Time: 5:00 pm Eastern Time
Location: Amalie Arena
Broadcast/Streaming: Fox SUN, ESPN+
Opponent SBNation Site: Canes Country
It’s an early bird special game for the fourth meeting of the season between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Carolina Hurricanes. If this is starting to feel like a playoff series, well, it could be a preview of what we’ll see in the spring. The Lightning and the Canes should be two of the teams that qualify for the postseason and can continue this budding little rivalry. As to who finishes on top of the Central Division, they still have plenty of regular season games to figure that out.
The two teams have been evenly matched in their previous three meetings with the Hurricanes holding a slight edge in possession numbers. The good news for Lightning fans is that it seems the Bolts got back to what makes them work when these teams last met on Monday night. They limited their turnovers and took advantage of a simple north/south game to dictate the play.
It also helped that they had Andrei Vasilevskiy in net. The Big Cat has been in postseason form all season long and has helped keep the Lightning competitive against the Canes even when the players in front of him have been coughing the puck up like a cat with a hairball.
On the season as a whole, Vasilevskiy is posting some of the best regular season numbers of his career at 5v5 with a .941 SV% (3rd in the league), 1.75 GAA (also 3rd), 7.39 Goals Saved Above Average (1st), and .880 High Danger SV% (5th in the league). He’s also faced 92 High Danger Shots against which is the seventh most in the league. In that category he’s surrounded by goalies that play for some teams that have questionable talent in front such as Chicago, Anaheim, and Vancouver.
It’s nice to have a world-class goaltender in net to cover up for the mistakes the team is making in front of him. The Lightning are starting to see some of the wear from losing their defensive depth in the offseason, especially along the right side. With Luke Schenn struggling a bit on the ice Mikhail Sergachev has been filling in on the right side during games. While that’s a testament to his ability, it’s not a long-term solution to the problem. Schenn was placed on waivers on Tuesday which indicates that Cal Foote may be in line for some more playing time. The team could also activate Andreas Borgman and shift Sergachev to the right side for the entire game. Twenty minutes a night of Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev? I’m listening!
It’s unlikely the Bolts are going to be able to fix the issue, which on the grand scheme of things isn’t that huge, via a trade due to their close acquaintance with the top of the salary cap. Bringing in a player that would improve the third pairing would most likely cost them a player that is much more vital to the team’s success. Still, Julien BriseBois has pulled off the right moves in the past, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him make a deal that works.
Pinning the recent hiccup in the Lightning’s play to one spot on the roster is a bit unfair as their losses were the definition of team-wide disfunction with players at all positions and skill levels turning the puck over, neglecting to shoot when open, and other wise just kind of not producing at the level everyone has come to expect from them.
The win on Monday was a good sign that they are working their way back to where they need to be in order to finish the season at the top of the Central Division standings. Now they just need to make it a habit.
Tampa Bay Lightning Lines
Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Blake Coleman
Alex Killorn - Tyler Johnson - Steven Stamkos
Barclay Goodrow - Yanni Gourde - Mathieu Joseph
Pat Maroon - Ross Colton - Alex Volkov
Colton was leading the stretches during the morning skate - an excellent sign that he will be making his debut. Other lines based on reports from the morning skate as well.
Victor Hedman - Jan Rutta
Ryan McDonagh - Erik Cernak
Mikhail Sergachev - Luke Schenn
Carolina Hurricanes Lines
Andrei Svechnikov - Sebastian Aho - Brock McGinn
Nino Niederreiter - Vincent Trocheck - Martin Necas
Warren Foegele - Jordan Staal - Jesper Fast
Cedric Paquette - Steven Lorentz - Jordan Martinook
Jaccob Slavin - Dougie Hamilton
Jake Gardiner - Brett Pesce
Brady Skjei - Jake Bean