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Depth sounding; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Florida Panthers preview

Where:   Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
When: 7:30 PM EDT | Tickets: Check availability
Television: Sun Sports | Radio: 970 AM WFLA
Opponent Coverage: Litter Box Cats

Sometimes, the clarity of bodies of freshwater is a deceptive characteristic.  You can drift around on spring-fed ponds and rivers and look down into the water and see things on the bottom so well that they look closer than they appear.  The same thing applies for mountain lakes in the west.  I’ve recently been reading Mark Twain’s Roughing It where he speaks of visiting an undisturbed Lake Tahoe in the 19th century and how he experienced this deception of depth while drifting upon the lake.  The water was hundreds of feet deep, but things looked so much closer to the surface…

I make reference to all of this because we’re at a point where it’s hard to tell the depth of the hole the Lightning find themselves in right now…  They keep sinking, sinking casually, gradually. Two shootout losses in a row seem to slow the descent but that doesn’t change the fact their place in the standings is descending with each point they surrender to opponents.

Unless things change, the Bolts are going to drown during their freefall.  It’s time to swim again; it’s time to surface and go back to treading water, which the club did so aptly during much of the NHL season in the face of adversity.

The other club in Florida had its own active 2014 NHL trade deadline day, pruning away a few pieces for long-term building blocks while also bringing back netminder Roberto Luongo to south Florida.  Luongo’s exit from Vancouver (which is in its own nosedive right now and challenging the Edmonton Oilers and New York Islanders for management ineptitude) was sealed when he was sat during the Heritage Classic game earlier this month in British Columbia.  Canuck fans jeering starter Eddie Lack showed that there was going to be a controversy with Luongo backing up his designated successor…

So Luo’s back in Florida.  And that makes tonight’s game against the Panthers a potentially intriguing matchup: Another potential goalie duel.

See, Luongo played with the Panthers during some of their middling years in the aughts and has some pretty solid numbers traditionally against the Lightning:  A .922 save percentage, a 2.44 goals-against average.  He single handedly gave the Cats a chance against their in-state rival.

That may very well be the case for Florida tonight; they’ll need to keep their netminder to keep them in it, because offensively, the Panthers are anemic. Four players have broken double-digits in goals scored, with Brad Boyes leading the team with 17 goals. He’s second on the team to Scottie Upshall in points (Upshall has 31 points to Boyes 28). It’s not like Tampa Bay is a goal scoring machine at this point though; they have 7 players who have cracked double digits in goals-scored. One has not scored a goal since January 19th (Teddy Purcell) while the other hasn’t since November (Steven Stamkos); the latter has an excuse while the former seems to have outright lost interest in the idea.

After a hot start to the season, to suggest Teddy Purcell is playing his way out of Tampa is not a stretch. So much more should be expected of #16 offensively than he’s putting out at this point.  Yes, he’s been assisting regularly on Valtteri Filppula’s goals, but the man wasn’t signed to his last contract for assists.

Practice Wednesday at Times Palace had Purcell relegated to the 3rd line, while center Tyler Johnson was experimented with at right wing on the second line centered by Steven Stamkos. Will those lines be what we see today? Maybe, Jon Cooper has got to jumpstart Stamkos, and Johnson does have the offensive tools that may enable it.

Other Game Coverage:

Should Edmonton Oilers President of Hockey Operations Kevin Lowe be fired?

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No 25

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