After playing seven of their first 11 games on the road, Carolina returns to RBC Center for a three game homestand starting with a rematch of their season opener against the Tampa Bay Lightning. I'm sure most fans remember what happened that game so I won't need to refresh your memory on that. It's best we forget about that disaster anyway. What I can tell you is that Carolina has been playing well at home this year. A 2-1-1 record isn't going to set the world on fire but the only games Carolina outshot their opponent were their four home games and that was a big factor in them earning points in 3/4 of those games. I know a lot of it has to do with Paul Maurice getting the final change and being able to match lines (more on that later) but the Canes using home ice advantage like this can go a long way over the season. These next three games will be very interesting and it's important that Carolina at least earns points in all of them.
Analysis, lines and more after the jump
Tlusty - Staal - LaRose
Skinner - Jokinen - Ruutu
Ponikarovsky - Sutter - Dwyer
Stewart - Brent - Boychuk
Gleason - Allen
Pitkanen - McBain
Harrison - Kaberle
Malone - Stamkos - Purcell
Connolly - Lecavalier - St. Louis
Shannon - Moore - Downie
Pyatt - Thompson - Hall
Hedman - Brewer
Bergeron - Kubina
Clark - Gilroy
Getting to know the Lightning
Tampa Bay has been a team with bad goaltending for years now. Their goalies since the lockouts have posted an accumulative save percentage of .909 and Dwayne Roloson might be their best goalie during that period. Even at his age, Roloson has been very consistent and can put up at least league average numbers in net for any team but he's gotten off to a rough start this year. Thankfully for the Bolts, Mathieu Garon has played well in relief duty and could see himself be in a 1 A/B with Roloson this year, which is very solid. I'm not a huge fan of Garon but he is capable of playing at least 35 games and putting up decent numbers. He's playing a tad over his head right now but he should remain serviceable for the rest of the year.
As for the rest of the Lightning, their lineup has changed a bit since the last time we saw them. Purcell has apparently been promoted to the first line in St. Louis' place due to him blowing away his competition at even strength. Him and Stamkos have been pretty dangerous lately. Rookie Brett Connolly has been promoted to the second line and is staying on the team for the rest of the year despite some pretty underwhelming numbers. Maybe they've seen something special in him that I haven't yet? I know I told you to forget about the first game earlier in the post but one thing I want you to remember is how badly Carolina got to Tampa Bay's third line. It may not be as easy this time with Downie there but I'd like to see Carolina put another crooked number on their alleged defensive line.
Hedman and Brewer would probably laugh at the tough assignments that have been doled out to Allen and Gleason because those two have seen even tougher competition if you can believe it. Less than 30% of their shifts have started in the offensive zone. What's unbelievable is Hedman is somehow blowing away his competition in Corsi despite that. Maybe this is the year he begins to be recognized as one of the top defensemen in the league? The team is shooting 12.75% with him on the ice but he's certainly not getting any help in terms of save percentage. Also, Marc-Andre Bergeron leads the team in points. What.
- Part of me is hoping the Brewer/Hedman pairing gets assigned the second line because they've been scoring a lot more frequently than Staal's line has, and that could lead to a potential breakout game for them. Tampa Bay's defense outside of their top pairing is very suspect in their own zone and this could be an opportunity take advantage of that unlike last game. At least they don't have MAB and Gilroy on the same pairing anymore.
- Jiri Tlusty's ended up creating 4 chance when he made his season debut on the first line and I'm curious to see what he does in this game. It seems that none of the combinations Carolina tries for the first line works but Tlusty's been putting up chances and goals in third line minutes. No reason not to give him a shot.
- Ryan Shannon's been the opposite of Sean Bergenheim for Tampa Bay. He is getting destroyed with the tough assignments he plays unlike Bergenheim who always seemed to be driving the play or getting the puck in the right direction.
- Allen and Gleason are facing what could be their toughest test with the Stamkos line but it looks slightly less scary with Purcell up there instead of St. Louis.
- Hopefully Carolina establishes an early lead and doesn't fall into the dreaded 1-3-1 of Guy Boucher.
- Jussi Jokinen has been on ice for 14 chances in the last three games alone. I feel and offensive breakout is going to come sooner or later.
- Speaking of offensive breakouts, Kaberle is due to get some points. He's helping create too many chances not to do so and the team is going to shoot at 5% for the rest of the year if he keeps playing like this.
Enjoy the game, folks.