186 and counting; Tampa Bay Lightning at New Jersey Devils preview

Steven Stamkos is among elite company with his goal-scoring total before the age of 23; lineup note for both the Bolts and the Devils.

WHERE: Prudential Center, Newark, New Jersey
WHEN: 7 PM EST | | TICKETS: Check Availability
MEDIA: Sun Sports (cable), 970 WFLA (radio)

February 7th is Steven Stamkos' birthday. Stamkos, 23 years old today, has 186 goals in his NHL career at this point and that puts him among elite company... In fact, it puts him above elite company when it's compared solely to active players. While he's 4th all-time in goals scored by their 23rd birthday among NHL players (behind the likes of Wayne Gretzky, Dale Hawerchuk and Mario Lemieux), his total trumps his contemporaries (Crosby - 183, Ovechkin - 163, Kovalchuk - 160).

This season, Stamkos is on a pace for 37 goals in this shortened 48 game season, having 7 in 9 games so far. I'll admit that I'm trying to play down the idea of Stamkos doing any high number of goals (as I said in a Q & A on Litter Box Cats last week) partly because the expectations can be outlandishly huge as well as simply to tamper expectations for Mr. Spicoli.

So, in conclusion to this preview aside, let me wish a happy birthday to Steven Stamkos. Let's all hope tonight's birthday party has a more festive ending than what's been experienced by the team the past two games.

Ah, yes, time to segue into the negative; after the high-flying act with the Tampa Bay Lightning winning five-in-a-row, the Lightning has dropped the past two. The Winnipeg Jets have crept up in the standings, but the Bolts still lead the Southeast Division.

I don't know what was more disturbing in the Bolts 2-1 loss to the Flyers on Tuesday - NBC Sports Net's coverage, or the Lightning's 22 total shots on goal. The Lightning, sometimes having firm control in the Flyers zone for a sustained attack, seemed too fixated on a perfect tic-tac-toe passing play to throw Flyers goalie Ilya Bryzgalov off his game, You can pass all you want and look for an opening, but as the Great One once said, you miss all the shots you don't take.

In an ugly game against an ugly opponent, perfection of deception wasn't going to cure things.

Tonight, things get no easier: Martin Brodeur, he of 120 career shutout victories, will be in net for the New Jersey Devils. Brodeur, who'll be 41 years old in May and was drafted by the Devils the year Stamkos was born, has a 2.51 GAA and a .907 save percentage. Not exactly otherworldly, but this is Brodeur we're talking about here.

The Devils, second in the Atlantic division with 13 points and a 5-1-3 record, will be without the services of forward Dainius Zubrus tonight who has an ambiguous upper-body injury.

Meanwhile, the Lightning is holding out B.J. Crombeen from tonight's game as a precaution. Crombeen says he feels fine and wants to play, but after the altercation with the Flyers Zac Rinaldo (who further bumbled things, along with Tom Sesito, in post-game remarks) he can understand the club's reasoning for keeping him out: He's been playing with a foot injury as well. A day off to heal up and availability for Saturday in Boston (and/or Sunday in New York) will be a plus.

Also out tonight will be Brian Lee while the club employs the 11-7 lineup split, so both Brendan Mikkelson and Marc-Andre Bergeron will be in tonight for the Lightning (unless there's a change before game time, of course).

It'll be Anders Lindback in net for the Lightning.

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