Disconnect and a shakeup; Tampa Bay Lightning versus San Jose Sharks preview

A west coast foe when the Lightning reel in the standings is awkward. Meanwhile, Jon Cooper switches around the lineup.

Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida | When: 7:30 PM EST
Radio: 970 AM WFLA | Television: FS Florida Sun | Twitter: Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Fear the Fin

To buck the trend that has started for the Tampa Bay Lightning in recent days, the team and fan base need to focus on and contend against a worthy and formidable adversary in the San Jose Sharks.

. . .

That pause is brought on by disconnect with the Sharks. The players and coaches aren't going to have this, a foe is a foe, but the Lightning has hit a bump, are in a rut, and an integral game to get back on track is against San Jose...? That's a mental issue on my part, ain't it? To not feel the challenge or build myself up as a fan for the contest is just not over-thinking or being exposed to the opponent so much in the media. It's not like the Sharks are also-rans; they're in third place in the weaker Pacific Division with a 29-20-5 record while they battle the Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings in the top slots of the standings. They're 6-2-2 in their past 10 games played, they boast the likes of Joe Thornton (2 goals, 36 assists), Joe Pavelski (25 goals, 27 assists, the team leader in points), Brent Burns (18 goals, 30 assists), Patrick Marleau (17 goals, 18 assists), Joel Ward (15 goals, 17 assists) who all crack the news and retain potency in their name. They're a formidable bunch who is on a team on-par with the Lightning...

Tampa Bay has stumbled in the past 3 of 4 games while the rest of the Eastern Conference playoff contenders surge around them. That's pushed the Lightning to the last wild card spot, tied with the Pittsburgh Penguins in points (64) and only holding the #8 spot in the overall conference standings because it holds more wins (30) than the Penguins do (28). There is a hell of an importance in getting back in gear and getting things rolling again in tonight's game against...

...San Jose.

That's a time zone disconnect to play down the game or the opponent. While I could see and feel the challenge of the Blues on Sunday, not being exposed to the Sharks as a collective unit often enough (and traditional bias by the media) dumbs down how vital this contest (as well as Thursday against the Winnipeg Jets) is for the Lightning. Is it another trap affair like the trip to Canada last week? No, in part because of disconnect. The even-hand on where the clubs sit in the overall NHL point race as well as a relatively even goal differential (+14 for San Jose, +12 for Tampa Bay though 160 goals-for for the Sharks compared to 147 for the Bolts is a telling difference). This has a likelihood of another close affair. It's up to the Lightning to have it go their way.

At morning skate at the Amalie, a line shuffling took place to try to jump start things. The top two lines got mixed up into old form as Steven Stamkos went back to center with Alex Killorn and Ryan Callahan on his wings. The Triplets, the famed TKO Trio, were back together as a posse on the second line. The shift didn't only take place in the forward ranks though; Victor Hedman was paired with Andrej Sustr while Anton Stralman skated with Matt Carle, Nikita Nesterov was paired with Slater Koekkoek and Braydon Coburn on the 3rd defensive pairing. That's not going to sit well with Matthew Carle's critics, and GeoFitz4 made a very valid point yesterday about how Koekkoek being recalled to sit is bad form by management.... For him to play with Coburn sitting while Carle also plays would just seem wrong... Unless Carle gets his head back on straight and gets back into the game in the capacity he's capable of.

Then again, 11 forwards / 7 defensemen is highly possible too. Carle is also reaching his 700th NHL game played. To have it happen against the team he played his first with is notable.

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