"Home" is no longer a foreign term; Thrashers at Lightning preview

WHERE: St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
MEDIA: Sun Sports (cable), 620 WDAE (radio)
OPPONENT COVERAGE: Bird Watchers Anonymous

If you've noticed (and I am guessing you have), the Lightning have played more games on the road this season than at home. It isn't even new years and yet the Bolts have crossed the Continental divide twice and played two separate road trips in the Mountain and Pacific time zones, which compliments the more-away-than-home travels in the east as well.

No longer will this be the case. Before the year ends, the Lightning will play five home dates out of their next eight games. It also marks a larger trend of 17 21 of the next 31 dates (through late February) being at home. That includes the massive 12-game home stand that begins in late January.

To start things off right, the Lightning will be partaking in their first three-game home stand of the season starting tonight at Times Palace as they square off in a crucial divisional matchup against the Atlanta Thrashers.

Yes, it's crucial. The Bolts sit one point behind the Thrashers in the Southeast standings and three points behind the reeling Washington Capitals (who have lost six of their past 10). While the Lightning suffered issues over their past 8 games in the crease and on defense, the Thrashers have been playing their best hockey of the season, going 8-2-0 in their past 10.

It's nice to be home again, but there is work to do.... And it's time to do it.

The Lightning have played two fewer games than the Capitals at this point and one less game than the Thrashers. Three of the next four games are against teams with losing records (Buffalo, Carolina, and the Islanders). These are not teams of the Western Conference variety either. The West is indeed the best right now, as the games against Calgary and Edmonton (the bottom two teams in the West) showed us.

Back on the Lightning team news front -- Mattias Ritola is on new medication for his issues caused by Meniere's disease and will likely play tonight (per Erik Erlendsson). Vincent Lecavalier also continues to practice with the red jersey and will have x-rays this afternoon to see how he is healing. Mike Smith is due to get the start tonight in net.

Big news today from the Lightning system ist hat both Carter Ashton (1st round draft pick from 2009) and Brett Connolly (#1 draft pick by the Bolts this summer) will represent Canada in the World Junior Championships in Buffalo later this month. Congratulations tot he two wings. Connolly is on an absolute tear for Prince George of the WHL this season, scoring 36 points in 30 games so far (22 goals, 14 assists) and Ashton isn't exactly doing poorly either.(27 points in 29 games). Both will play vital roles for Team Canada in the forthcoming tournament.

Other Previews

Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview

Full game coverage on SB Nation