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Rivalry night; Tampa Bay Lightning versus New York Rangers preview

Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida | When: 8 PM EST
Radio: 970 AM WFLA | Television: NBC Sports Network | Twitter: Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Blueshirt Banter, Blue Collar Blueshirts, Ranger Pundit, Save by Richter

Ah, rivalry night… Where memories of the 2015 Eastern Conference Finals will be dusted off by the broadcast crew from NBC Sports Net and in-game coverage will lead you to mutter or exclaim “shut up, Pierre” more than once.

How do you look at this game in general if you’re a Lightning fan? Monday’s shootout loss to the Canadiens was a disappointment, as it keeps the Lightning outside looking in at the Atlantic Division. It was a productive effort but amounted to a failing; an ice-cold team won (…and then lost last night to make their record 3-11-0 in December) and the Lightning remain outsiders who are gazing in.

The Rangers are 3-6-1 in their past 10 games, which is a ways better than the Canadiens effort of the past month but still off enough that they’re dwindling in the Metro Division standings. They had been the team of the Metro Division earlier in the season, but the Washington Capitals are now the front runner of the division – by 11 points over the 2nd place Islanders and 12 points over the Rangers). Standings position be damned, the Rangers have a lot more potency offensively than the Lightning: 107 goals-for compared to 95. Matt Zuccarello leads the Rags with 30 points (15/15 on the goals/assists columns).

The Lightning continue to shift in personnel from the heavy Syracuse flavor of the squad of recent back to the NHL experienced roster: Jonathan Drouin is slated to return to action tonight. His return follows the return of center Tyler Johnson. While you’d like to see contributions from both guys right away, there’s a necessity to lower that expectation just a tad – they gotta get back into game shape. To quote coach Jon Cooper:

“These guys have missed an extended period of time,” coach Jon Cooper said. “There’s always a little bit of a rust factor coming back, so you have to ease these guys in and make sure they’re getting the pace of the game, getting some of the rust off. It doesn’t matter how often you practice, it’s not a game. So we’ll get a feel for how these guys are playing and inch them along.”

Morning skate was optional, so the question remains just how the lineup will be reconfigured with Drouin back in. It would not be surprising to see him paired with Johnson, perhaps playing the right wing in place of J.T. Brown. With the potency of the Vlad Namestnikov – Steven StamkosNikita Kucherov line, don’t expect a two-out-of-three triplet concoction that utilizes Drouin on the left wing with Kucherov on the right.

In net, it hasn’t been confirmed (the Rangers held no formal skate this morning), but it’s likely Henrik Lundqvist starting between the pipes for the Rangers. Lundqvist is sound with his save percentage (.922) but his goals-against average seems a little high (2.51). It’s a reflection of the Rangers stumble from kings of the Metro to mid-pack competitors.

For the Lightning tonight, Ben Bishop gets the nod. Bishop is undefeated in regular-season play against the Rags in his career (9-0-0 with a 1.43 GAA and a .947 save percentage and 2 shutouts). Those are pretty immense numbers to live up to and a challenge for the club in front of him to help maintain.

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