When you find yourself in a hole... Lightning at Carolina Hurricanes preview

WHERE: RBC Center, Raleigh, North Carolina
MEDIA: Sun Sports (cable). 620 WDAE (radio)
OPPONENT BLOG: Canes Country

The Lightning are now in fourth place in the Southeast division after losing back-to-back games against the Florida Panthers on Thursday and Saturday. The've come to the point where they are dangerously close to breakign teh first rule of holes: When you find yourself inside a hole, stop digging.

That's exactly how to summarize tonight's game versus Carolina -- the Bolts may very well dig a little deeper, further encasing themselves in the mire of futility, with a loss to the worst team in hockey.  And something does have to give tonight:  both teams enter the matchup 5-4-1 in their past 10, both have lost their last two games straight.

And the dangerous aspect of this game is that the Canes have nowhere to go but up, while the Lightning have two spots they could yet fall in the Eastern Conference.

Amanda Harris at Joe Bolts Fan chronicled the season's repetitive trap while recapping Saturday night's game in Sunrise:

Textbook Tampa Bay out there last night I’m afraid, the "must win" effort reminding me a lot of the ubiquitous "gym, tan, laundry" routine favored by those pop culture icons known as the cast of Jersey Shore. Work hard in the first period (gym) and take the second frame off (tan), thus forcing yourself to play catch-up on the housekeeping responsibilities in the final 20 (laundry).

And really, doesn't that about cut it?  Not just the comparison to a bad tele-drama, but the play-lull-catchup aspect of the season.  Instead of playing 60 minutes, all too often the effort is 27 or so, give or take time.

Case in point is their difficulty with the Hurricanes this season. They are 1-1-1 (if you but trutfully 1-2) against the Canes. Quite a middling effort against a team with 35 points for the season, 2 less than the Edmonton Oilers (the second worse team in the league) and six less than the Toronto Maple Leafs.

This being a division contest, it's a game the Lightning have got to be competitive in.  Not just fallinto the trap of "supposed to" be competitive in because of their opponent's standing in the league.

Carolina i ranked 25th on the power play, with a 16.2 conversion rate.  They're also ranked 24th on the penalty kill (78.7) -- one spot behind the Bolts (79.6).

We are going to assume Dustin Tokarski makes the first professional start of his NHL career tonight, thanks to the Bolts playing back-to-back games (this also assumes Antero Niittymaki starts at Madison Square Garden tomorrow night against the Rangers).

In another piece of goaltending news -- Mike Smith, who was going to travel with the team during the current road trip, has returned to Tampa for treatment of his injury.

I also want to take a moment and point our that our own Cassie McClellan has partaken in a round-table discussion on hockey for SB Nation, covering several issues about the league and the sport.  Check it out.

Tampa Bay Lightning Projected Lines

(updated January 16, 2010 by Raw Charge - subject to change)

Forward Lines:

Alex Tanguay - Vincent Lecavalier - Jeff Halpern
Brandon Bochenski - Steven Stamkos - Martin St. Louis
Ryan Malone - Paul Szczechura - Steve Downie
James Wright - Zenon Konopka - Stephane Veilleux


Mattias Ohlund - Mike Lundin
Kurtis Foster - Victor Hedman
Andrej Meszaros - Matt Walker


Dustin Tokarski (starter)
Antero Niittymaki

Other Previews

Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview