Carolina Hurricanes (13-20-6) at Tampa Bay Lightning (17-16-3)
5:00 p.m., St. Pete Times Forum
TV: FS-Carolinas, Sun Sports
Assuming that realignment gets approved by the NHLPA, this will be the final year that the Canes and Bolts will be divisional "rivals" and will no longer have to play them six times a year. Part of me will miss that because I always look forward to our divisional tilts with the Lightning (although two out of the last three I'd like to forget) and it will feel weird not playing them as often. The realignment is going to have a bigger effect on the Bolts, though as they move to a "conference" that features Boston, Ottawa, Montreal, Buffalo, Toronto and....the Florida Panthers. It's basically a way for the NHL to sell tickets in the Florida teams because of all the snowbirds. I'll miss the Bolts as our Southeastern adversaries, though. When you play in the Southeast for so long you eventually get attached to the teams here, which is why the Thrashers moving also bummed me out.
Anyway, back to some real hockey talk now. If you've been reading my recaps, you'll remember that Justin Faulk and Jay Harrison are being used as the team's shutdown pair and, much to my suprise, they have been very successful. They had a rough outing against Evgeni Malkin and James Neal on Tuesday but they effectively neutralized Phil Kessel, Ilya Kovalchuk and Zach Parise in previous games. Brandon Sutter has also played a big role in this as the team's main defensive forward with Patrick Dwyer out of the lineup. I am not banking on this to sustain because neither have blown away their competition this year but if it does, then I won't be complaining. Tonight's going ot be another tough test for them as they have the duty of keeping Steven Stamkos off the score sheet. Challenge accepted? Let's hope so.
Lines, analysis & notes after the jump
Tlusty - Staal - Dalpe
Ponikarovsky - Jokinen - Ruutu
Bowman - Sutter - LaRose
Nodl - Brent - Stewart
Faulk - Harrison
Gleason - McBain
Allen - Spacek
Malone - Stamkos - Downie
St. Louis - Lecavalier - Purcell
Pyatt - Moore - Hall
Wyman - Jones - Tyrell
Brewer - Gilroy
Clark - Kubina
Bergeron - Gervais
What happened last time?
We have to go all the way back to Game 12 on November 1st to find the last meeting between these two teams and it was the game where Jeff Skinner scored these two great goals. It was a game where Carolina had one of their stronger second period performances of the year and they earned the 4-2 victory. You can see that they eased off the gas pedal in the third period and allowed Tampa to get back in it but they did not let the lead slip away.
This was nearly two months ago so you can bet that there are some roster changes and most of them are on Carolina's side and unfortunately, most of them are injuries. Tampa Bay is also pretty banged up right now too, though as their best defenseman, Victor Hedman will not be playing tonight and neither will depth forwards Nate Thompson or Ryan Shannon. The loss of Hedman is much more critical than the other two because if you remember the OZ Coke chart I made for the Lightning, it showed that he was their best defenseman and was taking a truckload of tough assignments. Now that he isn't available, Eric Brewer has split the heavy-lifting with the likes of Matt Gilroy, Brett Clark or Pavel Kubina, all of whom are inferior to Hedman. This could be ugly but the Lightning have won two straight despite his injury.
An intersting thing about the Lightning is how much they have fallen off this year. They were a great possession team last season and made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals. This year, they are only three points ahead of Carolina in the standings and are slightly worse when it comes to possession. That is something I did not see happening but I do recall some folks predicting it. Either way, their fall from grace this season has been an odd thing to watch and some people are quick to blame goaltender Dwayne Roloson for his poor play. While he has been awful, the Lightning being where they are is not completely his fault.The Fenwick chart I linked you to earlier shows that they are not playing good hockey this season.
- The Hurricanes have eight players that are shooting at the league average or above. Three of them are fourth liners and one of them is Zac Dalpe who has only six 5-on-5 shots all season. On the other end of the spectrum, Eric Staal is shooting at 4.4% at even strength...and that's including the goal he scored on Thursday night.
- I'm wondering just how useful this fourth line is because Stewart, Nodl and Brent are all getting killed territorially and have some of the highest PDOs on the team. It's either due to a high shooting percentage (Stewart, Brent) or a ridiculous high on-ice save percentage (Nodl). It's never good wen players who aren't putting up a lot of points are actually getting lucky and are stuck in their zone for the majority of the time.
- Carolina seems to have a favorable matchup here even without the benefit of the last change. A big reason why Staal's line played so well against New Jersey is because their D-corps is somewhat thin and lack a true shutdown tandem. With Hedman out, Tampa Bay is lacking one as well unless Matt Gilroy turns into Bobby Orr. Clark and Kubina have been brutal this year so getting them in their own zone could lead to great things, especially for the second line.
- Another thing concerning the last change is getting Faulk/Harrison out against Stamkos' line because Guy Boucher usually doesn't feed them glorious amounts of defensive zone starts. Those go to Lecvalier and Purcell instead, so we could see some interesting things with the zone starts here. This is also what makes Stamkos so dangerous. He is capable of putting up a ton of offense without the benefit of protection like some players get.
- Chad LaRose has 20 shots on goal in the last six games and has not scored a goal on any of them...I feel that streak is going to come to an end if he keeps getting the puck on net.
- Prediction for the first goal tonight: Chad LaRose because of what I just said in the earlier bullet.
Enjoy the game.