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Crashing the Net: Lightning hope to continue finding ways to win in busy week

Winning a Stanley Cup takes a multitude of characteristics. A team needs grit, health, luck, but most importantly; consistency. After all, it takes 16 wins against the league’s best to hoist the Cup. Four losses before handing your opponent likewise, and it’s all over. The Tampa Bay Lightning have pegged themselves as championship contenders this season thanks to mass amounts of skill and speed, yet fans yearn to see them leave their best effort on the ice night in and night out. However, the Bolts’ league-best 19-7-1 record speaks not only for itself, but to their uncanny ability to find a way to win games. 

Since Andrei Vasilevskiy’s injury, Louis Domingue and his defense have seldom shown up on the same night. It’s been par for the course for Louis Domingue to fend off 35+ shots in a Lightning win. It also hasn’t been an anomaly to see him face significantly less rubber and end up in the L column.

But Tampa Bay has, for the most part, been able to trek through and continue to pile up points nonetheless. They were victors Tuesday over the Sabres in a game that saw five lead changes. Saturday night in Sunrise, the Bolts came back from three goals down to win. One way or another, this is a Lightning team that is grinding out victories without their starting goaltender. Their ability to continue doing so will be put to the test in the coming days. On this edition of Crashing the Net, we take a peak at Tampa Bay’s upcoming week, in which they’ll play a back-to-back on the road, before returning home to complete a slate of four games in six days.

Monday, December 3rd vs. New Jersey Devils, 7:00 pm

The Lightning will play the first game of a back-to-back Monday night at the Prudential Center. Tampa Bay has owned the Devils of late, and for good reason. New Jersey (9-11-5) is last in the Eastern conference with a measly 23 points.

In their second straight win since eliminating the Devils from last year’s playoffs, the Bolts picked up a dominant 5-2 win just eight days ago. Brayden Point had three points for Tampa Bay. He’s notched 19 goals and 34 points in 17 games thus far this season. Point has been the Lightning’s iron man, and if last season is any evidence, Taylor Hall must be that for the Devils if they’re to have any degree of success.

Hall was certainly superhuman for New Jersey last season, scoring 39 goals and boasting an incredible plus-14 rating. This year, while still producing, Hall is a minus-7 and on pace for only 24 goals. He’s been no slouch, tallying 19 assists, but needs to put the puck in the net more consistently to aid a Devils roster that lacks scoring. New Jersey is 22nd in the league with just 74 goals scored in 25 games.

The biggest issue for the Devils, however, has been keeping the puck out of their own net. They’ve given up a whopping 86 goals, good for sixth-most in the NHL. Former Canuck Cory Schneider was sent down to the minors after his first few starts, and was welcomed back to the big leagues by none other than the Lightning, (in his most recent start that is) who torched him for five goals; four of those coming in the first period. Schneider hasn’t suited up since-the loss was his 17th straight regular season defeat. Keith Kinkaid hasn’t fared much better since taking the reins, as he has a 2.79 GAA. Kinkaid will likely get the start against the Bolts. The Devils have lost five straight games, most recently taking a 4-3 OT loss against the Jets on home ice Saturday.

Tuesday, December 4th vs. Detroit Red Wings, 7:30 pm

Tampa Bay will complete just their second back-to-back of the season in Detroit the following evening. It will be interesting to see whether the Lightning give Eddie Pasquale his first career NHL start in either of the back-to-back contests.

Either way, the Red Wings will need an abnormal performance to foil the Lightning’s net-minder, as they sit 23rd in the league in goals scored. As for Detroit’s goaltending situation, Jimmy Howard has been average to start the season, holding a 2.66 GAA. Jonathan Bernier has had a much tougher go. He’s given up an average 3.63 tallies per game since being signed as a free agent during the offseason.

Detroit does possess a few young talents who have continued to build on solid starts to their careers this season, though. Andreas Athanasiou leads the team with 11 goals, while youngster Dylan Larkin has a team-high 22 points. The Wings have also been hot on their current road trip. In their last three games, they earned victories over Boston and St. Louis while falling short against Columbus, scoring 13 goals in those contests.

Detroit will take on Colorado at home Sunday and have a day off before welcoming the Lightning to Little Caesars Arena.

Thursday, December 6th vs Boston Bruins, 7:30 pm

Next up for the Bolts is the Boston Bruins. Tampa Bay will have a travel day Wednesday before welcoming the B’s to Amalie Arena for the first of a four-game home-stand.

The Bruins won’t have to endure the commute time the Lightning will returning home from Detroit, (they’ll be in Sunrise on Tuesday to take on the Panthers), but they’ve been battling through their fair share of injuries. Sensational sophomore Charlie McAvoy has been out since mid-October with a concussion, a huge blow to the Bruins’ blue line. To make matters worse for the B’s, they lost their captain Zdeno Chara, and their alternate Patrice Bergeron long-term within a span of two days, when the two were added to IR in mid-November. Both will miss significant time.

Meanwhile, David Pastrnak hasn’t missed a beat. “Pasta” mirrors Brayden Point’s 19 goals, tying him with Point and Alexander Ovechkin for third-best in the NHL. Though Colby Cave is certainly no Bergeron, the dynamite duo of Pastrnak and Brad Marchand make the Bruins’ first line a very dangerous one. Tuukka Rask has struggled this season, but Jaroslav Halak has played well in relief. He leads the B’s with a 2.06 GAA.

Though Boston holds an impressive 14-8-4 record, they are fourth in the white-hot Atlantic Division, trailing the first-place Bolts by seven points.

Saturday, December 8th vs Colorado Avalanche, 7:00 pm

The second game of the home-stand will feature a Colorado Avalanche team that has gone 8-8 since losing 1-0 to the Lightning October 24. They’ve been much more consistent on the year as a whole, though, as they’ve been good enough for second in the Western Conference with a 15-6-5 record. Andrei Vasilevskiy was phenomenal in the teams’ first meeting. The Bolts haven’t played the Avalanche since Domingue took for the injured Vasilevskiy.

The Avs are second only to Tampa Bay in goals this season with a miraculous 97. Further still, Mikko Rantanen leads the NHL with a ridiculous 32 assists and 43 points in 26 games to start the season. Nathan MacKinnon has 18 goals himself to lead Colorado. The Avalanche would not be where they are today without the stellar work of Semyon Varlomov. He has earned his .927 save percentage, facing 262 shots over the first eight games of the year. However, he was able to hold down the fort until Colorado found their offensive stride, allowing only 13 goals.

Though they dropped their most recent game in overtime to the Blues, the Avs are playing some great hockey right now. They enter Sunday’s contest with the the Detroit Red Wings having won six of their last seven. Colorado will be playing on a day’s rest as well, after they take on the Florida Panthers Thursday night.

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