Enemy mine; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Philadelphia Flyers preview
Tampa Bay versus Philadelphia is closer to a rivalry than the normal regional based stuff that usually sparks rivalries.
Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida
When: 7:30 PM EDT | Tickets: Check availability
Media: Sun Sports (cable) | 970 AM WFLA (radio) | Twitter Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Broad Street Hockey, Orange and Black Pack
The Florida Panthers are supposed to be the rival of the Tampa Bay Lightning by way of regionalism... And the truth is Miami and Tampa has never really worked as rivals in pro sports. The Miami Dolphins are in a different conference than the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and rarely met during the season. Throw in the Bucs history of ineptitude and a rivalry was just made by local media if anything. The Marlins and Rays? Different leagues, and though they play by way of inter-league play regularly, it's just nothing.
Now, Philadelphia, that's a different story. Tampa Bay has had a bone with Philly for years, with the two cities doing heated playoff battles in the NFL, Major League Baseball (where the Phillies and the Rays met in the World Series) and NHL. Philly has that bad-boy image, that "we hate everyone" attitude from fans you just want to best every time. And there's history between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Philadelphia Flyers that goes beyond two playoff confrontations, such as the stall game from a few years ago, Philly grabbing Chris Gratton from a cash strapped Lightning team, in game shenanigans and signing Vinny.
Yeah, the animosity level has grown recently with new division foes such as the Boston Bruins and the Montreal Canadiens, which has added a flavor to seasonal games, and things will likely continue as long as the NHL doesn't do another realignment that makes more sense in the East (come on, the Metro and Atlantic divisions should have been evenly mixed, not regionally meshed with the Florida teams grouped in the more northern division). The Lightning's first rival remains the Philadelphia Flyers though.
Philly comes in to town on a three game win streak, the last one snapping the Los Angeles Kings six-game win streak. That one pissed Jonathan Quick off something good, let me tell you.... And While Claude Giroux being near the top of the Flyers roster when it comes to scoring, Jakub Voracek leading the team with 13 points (2 goals, 11 assists) may seem surprising. That's the thing, though; the guys with the most points on the roster for Philadelphia haven't gotten there by lighting the lamp, they've gotten there by sharing the load. Between Voracek, Giroux, Mark Streit and Wayne Simmonds, they quartet have notched 28 assists, double their goal production (that's 14 goals for the mathematically challenged). 14 skaters have goals for Philly, but it's Streit and Simmonds who lead the team with 5 goals to their name.
Meanwhile, Ryan Callahan is on the cusp or return to the Lightning lineup but it won't be today. Erik Erlendsson reported via Twitter that there won't be no changes to the lineup from Tuesday's victory against the Arizona Coyotes. With Nikita Kucherov and Tyler Johnson having vast success (they're now in the team lead in scoring; Johnson's 4 assists Tuesday give him 12 points on the season and Kucherov's hat trick gives him 9 points) after Kucherov scored his hat trick and Johnson grabbed four assists). If Kucherov has indeed found his scoring touch (as the preseason suggested and the regular season has verified so far) then the pressure suddenly comes off Steven Stamkos. It's not that Stamkos doesn't need to score; it's that opposing teams need to make the decision which line to match with their best defensive forwards.
Ben Bishop starts in net for the Lightning tonight, which is no surprise. Bishop is on a bit of a downtick performance wise; he was (understandably) so-so in his relief performance against the Minnesota Wild last Saturday (he had faced a barrage of shots from the Winnipeg Jets the night before) and allowed 3 goals to the Coyotes on Tuesday. His season stats stand at 5-1-1 with a 2.31 GAA; his save percentage has dropped to .913.
The Lightning and the Flyers both have potent power play units at this point in the season, with Tampa Bay standing at 5th place in the league with a 24.3% efficiency. Philly is in a three-way tie for 6th place though, all of a tenth of a percentage point behind the Lightning. When the penalty kill is the statistical subject, however... eh? The Flyers are 22nd in the league with a 79.2 kill-rate while the Lightning... Well, hell, the Lightning are still formidable here, even though Callahan is missing from the lineup; they're 7th in the NHL while killing off better than 86% of opposing power plays. It would not exactly be wise, though, for the Bolts to test out how good their PK is against the Flyers power play unit.
And, for the sake of covering this base, former Lightning team captain and current (injured) Philadelphia Flyer Vincent Lecavalier is not expected to play tonight in the Flyers only game in Tampa this season.
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