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Florida Panthers at Tampa Bay Lightning Preview and Game Day Thread: Another test for the Bolts

Mikhail Sergachev returns to the line-up

Florida Panthers v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Florida Panthers at Tampa Bay Lightning: GAME Thirteen

Time: 7:00 pm Eastern Time

Location: Amalie Arena

Broadcast/Streaming: ESPN+, BSSUN, BSFL

Opponent SBNation Site: Litter Box Cats

Three weeks ago the Florida Panthers confidently beat the Tampa Bay Lightning 4-1 in their first meeting of the season. The Panthers were having one of the strongest starts in their history, while the Lightning struggled to even take a lead in a game. Since that moment things have stabilized a little bit: the Panthers have slowed down, losing three games in a row while the Lightning started consistently racking up points. Tonight the Bolts will try to take revenge for the early season loss to the Panthers.

The Lightning’s head coach Jon Cooper didn’t have an update on Erik Cernak, who left the previous game against the Carolina Hurricanes. The Slovak defenceman is currently considered as week-to-week with an upper body injury. Good thing for the Lightning, Mikhail Sergachev’s two-game suspension is over and he will return to the line-up tonight. Zach Bogosian, who has been out since game one of the season, will be a game-time decision. Yesterday he practiced on the second pair with Ryan McDonagh. Boris Katchouk, who also missed several game, is also healthy and could draw into the line-up if needed.

The game against the Panthers will be a good challenge for the Lightning. So far they dropped four out of six games against the teams considered as strong playoff contenders (Colorado Avalanche, Florida Panthers, Carolina Hurricanes, Toronto Maple Leafs, Washington Capitals). The Bolts seemingly solved their problem of getting a lead in the game, scoring first in six consecutive games, but other issues still actual. The team is still struggling with their power play, going 0-for-4 against the Canes and now ranks just 23rd in the league with 16.22 PP%. The coaching staff tried several combinations on their top power play unit, including putting Brayden Point in Nikita Kucherov’s spot and giving more time to Alex Barre-Boulet, but those changes appear not to work.

Another issue is that the Lightning are getting penalized more than they draw penalties themselves. Taking unnecessary penalties has been an issue for couple of season but with a malfunctioning power play it seems like a more significant issue. The Lightning’s penalty kill units, however, have been pretty strong this season. Despite losing some key shorthanded specialists like Barclay Goodrow or Blake Coleman, the Lightning rank solidly 12th in the league with 83.72 PK% and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare has been a great addition for their penalty kill.

The Panthers are finishing their four-game road trip with a game against the Bolts tonight, recording just one point on that trip. It’s still early to call that a slump, it's more of a cooling off after such a strong start, but the Panthers will be eager to take two points against the Lightning. The team is still looking for their 900th franchise win and reaching that milestone in a game against their Sunshine State rival will be very important for them.

The Panthers will be almost at full strength tonight with some exceptions: Mason Marchment and Noel Acciari are not expected to return to the line-up and Joe Thornton has been on injured reserve since the end of October.

Tampa Bay Lightning Lines

Forwards

Ondrej Palat — Brayden Point — Anthony Cirelli

Alex Killorn — Steven Stamkos — Mathieu Joseph

Patrick Maroon — Pierre-Edouard Bellemare — Corey Perry

Taylor Raddysh — Ross Colton — Alex Barre-Boulet

Defense

Victor Hedman — Jan Rutta

Ryan McDonagh — Zach Bogosian (?)

Mikhail Sergachev — Cal Foote

Goaltenders

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Brian Elliott

Florida Panthers Lines

Forwards

Carter Verhaeghe — Aleksander Barkov — Anthony Duclair

Jonathan Huberdeau — Sam Bennett — Owen Tippett

Frank Vatrano — Anton Lundell — Sam Reinhart

Ryan Lomberg — Eetu Luostarinen — Patric Hornqvist

Defense

Mackenzie Weegar — Aaron Ekblad

Gustav Forsling — Radko Gudas

Kevin Connauton — Brandon Montour

Goaltenders

Sergei Bobrovsky

Spencer Knight