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Crashing The Net: Home Is Where The Heart Is

Last Week:  The Tampa Bay Lightning must have wanted to give their fans a good scare for Halloween with last week’s abysmal performance, as they went 1-3 during the middle of their six-game road trip. The week started off with a dominating performance over The Toronto Maple Leafs (2-4-3) in a 7-3 victory which saw Steven Stamkos knot two goals against his hometown club. From there, things would begin to go south on Thursday night as the Montreal Canadiens (8-0-1) would snap the Bolts back to reality with a 3-1 loss. Last Saturday, the Lightning would then find themselves against a foe who they’ve beaten already this season in the New Jersey Devils (4-2-2). The Devils would jump to a two-goal lead, strangely similar to their last contest earlier this year, but the Bolts didn’t have enough in them to complete a comeback this time. The Devils would take that game by a 3-1 score as well. The second half of a back-to-back saw the Bolts facing off against the New York Rangers (6-3-0) at MSG which, with a Lightning win, would have split the week’s point total. In the first, the Bolts held on strong, looking like a team ready to take control of the game and continue their great record in New York since 2014. However, this would not go as planned in the second, as the Bolts found themselves quickly down 4-0 heading into the third. It wouldn’t get any better after that, as they went on to lose this clunker 6-1. When asked about the trip, Cooper said, “This is a test.” And he’s absolutely right. It’s time for the Lightning to bounce back as we have seen them do so many times before. They have one more road game on this trip before coming home for the rest of the week. The Lightning look to bounce back and put last week in their rear view mirror.

Standout Moment of The Week:  The biggest moment for me was Stamkos’ four point night (2G, 2A) against the Toronto Maple Leafs last Tuesday. Those two goals were big for multiple reasons; they ended a first period goal drought for the Lightning, they gave the Bolts a three-goal lead heading into the second, and it was an exclamation point to the contract negotiation-plagued season for Stamkos during all of last year. Even though the captain decided to not return home and play for the Toronto Maple Leafs, it was a great moment for him in front of friends and family that signaled an end to the contract chatter that kept many Tampa Bay Lightning fans up last year.

Lightning Statistics From Last Week:

Games Played: 4
Wins: 1
Loses: 3
Points: 2
Goals For: 10
Goals Allowed: 15
Power Play: 3/15 = 20%
Penalty Kill: 11/13 = 84.6%

Upcoming Games:

New York Islanders (4-5-0)
Where: Barclays Center, New York
When: Tuesday, November 1st – 7:30PM
Where to Watch: NBCSN

On Tuesday night, the Lightning face off against the New York Islanders for the first of three meetings this year. The last time these teams met was last year during the second round of the 2015-16 Stanley Cup Playoffs. The Lightning took that series four games to one and eventually went on to face the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Eastern Conference Finals. So one could say the Islanders have a bit of a bad taste in their mouth after that playoff loss to the Bolts. When it comes to meetings between these two teams, there’s only one word to describe the experience: unpredictable. Throughout last season, the Bolts and Islanders seemed to put on barn burners no matter where, how, or when they played. You truly did not know what you were getting yourself into due to the team’s similarities, the most prominent being their speed. The Islanders took two out of three games during last year’s regular season, with both of those wins coming at the Barclays Center.

The one thing most talked about when these two teams meet is the 2009 NHL Entry Draft where the Islanders held the first pick, and the Lightning the second. The Islanders would select center and current captain John Tavares (4G,3A this season), while the Bolts would get franchise defenseman Victor Hedman (1G,4A). Both players have become core representatives of their respective teams since then.

What to watch out for when it comes to the Islanders is their knack for scoring big time goals in bleak situations. They are not scared in the slightest to shoot the puck and more often than not, it finds the back of the net. This mentality has given them 27 goals already for the season which is ninth best in the entire NHL. Brock Nielson (3G,6A) leads the way in scoring with Tavares right behind him. Unfortunately for them, this has not transitioned over to their power play, which is sitting at a mediocre 12%, one of the worst in the league. It has shown some life as of late with a power play goal in each of their last two games. The Lightning need to attack them with speed of their own and not be caught back on their heels for long periods during the game. Since the Lightning have lost their last three, I would be surprised if they didn’t come out looking to make a statement and end this early season spiral.

Boston Bruins (4-4-0)
Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa Bay
When: Thursday, November 3rd – 7:30PM
Where to Watch: Fox Sun Sports

The big bad Boston Bruins are always a spectacle when they go up against the Lightning. One of the Bolts’ biggest and fiercest rivalries is against the B’s and no matter where either team is in the standings, each bout is hard-fought and close as they come. The Bruins have put together a .500 start to this season and have lost three of their last four. Their most recent win, a 1-0 shutout against Detroit (6-4-0), came off the return of goaltender Tuukka Rask. Rask, who hadn’t played since Oct. 20th due to an undisclosed injury, looked to be in mid-season form as he tossed aside 24 shots to lead his team to a victory, snapping their three-game losing streak.

The Bruins’ Achilles heel so far is their power play, which is ranked 29th in the NHL at 7.1% and tied for third-worst in goals per game at 2.25. What they lack in offense, they make up for it in defense, as their penalty kill is something to be impressed with. Ranked ninth in the league, the Bruins’ penalty kill is sporting a stellar 85.3% success rate and manhandled the Red Wings on Saturday night. While scoring is hard to come by for the Bruins at the moment, they do have an incredibly dangerous threat in their lineup with Brad Marchand (3G,7A) who has tallied 27% of the Bruins points this season. He is also a constant thorn in the Lightning’s side as he was a big factor in the Bolts going winless against the Bruins from 2012-2015. Tampa Bay fans probably can’t help but roll their eyes reading this, as they know how much of a pain he can and will be as the Lightning return home on Thursday night.

New Jersey Devils (4-2-2)
Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa Bay
When: Saturday, November 5th – 7:00PM
Where to Watch: Fox Sun Sports

The season series against the New Jersey Devils has been a bit of a roller coaster already. They have scored on the Lightning early in the first two meetings, jumping out to a two-goal lead in the first period of each game. The Lightning were able to come back and win the first time around at home, but were unsuccessful last Saturday night. The Lightning need to keep their eyes peeled for New Jersey newcomer Taylor Hall (5G,2A) for he is a prime candidate to help his Devils with a few goals. He gets into the slot and finds ways to be in the right place at the right time. This will do nothing but burn Tampa Bay if they let him roam opportunistically in the Lightning’s zone all night.

I like to think of the Devil’s game as watching someone sink in quicksand. They struggle when it comes to scoring, but once they do, they have the ability to limit opposition chances and prevent any chances for a comeback. For example, six of their last eight games have been decided by only one goal and their goals-against average is tied for second-best in the entire league. Some of this is due to the superb goaltending of Cory Schneider, but also a large of it is due to the team’s knack of frustrating opponents with their style. This has enabled them to win three of their last four and getting off to an impressive start to the season.

What the Lightning need to watch out for is what they haven’t done in the first two meetings: not allowing the first goal. Do not step in the quicksand that is the New Jersey Devils! Games won against the Devils are typically done by picking up garbage goals off rebounds and deflections. The Lightning’s power play has tailed off over the last few games, and that trend cannot continue against the Devils with a penalty kill of 86.2%, which is the ninth-best mark in the league. You have to pepper Schneider with shots and get traffic in front of him. This will cause rebounds and those fluky, trash goals that will help bring the Devils’ defense down to Earth.


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