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Returns; Tampa Bay Lightning versus New Jersey Devils preview

WHERE: St. Pete Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
WHEN: 7 PM EST | | TICKETS: Check Availability
MEDIA: WTOG CW44 (local), 620 WDAE (radio)

An old hand joined the Tampa Bay Lightning in the morning skate — Mattias Ohlund was on ice, in a no-contact jersey. This was the first time he skated with the team since having both knees operated on in October. We’ll have updates on his status as they become available… But I don’t think the news will please Don’t Trade Vinny either way.

Also on the injury front for the Lightning, head coach Guy Boucher talked yesterday as if Ryan Malone would be a lock to return to the Bolts lineup tonight. Malone’s been out since earlier this month with an undisclosed upper-body injury. With Malone back in, Blair Jones sites (along with defenseman Bruno Gervais).

Dwayne Roloson is set to start between the pipes for the Lightning tonight, and Tampa Bay is going for seven wins in a row at Times Palace. Are they up for the challenge? Or are the demons of the recent two-game road trip still haunting this team?

The Devils come into town with nearly an identical record as the Lightning (9-7-1 in 17 games played, compared to the Bolts 9-7-2 in 18 games). They’re in fourth place in the highly charged Atlantic Division standings, six points in front of the cellar-dwelling New York Islanders, and four points behind the third place New York Rangers. That’s a damn sight better than what the Devils were doing this time last season – a woeful 12 points in 19 games played, and wouldn’t crack teh 20 point barrier until late December 2010.

But that’s last season. This season, right now, they’re 2 points out of a playoff spot… Which is about the same for the Lightning. In fact, the Lightning trail division leading Washington (and Florida… Can’t forget Florida) by all of one point in the standings. A Bolts win tonight, coupled by Capitals and Panthers losses, puts the Bolts in 1st place int eh division.

But the Bolts have to overcome New Jersey before any of that can play out. New Jersey, with the current #1 penalty kill unit in the NHL (5 goals allowed on 63 short-handed opportunities). That’s a 92.1% kill-rate, with three short-handed goals tot heir credit. I bring all this up after the Bolts (surprisingly) had their power play capitalize twice in Thursday’s win against the Penguins. The Bolts PP unit jumped a few places in the standings to 16th in the league with a 16.7% conversion rate.

Things aren’t so lovely on the other side of the coin for the Devils — their power lay unit has converted just under 12% of its chances this season. The usual suspects (Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias) both have 2 goals on the power play for the Devils. For Kovalchuk, that’s 2/3rds of his goal scoring production for the season so far.

The Bolts penalty kill unit is now 14th in the league, with an 83.3% rate in stopping opponents.

Reminder: The Lightning telecast is on local station CW 44 tonight, not Sun Sports. Also, the radio telecast has shifted from 970 WFLA back to 620 WDAE.

Other Previews

Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview


Full game coverage on SB Nation


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