Time: 7:30 pm Eastern Time
Location: Amalie Arena
Opponent SBNation Site: Matchsticks and Gasoline
Tonight, two of the top three teams in the NHL standings meet at Amalie Arena as the Tampa Bay Lightning host the Calgary Flames. The Bolts are first in the Eastern Conference and the NHL. The Flames are second in the Western Conference and third in the NHL.
Both teams have gone 6-2-2 in their last ten games, which isn’t great but is plenty good enough to stay near the top of the standings through the slog of January and February. The Lightning come into the game following back to back wins on the weekend over the Penguins and the Panthers. The Flames have alternated wins and losses in their last four including a loss in their last game against the Canucks on Saturday.
The game will feature the players who finished first and second in Hart Trophy voting in the Professional Hockey Writers’ Association midseason awards. Nikita Kucherov of the Lightning finished first and Johnny Gaudreau of the Flames finished second. Kuch still leads the league in scoring with 84 points and Johnny Hockey is fourth with 74 points. Tonight will be a chance for both to catch the voters attention in a big game.
The Lightning enter gameday with Ondrej Palat listed as day to day with an upper body injury. The team announced the injury just before Sunday’s game against Florida. That injury bumped J.T. Miller up to the second line, Mathieu Joseph up to the third line, and Ryan Callahan into the lineup. Callahan took advantage of getting back on the ice scoring a goal and following it up with one of the best celebrations of the year.
On defense, Dan Girardi took his turn missing a game in the defensive rotation. The coaches haven’t been as consistent as they were before the All-Star break with the scratches but look for either Mikihail Sergachev or Braydon Coburn to get a rest tonight.
Normally, Girardi getting back in the lineup would mean he plays the bulk of his minutes with Victor Hedman. But Anton Stralman looked great with Hedman on Sunday so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see the coaches stick with that pairing and play Girardi with whoever of Sergachev or Coburn draw into the game.
By the numbers, both teams have been good this season. But not as good lately. The Lightning continue to struggle to generate dangerous offense. Their first period against the Panthers was the best they’ve played in a a while but they weren’t able to sustain it over the rest of the game.
While the 5v5 numbers haven’t been great for Tampa, the special teams numbers have been solid lately. They haven’t shot the lights out the way they normally do on the power play, which has hurt their conversion percentage a bit. But overall, they’ve done a better job of getting dangerous shots than they had been previously.
Meanwhile, the Flames have been outrageous on the power play. They’ve had poor finishing luck but their numbers in terms of generating dangerous chances have been among the best in the league. The penalty kill has been hovering around average buoyed slightly by good goaltending.
Overall at 5v5, Calgary has been good this season. They’re only obvious weakness is giving up dangerous shots defensively. That deflates their expected goal share compared to their strong shot share.
On paper, these are two of the best teams in the NHL even if they haven’t been quite at their best lately. Facing each other should bring the best out of both.
Lots of changes in practice this morning. Erik Cernak is day to day with a lower body injury meaning that he’ll be the defender out of the lineup tonight. Mathieu Joseph did not participate in morning skate but Jan Rutta did. In order to make space for the defender from Syracuse, some other roster move must have taken place. Either someone is on Injured Reserve or someone was sent back to Syracuse. Given Mathieu’s lack of participation, he seems the most likely candidate but the team has not announced anything yet. We’ll update when they do.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Yanni Gourde - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
J.T. Miller - Steven Stamkos - Tyler Johnson
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Adam Erne
Danick Martel - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan
Injured: Ondrej Palat, Mathieu Joseph (?)
Victor Hedman - Dan Girardi
Ryan McDonagh - Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn - Mikhail Sergachev
Injured: Erik Cernak
Johnny Gaudreau - Sean Monahan - Elias Lindholm
Matthew Tkachuk - Mikael Backlund - Michael Frolik
Sam Bennett - Mark Jankowski - James Neal
Andrew Mangiapane - Derek Ryan - Garnet Hathaway
Mark Giordano - T.J. Brodie
Noah Hanifin - Travis Hamonic
Oliver Kylington - Rasmus Andersson