Time: 7:30 PM Eastern Time
Location: Prudential Center
Broadcast / Streaming: FSF, CNBC, SN, TVA Sports
Opponent SBNation Site: All About The Jersey
For today’s away playoff game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and New Jersey Devils, there are three things to consider heading into it: Ryan Callahan, Dan Girardi, and Cory Schneider.
While there have been some reports from fans on Twitter that Callahan told them he’d be fine and would play, the Lightning recalled Matthew Peca. The recall of Peca is an interesting move since they had Cory Conacher available and already with the team to step in to take Callahan’s place on the fourth line. What Peca does provide, if he does replace Callahan, is a bit more potential for moving up in the line-up than Conacher. Peca can also win some faceoffs.
Peca is more responsible with taking penalties. Conacher can be a bit of a hothead at times and can take some bad penalties (24 PIM in 36 GP). That’s a possible reason that Peca is getting the call. Peca didn’t take a single penalty in his ten-game call-up and only had a single minor last season in ten games with the Lightning. That’s not a fluke either, he only has 18 PIM in 63 games with the Crunch this season and overall has just 42 PIM in 206 career AHL games.
Losing Dan Girardi would be a big blow. There is still some hope that he’ll be in the line-up for tonight’s game and we are waiting for the morning skate to find out more about him from Jon Cooper. If he can’t go, then it’s almost a definite that Andrej Sustr will be in to take his place. Jake Dotchin has seemingly fallen out of favor with the coaching staff. In my opinion, that is at least in part due to the dumb penalties that he is prone to taking. Sustr is also the most experienced depth defenseman the Lightning have with 46 playoff games under his belt.
One other option the coaching staff might consider if Conacher and Girardi are out is playing seven defensemen with Sustr and Slater Koekkoek coming into the line-up. With the Lightning being on the road, especially in this first road game against the Devils in the playoffs, seven defensemen would allow Cooper and Rick Bowness to mess with the line-up a bit more. Players can be moved around on different lines and different pairings to either get them with or get them away from Taylor Hall. The Devils have the last change, so it will be more difficult for the Lightning coaches to control the match-ups, but with seven defensemen, there are some things they can do to still create some match-up issues for the Devils.
Finally to wrap it up is Cory Schneider. He’s the X-Factor here. After coming in for Keith Kinkaid, he looked good. However, the Lightning did not force him to do much as they started sitting back on their heels. Schneider has not won a game since 12/27/2017. In the 12 regular season games after his last win, he went 0-10-2 with an .863 SV% and never allowed fewer than three goals with opponents getting four goals or more in seven of those games.
Despite his struggles, the Lightning cannot take Schneider lightly. Up until his struggles began, he had gone 17-6-4 with a .923 SV%. He gave up less than three goals in 15 of the 28 games. Prior to the 2016-17 season, he had regularly been up over a .920 SV% as a back-up and as a starter. The past two seasons have been a struggle for him, but he is still capable of putting up a good performance here. The pressure isn’t as heavy on him as it could be. He’ll be able to go out there and just play his game. And have no doubt, he has the ability to steal a couple games for the Devils.
Tonight will be interesting. I’d like to see the Lightning come out and control the play and control possession for the majority of the game. They’re not going to have the advantage of getting the match-ups they want. But they have the depth to still do a lot of damage against the Devils. After watching how the Boston Bruins and Pittsburgh Penguins have played in the games in their respective series, the Lightning need to play dominating hockey in the first round and establish good habits now. If they make it past the New Jersey Devils, the next round isn’t going to be easy and if they make it to the conference finals, it’s only going to get harder.
Build good habits now. Possess the puck. Play good defense. Don’t change the way you play when you have a lead. That’s what Boston and Pittsburgh are doing, and the Lightning need to be doing it too.
Tampa Bay Lightning:
Callahan, Girardi, and Peca are all on the ice for morning skate.
J.T. Miller - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Tyler Johnson
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Yanni Gourde
Chris Kunitz - Cedric Paquette - Matthew Peca
Victor Hedman — Anton Stralman
Ryan McDonagh — Mikhail Sergachev
Braydon Coburn — Andrej Sustr
New Jersey Devils
Taylor Hall - Nico Hischier - Kyle Palmieri
Miles Wood - Pavel Zacha - Patrick Maroon
Blake Coleman - Travis Zajac - Stefan Noesen
Michael Grabner - Brian Boyle - Brian Gibbons
Andy Greene — Sami Vatanen
John Moore — Mirco Mueller
Will Butcher — Ben Lovejoy