In the early-going of a NHL season, it is important for fans to take things with a grain of salt. Naturally, a hockey season has countless twists and turns. A team has to overcome an abundance of obstacles to win it all. Therefore, Tampa Bay Lightning fans shouldn’t be overzealous after a quick start. That being said, this three-game Eastern trip offers the Bolts an opportunity to bounce back, and send a message to the rest of the league while solidifying themselves as a force to reckoned with down the line this season.
Despite the fact they sit second in the league with 25 points and hold an impressive 12-4-1 record, the Lightning have a long way to go in hopes of bringing the franchise its second Stanley Cup. Before a sloppy performance against the Ottawa Senators on Saturday, Tampa Bay’s mojo was strong, winning four straight. A four-road trip looms large, with three of those games coming this week.
The Lightning will be in Buffalo Tuesday, before making stops in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia on Thursday and Saturday. A solid road trip would serve as a major confidence boost for the Bolts after they blew a two-goal lead in the third period at home against the Sens in a 6-4 loss. This road swing may seem like a minuscule one on an 82-game schedule. However, to sit atop your conference approaching the 20-game mark is a major statement. The Lightning can put themselves in exactly that position, pending success on the road. This week on Crashing The Net, we take a look at the week ahead for the Bolts and what’s in store on this trip.
Tuesday, November 13th vs. Buffalo Sabres, 7:30 pm
We begin at the KeyBank Center in Buffalo, where the Lightning will do battle with the Sabres. Buffalo enters this game red hot, having won three of their last four games. They’ll be looking to build off a 4-3 shootout win at home Saturday against the Vancouver Canucks.
Similar to the Canucks, Buffalo is a young, speedy team. The likes of former second-overall pick Jack Eichel and last summer’s first overall selection, Rasmus Dahlin, can get up and down the ice quickly.
The Sabres have struggled in the past few years, despite being a very talented hockey team. This year, they seem to have found the piece they were missing: a very talented goaltender in Carter Hutton. The former Predator has done nothing but impress in his new uniform, wielding a .912 save percentage and a 6-6-1 record.
Buffalo also made some major splashes this offseason in an effort to improve, and are reaping the rewards. The additions of world-class goal scorer Jeff Skinner, as well as depth players Patrik Berglund, Conor Sheary and Vladimir Sobotka have really filled out the Sabres’ roster.
They sit in the second wild card spot in the East, and will have the day off Monday before welcoming the Lightning for a Tuesday night Atlantic division showdown.
Thursday, November 15th vs. Pittsburgh Penguins, 7:00 pm
Next up for the Lightning is Pittsburgh, where they’ve struggled mightily over the years. They have just a single win in Pittsburgh since the Penguins completed the move to the recently renamed PPG Paints Arena.
Demons aside, this one has all the makings of a tightly-contested game between two very good hockey teams.
After all, this is at it’s core the same Pittsburgh Penguin roster that has given the Lightning problems over the years. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin still spearhead the team’s top two lines, and can do some major damage to even the league’s best. The Penguins also posses a wealth of quickness at winger, so the Lightning defense will need to be weary of letting the likes of the speedy Carl Hagelin and Phil Kessel get behind them.
Having said that, the Bolts have far and away been the better team this season.
The Penguins have had a sluggish start, sitting three points back of a playoff spot with a mediocre 7-5-3 record. Pittsburgh is dealing with a few key injuries, most notably to talented young defenseman Justin Schultz and veteran forward Derrick Brassard.
Matt Murray also missed time earlier on, but has been inconsistent at best when he has been in the lineup to start the season. He was pulled in two of his last four starts, giving up four or more goals in three of those contests.
In fact, head coach Mike Sullivan has a goaltending controversy on his hands. Sullivan gave 27-year-old Casey DeSmith his second straight start after he impressed in his season debut, and he posted a 39-save shutout in a 4-0 win over Arizona. Keep an eye out to see whether it’s DeSmith who gets the nod against the Lightning.
The Penguins will have one day to decide following their contest Tuesday in New Jersey.
Look for the Lightning to try and take advantage of a banged up, under-performing Pittsburgh team.
Saturday, November 17th vs. Philadelphia Flyers, 1:00 pm
Speaking of buildings that have been houses of horror for the Bolts, the Wells Fargo Center held nothing but pain for them until recently. Tampa Bay has flipped the script though, and played some of their best hockey in Philadelphia the last few seasons.
The Flyers are currently sitting in the second divisional spot in the Metropolitan at 9-7-1. They were dealt a tough blow early in the season when James Van Riemsdyk was injured in just the second game of his Philadelphia return. He will miss at least another week, and in turn, this contest against the Lightning.
Philadelphia is very top-heavy, as they have just four players on their roster with 10+ points so far this season. The Bolts, meanwhile, have a league-leading ten players in this category.
The Flyers’ muppet-like new mascot Gritty was clearly an attempt to bring a larger child audience to Flyers games. Nevertheless, the Flyers haven’t changed a thing about the team mantra since the days of the Broad Street Bullies in the seventies. This is a big team that likes to throw the body around. They’ll be trying to wear down the Bolts’ defense physically. If the Lightning can use their speed to break the Flyers’ cycle and keep the puck out of tough areas, they’ll be very successful in this matinee finale of the road trip.
This will be the final game of a five-game homestand for Philly. They’ll host Florida on Tuesday and New Jersey on Thursday before the Bolts arrive in town on Saturday. As for the Bolts, they’ll travel to Nashville for one last road game on Monday before returning home.
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