Playing for tomorrow; Tampa Bay Lightning at Florida Panthers preview

Another Lightning prospect makes their NHL debut this season, and while the promise of tomorrow is before us at the moment - the now is a mire of disappointment that likely won't be risen from.

WHERE: BB&T Arena, Sunrise, Florida
WHEN: 7:30 PM EDT | | TICKETS: Check Availability
MEDIA: Sun Sports (cable), 970 WFLA (radio)

The promise of tomorrow is with the Lightning in the form of prospects like Cory Conacher, Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat, Richard Panik and now Radko Gudas. You hear about more promising players for the future in Alexandra's write-ups about the Syracuse Crunch. But, for the moment, let's just key in on the Lightning moving forward: Gudas becomes the fifth Tampa Bay Lightning prospect to make his NHL debut this season when he takes to the ice in Sunrise tonight.

Yet, how can anyone be enthused about tomorrow when the Lightning are in such a morass today?

Tonight's game against the Florida Panthers is not just a Southeast Division basement match-up; it's an NHL basement contest. The Lightning, are tied on the bottom rung of the overall league standings. The Panthers are dead last, while the Bolts and Buffalo Sabres are tied at 28th in the league with 21 points.

We've only just reached the half-way mark in this season and it's rather grim when you come to the realize that the team has dug itself such a grand hole that its remaining 22 games are keyed in for next season instead of this one.

There is no season-savior among these prospects, by the way. I know expectations for Radko Gudas and his physical play on the blue-line is high, but a 22-year-old defenseman making his NHL debut shouldn't be perceived as a remedy for all ills on a poor defensive unit just as Ondrej Palat hasn't solved two-way responsibility all by himself. Just as a 24 year old Anders Lindback didn't automatically erase the ills in the Lightning crease.

That's not writing off the players, that's saying it is a process to develop a player. Sometimes the process works out grandly. Other times it's atrophied by poor instruction and other factors.

To get to the point: we're looking at tomorrow in the making today. Recent history for this club (three of the past four seasons) tells us the seven points it needs to make up in order to reach playoff contention in the standings aren't going to be made up; that's doubled by the short time left on the season. Though Saturday's collapse may have been rock bottom on the season (it lead to a players-only meeting immediately after the loss to Montreal), it really feels like too-little, too-late to save the season.

Much like the Lightning, the Panthers came into this season with promise and momentum from last year. The Dale Tallon/Kevin Dineen complex seemed to make the Cats viable again. Unfortunately for them, injuries and a lack of depth have snuffed out the season. Reports have it that just about everyone off the Panthers roster can be had as we move closer to the NHL trade deadline of April 3rd.

While the Lightning's Cory Conacher has faded a bit since his hot start to the season, the Cats rookie Jonathan Huberdeau has caught up; Conacher has 20 points (7 goals, 13 assists) while Huberdeau has 17 (12 goals - tops among rookies, and 5 assists).

The Cats are dead last in the NHL with a 73.3% kill rate when shorthanded. They are in the middle of the pack on the power play though, converting on 18% of their opportunities. The Bolts power play climbed to 8th in the NHL with a 20.4% effectiveness. It's 82.1% kill rate ranks the team 13th in the NHL on the penalty kill.

Anders Lindback will be between the pipes in Sunrise tonight, with Mathieu Garon activated from IR and backing Ned up. Cedrick Desjardins was optioned back to the Syracuse Crunch this morning.

Had Coach Guy Boucher may play seven defensemen tonight, with Adam Hall and Brian Lee sitting. The reason Lee finally finds his way out of the lineup now instead of earlier in the season is by way of Radko Gudas also being a right-handed defensemen like Lee. Brendan Mikkelson was a lefty.

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