Don't let me down; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Arizona Coyotes preview

A struggling non-conference opponent with a tough test to come has the makings of a trap game tonight.

Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida | When: 7:30 PM EST
Radio: 970 AM WFLA | Television: Fox Sports Sun| Twitter: Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Five for Howling

Trap game.

That label could have been thrown at Sunday night's contest with the Carolina Hurricanes as it had heavy makings for a loss to begin with. Then again, a trap game is one that a team underplays or looks past because they don't give the focus on the opposition that they need to do. The Carolina game on Sunday was a challenge of stamina to coincide facing an opponent trying to gain entry to the Eastern Conference playoff race.

This? Trap. And I'm not talking Jacques Lemaire or the Coyotes utilize a version of the 1-3-1. There's danger with this game - the last Tampa Bay Lightning game at Amalie Arena until March 5 - in that the Bolts could look past it. Where's the challenge? Arizona is another mediocre Pacific Division foe who played last night and held their ground against the Washington Capitals (but lost 3-2). Those factors, combined with the next four games being against the likes of the New Jersey Devils, Boston Bruins, Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators, it all adds up to the danger of writing off this game.

We learned two weeks ago that you cannot write off games. Tampa Bay played Ottawa and the Montreal Canadiens back-to-back and started a sojourn through ineptitude for a few days and fell out of playoff contention in the tight-tight Eastern Conference. It's turned around in the past three games but that does not mean you can take tonight off.

Arizona is 6 points behind the Colorado Avalanche who hold the final wild card spot in the Western Conference. They're also 9 points behind the San Jose Sharks for the #3 seed in the Pacific Division. They're also a reeling club, going 3-6-1 in their past 10 games and struggling to stay solvent. They've been outscored this season 183-163. Two former Bolts are carried on the Coyotes roster to man the crease (Mike Smith and Anders Lindback) and both are hurting. Smith is with the team on this road trip after being out of action since early December and remains marked on IR. Meanwhile, Lindback had an off-ice injury last week that led to an emergency backup signing last week.

With both of our old friends out, Louis Domingue has been seeing the bulk of the work for Arizona: 26 games, 24 of them as starts, 12-10-4 record, a .913 save percentage and a 2.62 GAA. Not bad at all, especially when directly compared to the numbers form Smith (3.06 GAA, .901 save percentage) and Lindback (3.11 GAA, .894 save percentage). Domingue went last night in Washington, though (facing 34 shots and stopping 31). There's a chance he could go again or his backup could get the go. Niklas Treutle has not started a game in the NHL and this is his first season in North American hockey. His numbers with the Springfield Falcons of the AHL are subjective in their level of so-so status: a 2.91 GAA, a .909 save percentage with a 9-11-5 record overall.

Defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson leads Arizona in scoring with 46 points (17 goals, 29 assists) with Max Domi being the leading forward in the offensive category (17 goals, 24 assists for 41 points). Left wing Mikkel Boedeker (who is subject to a lot of trade talk) is next with 38 points (and a minus-37) while Coyotes standard-bearer Shane Doan is fourth on the club with 22 goals, 12 assists and 34 points.

Oh, and they're sound at the power play, ranking 14th in the league with an 18.8 conversion rate. All while the Lightning has fallen in the category to 21st in the NHL (17.6). It's an avenue to be wary of, except the fact the Bolts PK unit is sound (82.6, good for 10th in the league) while Arizona's PK is atrocious (77.7, ranked 28th).

News out of Lightning practice this morning had its bright spot as Jason Garrison participated with a regular jersey on. Garrison's been out with a lower body injury. It's not clear when Garrison will return or how close he is though... but he's getting there. Another hurting player returned to practice with Nikita Kucherov skating. Head coach Jon Cooper told the press that Kuch is a game-time decision to play.

In net, it'll be Andrei Vasilevskiy for the Lightning. With Vasy's numbers being mixed during his NHL start time this season (2.88 GAA, .907 save percentage) and having been the goalie of record in the 6-5 shootout-escape win against Winnipeg, it just adds to the concern this may turn into a let-down game against a weak opponent.

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