Homestand end; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Ottawa Senators preview

A single point behind the Montreal Canadiens in the standings, the Lightning continue to chase the Atlantic Division's top spot while the Senators look to get back into the middle of the pack.

Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida
When: 7 PM EST | Tickets: Check availability
Media: Sun Sports, Sportsnet (cable) | (radio) | Twitter Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Silver Seven Sens, The 6th Sens

The Lightning have faced every Atlantic Division opponent once so far this season with the exceptions of Buffalo and Boston (the former will come this week). Their record in those five contests is 3-2-0, with one of the major victories coming against division-leading Montreal early in the season (Les Habs are one point in front of the Lightning in the Atlantic Division standings at the moment; the Bolts have a game in hand on them). One of the early, disappointing losses this season was to Ottawa, tonight's opponent.

While the Senators are wallowing in seventh place in the Atlantic Division... well, I shouldn't have used the term "wallowing" to begin with. They have 24 points, 8 better than the last-place, prepping-for-the-draft Buffalo Sabres. Those 24 points place them in a tie with the Florida Panthers in the standings (OK, so technically they are tied for sixth place, let alone seventh) and a point behind the Toronto Maple Leafs for fifth. Detroit stands a point behind the Lightning at the top of the division (2 points behind Montreal) and Boston is 2 points behind them in the standings.

"Wallowing" was a bad choice of terms entirely. It's a tight race in the division, with everyone still within striking distance of a playoff spot... well, except Buffalo but stranger things have happened. Ottawa, though, is falling - 3-5-2 in their past 10 games. It doesn't mean they are pulling out of the race, it just means misfortune and a bad spell has fallen upon them.

The Bolts start life tonight, formally, without Eric Brewer who was traded yesterday to the Anaheim Ducks. Brewer had seen himself scratched from the lineup here and there during the season and it likely would have become a much more regular occurrence with the return of Victor Hedman to the lineup. Yes, ladies and gents, Big Vic is due back in the lineup within the next few days - the possibility of tonight is out there but not likely Hedman started practicing with full contact enabled mid-week. He was one of 10 skaters at an optional morning skate at the Amalie today.

Defense is the one thing going for the Senators, at least offensively. Erik Karlsson leads the team in scoring with 16 points (6 goals, 10 assists)... Yet Karlson's scoring (and that of Clarke MacArthur, Bobby Ryan and Kyle Turin among others) pales in comparison to what the Lightning are doing on offense; Tampa Bay has five players with more points than Karlsson (Steven Stamkos, Tyler Johnson, Valtteri Filppula, Ryan Callahan and Nikita Kucherov). And while the Senators have prevented more goals from being scored than the Lightning in one less game (59 goals allowed by Ottawa as to 63 for Tampa Bay), the Bolts have 21 more goals scored than the Sens at this point in the season (81 to 60).

On second thought, it's hard to tell if the Ottawa defense is great or the offense is anemic.

Ottawa is 14th in the NHL at the moment on the power play, converting 19.5% of their chances with a man-advantage. The Lightning are back in 3rd place in the league with a 24.4% power play efficiency. On the penalty kill, Ottawa shows it to be more efficiently than the Lightning: an 83.9 kill-rate to an 80.5. That puts both clubs in the middle-tier in the league standings, but at polar opposites of that tier (Ottawa being on the cusp of the top 3rd in the league, the Bolts being just outside the bottom 3rd of the league).

The one neglected fact in all this is that Ottawa played last night, a 3-2 loss in Sunrise to the Panthers. While we shouldn't think the Bolts are thinking ahead to their upcoming road trip, it's important they don't look past or dismiss Ottawa because of where they are in the standings or the played-last-night factor.

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