With the trade deadline only weeks away, and the stretch run in full swing, it’s time to make some predictions. The Lightning have an off day, so today’s blog will give a brief synopsis of the month’s remaining games. Should anyone put money down on these predictions? With my track record, absolutely not. That said, with all the talk about taking things ‘one game at a time’, it could be a little bit of fun to look at the big picture here.
Please comment and let me know what your predicted record for February’s remaining games is. Does it give the Lightning enough points to remain competitive heading into March and beyond? Of course, this is all just for laughs, but I will be doing another blog like this at the start of March in order to see where I think the Bolts could end up.
Game 52: Tampa Bay Lightning def. Los Angeles Kings (4-2)
The Los Angeles Kings are a very enigmatic team, to be polite. For a team with so much top end talent and great, young pieces, they can’t seem to figure out how to put it all together. Since Darryl Sutter took over as head coach from Terry Murray, the Kings have had even more trouble scoring goals. It seems weird that defense is the bread-and-butter of a team that boasts names like Doughty, Kopitar, Richards, Gagne etc… Why will the Bolts win this one? They’ll win it because they can score. The Lightning offense is incredibly hot right now and I look for that to continue into the next game.
Game 53: New York Rangers def. Tampa Bay Lightning (4-1)
Unfortunately, the Bolts can win every game down the stretch (though it would be nice). Give the Rangers, and John Tortorella, a lot of credit; they know how to put up points. This team is one of the best in the East (the best in my opinion). They can hit, score, defend and all of that is backed up by one of the best goaltenders in the game. Heading to MSG is never easy and game 53 will be no different.
Game 54: Tampa Bay Lightning def. Buffalo Sabres (3-1)
What a mess the Sabres have been this season. Hopefully somebody sent a memo to Mr. Terry Pegula indicating that it is impossible to buy success in the National Hockey League. Ryan Miller has looked average, the defense is weak and the offense doesn’t seem to know how to click consistently. The Bolts shouldn’t have any problems dealing with the Sabres; this is especially so when you consider that the Lightning are battling with the Sabres for position in the standings.
Game 55: Pittsburgh Penguins def. Tampa Bay Lightning (5-3)
The Penguins are officially hot. With a record of 9-1-0 in their last ten, without Sidney Crosby, it’s pretty safe to assume that the Pens will be able to deal with whatever the Lightning throw at them. The Penguins are tough to beat at the best of times and you know they’ll be ready to go as they battle for top spot in the Eastern Conference. Imagine this group when Sidney Crosby comes back; they’ll be absolutely unstoppable.
Game 56: Tampa Bay Lightning def. Ottawa Senators (5-4 OT)
The Ottawa Senators boast one of the best coaches in the game (Paul MacLean), one of the best D-men in the game (Erik Karlsson) and, in my opinion, the best captain in the game (Daniel Alfredsson). So, why will the Lightning beat the Senators? It’s hard to be convinced by their defense and goaltending. This is a team that scores its way out of trouble. Despite the Lightning’s goaltending issues, this is still a very winnable game. Craig Anderson isn’t the goalie he was during his early Colorado days and the defense of the Sens, aside from Karlsson, just isn’t that strong. Also, this will be the Bolts’ first game back at the Tampa Bay Times Forum after the three game trip; they’ll be ready to go in front of the home town crowd.
Game 57: San Jose Sharks def. Tampa Bay Lightning (3-2 SO)
The Sharks are kind of the Florida Panthers of the West; if it weren’t for the ridiculous division/standings rule, they wouldn’t be near as highly ranked as they are right now. Despite that, the Sharks still play a very tough, physical brand of hockey that will be a lot to deal with for the Lightning D core. Offensively, the talent level is a wash. Defensively, the Sharks probably hold the upper hand. In goal, I’m still not totally convinced by Antti Niemi. Throughout his career he’s had a habit of giving up juicy rebounds and Grade-A scoring chances to the opposition. The Lightning should be able to pot one or two past him because of this. Look for this one to be a tight game.
