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Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Philadelphia Flyers preview: Bolts back from break with questions on blue line

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Who’s getting scratched tonight?

NHL: Philadelphia Flyers at Tampa Bay Lightning Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Philadelphia Flyers at Tampa Bay Lightning: Game 38

Time: 7:30 pm Eastern Time

Location: Amalie Arena

Broadcast/Streaming: NBCSN

Opponent SBNation Site: Broadstreet Hockey

Preview:

The Tampa Bay Lightning return to action after their holiday break tonight in Tampa against the Philadelphia Flyers. The Lightning enter the game coming off a strong trip through western Canada where they went 4-0-1. They still sit first overall in the NHL having won nine of their last ten games. The Flyers are at the opposite end of the spectrum in second-last place in the Metropolitan Division, having won just four of their last ten games despite all the changes they’ve made this season.

Philadelphia has overhauled their front office and coaching staff this season. Ron Hextall is out as General Manager. Chuck Fletcher is in. Dave Hakstol is out as head coach. Scott Gordon is in on an interim basis. Hextall’s firing was a surprise. Hakstol’s was not and dragged out over several days as the team seemed to struggle with how to handle the transition.

The biggest lineup change since the transition of leadership has been the entrance of highly touted prospect Carter Hart to the Flyers net. He’s played seven games, posted a .904 save percentage, and given up 2.24 more goals than would be expected according to Evolving Hockey. While not a stellar start, those are fine numbers for a goalie just starting his career. And maybe even more than fine considering the team recalled him on the same day they fired their head coach.

The Lightning leave the holiday break with their first genuine roster question of the year. Erik Cernak’s emergence during Anton Stralman’s extended injury has made it difficult to keep the rookie out of the lineup. But that gives the Lightning seven players who deserve playing time and only six spots on the blue line.

So far, Braydon Coburn, Dan Girardi, and Mikhail Sergachev have all gotten a night off each to keep Cernak in the lineup. And Cernak was scratched once himself. With the roster freeze over, the team could send him back to Syracuse at some point in the coming days. Or they could continue to shuffle the lineup nightly to keep getting him regular minutes.

At forward, the team is still awaiting the return of Mathieu Joseph who missed the most recent road trip with a lower body injury. His absence has given Adam Erne another run of games. While Erne has played well and would play every night on a team not as deep as the Lightning, he will likely return to the press box when Joseph is ready to return to the lineup.

Last season, this is about the time of year that the Lightning went from being one of the best team’s in the league to coasting through the spring. We’ll see if they come out of the break this year determined to reverse that trend this season.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forward Lines

Tyler Johnson - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov

Ondrej Palat - Steven Stamkos - Yanni Gourde

Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - J.T. Miller

Adam Erne - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan

Defense Pairings

Victor Hedman - Dan Girardi

Ryan McDonagh - Anton Stralman

Braydon Coburn - Mikhail Sergachev

Slater Koekkoek - Erik Cernak

Goaltenders

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Louis Domingue

Philadelphia Flyers

Forward Lines

James van Riemsdyk - Claude Giroux - Travis Konecny

Wayne Simmonds - Sean Couturier - Jake Voracek

Scott Laughton - Nolan Patrick - Michael Raffl

Oskar Lindblom - Phil Varone - Dale Weise

Defense Pairings

Ivan Provorov - Travis Sanheim

Andrew MacDonald - Radko Gudas

Robert Hagg - Shayne Gostisbehere

Goalies

Carter Hart

Michal Neuvirth