This is another one of those "trap" games -- one we should win easily on paper, but the game has to be played on the ice. Tampa has had a hellish year, with turmoil in the front office, the coaching ranks and on the ice. Still, they have Vincent LeCavalier and Martin St. Louis who can light it up at any time. Over the past 10 games, they are a respectable 3 - 3 -4, so they are not going down easily.
Tampa has had a tough time getting all of the pieces and parts to work together this year. They are 23rd in Goals Scored (on a per game basis) and 28th in Goals Against. The PP is a respectable 18th, but the PK has struggled to a ranking of 24th in the league. Between the pipes, the Lightning have struggled to find consistency. Mike Smith did not inspire confidence, but turned his numbers around a bit before being sidelined since mid-February with post-concussion syndrome. Since then, the goaltending has been platooned between Mike McKenna and Karri Ramo. Both have GAAs north of 3.0 and save percentages south of .900, though Ramo appears to have the hotter hand of late. After being a disappointment for much of the season, rookie Steven Stamkos has come on of late, and now has 18 goals and 20 assists for a respectable 38 points in his first season.
Befitting their name, the Lightning prefer to strike quickly and use their outside speed in transition, preferably off turnovers from the neutral zone in. Unfortunately, their defense has not been able to force many turnovers, and while Ryan Malone is having a solid offensive year, the defensive effort has not been there, and the inconsistency in goal has not helped.
For the Jackets to prevail, they need to do the following:
- Don't believe the press clippings -- this one still requires 60 minutes of solid hockey
- Break them up in the neutral zone, disrupt their tempo and keep them to the perimeter
- Take care of the puck -- no turnovers
- Lots of pucks and traffic on the goaltenders, who can be had.
After tonight, we have only four more road games (2 St. Louis, 1 each @ Nashville and Chicago). A chance to put another step or two between us and the chasers, and to inch a bit closer to Vancouver and Chicago.
In other news:
Team Records -- The Jackets have already surpassed their team record for wins in a season with 38 (old record was 35, set in 2005-2006), points with 82 (old record 80 in 07-08), home points with 48 (old record 47, set in 02-03 and 07-08), and road points with 34 (old record 33 in 06-07 and 07-08). A win tonight would give us the most road wins in team history with 16. We also have a positive goal differential (GF - GA) for the first time ever at this point in the season.
NHL Network Respect -- NHL Network has conceded the playoffs to the Jackets. All of their discussions on NHL On The Fly have been focusing on 7th and 8th place.
Infighting -- Big night for the playoff hunt in the West, with all of the contenders in action, and many facing each other. We clearly want the Rangers to beat the Wild, and Detroit to topple Edmonton. We also want LA, who is effectively out of it, to beat the Blues in St. Louis. The Anaheim vs Nashville and Vancouver @ Dalls matchups are good news/bad news stories either way. If Dallas loses, that will all but pull the curtain down on their playoff run. Limber up those thumbs -- the remote might get a workout tonight.
Road Trip -- There should be quite a presense when the CBJ take on the Blues in St. Louis on Saturday. The Jacket Backers are sending a busload, as is the R Bar. We will be at the Scottrade Center for the festivities, and will Twitter away from St. Louis, starting on Friday.
Great time to be a Jackets fan!!!