Despite being all but out of the playoff race (barring a miracle), the Tampa Bay Lightning need a victory against the Edmonton Oilers on Thursday night. Unless this team wants to absolutely tank the rest of the season, which is unlikely based on the culture Yzerman and Boucher have created, a victory is imperative for confidence and getting back on the right track. Let’s be honest here, it doesn’t get much easier than the Edmonton Oilers. The Oilers have a weak defense, shaky goaltending and a small offensive line. If the Bolts play well, they shouldn’t have a problem in this game. Let’s take a look at some pre-game notes and, as always, Mike’s Three Keys to the Game.
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* With one more goal, Steven Stamkos will tie a career high of 51. It’s remarkable how he has been able to score so consistently this season despite the team’s enigmatic play. Going up against the D-weak Oilers shouldn’t be a problem for #91. This is a great opportunity for him to tie, and possible set a career high. You can bet that Marty St. Louis will be feeding him the puck all night long in an attempt to get him there.
* Dustin Tokarski has been reassigned to the Norfolk Admirals meaning that Dwayne Roloson will be getting the start against his former Oilers. If the rest of the team can play well, Dwayne Roloson shouldn’t have a lot of problems in this one. He knows some of the guys on the Oilers’ roster from his time in Edmonton and he’ll be mentally prepared. Hopefully he can string together a couple good performances down the stretch.
* Speaking of Tokarski. While the team didn’t play that well in front of him, Tokarski’s short stint with the big club re-affirmed my belief that he is not the savior that this team is looking for in net. In a few years, he could be a good goalie in the NHL, but until then he really needs to work on his consistency. In time, with hard work, it should all come together for the young netminder. Hopefully he can go back to Norfolk and help them continue the magical ride they are on right now (18 in a row…)
* The line-up is riddled with injuries right now. I’d be interesting to look up the statistics and find out if any team has lost more man games to injury than the Tampa Bay Lightning. Vinny and Ohlund have been gone for a while but now it’s Garon, Thompson, Hall and Shannon too. Things just didn’t want to go the Lightning’s way this year. Hopefully the guys can come back healthy and rested next year as the Bolts make a push for the playoffs. It’s going to be mighty exciting to follow this team through the draft, and free agency.
Mike’s Three Keys to the Game
1) Push Around the Small Oiler Forwards
If there’s one thing that this Lightning team has going for it right now, it’s size on the blue line. Keith Aulie, Brian Lee, Victor Hedman, Eric Brewer and Mike Commodore (who most likely will not play) are all huge guys. With the Edmonton Oilers boasting guys like Hemsky, Eberle and Nugent-Hopkins (Taylor Hall out with concussion), the Bolts should have a great opportunity to dictate the physical style of this game. Pound the Oiler forwards, take the puck and move it up ice. It’s a pretty simple game plan for Guy Boucher to draw up.
2) Test the Oilers Goaltending
Unless Tom Renney decides to give the Khabibulin the start for sentimental reasons, there isn’t a reason to think that Dubnyk won’t be starting. Out of the two, he is far superior. That said, he still has been known to give up the odd softie once in a while. If the Bolts can test him early, and often, they should have a great chance to win. The Western Conference may have some great players, and more complete players than the Eastern Conference, but nobody matches Steven Stamkos when it comes to sniping goals. Dubnyk best be prepared!
3) Use the Home Crowd
There are only ten games left in the season; the Bolts need to give this home town crowd something to cheer about. Losers of three straight, the Bolts know that a win is both important for them, and the fans. We’ve supported this team all season long and it would be really nice to go out on a high note this year after all the trials and tribulations. With the home town crowd on their side, the Bolts should have great energy and jump coming out of the gate.
Well folks, there you have it, the game preview for Thursday’s tilt against the Edmonton Oilers. It should be a fast-paced, hard-checking game full of offensive chances and lots of goals. If you’re heading to the Tampa Bay Times Forum for this one, you won’t be disappointed.
Thanks for reading!
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