Snowbound: Lightning in Buffalo to face the Sabres (Preview)

WHERE:  HSBC Center, Buffalo, New York
MEDIA: Sun Sports, 620 WDAE

5-1-1 in their last seven, the semi-streaking, still-have-not-won-three-games-in-a-row-this-season Lightning will open up a tough five game stretch tonight in Buffalo against the Northeast division leading Buffalo Sabres.

And so opens the second-half of the Tampa Bay Lightning season. It'll be punctuated, of course, with the Olympic break in February. For two weeks (Feb. 15th - 28th), the league will shut down.

But the pace before and after the break will be more grueling than what they faced in the 1st half of the season. Instead of four-day stretches without a game, the Lightning will play virtually every other day -- not including the Olympic break, of course -- until the completion of the season.  Oh, there are two three-day breaks in the last 41 games for the Bolts, but the season will be a lot more compact until it's completion on April 11th.

Goaltending is going to be the key to this one...

Mike Smith may be getting league wide accolades for how he played last week, but proof that Mike is back is still not iron-clad.

Consistency is the word that's popping out of everyone's mouth (including my own) regarding what the Bolts need to do to make the playoffs.  This holds true for individual efforts like Smith's as well.  Mike can play lights-out, frustrating opposition and giving the Lightning a chance, or he can play like he's got his lights out.

The Lightning need more of the former as to the latter if they hope to make a push for the playoffs.

On the other side of the ice, Ryan Miller...  Well, do I even have to say more than that?  Ryan Miller!

2009 - Ryan Miller 35 2052 23 8 69 2.02 1052 983 .934 5

26 wins for the Sabres in total and Miller was in net for 23 of them.  The Sabres will go as far as their backstop takes them and that seems to be quite a distance.

It's interesting to note, however, the Sabres power play unit is in a funk much like the Pittsburgh Penguins, who the Bolts defeated last Saturday at Times Palace. Buffalo is converting just 16.2% of their chances, that's 24th in the league. The Lightning are not faring much better of course, converting on 17.3% of their chances... But you'd expect a bit more from a team that is among conference leaders.

The Sabres are killing off 84.8 percent of penalties, sixth in the NHL. They're 3rd in the league with an 88.5 Penalty kill rate at home.  The Lightning are killign off 80.4 -- 18th in the league.  Factor in when the team is on the road and the number bottoms out to 75.8, which is 26th in the league. It's also worth mentioning that the Lightning have not allowed a power play goal since December 23rd.

It's going to come down to goalies. I strongly believe that. if the Bolts can solve Miller, they can eke out a win ina challenging situation... But if the Bolts find themselves down early, this may be the start of another painful road trip. After all, after Miller, the LIghtning get to play against Martin Brodeur and the Devils in Newark on Friday.

Tampa Bay Lightning Projected Lines

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