Don't look for me - I'll be hiding
Another interesting night for yours truly coming up, as I'll attend my first Isles/Lightning game since taking over the <a href="http://www.hockeybuzz.com..._id=90">Lightning
team blogger</a> position for hockeybuzz.com. (I'll be safely tucked away in a luxury suite, borrowing one of Ek's disguises, hiding my face for a plethora of reasons. I'm a pseudo-professional, people. Gotta maintain my cover ...)
Tampa has been a real Jekyll and Hyde team this year (or Hekyll and Jekyll, if you ask Butchie, of course.) They've been consistently streaky all season and have been day and night between home and on the road. (I've been joking lately that the St. Pete Times Forum should be renamed The Neverlose Forum
, of course playing off the old Fort Neverlose
moniker for the Coliseum.) Despite their struggles, they've managed to stay a respectable 5 points behind Southeast-leading Carolina, though the Hurricanes too have been less than stellar lately.
Scoring early against the Bolts is key. Johan Holmqvist has been outstanding in goal at times this season. If rattled, though, he can be about as bad as Tampa's goaltending is always advertised. (Marc Denis is just atrocious
but the Isles won't get any breaks this weekend. Holmqvist will man the net Saturday night, surely, barring unforeseen circumstances.) If Holmqvist makes some early key saves, his confidence soars and he can be damn near unbeatable. If the Islanders can get an early lead, however, they have an excellent chance of winning the game. If they can manage to get up by a couple, it's entirely possible to knock Holmer off his game, as he tends to be shaken easily. (And then, if that happens, look out for "Captain Hook" John Tortorella, his penchant for yanking goaltenders perhaps unmatched league wide.) The blowout could then quite possibly commence. (Of course, the Isles would be thrilled with a 1-0 OT win at this point, right?)
Obviously, the "Big Three" still make the Lightning click. Vinny Lecavalier is leading the league with 44 points, Islander arch nemesis Marty St. Louis is tied for 7th in the scoring race with 36 and Brad Richards has 26 points of his own. A nice surprise for the Lightning this year has been the play of Vinny Prospal, whose 27 points in 28 games has him back to just about the point-per-game pace the team was used to before last season's disappointing 55-point campaign. Prospal has benefited from playing much of the season with Lecavalier, not to take anything away from his effort, naturally.
Scoring depth has been a bit of a problem for Tampa after that, though, as the next forward on the list is Michel Ouellet with just 15 points thus far. (Ouellet has fallen slightly out of favor with Tortorella lately, though that's really not all that difficult a task.)
The Isles would kill
for an offensive outburst, though I'm still not sold that we didn't get just their version of that in Wednesday night's game in Atlanta, with their whopping total of three goals and all. If they can rattle the Lightning defense, a patchwork crew without Dan Boyle that has been surprisingly effective at times this year while showing their inexperience at times as well, the offense could actually come alive in Tampa. The Lightning have given up four or more goals in 12 of their 28 games so far this season.
The Bolts have won three straight in their latest upswing (after dropping six in a row for the second time this season) and, as you well know, the Islanders have lost four in a row and seven of nine recently.
Should be an interesting one, for certain.
Of course, first up is tonight's game in Sunrise against the Panthers. I'll be resting my body and mind for tomorrow night, taking in this evening's contest from the comfort of my living room. (Never have made that Sunrise trip, now that I think about it. Maybe in March ...
) The Cats have been nearly as streaky as their cross-state rivals, losers of their last three games after winning four in a row. Prior to their latest winning streak, Florida had dropped six of their previous eight matchups.
Back-to-back games means a possible Dubie sighting, no? (Not exactly crossing my fingers for that to happen, given his numbers thus far this year - 1-2, 4.72, .846)
Enjoy, all! I sure will!