Coming off of a tough loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Wednesday, the Tampa Bay Lightning continues their road trip through the great, white north with their next stop being Scotiabank Place where they go head to head with the Ottawa Senators this afternoon.
Right now, the Lightning and the Senators are in very similar, yet very different situations. The Lightning are 13-16-1, which puts them in fourth place, just 2 points shy of the Washington Capitals, in the Southeast Division. The Senators are 16-9-6, which puts them in third place, 5 points shy of the Boston Bruins, in the Northeast Division.
Where the difference lies is their position within the Eastern Conference.
With 38 points, the Senators are sitting in 5th place, again, just behind the Bruins. The Lightning, on the other hand, have 27 points and are currently 13th in the Conference; trailing the Buffalo Sabres by only 1 point. When it comes to the possibility of a post season run, the Lightning have much more of an uphill battle; however, this gives us something even greater to fight for.
What to look for from Ottawa:
The Ottawa Senators are having some of the same issues that the Lightning are suffering from right now. Just as we are missing key players like Vincent Lecavalier, Ryan Malone, and Anders Lindback, the Senators are missing their fair share of players as well. More importantly, they are missing goaltender Craig Anderson. Right now, Anderson leads the NHL with a Goals Allowed Average of 1.49 and a Save Percentage of .952. Unfortunately for them, much like Malone and Lecavalier, Anderson is on Injured Reserve.
However, we will have to contend with the likes of their captain, Daniel Alfredsson. In the last 5 games, Alfredsson has scored a goal and 4 assists for a total of 5 points.
Then, there is always Chris Neil. Neil has 2 assists in his last five games. However, it is not his scoring capability that I am worried about. Chris Neil loves to fight. As proof of this, take a look at his penalty minutes for the season. Right now, Neil is third in the NHL in Penalty Minutes with 82; surpassed only by Mike Brown of the Edmonton Oilers with 87, and Colton Orr of the Toronto Maple Leafs with a whopping 103 penalty minutes.
As you may remember from our last encounter with the Senators, Chris Neil showed no restraint in dropping the gloves with B.J. Crombeen late in the first period, for which they both served 5 minute fighting majors.
With the Lightning’s misfortune of being caught up in unnecessary penalties, they will surely have to keep their eyes on Chris Neil.
Last, but most certainly not least, we have Sergei Gonchar. Gonchar set a franchise record with an assist for the ninth consecutive game with his assist to LW Kaspars Daugavins goal in the second period during the Senators 2-1 loss to the Bruins on Thursday night. However, Gonchar left late in the game with an undisclosed injury during their encounter with the Bruins. He did not participate in Friday’s practice, but Head Coach Paul MacLean is optimistic that Gonchar will be ready to go against the Lightning.
What to expect from the Lightning:
The Tampa Bay Lightning’s young guns have been making an impact so far this season. One of those names that stick out is Tyler Johnson. Johnson is currently on a 3 game point streak in which he has scored a goal, his first in the NHL, and registered 3 assists for a total of 4 points since making his NHL debut with the Lightning on March 14th against the New York Islanders.
One of the new lines that the Lightning was playing with in practice consisted of Johnson, Ondrej Palat, and the newly recalled Richard Panik. The Lightning has shown over the course of the last few games that their “Syracuse Line” was one of the strongest lines they have right now.
Another Bolt to keep your eye on is Radko Gudas. The Lightning defenseman scored his first ever NHL goal early in the third period on Wednesday night against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Gudas is known for his big hits. I can only assume that if a Senator is losing the puck after hitting the boards, Gudas will be somewhere very nearby.
Here is a look at the goal by Gudas against the Maple Leafs.
Last, but not least, we have Steven Stamkos. Stamkos leads the NHL in goals scored with 21. Add in the 19 assists that he has earned this season, and that gives you a total of 40 points in the 30 games he has played so far this season. In his last 5 games, he has 2 goals and an assist for a total of 3 points.
So far this season:
This is the second of three meetings between the Lightning and the Senators this season. The Lightning won their first encounter with the Senators 6-4 back on January 25th at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. Ryan Malone’s two goals in the third period would ultimately put the Lightning back on top. The deal would be sealed with an empty net goal by Tom Pyatt in the final seconds of regulation.
After today’s game, the Lightning and the Senators will meet one final time this season on April 9th at the Tampa Bay Times Forum.
My take on the matter:
The Lightning have a lot of changes going on right now. As most of you already know, Lightning Vice President and General Manager Steve Yzerman has been making a lot of moves this week. First, he signed OHL star defenseman Slater Koekkoek to a three-year, entry-level contract. Soon after, he signed collegiate stand out defenseman Andrej Sustr to a two-year, entry level deal. Then, Yzerman made another move and placed Lightning defenseman Brian Lee on waivers.
With that move in mind, I have a feeling that we will see Sustr at some point during our encounter with the Senators. The Lightning will want to further evaluate his performance. From that point they can decide whether to leave him on the main roster for the remainder of the season, or to reassign him to the Lightning’s AHL affiliate Syracuse Crunch as they gear up for their post season run.
With all the injuries that the Lightning have had to suffer in the last month, the other lines have been changing constantly. This has made for difficulties in the line chemistry; however, if the Lightning have any hopes of making the post season, they are going to have to find a way to work together, and step up their game going forward.
There are only 18 games left in the regular season, and if the Lightning hope to get back on top of the division, or even get into that coveted 8th spot in the conference, they cannot afford to lose very many more points.
As I have said on numerous occasions, the Lightning’s “Syracuse Line” has been one of the greatest performers as of late. If they can keep this momentum going, and the other lines can follow suit, the Lightning should have no issues getting back on top of their game.
So when that puck drops this afternoon, I want all of the Bolts Nation to scream loud and proud so that they can hear you all the way in Ottawa!
Your team needs you. Without the Thunder, there is no Lightning. Be the Thunder.
Do you think the Lightning have what it takes to get back on top? What do you think needs to happen for them to achieve this? Let us know in the comments below.