A confrontation; Lightning at Thrashers preview

WHERE: Phillips Arena, Atlanta, Georgia
MEDIA: Sun Sports (cable), 620 WDAE (radio)
OPPONENT COVERAGE: Bird Watchers Anonymous

Three games in four nights await the Tampa Bay Lightning, starting at 7 PM in Atlanta this evening. All three games are critical in that the Bolts will be playing against Southeast division opponents.

And the Thrashers -- the foe in two of those three games -- have got to be tired of playing the pansies to the Lightning: The Bolts are 11-4-1 against the Thrash since 2008-09, including 4-0-0 this season and 5-1-0 last season (thank you, Antero Niittymaki)

Southeast Standings

Tampa Bay 47 27 15 5 59
Washington 47 25 14 8 58
Atlanta 48 23 18 7 53
Carolina 46 22 18 6 50
Florida 45 21 20 4 46

(updated 1.20.2011 at 8:44 AM EST)

By falling to Carolina last week and not taking care of business in two match-ups with the New Jersey Devils, the Lightning dropped a big opportunity to pad their divisional lead. Instead, they left the door open for a struggling Thrashers team to stay in contention, invited Carolina to play along,in the divisional crown contest, all while humoring Washington.

This is an opportunity for the Thrashers to get back into the proper gear, and an opportunity for the Lightning to shut the door on them. Last season, when such opportunities arose during January, the Lightning failed to respond It's now that the ultimate improvement of the club will be seen - while this isn't a dire and necessary set of points, it's a critical one.

The big news this morning from the Lightning is Mike Smith being sent to the Norfolk Admirals on a conditioning stint. Recall that Smith went down in December. He's ready to come back but quite out of game shape. With Cedrick Desjardins injured, Smith's conditioning assignment can be looked at as welcome reinforcements for the Admirals.

Evander Kane, for the Atlanta Thrashers, is a question mark for tonight's game. He left Wednesday's practice early. He is still recovering from a "mid-body" injury. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution had an injury update for the entire club yesterdayy.

One more thing of note: Steven Stamkos, with 35 goals, leads the league once more. He is 3 points behind Sidney Crosby for the league lead in that category as well.

The Lightning power play continues to fall -- they are now tied for 8th in the NHL with the Thrashers (20.9% conversion rate). Guy Boucher stopped playing the five-forward power play unit on Tuesday, but we've seen no dividends with that yet. On the other side, the penalty kill, the Lightning are in 9th in the league with an 83.2% kill rate. The Thrashers, on the other hand, are 29th in the league with a 75.3% kill rate. Don't get your hopes up over that stat though. The Lightning have not taken advantage of other teams lowly penalty-kill numbers this season.

Other Previews

Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview

Bolts 2 Cup

Full game coverage on SB Nation

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How many Southeast Division teams will ultimately make the playoffs?

Count'em baby! FIVE! FIVE! Five Southeast division teams! Just wait! and see what the Panthers will do in the 2nd half!!24