After a February that had a few unexpected pauses for the Tampa Bay Lightning, March is roaring in like the proverbial lion. It’s going to be a very busy month for the team and an excellent chance for them to create a little separation in the Central Division.
Starting tonight, the Lightning have 16 games over the next 31 days. That’s almost 30% of their entire season. There are two back-to-back series (March 4th and 5th against Chicago and March 15th and 16th against Nashville and Dallas). It would have been 17 games with three back-to-backs if the league had not moved up the March 28th game against Carolina. That’s the game the Lightning played after the two Dallas games were postponed. Tampa Bay lost 4-0, their last loss before their current four-game winning streak.
If the Lightning aren’t playing back-to-back then they are playing every other night. They don’t have two days off until the 28th and 29th. They will also be on the road quite a bit as 10 of the games are on the road. The month kicks off with a Dallas-Chicago-Detroit road trip before coming back for two games. Then they are on to Dallas for just one game. Three home games follow and then back to Dallas for the third separate time. They wrap up that road trip in Carolina. Quarantine hotel life!
As for their competition, they will play everyone in their division at least once. Seven of their games will be against the two teams currently at the bottom of the division (Dallas and Detroit) with two more against Nashville and one against Columbus, teams that are currently out of the playoff race. If the Lightning run the table on them that’s a solid 18 points they can pick up. Florida and Carolina have given them fits at times this season so it’s nice that they only play them once each.
The most intriguing opponent they will face will be Chicago (5 games). Chicago is currently third in the division with 28 points. Things have changed a bit since the opening series. Mainly because they found a goaltender that has given them somewhat steady play in net. Kevin Lankinen, a 2018 free agent signing from Finnish hockey league, went 6-2-1 in February. He has 8 of the team’s 11 wins overall while posting a .921 SV% and 2.59 GAA. According to Natural Stat Trick, his 8.68 Goals Saved Above Average in all situations is third in the league behinds Andrei Vasilevskiy and Marc-Andre Fleury.
The Lightning begin the month on the top of the division standings with 29 points in just 19 games (only Dallas has appeared in fewer games - 16). With only three games where they may conceivably not be the heavy betting favorite, they have a good opportunity to pile up a lot of points and put some distance between them and their competitors.
It helps that Anthony Cirelli returned to the lineup. With that many games in a month they need as many healthy players as possible. While it’s unlikely that Mitchell Stephens is back this month, the Lightning have been able fill his spot on the roster with a rotation of young players. Hopefully they are over the injury bug and can make it through the month unscathed.
If you like Lightning hockey, get ready to watch a lot of it this month.
With the Western Hockey League scheduled to start playing towards the middle of the month, the Syracuse Crunch released a few of their junior players to their respective teams.
The @TBLightning have reassigned Jack Finley to the @spokanechiefs and Gage Goncalves to the @WHLsilvertips.— Syracuse Crunch (@SyracuseCrunch) February 28, 2021
The #SyrCrunch have released Jaydon Dureau from his ATO and he will rejoin the @pdxwinterhawks. pic.twitter.com/1Ep95mXyKe
Lined up with Steven Stamkos and Alex Killorn, Cirelli returned with a goal and an assist. While the team did alright in the six games he missed, his return really stacks the Lightning down the middle of the ice.
A five-game losing streak, one star player traded, and another one benched would have some coaches sweating the hot seat. For good or bad, that’s not Tort’s style. He’s going to keep doing what he does and if his bosses decide to fire him, he’ll just go home and hang out with his dogs.
You know what really helps a team that’s struggling? Losing their goaltender for a month with an injury. That sound you’re going to hear pretty soon? That’s the Sabres crashing to the bottom of the standings.
Oh, and they are also dealing with some communication issues. That’s not great.
Jack Eichel just said he got hurt in New Jersey, not during the warm-up. His injury was not a new development.— John Vogl (@BuffaloVogl) February 28, 2021
This has not been a good week for Ralph Krueger. https://t.co/AudiAclLph
Keep the draft as scheduled despite a truncated juniors season so players can get into NHL systems as soon as possible or delay it until general managers have a chance to see the prospects in action? Both arguments have merit.