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Crashing the Net: Grinding out wins will be continued key for Bolts before all star break

When the Tampa Bay Lightning’s 16-game point streak came to an end January 5th, they were faced with something that had been a rarity in a near-flawless season: adversity. How would the Bolts respond to a loss when they’d been firing on all cylinders for nearly a month? The only way they knew how- a dominant 4-0 win over Columbus. Though since that performance Tampa Bay is 2-1, neither one of those wins came easily. 

The Lightning trailed entering the third period in just a quarter of their games throughout the double-digit-game stretch of brilliance. They found themselves in that situation just a game after the aforementioned convincing win against the Blue Jackets. The Carolina Hurricanes were giving the Bolts fits in the neutral zone and led 1-0 after two at Amalie. Though Tampa Bay ‘s fans were restless-spoiled and accustom to dominant wins, the Bolts kicked into another gear in the third period to bring them out of their seats. They finally solved the Canes to rattle off three straight and pick up a ninth consecutive home victory.

The Lightning’s calling card all season has been finding ways to win, and they exemplified that on the road as well, tied entering the third in Buffalo. Nikita Kucherov had been the Lightning’s best player through two periods, and combined with Steven Stamkos in the third to create two goals and earn a 5-3 road win after a slow, penalty riddled start. Sunday in Brooklyn, the Bolts were thrashed 5-1 by the Islanders, a game in which they were down early. A slow start finally got the better of Tampa Bay. They’ll need to resort back to churning out victories in any which fashion, even if a tough beginning to a game occurs.

This week on Crashing the Net, we preview a stint in which the Lightning finish off a demanding portion of the schedule in Dallas, before taking on two formidable opponents on home ice.

Tuesday, January 15 at Dallas, 8:30 PM

Though the Stars have the least points of the Bolts’ three opponents this week, that isn’t saying much considering the Leafs are second in the Atlantic only to league-leading Tampa Bay, and the Sharks sit just three points back of the Flames for the Western Conference lead. While the Lightning will have just one day’s rest coming off a back-to-back, Dallas will be playing just their third game in six days. For comparison the Bolts will be skating in their third in only four.

Stars CEO Jim Lites publicly criticized the play of Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin December 28, going as far as using multiple explicits to describe their play to Sean Shapiro. He relayed that he expects them not to be outplayed in every game. Both players   responded to Dallas media the next morning, Benn saying he “doesn’t play for” Lites. Whether the incident created tension or not, it seems to have sparked the Star cornerstones. Benn has been great, with three goals in seven games since, while Seguin has been absolutely monstrous. He had at least a point in every game since up until Saturday night, posting six goals and eleven points in eight contests.

Nonetheless, Dallas is just 4-4 in that span. The key for the Lightning seems pretty clear. If the Stars have been only average with their horses putting up miraculous numbers, shutting them down should lead to victory. If Tampa Bay can keep their top defensive pairing out against Benn and Seguin as much as they can, their superior forward depth can be the difference. The Stars have just four forwards with 20+ points, two of whom are Seguin and Benn. The Bolts have seven.

Thursday, January 17 vs Toronto, 7:30 PM

Andrei Vasilevskiy simply stole the first meeting between these two teams. In his return to the lineup after a 14-game absence, he made 48 saves for a 4-1 Bolts win. The Leafs will be hoping for a boost in their crease from a return to their lineup, as Frederik Andersen looks ready to play Monday at home. He’s missed the Leafs’ last five games with a groin injury before most recently sitting out a loss to the Bruins with flu-like symptoms. He will be a sight for sore eyes for Toronto, who are 4-4 in his absence. The Leafs will host the Avalanche before having two days off to prepare for the Lightning, who lead them in the Atlantic by fourteen points. Even if Andersen doesn’t get the go Monday, expect him between the pipes against Tampa Bay.

The Leafs’ power play has been a major issue as of late. After humming to start the season, even during a stretch of games without sniper Auston Matthews, the Leafs are just 1/12 on the man-advantage since the Christmas break.

John Tavares was a big part of keeping the Leafs afloat offensively while Matthews was out of the lineup. He leads the team with 29 goals.

Toronto has had a much better season defensively than last year thus far, thanks namely to Morgan Rielly, who is already being talked about as a potential Norris candidate. Rielly has the highest plus/minus on the team at +26.

This potential playoff preview and divisional showdown should be a tight one. The team that is able to defend better behind their potent offenses, with the most (TB) and 5th most (TOR) goals for this season respectively, just may come out on top. That is if Andrei doesn’t go full Vasilevskiy on the Leafs again.

Saturday, January 19 vs San Jose, 7:00 PM

Last up before the All-Star break and bye week for the Lightning are the San Jose Sharks, who handed Tampa Bay their only regulation loss in sixteen games just over a week ago. They’ll take on the surging Penguins and the Coyotes in a back-to-back Tuesday and Wednesday before hosting the Bolts.

San Jose’s defensive corps has some very talented players, but has struggled to keep the puck out of the back of their net. They’ve given up the twelfth most goals in the league this season. That’s most likely because their D-men are too busy producing offensively. Brenden Dillon has had a breakout season playing with Erik Karlsson. He’s a +21. Brent Burns leads the team in assists and spearheads a lethal power play, which is seventh ranked in the NHL. Only the Lightning have more goals-for this season than San Jose, thanks to their blue-line scoring adding to a wealth of of depth up front. Joe Pavelski paces Sharks forwards with 26 goals.

Martin Jones and Andrei Vasilevskiy both have solid save percentages. All across the board, this is a very even matchup between two of the most well balanced teams in the NHL.



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