Game 58: Tampa Bay Lightning def. Washington Capital (4-3)
4-3 seems to be the score of choice when these two teams meet up. Unfortunately for the Caps, it’s the Lightning who will get 4 in this tilt. Over the past few weeks, the Lightning haven’t had any problems getting up for divisional games. With these two teams battling for position, don’t be surprised to see the Lightning come out hard. Personally, I just don’t see the try, want or desire in the Caps like I do with the Bolts. That’s what is going to tilt the scale in favor of the Bolts in this one.
Game 59: Tampa Bay Lightning def. Anaheim Ducks (4-1)
How on earth does a team with Getzlaf, Perry and Ryan end up near the bottom of the standings? This game will take place just a couple of days before the trade deadline and there is sure to be a little bit of nervousness for anyone in a Ducks jersey. The thoughts of trades, roster moves and a general shake-up will certainly creep into the minds of the Duck players. That should give the motivated Lightning a huge mental advantage.
Game 60: Tampa Bay Lightning def. Winnipeg Jets (3-2 OT)
Angered by their loss of a point in the two teams’ previous meeting, the Lightning will look to get it back on February 23rd in Winnipeg. These two teams will surely play a tight game with some end to end chances. To me, this is a huge swing game for the Lightning. Beat the Jets, and things start to look brighter; lose to the Jets and the season is all but over. These divisional contests are so important.
Game 61: Pittsburgh Penguins def. Tampa Bay Lightning (4-2)
Once again, the Penguins will show their will and firepower against the overmatched Bolts. It’s tough, as a fan, to write the team off in this one but there’s no way I see the Bolts beating the Pens in this tilt. After obtaining points in 5 straight games, the Lightning will be due for a bit of a letdown. It’s better to have that game against a team that is untouchable than one that the Bolts are battling for position with.
Game 62: New Jersey Devils def. Tampa Bay Lightning (4-3 OT)
The New Jersey Devils are such an interesting team to watch these days. At times, they play that defensive style that they made popular so many years ago, but then you’ll see Peter DeBoer throw out one of the most deadly offensive units in the game. Ilya Kovalchuk looks like an absolute beast right now and you can bet that he is incredibly hungry for some playoff hockey. He is arguably the best player in the game right now, and not just because of his offensive totals. Despite all those positives for the Devils, the Bolts will be able to push this one to OT for one very good reason, goaltending. It’s not often that I am able to give the Lightning the upper hand in this category, but Marty Brodeur and Johan Hedberg are getting older and they are both sure to fade down the stretch.
Game 63: Tampa Bay Lightning def. Montreal Canadiens (5-2)
At some point, the Montreal Canadiens organization is going to have to undergo some massive changes. Pierre Gauthier is essentially running the entire organization into the ground. There is a massive group of issues plaguing the Montreal Canadiens at any given time and you can bet that will be the case when the Bolts face them to close out the month of February. This game will take place on the day following the trade deadline, so the Montreal Canadiens will probably have a very different look. This game is ripe for the picking and the two points are just sitting there waiting for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
In the games I’ve predicted, the Bolts have a 7-3-2 record. That’s not too far off the pace they have set for themselves recently. Is it doable for the rest of the month? The answer is a resounding yes. This team has the talent, drive and heart to make a decent run at a playoff berth; 7-3-2 is a good start. That would give the Lightning 67 points heading into March with 19 games remaining. With that 92 point total prediction in mind, the Lightning would need 25 points in 19 games. Dare I say that it sounds more than possible?
Trade Proposal of the Day
To Los Angeles:
2012 Second Round Draft Pick
To Tampa Bay:
2012 Second Round Draft Pick
Thanks for reading this blog! I’ll be back tomorrow with my game preview for the Kings tilt. It should be a very interesting one between two teams that I follow with great passion. Enjoy your Sunday, folks.
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