A back-to-back weekend; Tampa Bay Lightning at Arizona Coyotes preview

Before the Bolts go a mile high, they'll face the bottom of the NHL in the Coyotes.

Where: Gila River Arena, Glendale, Arizona
When: 8 PM EST | Tickets: Check availability
Media: Sun Sports (cable) | 970 AM WFLA (radio) | Twitter Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Five for Howling

Today is the second-to-last game of the Tampa Bay Lightning road trip through the Western Conference pairs the Bolts with the Arizona Coyotes in a Mountain Time matinee. After the game, the Lightning fly off to Denver for the flip-side of this weekend's back to back games, facing the Colorado Avalanche.

The question is can they handle the physical strain of the games? It's not that Arizona or Colorado are elite teams - the Coyote are 28th in the NHL's overall standings while Colorado is fading in the Central Division but only 7 points out of the last wild card slot - as so much the fact there's a strain with back-to-back games when Denver is involved. And I mean Denver in a physical sense here, the adjustment to the mile-high conditions of the city. It's not that the Avs can't be beaten, but a taxed team with a secondary taxation (altitude and less oxygen) makes the game even more of a task.

Thinking ahead to tomorrow would make tonight a trap, so first things first -- beating the Coyotes who are losers of their past four games. Only two players who have appeared in a Coyotes uniform this season - center Braedon Gormley and left wing Jordan Martintook - are not a negative plus/minus (Gormley and Marti nook are even). Two defensemen - Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson - are tem leaders in scoring (while being a combined minus-43 on the season. They're also trade candidates in the Coyotes fire-sale. Everyone on the roster is on the market except team captain Shane Doan.

We could dwell on our old friend Mike Smith (or how another old friend, Mike McKenna, has seen time as his backup) but there's an appalling quirk at play here regarding the Coyotes and the Bolts: Arizona is among the league leaders in power play efficiency with a 22.2% conversion rate. A damn sight better than where the Lightning is on the man-advantage (23rd in the NHL with a just-under 17% efficiency). Ekman-Larsson leads the Coyotes with 9 of their power play goals on the season.

The flip-side of the quirk, however, is Arizona is dreadful on the penalty kill - 27th overall with a 78.0% kill-rate. Can the Lightning take advantage of that? Can their 8th ranked, 83.2% effective kill unit do its job and stop the Coyotes power play? We'll find out this evening.

Previewing Wednesday night in Anaheim, I brought up the power play woes for the Bolts. The subject has been the focus many times during practice on this trip... Yet I want Lightning fans to take a quick look at the most basic stat of the PP - goals and who is scoring them. Is this where the problem lies for Tampa Bay on the man-advantage, by way of predictability?

Steven Stamkos leads the team with 8 power play goals; Tyler Johnson and Ryan Callahan are next with 7 goals each. After that, the drop-off is profound as only eight other players have power play goals for the Lightning, Nikita Kucherov, Brett Connolly and Victor Hedman each have 2 goals. The remaining five players have a single tally on the season.

An old problem in days gone by was the Lightning offense in general being top-top heavy (the "MVP" line in 2006-07 having 260+ points, the rest o the team struggling). It almost looks the same here - where certain tools are being used (and stopped by opponents0 while others are being neglected (or just aren't shooting the puck). Getting the puck into the zone is one necessity to enable the offense (something Tampa Bay has struggled with) but more than a select few players being enabled to contribute offensively is also vital. If the power play is predictable on who to shut down, it's going to be (and have been) shut down.

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