The Tampa Bay Lightning needs make an undeniable statement with a solid victory over the Ottawa Senators in regulation.
The Tampa Bay Lightning has been on an interesting journey heading into the final games of the 2017-18 season. In the last eight games the Bolts have played, seven of them have ended in overtime or in a shootout. As the Bolts enter the final month and a half of the season, they need to make an undeniable statement.
As the first team in the National Hockey League to reach the 100 point mark this season, the Bolts are arguably the best team in the league right now. Unfortunately, they haven’t always played like the best team and have truly gotten away with murder in some of the OT and SO games they’ve won.
One of the biggest issues the team has been battling as of late has been consistency. The team has either come out like a shot and taken an early lead only to get comfortable in their lead and take their feet off the gas in the following two periods or allow themselves to fall behind in the first only to have to chase the next two periods. This kind of play is not going to get the Lightning far once the postseason starts.
The Lightning has an excellent opportunity to turn all of this around tonight as they once again open the doors to the Amalie Arena to take on another Atlantic Division opponent, the Ottawa Senators. As some Lightning fans may already know, the Senators haven’t exactly been the best team in the league this season.
The Senators are coming into tonight’s contest on the second half of a back-to-back which kicked off last night at the BB&T Center in Sunrise. The first half of their back-to-back definitely ended on a high note as the Senators defeated the Florida Panthers 5-3. Last night’s victory was their first win in their last three games.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Fatigue is definitely going to play a factor in tonight’s contest. Fortunately, this is not something the Lightning are going to have to deal with. The Bolts have been home and free of travel since March 1 when they defeated the Dallas Stars.
The Lightning definitely has an ace hiding up their sleeve heading into tonight’s contest. On Saturday afternoon, Lightning fans finally witnessed the debut of newly acquired defenseman Ryan McDonagh. Surprisingly enough, despite missing a number of games due to a lingering injury, he hit the ice seamlessly and ready to make an impact on the roster.
In addition to this, newly acquired forward J.T. Miller, who came from the New York Rangers alongside McDonagh, has made an impact of his own on the Lightning roster. In the six games Miller has played with the Bolts thus far, he has picked up two goals and four assists for a total of six points along with a plus-2 rating.
Of course, the Lightning has another powerhouse in their arsenal. Lightning forward Nikita Kucherov has been an absolute rock star this season, leading the Lightning (and the league) almost all season long in points. In the 67 games Kucherov has played this season, he has scored 34 goals and 54 assists for a total of 88 points.
Kuch leads the Lightning in all manners scoring and leads the NHL in Points. Kucherov is also in seventh place in the league in goals and fifth place in the league in assists. Kucherov, alongside Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, has been doing much of the heavy lifting for the team this season.
Of course, this is not to say there aren’t other players on the team who have been doing an amazing job this season – cough – Brayden Point – cough – but Kuch and Stammer have definitely been the team leaders when it comes to scoring.
One of the biggest storylines heading into tonight’s contest is the Lightning’s goaltending situation. The Bolts currently have three goaltenders available to take the ice; starting goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy and backup goaltenders Louis Domingue and Peter Budaj.
Since the NHL Trade Deadline has come and gone, there are no longer and roster limits which means the Lightning can carry all three goaltenders (and the extra defenseman) through the remainder of the season. Considering Vasy has been experiencing a bit of fatigue, having an extra netminder could work to the Lightning’s advantage.
While there has been no official announcement as of yet which netminder will be between the pipes tonight against the Senators, it may be advantageous to play Domingue or Budaj to give Vasy a little more time to rest.
As anyone here in the Bolts Nation will say, Vasy needs to be in the best condition possible heading into the playoffs. While Vasilevskiy will definitely need to play a number of games to stay in top condition, a little rest and relaxation never hurt anyone, especially someone who is battling fatigue.
There are three simple keys to a Lightning victory over the Senators tonight. The first of these three keys is consistency. The Bolts must play a full 60 minutes of hockey and not allow themselves to get too comfortable in their lead or wind up in a situation where they have to chase a goal in the final 40 minutes of play.
The second key is going to be offensive aggression. The Lightning’s performance on Thursday night against the Rangers serves as the perfect example of the kind of aggression the Bolts need to show. The Bolts have some of the most talented forwards in the NHL and any defense will have a hard time keeping them down when the Bolts bring their ‘A’ game.
The third key to victory tonight is going to be a solid defensive effort. The Lightning defense has leaned on Vasilevskiy more than a couple of times this season, which has undoubtedly contributed to the fatigue Vasy is feeling right now. The defense needs to limit the Senators shots on goal and help keep the puck out of the zone.
If the Lightning can accomplish these three things, there is absolutely no reason the Bolts can’t bring home a victory over the Senators. Hopefully, if they can perform the way they did against the Rangers, the Bolts can get back in the business of sealing the deal in regulation.
At this point in the season, every single point is important. The last thing a team wants to do is hand free points to an opponent; especially one in their own division.