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Tampa Bay Lightning vs Florida Panthers preview: The Bolts’ offensive struggles continue

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The Lightning shouldn’t always rely on Vasilevskiy

Florida Panthers v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Douglas P. DeFelice/Getty Images

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Florida Panthers: GAME 44

Time: 7:00 pm Eastern Time

Location: Amalie Arena

Broadcast/Streaming: BSSUN, ESPN+

Opponent SBNation Site: Litter Box Cats

Despite being outplayed for the majority of the time in the previous game against the Florida Panthers, the Tampa Bay Lightning earned two points, which allowed them to take a one-point lead over the Panthers in standings. The Lightning played another game without their captain Steven Stamkos, who was recently placed on LTIR, and once again relied on Andrei Vasilevskiy. He put up a Hart Trophy caliber performance to secure a win for his team, while the Bolts continued struggling at the opposite side of the ice.

After a brief sparkle of offense in the last game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, where the team scored six goals, the Lightning returned to their recent offensive spleen. The Bolts started to collect points more consistently than during their previous stretch, but still those points were hard to achieve and mostly thanks to heroic efforts of their goaltender or their bottom lines. Both Ondrej Palat and Braydon Point have been underperforming lately, recording just two points each in five previous games. To stir them up, Jon Cooper put rookie Alex Barre-Boulet on the right wing of Point’s line in Thursday’s game. All three players left the ice without a point that night, however during 13 minutes together at 5v5, their line recorded solid 61.54 CF% and 53.47 xGF%. During yesterday’s practice they practiced together again, so very likely that this experiment will continue today.

The Lightning are not expected to make big lineup changes from their last games against the Panthers. In yesterday’s practice Mitchell Stephens appeared centering the second line, but was more of a place-holder for Anthony Cirelli, who took a body maintenance day. Nikita Kucherov was also on the ice yesterday, wearing a grey jersey and taking rushes with Daniel Walcott and Gemel Smith, but wasn’t participating in contact drills.

As for defensive pairs, the Lightning will likely stick with Eric Cernak on the top pair with Victor Hedman and newcomer David Savard with Ryan McDonagh on the second line. In his second game with the Lightning, Savard played just about 23 minutes. With him on the ice the Lightning were slightly outshot, however the Lightning didn’t bring Savard in to excel in the offence. It seems like Cal Foote lost his regular spot on the lineup after Savard joined the team, since the Lightning preferred the more experienced Luke Schenn. Yesterday Foote practiced with another new Lightning acquisition, Fredrik Claesson, who was assigned to the taxi squad recently.

The Panthers’ Sam Bennett could make his debut for the team in tonight’s game, joining Nikita Gusev, Brandon Montour and Lucas Wallmark as the newest members of the Florida Panthers organization. While Montour found himself on the third pair with Markus Nutivaara in his debut, Gusev and Wallmark were straight up put in Florida’s top six. Gusev also appeared on the top power play unit.

Currently the Lightning is leading the season series against the Panthers 3-2 this season and have a chance to extend this lead in tonight’s game. In the standings, the Lightning are one point ahead of Florida and sharing the first spot in the Central Division with Carolina, having played one more game. The Bolts will face Carolina twice next week.

Tampa Bay Lightning Lines

Forwards

(based on the previous game)

Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Alex Barre-Boulet

Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Ross Colton

Barclay Goodrow - Yanni Gourde - Blake Coleman

Patrick Maroon - Tyler Jonson - Mathieu Joseph

Defense

Victor Hedman - Erik Cernak

Ryan McDonagh - David Savard

Mikhail Sergachev - Luke Schenn

Goaltenders

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Curtis McElhinney

Florida Panthers Lines

Forwards

Masom Marchement - Aleksander Barkov - Nikita Gusev

Jonathan Huberdeau - Alex Wennberg - Anthony Duclair

Frank Vatrano - Juho Lammiko - Owen Tippett

Noel Acciari - Lucas Wallmark - Patric Hornqvist

Defense

Gustav Forsling - MacKenzie Weegar

Keith Yandle - Radko Gudas

Markus Nutivaara - Brandon Montour

Goalies

Sergei Bobrovsky

Chris Driedger