After a small trip down loser’s lane, the Lightning need to get back into the winner’s circle. Losers don’t make it too far in the National Hockey League these days. This season isn’t lost yet, despite a rather one-sided loss at the hands of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Currently, the Lightning sit in 12th place in the east. While it doesn’t sound pretty, take note of the fact that the Bolts do hold games in hand on most teams in the conference. To make up ground, those games HAVE to be wins. In this blog, I’ll have my game preview for the Ottawa Senators match-up and then my response to Eklund’s latest rumor blog (some interesting Lightning tidbits in there).
Lightning vs. Senators
This game is a really tough one to analyze from a pre-game perspective. On the Ottawa side of things, we have a team that has surpassed everyone’s expectations. Heck, I’m not even sure that MacLean or Murray thought that this was realistic. The Senators are playing good hockey and they should not be taken lightning. On the Lightning side of the ledger, we have a team that has failed to meet everyone’s expectations. Steve Yzerman came out and said that he was not surprised with where the Bolts are in the standings. That just sounds like an outright lie. This team was pegged as one of the better teams in the Eastern Conference and a lock for a playoff spot. Now, the Bolts find themselves in a fight just to stay above .500.
Ottawa Senators: 20-15-5 for 45 Points
Tampa Bay Lightning: 17-18-3 for 37 Points
There are five teams between the Bolts and Sens. What does that mean? It means that the bolts need to make up quite a few points to get into the playoff picture. With a record of 5-4-1 in the last ten, better than almost all teams that are battling for the last playoff spot, the Lightning are playing some decent hockey. Had it not been for the demoralizing Toronto loss, we would probably be feeling pretty good right now. It wasn’t so much that the Bolts lost the game; it was how they lost it. That said, on this stretch of 6 key games that I outlined a couple weeks back, the Bolts now have a record of 3-1-0. If they can keep that pace up for the rest of the season, they should make the playoffs. However, is that reasonable?
It’s probably best not to get too far ahead of myself here. The Lightning really need to take this one game at a time. So, we’ll take a look at the Senators.
The Ottawa Senators
A lot can be made of the nice little run that the Bolts have been on over the last week or so, but the Sens have been better. With a record of 7-2-1 in their last ten, the Sens are showing that this re-build is on the fast track. Arguably, the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators have pretty comparable rosters. Most would say that the Leafs are significantly better on paper. So what’s the difference between re-builds? The difference is personnel. Paul MacLean is quite possibly the best new coach the NHL has seen in quite a few years. Everything he has done with this Ottawa Senators group is phenomenal. He has nearly everyone playing with heart and determination. What more could a team possibly want out of its coach? The purpose of saying all this is to emphasize that this is not going to be an easy game. The Bolts will have to play hard, and fast to beat these Sens.
Being a Bolts fan, I do believe that we have a GREAT chance of winning this game. Some might disagree, but here are my reasons.
1)The Senators give up a lot of goals. They’ve given up the second most goals in the league meaning that should Steven Stamkos be on his game, we could see a really back and forth tilt. The Bolts will need to use speed through the neutral zone to penetrate the Sens defense. Other than Erik Karlsson, I don’t see a ton of mobility back there. It should bode well for the Bolts as long as Guy Boucher can get out of the match-up game that is sure to be played by Paul MacLean.
2)The Senators goaltending isn’t great. Somehow, despite Craig Anderson’s struggles in net, the Senators are in the playoff picture. I like Craig Anderson; we all know he can catch fire and be great. He just simply hasn’t done it in Ottawa. One thing I will say is that he does give the team a chance to win on a pretty regular basis. The question is: will he be able to go head to head with one of the best snipers in the game?
3)The Sens allow far more goals than they score (worst +/- in the playoff picture). As long as the Bolts can shut down Spezza and Alfredsson, they should have a good chance of winning the game. That said, we all know that the Bolts have had a great deal of trouble shutting down teams in recent memory. Kubina and Brewer are going to have to be ON for this group to have a shot.
The last note I want to make on the game pertains to goaltending. With news coming from Boucher that Roloson is going to be starting in Ottawa, the guys are going to have to be extra sharp in front of him. We’ve already established that Roloson is not the same guy that was here last year, but maybe, just maybe he can put in one solid game to give Garon the rest he needs. If Roloson is decent, and gives this team a shot to win, this Senators game should be a good one. That said, some fans are already counting this one as a guaranteed loss because of the Roloson factor. Let’s be honest, can we blame them?
I’m looking forward to a great, wide-open style game that should be entertaining for fans from both sides. I really respect the Ottawa Senators organization; this should be a good tilt.
Eklund’s Latest Rumor Blog
Does this name really surprise anyone? It shouldn't. Gleason’s name has long been linked to the Lightning through various media outlets, and my blogs. He would be a good player to come in and really shore up the defence. He has a cap hit of $2.75million which would be doable for the Lightning. What’s nice about Gleason is his versatility. He would fit into this roster without much hesitation on the coaching staff’s part. You can play him on the PP, PK, or at even strength. If Steve Yzerman can pull this one off, I’d be one happy guy.
Eklund’s reporting that the Montreal Canadiens may be holding out to the end of the season to see if they can talk to Guy Boucher. Ummmm….no? If this thing goes from rumor to real news, Steve Yzerman should file tampering charges. Guy Boucher is under contract to be the coach of the Tampa Bay Lightning. If that rumor is true, it’s absolutely ridiculous on the part of Pierre Gauthier and the Montreal Canadiens organization. We get it, you produce good coaches and proceed to lose them. That’s not our problem.
Despite Malone’s size, and decent offensive output, I believe that this is a contract Steve Yzerman would love to get rid of heading into free agency. Personally, I like Malone and what he brings to the ice. That said, does he fit into the long term plan down here? Probably not. Eklund’s saying that the Pittsburgh Penguins are the only team that Malone would be willing to waive his NTC to go to. It’s not really a surprise considering the history that’s there. I’m actually really intrigued to see where this rumor goes. The Penguins have a lot of heavy defensive contracts that haven’t really panned out for them. Would they be willing to trade big contract for big contract? Paul Martin and Zbnyek Michalek haven’t exactly worked out in Pittsburgh, but I would happily take either in a Lightning jersey.
Well there you have today’s blog! I hope you all enjoy the game tomorrow; I know I will. It’s a great time to be a hockey fan with the WJC taking place along with some great NHL action. Have a good afternoon and thanks for reading.
Follow me on Twitter for my latest blogs, Bolts news, and random hockey thoughts: @michaelstuart93