Tampa Bay Lightning needs a strong performance against Dallas Stars

(Photo by Mark LoMoglio/NHLI via Getty Images)
(Photo by Mark LoMoglio/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Tampa Bay Lightning looks to bring home another two points as they take on a rather familiar face when they battle the Dallas Stars on Thursday night in Tampa.

The Tampa Bay Lightning were pushed to the limits on Tuesday night when they edged out a 4-3 overtime victory over an Atlantic Division rival, the Ottawa Senators. While there was a bit of controversy coming out of the Lightning’s 4-3 victory, there were some definite positives as well.

The Lightning will look to build on these positives and bring home another much-needed two points on Thursday night as they take on a rather familiar face. In a few hours, the Bolts will charge into the Amalie Arena to do battle with former Lightning netminder Ben Bishop and the Dallas Stars.

The East vs. West battle will be the first time these two teams have met this season. The Lightning was rather successful the last time they did battle with the Stars. The last time these two teams met in the center of the ice was on February 14 where the Bolts defeated the Stars 6-0.

It would seem momentum favors the Lightning heading into this particular encounter. Whereas the Lightning was able to pick up a victory over the Senators on Tuesday night, the Stars weren’t quite as lucky in their last endeavor. The Stars are coming into this particular encounter having fallen 2-1 to the Edmonton Oilers on Monday night in Dallas.

A player who could be in for a big night against the Stars is Lightning forward Anthony Cirelli. Cirelli has been putting in the work lately but didn’t have much to show for it. That is until he had a huge moment on Tuesday night. Cirelli busted through not one but two Ottawa defenders to score in overtime, bringing home the victory for the Bolts.

Prior to Cirelli’s overtime winner on Tuesday night, the 22-year-old center had gone a whopping nine games without registering a goal. The last time Anthony Cirelli made his way to the scoresheet in the goal column was on November 27 against the St. Louis Blues.

Now that this oversized monkey is off his back, we can’t wait to see what he has in store for us. Now that the flood gates have been opened, it will be interesting to see how Cirelli responds and whether or not he’s able to heat up and become a force to be reckoned with for the Bolts.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the keys to a Tampa Bay Lightning victory over the Dallas Stars.

Continue to Be Aggressive with the Puck

The Tampa Bay Lightning registered 40 shots on goal against the Senators on Tuesday night. Keeping the puck out of the opponent’s hands is a sure-fire way to prevent them from scoring on you. If they can’t get the puck, they can’t put it on the net. It really is as simple as that.

At the same time, the players need to take a moment to think. “If I pass this puck, is it going to get taken away? Should I just shoot the puck instead? Ok, good.” In other words, if a shot opportunity presents itself, don’t try to be cute, don’t pass it to someone else simply for the sake of setting someone else up, take the shot.

Another strategy the Lightning needs to embrace is digging deep for the rebound. A player takes the shot, the goalie commits to making the stop on the right-hand side of the goal, leaving the left side of the goal wide open. If someone is in front of the net fighting for the rebound, well, this one kind of writes itself.

In other words, the Lightning needs to stick to what works and continue to be aggressive with the puck on both sides of the ice and keep the pressure on the Stars for a full 60 minutes of hockey. Everyone here in the Bolts Nation knows what Ben Bishop is capable of and it’s going to take a focused Lightning offense to get the job done.

Stay Out of The Penalty Box

This may seem like a “captain obvious” one here. It may also seem like we’re beating the same drum over and over again, but this particular drum needs to be beaten as much as possible.

The Tampa Bay Lightning seems to be a lightning rod (only a slight pun intended) for penalties. There are nights when it seems like Lightning players get two minutes in the box for merely sneezing in an official’s presence. It is because of this the Bolts need to be extra mindful of their actions.

The Lightning’s special teams has done a good job of killing penalties and keeping the puck out of the back of the net while another player sits in the box, but it’s never a good idea to continually lean on your special teams, or your goaltender, on a continual basis. You can have the best structure in the league and eventually, they are going to crack underneath the pressure.

We concede there are circumstances where a penalty is necessary to prevent something much worse from happening. There are also those penalties, like the ones you receive for sticking up for your teammate, that are essentially unavoidable, but the players will need to be mindful of which penalties are for the greater good and which ones are going to come back and bite the team in a big way.

Play Smart Defense

There is no denying the Tampa Bay Lightning has struggled defensively this season. In seasons past, Lightning netminder Andrei Vasilevskiy has done a good job of masking some of the Lightning’s defensive shortcomings. Regrettably, this hasn’t really been the case this season.

The Lightning has leaned on Vasilevskiy a lot this season and it’s become clear Vasy is having a little bit of difficulty bailing out the team. In the 24 games Vasy has played this season, he has a win/loss record of 14-9-1. This may not seem like the worst thing in the world, but there are some numbers that do cause some concern.

The 25-year-old Russian goaltender has a Goals Against Average of 2.84 and a Save Percentage of .908. Granted, there is still plenty of hockey left to play this season, but as things stand right this minute, these are some of the worst numbers of his career and a shocking look for the defending Vezina Trophy winner.

Basically, the Lightning needs to be a more defensively sound heading into tonight’s clash against the Stars. The defense needs to keep their eyes on their man, knock the opponent off the puck, and keep some of the pressure off Vasilevskiy and giving him the space he needs to do his job effectively.

The Tampa Bay Lightning has more than enough talent to pull themselves out of the funk they find themselves in right now. Talent is most certainly not the issue here. It’s been the little mistakes that have cost the Lightning huge this season. If the team can take a step back and really focus on the task at hand and build on the positives the team has created over the past few games, the Bolts should find themselves in a good place.

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The puck is scheduled to drop at 7:00 p.m. There are plenty of storylines to playing out here in the Bolts Nation right now. It will certainly be interesting to see how the Tampa Bay Lightning responds to everything going on and whether or not the team is able to bring home another much-needed two points.