The Tampa Bay Lightning (17-15-3) aim to end the calendar year with a bang as they look to reset what has been a forgetful 2016-17 season going into the new year. Riddled with injuries, the Bolts used Christmas break to heal up, as Nikita Kucherov and Ondrej Palat should be back in the lineup this week. They’ll host two division rivals in the Montreal Canadiens (21-9-4) and Toronto Maple Leafs (14-12-7), as well as welcoming the Carolina Hurricanes (15-11-7), who are tied with the Lightning in the playoff hunt with 37 points. Will 2016 end with fireworks? Or will the Lightning drop the ball? Let’s take a look at what’s ahead in Crashing The Net!
Detroit Red Wings (15-16-4)
When: Tuesday, December 20th at Amalie Arena
Shots: 31-27 TBL
Power Play: 2/6
Penalty Kill: 5/5
Key Moment: Three-goal second period by Jonathan Drouin (10G, 10A), Brayden Point (3G, 11A), and Vlad Namestnikov (4G, 9A) to put the Bolts up 4-0 to start the third. This kind of offensive explosion is something Tampa Bay fans have grown accustomed to over the last three years and, after its absence this season, warmed their souls like a glass of hot chocolate.
St. Louis Blues (18-12-5)
When: Thursday, December 22nd at Amalie Arena
Shots: 32-23 TBL
Power Play: 1/2
Penalty Kill: 1/1
Key Moment: Down 2-0 to end the first period, it looked as if Tampa Bay would be swept by St. Louis this season. Not only that, but this loss would have once again prevented the Lightning form formulating another winning streak and plummeting them further in the standings. That was until a surge that saw Jonathan Drouin score two goals in under two minutes, shooting the Bolts past the Blues for a 5-2 win. It was the team’s first winning streak of any kind in a month, and it looked like it would be a confidence-builder going forward.
Washington Capitals (20-9-4)
When: Friday, December 23rd at The Verizon Center
Shots: 27-23 WSH
Power Play: 0/3
Penalty Kill: 2/2
Key Moment: The first period was the John Carlson (3G, 14A) Show. The Washington blue liner started off the period with a goal and ended it with one as well. With the Lightning facing their second two goal deficit after the first in as many nights, Carlson’s scores would prove to be the game-winner, as after three key injuries, the Lightning were unable to score on the Capitals.
Lightning Statistics From Last Week:
Games Played: 3
Points: 4 out of 6
Goals For: 9
Goals Allowed: 7
Power Play: 3/11 = 27.2%
Penalty Kill: 8/8 = 100%
Montreal Canadiens (21-9-4)
Where: Amalie Arena, Florida
When: Wednesday, December 28th – 7:30PM
Where to Watch: SunS, RDS, RSNE
To start off the week, the Lightning square off against the Atlantic Division-leading Montreal Canadiens in the second of a four-game season series. The last time these two divisional foes faced off was back in October when Montreal bested the Bolts by a score of 3-1 with a two-goal surge in the third period that Tampa Bay couldn’t bounce back from. Since then, the Canadiens have rose to the top of the Atlantic behind fantastic goaltending from Carey Price (18W, 1.91 GAA, .934 Sv%) and an offense that is top-five in goals, assists, and shooting percentage in the NHL.
Montreal has slightly fallen back to Earth recently, as they have lost three of their last five games. Some of this is due to a struggling penalty kill, which has fallen to an average 81.6% on the year. Luckily for Tampa Bay, the Canadiens have been known to be sent to the sin bin on a regular basis. This looks like a steak dinner for a Lighting power play that is third-best in the league. Hopefully they come hungry to Amalie Arena on Thursday night as they’ll need to for a victory here.
Toronto Maple Leafs (14-12-7)
Where: Amalie Arena, Florida
When: Thursday, December 29th – 7:30PM
Where to Watch: SunS, RSNO, TVA
The next night Tampa Bay hosts the Toronto Maple Leafs on the tail end of back-to-back games. The Leafs will also be partaking in a game the night before as they face the Florida Panthers (15-14-6) on Wednesday night before making the drive up to Tampa right after. Filled to the brim with youthful talent, Toronto has found themselves just five points out of a playoff spot a little under halfway in the season. They have done this with a promising offense led by standout rookies Auston Matthews (16G, 10A) and Mitchell Marner (8G, 18A) who have helped their respective club become 10th in scoring goals.
Last time the Lighting faced the Leafs, they were able to come away with a 7-3 win thanks to Steven Stamkos’ four point performance. Now however, the Lightning will have to find a way against Toronto without their star, as he has been sidelined with an injury until March. They can do this by commanding even strength play as the Leafs have been beaten there recently in six or their last ten games. This is not the game to take costly penalties with Toronto turning on the burner for their power play this season. The Bolts should do whatever they can to avoid the penalty box in this one.
Carolina Hurricanes (15-11-7)
Where: Amalie Arena, Florida
When: Saturday, December 31st – 7:00PM
Where to Watch: SunS, FSCR
The Hurricanes come to Amalie Arena on New Year’s Eve to ring in the New Year. The last time these two teams played was earlier this month when Carolina’s Phillip Di Giuseppe (1G, 1A) scored a controversial overtime goal to win the game 1-0 for the Canes. It’s unlikely that he will do that again in this tilt because he hasn’t skated with the team since December 10th. One other key player missing for the Hurricanes will be star defenseman Justin Faulk (7G, 9A) as he is listed as week-to-week with an undisclosed injury. Regardless of their injuries, Carolina has been top-notch recently, as they have won three straight. However, this streak will be tested before they come to Tampa, as they have meetings with Chicago and Pittsburgh before clashing with the Lightning on Saturday.
Tampa Bay’s even strength play will be crucial for this contest because they will be facing the best penalty killing unit in the entire league. Carolina has achieved this by partially by being extremely disciplined in their play, and that has paid off due to the fact they are the least penalized team in the NHL. The stingy antics of the Hurricanes mean that the Lightning will have to create offense while 5-on-5, similar to the formula they’ll need against Toronto. If they do that, they’ll have not only the new year to celebrate, but a win as well.
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