Time: 8:00 pm Eastern Time
Location: Bridgestone Arena
Broadcast/Streaming: Bally’s Sports Sun, ESPN+,
Opponent SBNation Site: On the Forecheck
With the trade deadline now in the rearview mirror the Tampa Bay Lightning enter the final stretch of the season (less than a month to go!) with the roster that will pretty much determine where they finish in the standings. Sure, there will be some tweaks along the way, especially once it’s determined how long Steven Stamkos is out for, but for the most part there is nothing General Manager Julien BriseBois can do to improve the team. His job is done, it’s now on Coach Cooper and the players to finish this thing up.
Tonight will feature the debut of David Savard, the big, shot-blocking defenseman picked up at the deadline. It appears he’ll be tossed right into things as Coach Cooper suggested yesterday that the veteran will be paired with Victor Hedman to kick things off. How long that lasts is anyone’s guess, after all line combinations and defensive pairings are just constructs, man.
That likely puts Erik Cernak with Ryan McDonagh as the second pairing and the one that will face the toughest competition if history is any guide. That’s a pretty solid top four with Mikhail Sergachev and some rotations of Luke Schenn/Cal Foote/Jan Rutta (when healthy) waiting in the wings. (It’s been real Ben Thomas, you did alright as a fill-in). While it’s too early to declare the defense is fixed, it’s looking a lot better than it did a week ago and some stability may go a long way to getting them back to the level they displayed last season.
Up front there is still some tinkering to do. After finding the back of the net six times against Columbus a couple of games ago, it was back to a grind on Saturday as they scored just twice against a defended net. The good news is that the Lightning are still generating chances up front for the most part (toss out Saturday’s first period) so the pucks will start going in consistently at some point.
Things get interesting, especially on the power play, if Stamkos is out long-term. There just isn’t a replacement for him at the left circle and it alters the way they move the puck quite a bit. They still have enough talent to be a top-tier unit, but it will probably come from the points (and Point) a little more than usual. On Saturday the first unit had both Hedman and Sergachev at the top and that’s a pretty good way to get some puck movement going. Both have the knack for knowing when to attack the net like an extra forward and can cause quite a bit of disruption for the other team.
There are fifteen games left in the season and the Lightning are in first place. Six of those games are against the teams they are battling with for supremacy in the division (Florida and Carolina). This is the last regular season game against the Predators, a team they have beaten six out of seven times, with five of their six wins by three goals or more. Huh, the games have seemed closer than that.
As for Nashville, they were rather quiet at the deadline as they made just one move - picking up veteran Erik Gudbranson in the closing minutes. Much like the Lightning they are in a position where they can improve from within when injured players return. They are in a battle for the fourth and final spot in the playoffs and should come out with an edge tonight.
Tampa Bay Lightning Lines
Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Tyler Johnson
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Mathieu Joseph
Barclay Goodrow - Yanni Gourde - Blake Coleman
Patrick Maroon - Ross Colton -Mitchell Stephens
Victor Hedman - David Savard
Ryan McDonagh - Erik Cernak
Mikhail Sergachev - Cal Foote
Lines from dailyfaceoff.com and yesterday’s practice
Nashville Predators Lines
Rocco Grimaldi - Mikael Granlund - Luke Kunin
Rem Pitlick - Erik Haula - Nick Cousins
Yakov Trenin - Colton Sissons - Tanner Jeannot
Roman Josi - Matt Benning
Mattias Ekholm - Ryan Ellis
Jeremy Davies - Ben Harpur
lines from dailyfaceoff.com