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Carolina Hurricanes at Tampa Bay Lightning: The Bolts need to find their game in a hurry

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The ‘Canes bring a two-game winning streak into the back-to-back series

NHL: FEB 25 Hurricanes at Lightning Photo by Mark LoMoglio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Carolina Hurricanes: GAME 45

Time: 7:00 pm Eastern Time

Location: Amalie Arena

Broadcast/Streaming: BSSUN, FSCR

Opponent SBNation Site: Canes Country

The Tampa Bay Lightning played better in their last game, a 5-3 loss to the Florida Panthers, but at this point in the season playing better isn’t enough. They have to play better and WIN games. It would be nice if they started with a couple of victories against the Carolina Panthers Hurricanes, sorry the first place Carolina Panthers Hurricanes, this week.

Monday night’s game kicks off a very important back-to-back series (get ready for at least one Curtis McElhinney experience!) between two teams separated by a mere two points in the standings. Currently, Carolina is atop of the division with 62 points (and one fewer game played than the Lightning) while Tampa Bay has 60 points. Florida is currently the meat in the Central Division leaders sandwich with 61 points.

Carolina is surging into town riding a two-game winning streak after sweeping the Nashville Predators over the weekend. In the two wins they only allowed a total of two goals as they continue their season-long trend of being difficult to score against. They’ve allowed just 2.37 goals per game this season, fourth best in the NHL. It took a little while but they found a pretty decent goalie tandem. Rookie Alex Nedeljkovic filled in admirably while Petr Mrazek recovered from an injury.

Mrazek has been, one game against Detroit notwithstanding, fantastic since returning to the ice. In the four games he’s played since returning on April 4th he’s posted a .938 SV% at 5v5 with 2.26 goals saved above average. He’s picked up wins in three of the four games with the lone outlier being a sub-optimal performance against Detroit where he surrendered 4 goals on 28 shots. He’s allowed three goals in the other three starts.

In that same time frame, Nedeljkovic has appeared in two games and stopped 40 of 41 shots against at 5v5. Sixteen of those shots at even strength were considered to be of the high-danger variety and he stopped them all. Tremendous news for a Lightning team struggling to put goals on the board that’s missing two of their top scoring talents.

Right now, they’re kind of the team the Lightning were at the beginning of the season - a fast transition team that could put up goals and keep the puck out of the net. The two teams are pretty close in most of the important categories:

Tampa Bay vs. Carolina

Numbers Tampa Bay Carolina
Numbers Tampa Bay Carolina
Goals For/ Game 3.36 3.16
Goals Against/ Game 2.59 2.37
PP% 25.20% 27.90%
PK% 82.80% 84.10%
5v5 CF% 53.47% 58.81%
5v5 xGF % 52.39% 54.62%
5v5 SV% 92.58% 93.40%
Numbers from NHL.com and NaturalStatTrick.com

Actually, I’m a little more worried now that I’ve typed the numbers out. Not only because of the special teams numbers skewing in Carolina’s favor, but because compared to the Lightning’s numbers from two weeks ago prior to a Detroit game, Tampa Bay is trending in the wrong direction.

Of course, we knew that having watched the Lightning over the last two weeks. Honestly I’m surprised their expected goal percentage hasn’t tanked as one of the issues they’ve been having recently is finding quality chances at even strength. That is one thing they did better in their most recent game against Florida and will have to be diligent about against Carolina.

They can’t just fling shots from the point without winning the battles in front of the net. They have to be in position to deflect the pucks coming through or be the first to rebounds to keep the Hurricanes scrambling around in their zone. If not, Carolina is going to counter with speed and that type of offense has flummoxed the Bolts of late. Expect one of the ‘Canes forwards to creep toward center ice, anticipating a long pass when the Lightning have the puck on offense.

If the Lightning are truly snapping out of their month-long slump then two solid wins against Carolina would go a long way to wresting control of the division away from their two foes. Heck, even a split where they didn’t get run out of their own building would be a good sign.

Tampa Bay Lightning Lines

Forwards

Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Alex Barre-Boulet

Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Tyler Johnson

Barclay Goodrow - Yanni Gourde - Blake Coleman

Patrick Maroon - Ross Colton - Mathieu Joseph

Defense

Victor Hedman - Erik Cernak

Ryan McDonagh - David Savard

Mikhail Sergachev - Luke Schenn

Goaltenders

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Curtis McElhinney

Updated from the morning skate.

Carolina Hurricanes Lines

Forwards

Andrei Svechnikov - Sebastian Aho - Jesper Fast

Jordan Martinook - Vincent Trocheck - Martin Necas

Nino Niederreiter - Jordan Staal - Warren Foegele

Cedric Paquette - Steven Lorentz - Morgan Geekie

Defense

Jaccob Slavin - Dougie Hamilton

Brady Skjei - Brett Pesce

Jake Bean - Jani Hakanpaa

Goaltenders

Petr Mrazek

Alex Nedeljkovic