Time: 7:00 pm Eastern Time
Location: Amalie Arena
Broadcast/Streaming: NBCSN, TVAS, BSFL
Opponent SBNation Site: Litter Box Cats
The Tampa Bay Lightning have put two completely different efforts out over the two last games against the Nashville Predators, going from shutting down the opponent on Saturday night after brilliant performance by Andrei Vasilevskiy to a disastrous 2-7 debacle in the last game on Tuesday. The team won’t have a chance to take a rest as tonight they will face another team from the leading group of the Central Division – the Florida Panthers.
The Panthers’ strong season continues as the team is confidently sitting in a playoff spot, preparing for their first first-round appearance since the 2016 Stanley Cup Playoffs. They’re currently sharing first place in the Central Division with Tampa Bay and Carolina. By points percentage, the Panthers are currently in the third spot at .674 PTS% with a small gap behind two other teams.
Their underlying stats have also been very solid this season – the Predators are the ninth team in the league in Corsi-For with 52.08 CF% (the Lightning are the 7th with 52.18 CF%) and the eighth in expected goal share with 52.51 xGF% (the Lightning are one place ahead at 52.59 xGF%) according to Natural Stat Trick. The Predators special units however haven’t been as much effective as their power play unit is the 12th with 22.14 PP%, while their penalty kill is 15th with 80.37 PK%.
Following previous offseasons, Florida’s GM Bill Zito continued making small and not very obvious moves to strengthen their team. Before this trade deadline, the Panthers acquired Nikita Gusev, Brandon Montour, Sam Bennett, Lucas Carlsson and Lucas Wallmark. Gusev is a dark horse here – while his skill and talent are obvious, this former Lightning draft pick didn’t manage to prove it in the NHL so far. According to Evolving-hockey.com Gusev is the worst player this season per GAR model, and his defensive metrics are the main reason why his numbers are this low. However there’s still a chance that he was simply misused by the New Jersey Devils and Joel Quenneville will be a better fit for him.
Nikita Gusev has not been great at EV, has graded out below replacement level during his time in the NHL, and currently is having the worst season of any skater per our GAR model this year. He’s had a rough time in the NHL so far, and he turns 29 in July. pic.twitter.com/K2SmSAcMEv— EvolvingWild (@EvolvingWild) April 9, 2021
Montour’s stats are also down this season, although this defenceman is used to play tough minutes, can kill penalties, and can be useful in offence if paired with a solid defensive defenceman. He’s supposed to replace Aaron Ekblad on the Panthers roster, who’s out for the remainder of the season after having surgery on his left leg.
Sam Bennet is a bottom-six forward who can play both center and wing and will be more of a depth player for his new team. Some experts still think that Bennett has a top-six upside as the highest draft pick in Calgary Flames history, and posted a five-game point streak before his trade. Bennett has also playoff experience, he recorded eight points in 10 playoff games last summer for Calgary. Gusev and Montour are expected to play tonight against the Lightning. Bennett will join his new team later.
Apart from Ekblad, the Panthers are missing Carter Verhaeghe, who’s week-to-week with upper-body injury. Good news for Florida is that Anthony Duclair has returned after missing about two weeks with injury.
As for the Lightning, Steven Stamkos’s timeline of return is still not clear, meaning that both Mitchell Stephens and Ross Colton could remain on the same line and not compete for the last vacant lineup spot. Alex Barre-Boulet, who was recently recalled to taxi-squad, could also slide into lineup at some point.
The Lightning have won two out of four meeting against the Panthers this season and have half of the games still ahead of them. These games will be crucial in the race for the first place in the Central Division, which will allow to avoid another team from the leading group in the first-round of playoffs.
Tampa Bay Lightning Lines
(based on the previous game)
Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Alex Barre-Boulet
Barclay Goodrow - Yanni Gourde - Blake Coleman
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Ross Colton
Patrick Maroon - Tyler Jonson - Mathieu Joseph
Victor Hedman - Erik Cernak
Ryan McDonagh - Luke Schenn
Mikhail Sergachev - David Savard
Florida Panthers Lines
(based on the previous game, Nikita Gusev and Brandon Montour are expected to slide into lineup)
Owen Tippett - Aleksander Barkov - Anthony Duclair
Jonathan Huberdeau - Alex Wennberg - Patric Hornqvist
Masom Marchement - Noel Acciari - Frank Vatrano
Ryan Lomberg - Eetu Luostarinen - Juho Lammiko
Gustav Forsling - MacKenzie Weegar
Keith Yandle - Radko Gudas
Markus Nutivaara - Anton Stralman