At 48 games (OR Swimming with Sharks on a Saturday afternoon); Tampa Bay Lightning versus San Jose Sharks preview

It's a tale of two seasons and two teams, but it's one franchis and how different it is performing.

Where:   Tampa Bay Times Forum, Tampa, Florida
When: 2 PM EST | Tickets: Check availability
Media: Sun Sports (cable) | 970 AM WFLA (radio)
Opponent Coverage: Fear the Fin, Sharkspage

After 48 games - the length of the entire 2012 - 2013 NHL season -- the Tampa Bay Lightning has a 28-15-5 record and 61 points. That record and that point total, would have been good enough to trump Washington and win the now-mothballed Southeast Division (Washington ended the season with 57 points). It would have been good enough for third in the Northeast Division, behind Division-winning Montreal and Boston (who had 63 and 62 points, respectively). It would have been good enough for second place in the old Atlantic division, 11 points behind Pittsburgh (72 points) and 5 in front of the New York Rangers (56 points).

But this season's Tampa Bay Lightning is not last season's Tampa Bay Lightning.  Last season's Lightning finished with an 18-26-4 record; almost completely reverse the record they have now.  And while this would be great for a feature (talking about how Boston has the exact same point total two seasons in a row at 48 games and analyzing the NHL standings for teams at 48 games in), this is a preview for a matinee, so I can't elaborate like I'd like to.

The biggest difference for the Lightning, helping them get to where they are in the standings, is how the team is playing in close matchups.  Tampa Bay at current is 11-6-5 in games decided by one goal, a .500 record; 27 points in 22 games certainly helps things.  During the previous season, the Lightning was an atrocious 5-12-4 in games decided by 1 goal; a .238 winning percentage and all of 14 points in 21 games.

I could throw in games decided by two-goals, as too many efforts last season came down to last-ditch efforts to tie a game (pulling, the pulling of the goalie and giving up an empty-net goal to an opponent... But that's muddying the waters because not all two-goal losses were by way of this.

This season's Lightning is not last season's Lightning; we've known that for a while now.  But with the remaining 34 games of the NHL season, we'll find out just who they are and how far they can go being that team.

The season series against San Jose concludes this afternoon at Times Palace and it's oddly the second time that San Jose represents the first game in a back-to-back series. Back in November the Bolts made their California trip and played San Jose (and were shelled in a 5-1 thumping), then jumped on a plane and flew down to Anaheim to play the mighty Ducks the next night. That west trip was one big headache for the Lightning, as the team finally seemed to hit a wall in life without Steven Stamkos (they went 0-3-1 o nthat trip and had goal scoring issues.)

Speaking of the Ducks, they lead the Sharks by 11 points in the Pacific Division. Anaheim might have 2 more games played than San Jose but they'll have to hit a major slump for the Sharks to catch up to them. The Sharks are 6-4-0 in their past 10 games.

I cited 1-goal games above in comparing the Lightning from last season o this season.  A comparison point to make between the Bolts and the Sharks is also the 1-goal game record:  San Jose is just over .500 in those affairs (12-5-6).  While it seems normal for Tampa Bay to end up in a lop-sided game against the Sharks, that 1-goal game record shows that if you keep it close, you do have a chance to take points from a rather potent team.

Neither starting goalie has been confirmed for the game today; it makes me wonder what the Bolts are going to do. Anders Lindback started the 5-1 loss in November to the Sharks, and you've seen Lindy play better when he has had to the past few games with Bishop being out (Lindy's GAA has dropped to 3.16 but his save percentage is still a low .882). With the Lightning playing tomorrow and the opponent being Carolina - why not start Bishop today and Lindback tomorrow? Lindback starting the first game in back-to-back series is by way of the team needing a kick in game two of those series', and that kick is by way of the strength in net of Ben Bishop (.938 save percentage, 1.80 GAA)... So I understand if Lindback starts today. I'm just not certain he should.

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