ON THE ROAD WITH DAVE MISHKIN
|Tampa Bay Lightning @ Dallas Stars
As referenced in this blog on Thursday, NHL teams like to use their last couple of preseason games to not only determine which players will ultimately start the regular season on the roster but also to allow potential linemates and defense partners to build chemistry. For the final preseason game, most teams dress a lineup close to, if not identical to, the one that will suit up for the regular season opener.
Unlike on Thursday, when the Lightning elected to keep Lecavalier, Richards, St. Louis and Ward out of the lineup, tonight the Bolts will utilize all four of those players. In fact, after assigning Karri Ramo and Justin Keller to Norfolk and putting Bryce Lampman, Mathieu Darche and Kyle Wanwig on waivers (with the intention of also sending them to the Admirals), the Lightning has only 23 players left on the active roster. Dan Boyle and Ryan Craig are sidelined with injuries, whittling the number to 21. Chris Gratton has not recovered enough from his corneal abrasion to play in the Dallas game. So tonight, the Lightning will dress 11 forwards and seven defensemen.
With the roster essentially set for the opener (Torts indicated that one more defenseman could be sent down before the regular season begins), the Lightning will use tonight’s game primarily to allow their regulars to gel in game action. The St. Louis-Lecavalier-Prospal line has played only one preseason game together (and while chemistry is not a concern with that line, giving them one more game as a unit before the regular season begins isn’t a bad thing!). Then there is the anticipated trio of Hlavac-Richards-Ouellet. Because of injuries to Hlavac and Ouellet, this group has not played together yet in a preseason game – they were a line during the training camp scrimmages, however. The Lightning would have liked to have seen a third line combination of Karlsson-Gratton-Ward, but obviously, that particular unit won’t play together tonight. Fortunately for the Bolts, the apparent fourth line of Roy-MacDonald-Tarnasky has been playing as a unit for three of the first four preseason games.
The Lightning will also look at defense pairings tonight. On Thursday, the coaches mixed and matched the eight defensemen who dressed against the Red Wings. With seven defensemen in the lineup tonight, the Bolts very well could again experiment with a variety of combinations in advance of next week’s opener against the Devils.
Then there’s still the question of which goalie earns the start on opening night. Both Denis and Holmqvist figure to see action tonight and their respective performances could go a long way in determining who will play against the Devils.
Naturally, in addition to these aforementioned objectives for tonight’s game, the Lightning will look for its players to continue to execute and perfect its team system. As well, the team wants to come out of this contest injury-free!
Tampa Bay will face a Dallas squad that has battled some preseason injuries of its own. Jere Lehtinen (shoulder), Antti Miettinen (tooth), Steve Ott (hand), Phillippe Boucher (knee), Niklas Grossman (shoulder) and Mike Ribeiro (ankle) won’t play. The players who do skate tonight for Dallas will hope to cut down on some of the mistakes that surfaced in the Stars’ preseason win over Phoenix on Thursday. In short, then, this game will feature two teams looking to get their games clicking on all cylinders in preparation for the start of the 2007-08 campaign.