Tampa Bay Lightning at New Jersey Devils: GAME #68
Time: 7:00 pm Eastern Time
Location: Prudential Arena
Broadcast/Streaming: BSSUN, MSGN, HULU, ESPN+
Opponent SBNation Site: All About the Jersey
DraftKings Line: Lightning +1.5, O/U 6.5
The Lightning are in a better place today than they were a week ago. Their play on the ice has improved and they’re one week closer to the playoffs. Would it have been nice to sweep the recent homestand? Of course, but at this point a couple of extra points in the standing aren’t really going to make a difference (he says, and then watches them finish a point shy of second place in the division). Right now, the important part is that they are rediscovering their style of play and starting to get back on the right side of puck possession.
Earlier in the season when Coach Cooper talked about the team not playing to its full potential, he stressed the importance of betting better day-to-day. They’re back in that mindset after their little five-game skid. With 15 games left in the regular season, they should be building game after game so that when the playoffs kick in, they’re in peak form.
One of the next steps they need to take, and honestly this has been all season long, is to translate the success they’ve had at home on the road. The players talk about simplifying their game when they’re away from Amalie Arena. Basically, they need to get back to moving the puck north and south on the ice instead of back and forth, especially in their defensive zone. Quick, short, clean passes out of their zone so they can build momentum in the neutral zone and attack their opponent’s zone with speed. Failing that, dump it in and win the puck battles along the boards so that they can set up their cycle game. If they can do that, the wins should start piling up on the road.
It would be nice if they could also get through a game without a key player heading to the locker room early. Two games ago it was Steven Stamkos, and last game it was Anthony Cirelli. With Pierre-Edouard Bellemare dealing with a nagging injury, they’re already testing their forward depth a bit. If Cirelli or Bellemare can’t go, expect them to roll into New Jersey with an 11/7 line-up with either Zach Bogosian or Haydn Fleury returning to the line-up.
On the other side of the ice, the New Jersey Devils are rolling. Their recent three-game winning streak has them tied in points atop the Metro Division with the Carolina Hurricanes and they’ve opened a 10-point lead over the third place New York Rangers. While they’re almost a lock to make it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2017-18, unlike the Lightning, their opponent is still very much in question. The Metro is wild this year!
How are they doing it? Pretty much by controlling the front of the nets. Their 766 high-danger chances at 5v5 is fourth in the league (the Lightning are first with 779) while their 556 high-danger chances against is third lowest in the league. Overall, their 27.15 shots against register as the fifth lowest total in the league. All of this has led to a 2.19 goals against at 5v5 with a goaltending tandem of Vitek Vanecek and Akira Schmid.
Vanecek is the nominal starter and has posted a .910 SV% with a 2.48 GAA and 6.79 GSAx. However, the rookie Schmid is making a case that he should get a few more starts. The 22-year-old has appeared in 14 games and put up a .927 SV%, 1.91 GAA, and a 7.72 GSAx. Not too shabby. The Lightning are likely to see both netminders at some point over their next three meetings.
Tonight will also mark the first time they play against old friend Ondrej Palat. Injuries have limited the winger to just 34 games this season, but he’s put up 8 goals and 11 assists in that time while providing the veteran leadership the relatively young Devils’ squad. It’s going to be super weird to see him out there killing penalties against the Bolts instead of zipping around on the power play.
Palat is currently skating on the third line due to the talent the Devils have put together. Their top scorer is former top pick overall, Jack Hughes. The Orlando native came into his own last year with 56 points (26 goals, 30 assists) in 49 games. This year he has his sights set on a 100-point season as he enters the game with 79 (37 goals, 42 assists) and is on a line with the newly acquired Timo Meier. The consensus prize of the 2023 Trade Deadline, Meier has one goal in five games with his new team as he acclimates to the east coast.
The Devils will test the Lightning’s resurgent play of late and provide a good baseline on how Tampa Bay looks as the season starts to wind down.
Lightning at Devils Comparison
|Game # 68||Tampa Bay Lightning||New Jersey Devils|
|Game # 68||Tampa Bay Lightning||New Jersey Devils|
Tampa Bay Lightning
Steven Stamkos - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
Brandon Hagel - Anthony Cirelli (?) - Alex Killorn
Ross Colton - Nick Paul - Tanner Jeannot
Patrick Maroon - Michael Eyssimont - Corey Perry
Victor Hedman - Nick Perbix
Mikhail Sergachev - Darren Raddysh
Ian Cole - Erik Cernak
New Jersey Devils Potential Lines
Tomas Tatar - Nico Hischier - Dawson Mercer
Timo Meier - Jack Hughes - Jesper Boqvist
Ondrej Palat - Erik Haula - Jesper Bratt
Miles Wood - Michael McLeod - Nathan Bastian
Jonas Siegenthaler - Dougie Hamilton
Ryan Graves - John Marino
Kevin Bahl - Damon Severson