At this point in the season, with the Lightning in their current rut, it’s tough to put a value on the importance of a game. Are we chasing a playoff spot, or is this season completely done? As I’ve voiced to many of you before, the onus lies on management to come out and update a fan base that is so curious. All Steve Yzerman has to do is come out and tell us that he isn’t planning to make the playoffs. While it isn’t the greatest outcome (having no Lightning hockey to watch in the spring was something I got far too used to after the cup), I would be content.
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Up tomorrow (I suppose it’s actually tonight at this point), the Lightning will entertain the Carolina Hurricanes at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. This is the second of two games on this little home stand, and definitely the more winnable. After losing to the Vancouver Canucks despite a strong showing, the Lightning will look for two points to make it three of a possible four. So far this season, the Lightning have had a fair amount of success against the ‘Canes, winning two of three games so far. Last time these two teams met, the Bolts ended up winning 5-2. If that is any indication of what we should expect, this could be a night full of offensive power.
Tampa Bay Lightning: 17-20-4 for 38 Points
Carolina Hurricanes: 14-23-7 for 35 Points
Divisional games are always big but, as you can see above, this one is especially important. The Lightning are only three points up on their division rival, ‘Canes, and there is no way that our guys can allow that gap to shrink to a single point. Imagine, in a couple of days we could very well see the Bolts in last in the Southeast Division. There isn’t a person in hockey who expected that at the beginning of the season. That said, I’m getting a little ahead of myself here. The Lightning have games in hand, and a three point advantage. It’s not the most comfortable position to be in, but it will have to do.
The one saving grace the Lightning may get in this one is the Hurricanes’ dismal road record. Carolina only has four road wins this season which makes them last in the East for that category. Combine that with the Lightning’s strong play on home ice and we have a recipe for success. Of course, it’s typically this sort of game that leads to a letdown. Often teams will just come out flat against opponents that ‘should’ be beatable. With the position the Bolts currently hold in the standings, that sort of effort just can’t happen. Guy Boucher needs to motivate each and every single guy to go out there and play like every shift is his last. That’s the key to getting back into the playoff race. Sure, this team has lots of issues. Our defense is weak, our goaltending is weaker and we lack offensive depth. That said, each and every season you see a team that lacks talent but makes up for it in drive make the post-season. That’s the kind of storybook run this team needs to go on, starting now.
One guy to watch out for in tonight’s tilt is Steven Stamkos. I don’t typically do player profiles in my game previews, but this one is too important to ignore. On the season, Stammer has 17 goals through 17 home games. Those totals are stupidly impressive. Combine that with his hattrick the last time the Bolts played the ‘Canes and this could be a pretty big night for #91. Despite not having great career numbers against the aforementioned Hurricanes, I’m looking at Stamkos to have a HUGE night in the offensive categories. Really and truly, he is the leader of this team. He may not be the emotional leader, or the locker-room leader, but he is THE guy for this team. If he’s playing well and dominating, typically the team follows. Remember the days when Vinny used to be that exact guy? He would take over games and just will the team to victory. Now, it’s the Stammer show.
Dan Rosen, at NHL.com, published an article outlining ’12 Stories to Watch in the Second Half’. One of said stories was Stammer’s drive to 50 goals. To me, that’s not even a story. He is going to get 50 (barring health issues). The real story will be his drive to 60. Each and every day he just gets better and better. How many guys can say they’ve been on a streak of 13 goals in 12 games in this new NHL? 50 in 50? A guy can dream.
Considering his prowess for scoring goals at the Tampa Bay Times Forum, Stamkos has got to like the second half schedule that the Bolts have. With 25 home games, he should have every opportunity to play against weaker defensemen at key points in games. Fans, we could be in for a real treat. Even if the team fails to make the playoffs, at least we have the most exciting player in the game right here in our backyard. For a superstar, he doesn’t get enough publicity around the league.
Now, onto the second part of this blog. The Fourth Period has posted their version of Ek’s rumor chart for this year’s trade deadline. Due to the inclusion of a number of players whom they claim the Bolts have shown interest in, I thought I’d analyze each case.
With a cap hit of $5.6million, ‘Lubo’ isn’t a cheap asset to acquire. That said, Anaheim GM Bob Murray indicated that no player on his roster was untouchable except Selanne and Koivu. What would it take to acquire Visnovsky? He’s arguably one of the most underrated D-men in the game. He puts up big point totals, he moves the puck well and he’s not terrible defensively. He would be a big ticket item to put on our D core at the deadline, but with another year on his contract it could be worth it.
Harding is in the final year of a deal that is paying him 750K. While that sounds all fine and dandy, he is scheduled to become a UFA this summer. He will be in for a HUGE payday. Despite not getting the press, Harding is one of the great goaltenders in the game under the age of 30. At 27, he still has a lot of good years ahead of him. If the Lightning can’t go out and get a really young guy like Bernier or Schneider, I think Harding would be a great option to move forward with.
At 36, Gill’s best days are behind him. That said, he would be a welcome addition to quite a few D cores around the league. He isn’t the best skater, but he’s a heart and soul guy who can come in and really help a weak defense. If I were Steve Yzerman, I’d look at bringing Gill in only if the playoffs are still the goal. It would be unfair to the guy if he were just here to sit through a few months of mediocrity. That said, if the Lightning are in the right situation, Gill could be a really nice piece to add.
Thanks, but no thanks! Evgeni Nabokov is exactly what this team doesn’t need right now. There is a potential situation that could arise where we could need a guy like him, but not right now. He is exactly what Roloson was for us last season, an older guy who can come in and play the playoffs for us. Right now, the Lightning aren’t even in the same time zone as the 8th playoff spot. That said, if we get back into the race, Nabokov could fit until the summer. We still need to get younger in net.
Well there you have my little rumor round-up and my pre-game report. Thanks for reading and enjoy your Thursday! Let’s hope for a Bolts win.
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