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St. Louis Blues at Tampa Bay Lightning preview: The Blues are...red hot

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If you’ve been ignoring the Blues, start paying attention.

NHL: Tampa Bay Lightning at St. Louis Blues Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

St. Louis Blues at Tampa Bay Lightning: Game 54

Time: 7:30 pm Eastern Time

Location: Amalie Arena

Broadcast/Streaming: SunS, FSMW

Opponent SBNation Site: St. Louis Gametime

Preview:

The Lightning continue their three-game homestand tonight with a matchup against the visiting St. Louis Blues. If the ticket discount notifications I’ve been getting on my phone are any indication, this is a game that Bolts fans are overlooking on the schedule. But it shouldn’t be.

The Blues come in as one of the hottest teams in the NHL. Not only have they gotten points in eight of their last ten games including seven wins, they’ve earned every bit of those victories. They’ve been dominant offensively and good defensively resulting in outrageous expected goal numbers. Remember how well the Lightning were playing back in November? The Blues are playing every bit as well as that at 5v5 if not better.

Comparison chart:

The Lightning meanwhile, have been downright bad at 5v5 in their last ten games. They’ve managed to win six of those games largely thanks to special teams and a couple of strong goaltending performances that stole victories. But on the whole, they’ve played poorly. The most concerning part of their poor play is their lackluster offensive performance. For a team built on forward depth, they aren’t doing anything to threaten other teams at 5v5.

The Bolts enter tonight’s game having announced before Tuesday’s tilt that Ryan Callahan is officially the thirteenth forward. That means we’ll see consistency in the lineup with both Mathieu Joseph and Adam Erne playing every night on the fourth line.

On defense, the team continues its rotation. The consistent pattern of scratches from before the All-Star break hasn’t continued after. At this point, guessing who will be out is almost impossible but it likely won’t be Dan Girardi since he missed the last game against Vegas.

St. Louis is led by their offseason acquisition Ryan O’Reilly. He’s been every bit as good as advertised and has posted identical WAR numbers to the much more high profile center who was acquired by the Maple Leafs on July 1st.

Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko lead the way on defense as expected. But Carl Gunnarson has also been great in limited minutes. His numbers are inflated by some good shooting luck while he’s on the ice but even so, he’s having a career year at age 32, which is quite something.

If you haven’t been paying attention to the Blues, now is a good time to start. If the Lightning team from November and December shows up, this should be a great game. If the Lightning team from the last two weeks shows up, they might get walked. The Blues are in juggernaut mode and the Bolts will need to be too if they want to pick up two points.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Forward Lines

Tyler Johnson - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov

Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Yanni Gourde

Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - J.T. Miller

Adam Erne - Cedric Paquette - Mathieu Joseph

Danick Martel, Ryan Callahan

Defense Pairings

Victor Hedman - Dan Girardi

Ryan McDonagh - Anton Stralman

Braydon Coburn - Mikhail Sergachev

Erik Cernak

Goaltenders

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Louis Domingue

St. Louis Blues

Forward Lines

Brayden Schenn - Ryan O’Reilly - Victor Tarasenko

Jaden Schwartz - Tyler Bozak - Alex Steen

Zach Sanford - Oscar Sundqvist - Pat Maroon

Mackenzie MacEachern - Ivan Barbashev - Robert Thomas

Defense Pairings

Carl Gunnarsson - Alex Pietrangelo

Jay Bouwmeester - Colton Parayko

Vince Dunn - Joel Edmundson

Goalies

Jake Allen

Jordan Binnington