GAME DAY: Coyotes at Lightning 2/23/11

Coyotes (33-19-9) at Lightning (34-18-7) 7:30 p.m.

The last time these teams met, Tampa Bay shut out Phoenix 3-0 in the desert.  That was back in October.

Now, the surprise team of last year is taking on the surprise team of this year.  Last season, amid rumors of franchise movement, ownership uncertainty, and general instability, the Coyotes shocked everyone by playing strong all year and making the playoffs.  Their first round exit at the hands of a seven-game series against Detroit was nothing to be ashamed of.

This year they surprised people even more by picking up right where they left off.  Many thought (with good reason) they would be a one-hit wonder, much like the Avalanche have proven to be with their play this year.  The Coyotes, however, continued their strong play and stingy defense, and they currently stand atop the Pacific division and third in the conference.

The Coyotes are on an eight-game winning streak, but this year’s surprise story, the Lightning, are going to put up a fight for number nine.  Tampa Bay has had an incredible turnaround this season as most management was replaced with the ownership change.  New GM Steve Yzerman brought in several new additions to the team as well, and the result has been a completely revamped franchise.

The Lightning stand a the top of their division as well, and are second in the conference.  These teams don’t see each other often, but their styles match up well against one another.  The Coyotes are your typical Western conference team that is more concerned with stopping goals than scoring them.  They are very defense-oriented and don’t get many opportunities, meaning they convert on the few they have.

The Lightning are the exact opposite.  They are a scoring team with some defensive holes (though that was helped with the acquisition of Eric Brewer).  Both teams have speed, but the Coyotes know they will likely regret getting into a track meet with the Bolts, so look for them to try and slow the pace of this game.

The Capitals have now pulled to within one point of the Lightning, but the Bolts have two games in hand.  These next two games are critical for the Lightning, and they are going to be strong tests against hot teams.  It’s time to bear down.

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