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Tampa Bay Lightning at Colorado Avalanche preview: Competition on the road trip stiffens

Colorado is scorching hot right now while Tampa Bay still hasn’t found its groove fully.

Tampa Bay Lightning v Colorado Avalanche Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images

Tampa Bay Lightning at Colorado Avalanche: GAME 8

Time: 9:30 pm Eastern Time

Location: Pepsi Center

Broadcast/Streaming: NBCSN

Opponent SB Nation Site: Mile High Hockey

Preview

Let’s take a quick gander at the previous game Tampa Bay played.

opens up NHL App—sees the score and the shot discrepancy

Uhh...so, why didn’t anyone...

Tampa Bay throttled Chicago. That isn’t hyperbole either, they took it to Chicago and the score could’ve been much more one-sided. Still, as nice as it was to beat the Blackhawks (once again), they aren’t the measuring stick that the rest of the league looks to anymore. A sour note from Sunday’s contest was Tampa Bay’s penalty kill streak ending in Chicago. So, I guess the Blackhawks can hang their hat up on that one. If the Lightning can manage to replicate that kind of offensive assault consistently, then last season’s franchise goals record could be broken again.

We’ve enjoyed that win, but now comes a much stiffer test; the Colorado Avalanche.

The Lightning stroll into Denver facing one of the league’s hottest teams. The Avalanche have won three straight, outscoring their opposition 12-5 over that span. Leading Colorado through this surge is their top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog. This trio has combined for 20 goals and 43 points in nine games, they’ve been involved in 63% of Colorado’s goals. Over their last three wins, that line was involved in 10 of the 12 goals Colorado scored—that’s 83% of their offense.

These numbers are absurd and that top line should be rightfully feared, but Colorado has still been out-possessed and out-shot in most games. As impressive as their start has been, they’ve beaten up on five teams that didn’t make the playoffs last season (Philadelphia twice). They have gone 2-1-0 against teams that made the post season last year, but none of those teams made it past the first round (Columbus, New Jersey, and Minnesota).

The resume for Colorado isn’t sterling and once one takes into account the amount of production the top line is providing in comparison to the rest of the roster, it makes Colorado look more like a top heavy team that doesn’t have the depth scoring to back up their outstanding top line. However, this all means nothing if Tampa Bay doesn’t shut down Colorado’s top line—which is the primary issue.

If the Lightning want to win this evening’s game, limiting the impact of MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Landeskog is paramount. Sometimes a line is so hot that there is little anyone can do to stop them. Tampa Bay has the personnel in place to do so, but if the same effort from the second period of the Minnesota game rears its ugly head, then Colorado’s top trio will feast on them.

The specials teams battle will be an interesting one. Both teams have strong units on both sides of the puck and whichever one falters first might be the cause for a loss. Tampa Bay’s biggest asset could be its depth versus Colorado’s. Expect Braydon Point’s line with Yanni Gourde and Steven Stamkos to tackle to unenviable assignment of slowing down MacKinnon and his compatriots. This leaves the recently reformed triplets line to face off against Colorado’s second line. I doubt Jared Bednar will allow the matchup game to get out of hand with last change, but attempting to outscore Colorado’s top line is dangerous. If the Lightning are going to win this game, then their depth players have to make an impact.

In goal, we can except Andrei Vasilevskiy to start after Louis Domingue took the back-to-back game against Chicago on Sunday. Vasilevskiy enters this matchup with a .933 save percentage, though, it needs to be stated that his numbers are inflated by his impeccable play on the penalty kill. At even strength, Vasilevskiy’s save percentage is .910 and his high danger save percentage is a putrid .454. Tampa Bay has done a solid job limiting those high danger chances, but Vasilevskiy has to be better in that department.

I’m assuming Semyon Varlamov will get the start in net for Colorado. Varlamov has been outstanding for the Avalanche in the early part of the season. He has a .953 save percentage and a .947 at even strength. Colorado may be giving up possession and shots but they have a wall in net thwarting any offense thrown his way. If Colorado chooses Philipp Grubauer, they will still have an impressive goaltender. In three games, Grubauer has posted a .925 save percentage in all situations and a .945 at even strength. Small sample sizes (for everything noted here), but it’s all we have to go on for now.

If the Lightning from Chicago show up then this game might get ugly for Colorado. However, if the Lightning from Minnesota show up then Colorado is going to have a field day. It’s going to be a fun one, that’s for sure.

Colorado Avalanche

Forwards

Gabriel Landeskog - Nathan MacKinnon - Mikko Rantanen

Tyson Jost - Alexander Kerfoot - Colin Wilson

Matt Nieto - Carl Soderberg - Matt Calvert

Sven Andrighetto - Vladislav Kamenev - Gabriel Bourque

Defense

Samuel Girard - Erik Johnson

Ian Cole - Tyson Barrie

Patrik Nemeth - Nikita Zadorov

Goalies

Semyon Varlamov

Philipp Grubauer

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forwards

Yanni Gourde - Brayden Point - Steven Stamkos

Ondrej Palat - Tyler Johnson - Nikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Mathieu Joseph

J.T. Miller - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan

Defense

Victor Hedman - Dan Girardi

Ryan McDonagh - Anton Stralman

Braydon Coburn - Mikhail Sergachev

Goalies

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Louis Domingue