last game before Bye Week, the Wild (much like the Bolts) lost. It was an overtime loss, however, and they’ve been on a tear of late, earning six out of eight points in their past four games. They are heating up just as the Bolts are going through some mid-season turmoil, and are finding their game:
Since Nov. 9, Minnesota has been one of the top teams in the NHL, posting a 19-10-3 record, accounting for 41 points -- tied with Vegas for second-best during that stretch and just one behind Washington, which has posted 42 points.
What’s been working for them? First-line center Eric Staal is somehow still playing hockey and also having a ridiculous year, leading the Wild in points and goals with 19G/19A in 46 games played. He’s solid on the powerplay and dangerous on the penalty kill, but not as good as the second-place points leader, Mikael Granlund. Granlund leads special teams with 12 powerplay points. The Bolts are catching a small break because Nino Niderreiter is out with an injury. He’ll be replaced by Iowa Wild call up (and former Panthers prospect, which is why his name sounds familiar) Kyle Rau.
The Lightning have their work cut out for them. Matt spelled it out in his recap, but it’s worth reiterating here:
Jon Cooper’s “entitlement” press conference was only two weeks ago. Since that presser? 2-2-0 with a lot of uneven play. Cooper said in his post-game presser, “We just aren’t playing smart right now”, and from how the team has played since the New Year I’m inclined to agree. They’re still working hard, but they’re starting to cheat a little more than they were earlier in the season.
The upcoming road trip isn’t going to be easy. Three Central teams in a row with Minnesota, Chicago, and Nashville, followed by a trip to the always ‘friendly’ Philadelphia. Winnipeg closes out the month. They then go on the Western Canadian part of their trip taking on Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver.
Let’s get it together, team.
Hockey Day in Minnesota
But back to this. How important is Hockey Day in Minnesota? It’s so important that my favorite coffee chain (we don’t have this chain here in Florida, sadly) made a special coffee brew for the day:
It’s so important that there will be hockey broadcast on TV beginning at 9 AM CT for 14 consecutive hours. There will be five live games, including an interstate college rivalry match, topped off by this one against the Bolts. (You can see the full schedule here!)
It’s so important that the first-ever outdoor women’s college match will take place that day, between St Cloud State and the U of MN – Duluth, at 1 PM CT.
Why am I enjoying all of this so much? This state’s love of hockey feels like a measuring stick. It’s definitely Tampa Bay’s present and future, but now we have to get the rest of Florida to follow our lead.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Chris Kunitz - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Tyler Johnson Alex Killorn - Yanni Gourde - Vladislav Namestnikov Cory Conacher - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan
Slater Koekkoek - Anton Stralman
Mikhail Sergachev - Dan Girardi
Braydon Coburn - Jake Dotchin
#Bolts morning skate lines:— Bryan Burns (@BBurnsNHL) January 20, 2018
#Bolts D-pairings appear unchanged:— Bryan Burns (@BBurnsNHL) January 20, 2018
Sustr mixing in
Andrei Vasilevskiy first goalie off the ice from morning skate, looks like he’ll be in net for the #Bolts tonight.— Bryan Burns (@BBurnsNHL) January 20, 2018
Zach Parise - Eric Staal - Daniel Winnik
Jason Zucker - Mikko Koivu - Mikael Granlund
Joel Eriksson Ek - Charlie Coyle - Chris Stewart
Tyler Ennis - Matt Cullen - Marcus Foligno
Ryan Suter - Jared Spurgeon
Jonas Brodin - Matt Dumba
Gustav Olofsson - Nate Prosser
Lines from Left Wing Lock.