TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING: 6-6-1 (13 PTS.) vs. FLORIDA PANTHERS: 4-6-2 (12 PTS).
GAME DAY SONG: The Fuse by Bruce Springsteen & The E Street Band
Two struggling Florida teams will face off this afternoon when the reeling Tampa Bay Lightning meet the Florida Panthers here in Sunrise, Florida. The Lightning who started out hot, are now 0-5-1 in their last six games and are 1-4-0 on the road for the season find themselves just two points ahead of the Panthers in the Eastern Conference standings. Tampa has beaten Florida the past five times they’ve met including January 29th by a score of 5-2. That was the game where BJ Crombeen hit Ed Jovanovski knee on knee and we haven’t seen Jovo since. Also of note during the Lightning’s latest winless streak is that their high powered offence hasn’t scored more than three goals in any of those six games. The last time Tampa won was the very next game they played after beating the Panthers when they manhandled Winnipeg 8-3.
Tampa’s struggles can also be attributed to their suddenly anemic power play during this losing streak, which is only 2 for it’s last 18, while being outshot 186 to 147. Tampa lost a close one to Washington on Thursday by a score of 4-3, but coach Guy Boucher is trying to remain optimistic throughout the streak:
“Either we just stay close and keep grinding and we come out of this, it’s still going to be a fight after we win one game,” said coach Guy Boucher, whose team went 0-6-1 from Jan. 3-15, 2012.
“It won’t change anything in terms of how we’re supposed to play, we’re just trying to be more consistent at it and get a bit of something positive out of it.”
Facing the Panthers could be just what Tampa needs to get out if their rut. The Panthers will need to simplify their game, as well as prevent the Lightning from getting too many scoring chances. With the way the Panthers are playing, they certainly don’t need to get into a run and gun show. Tampa is just too strong up front for that. Staying out of the penalty box for Florida is one way to not give the Lightning an edge. Even through they’ve not been too successful on the power play lately, with all the offensive weapons that Tampa has, you know that eventually they’ll break out of it.
Martin St. Louis is the leading scorer for Tampa with 19 points (4G-15A) and Steven Stamkos is right behind with 18 points of his own(7G-11A). Between the two of them they have five power play goals and have taken 75 shots on goal. Cory Conacher who had a goal and an assist in the previous Panther game, had been on a terror, but is pointless during the losing streak. Conacher has been stuck at five goal and seven assists, all coming in his first seven games. Veteran Matthieu Garon started instead of Anders Lindback in Washington game, as Lindback was scratched due to illness. Garon could find himself starting today as well since he has a 5-1-1 record against the Panthers in his last 8 games.
The Panthers meanwhile have completed two of four games in an important homestand. Hoping to get five out of 8 points at least, the Panthers will need to win today, and beat Toronto on Monday for that to happen. The inconsistencies of this team is certainly puzzling. One night, everything is working, and the next nothing seems to be. When they’ve received good defence and goaltending such as in the Montreal game, the offence is non existent. When the offence is producing, the defence and goaltending leave a lot to be desired. Florida needs to put together a solid string of four to six games where they are playing their very best hockey.
The Panthers who’ve been shutout in two of their last three games need to revitalize their power play. During this recent five game stretch where the Panthers are 1-1-3, they are only one for 15 with the man advantage. From what I’ve seen it appears that they are waiting for the perfect shot, the perfect scoring chance, and for the goaltender to be asleep.
Kris Versteeg will likely miss this game as he recovers from a jarring hit he took on Tuesday night in the Capitals game. The hit was delivered by Alex Ovechkin, and left the Panther forward laying on the ice for a couple minutes. That line of Fleischmann, Weiss and Versteeg has had it’s share of bad luck, but there’s no reason why someone can’t come into the lineup and make a difference. Take for example the Kid Line (Huberdeau Shore and Mueller) which has accounted for 19 points in 16 games, and 22 in 13. You couldn’t have asked for anything better from this trio.
Defensively I like what the Panthers did against Montreal, which apparently was clean up their back line and cut down on mistakes. Being a bit more physical was also a great help, and Florida should continue that style of play. Ed Jovanovski remains out of the lineup, and it may be another two weeks till we see Florida’s captain as he recovers from a knee injury.
With the impressive game that Jose Theodore had against the Canadiens, I would certainly expect him between the pipes today. Theodore stopped 31 of 32 shots against Montreal and is going to have to get hot. This could end up being a high scoring affair if both teams haven’t tightened up their game, one which Florida can’t win. The Lightning have too many weapons, and we will need to shut them down, and limit their chances if we expect to win.
See you this afternoon.
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