Tampa Bay Lightning at Winnipeg Jets preview: Ready for another barn burner?
Two of the best teams in the NHL meet in Winnipeg.
Tampa Bay Lightning at Winnipeg Jets: Game 34
Time: 7:00 pm Eastern Time
Location: MTS Centre
Opponent SBNation Site: Arctic Ice Hockey
For the second game in a row, the Tampa Bay Lightning face one of their competitors for the claim to being the best team in the NHL. After defeating the Toronto Maple Leafs in Tampa on Thursday, the Lightning start their western Canadian road trip in Winnipeg tonight against the Jets.
Their road trip means lots of late night hockey this week, but it starts with an east coast friendly 7 PM puck drop tonight. After Winnipeg, the Bolts head to Vancouver on Tuesday, Calgary on Thursday, and Edmonton on Saturday before a four-day break around Christmas.
The Jets currently have 45 points. This puts them in a tie for 3rd in the NHL with the aforementioned Leafs and one of the teams the Lightning will face later this week, the Calgary Flames. The only teams ahead of them are the Nashville Predators and the Bolts.
Winnipeg enters the game in generally good health with one of the few lineups that match the Lightning’s firepower. Their top six is every bit as good as Tampa’s. Nik Ehlers, Mark Scheifle, Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine, Kyle Connor, and Bryan Little is a formidable group. Connor looks like the real deal following his breakout season last year where he scored 31 goals and 57 points. He’s on pace to improve on those numbers this season.
The Lightning have two players questionable for tonight. The team indicated that Anton Stralman will return to the lineup during this road trip but not in which game he’ll be back. Mathieu Joseph missed last game with a lower-body injury and he could return tonight, as well. If Stralman is back, that would likely mean Erik Cernak is scratched. If Joseph is back, Adam Erne will head back to the press box.
While the Jets are one of the best teams in the league in the standings, their 5v5 statistical profile doesn’t quite align with that perception. Their shot numbers are good but their expected goal numbers are hovering around league average due to shot quality issues on both offense and defense.
They appear to do much of their damage on special teams. The penalty kill hasn’t been great but they’ve gotten good goaltending and managed to keep teams off the scoreboard. The power play has been dominant. They grade out well in terms of generating expected goals and then score even more than would be expected.
The Lightning have been outrageous at 5v5 lately. Their shot and expected goal numbers are comfortably the best in the league over the last ten games. On the season, they are second in expected goal share to Carolina. Combine that with great shooting and the result is a team on an eight-game winning streak.
On special teams, the Bolts penalty kill has climbed back to being average after being terrible earlier in the season. The power play continues to do its usual thing of not generating dangerous chances but relying on Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov to bury shots from the circles.
Hockey is a sport powered by randomness. Even with all of the talent on the ice, this game could end up being a boring slog. But if we’re betting, this one has all the makings of star-studded showcase of the best the NHL has to offer. These might be the two best forward groups in the league. If both play close to their best, tonight should be fun.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Tyler Johnson - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat - Steven Stamkos - Yanni Gourde
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - J.T. Miller
Adam Erne - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan
Victor Hedman - Dan Girardi
Ryan McDonagh - Erik Cernak
Braydon Coburn - Mikhail Sergachev
Nikolaj Ehlers - Mark Scheifele - Blake Wheeler
Kyle Connor - Bryan Little - Patrik Laine
Mathieu Perreault - Adam Lowry - Brandon Tanev
Brendan Lemieux - Jack Roslovic - Mason Appleton
Josh Morrissey - Jacob Trouba
Ben Chiarot - Dustin Byfuglien
Dmitry Kulikov - Tyler Myers