Lightning between The Rock and a hard place; Tampa Bay at New Jersey Devils preview

WHERE: The Prudential Center, Newark, New Jersey
MEDIA: Sun Sports (cable), 620 WDAE (radio)

The latest M.O. in the local press and blogosphere (Damian Cristodero, Jon Jordan, et al) is offensive production and Vincent Lecavalier.  Been there, done that, doing it again.

What isn't being questioned, going into tonight's game versus the Devils in Newark, is the repeated disjointed efforts by the Lightning. What isn't being stated is that the Bolts are a mess in their own zone and as guilty of allowing "soft goals" as their netminders -- all because of failures to clear the zone, control rebounds, control the slot, etc.

Watching the debacle in Boston on Wednesday and witnessing the Bruins efforts in their own zone compared to the Lightning's efforts in theirs, it was a tell-tale sign of something that is wrong in Tampa Bay: despite having a revamped defense, and a defensive specialist on the coaching staff, you could see they more often resembled the Keystone Kops than a cohesive unit, working together to protect their own end.

The best offense is a good defense, and with a poor defense, it's leading to a poor offense.  That's where the blame lies, not on production numbers for Martin St. Louis (oh yes, ladies and gentlemen, if you want to get on lack-of-production, St. Louis' goal total is just as dirty a number as the team captain), Lecavalier and others on offense.

Yes, Martin St. Louis is generating assists.  That's the defense of St. Louis' lack of scoring that is commonly used.  "Marty's being productive, you can't compare him to Vinny!"  But if you want to use this excuse, then you need to apply it for both forwards.  Yup,  Vincent Lecavalier is doing the exact same thing as Martin St. Louis in generating offense through assists:

G A P +/- PIM
2009 - Martin St. Louis 5 23 28 -6 4

G A P +/- PIM
2009 - Vincent Lecavalier 5 16 21 -4 18

There is a bigger issue here than "need more from" any member of the offense.  There is a much, much bigger issue...  But to blame the players is so much easier than to do the work and look at the repeated failings on ice for the Lightning.

The team goes into this game having lost three of their past five (four when you count an OTL as a loss). They've been outscored 7-1 in their past two games and 11-4 since their victory against the New York Rangers. The Ranger game, just a week ago, was a popular motivator with fans, thinking the team had turned the corner. Everything since then has been counter to that.

On the other side of the ice, the Devils have won 3 of their past five. Their last game was an ugly loss to the Vancouver Canucks They're at the top of the Eastern Conference under Jacques Lemaire... Of course, having defeated the Lightning twice already this season has contributed to that.

The Devils are converting 21% of their power plays, good for 12th in the league. They're also boasting the ninth-ranked penalty kill unit in the league (82.7%). Netminding, as always for the Devils, is solid with Martin Brodeur in net (the likely starter tonight. Brodeur has a .921 save percentage and a 2.18 GAA in 23 starts this season.

Antero Niittymaki will be between the pipes tonight for the Lightning. Blair Jones (who was called up this morning by Tampa Bay) will be in the lineup tonight for the Bolts. He has not played an NHL game since December 2007. Matt Smaby and Todd Fedoruk will be scratched. Another defenseman (David Hale or Kurtis Foster) will be scratched as a game time decision.

John Fischer over at In Lou We Trust has a lot more on tonight's game from a Devils perspective.  It also includes a few questions pointed to Raw Charge about the Lightning that we took some time to give our thoughts on.  Head on over there and give it a read..

Tampa Bay Lightning Projected Lines

(updated December 4, 2009 by RawCharge subject to change)

Forward Lines:

Alex Tanguay - Vincent Lecavalier - Jeff Halpern
Ryan Malone - Steven Stamkos - Martin St. Louis
James Wright - Paul Szczechura - Steve Downie
Zenon Konopka - Blair Jones - Stephane Veilleux


Victor Hedman | Mattias Ohlund
Andrej Meszaros | Matt Walker
David Hale | Lukas Krajicek


Antero Niittymaki (starter)
Mike Smith

Other Previews

Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview


In Lou We Trust