ON THE ROAD WITH DAVE MISHKIN - LIGHTNING @ BRUINS
|Tampa Bay Lightning @ Boston Bruins
During the past three days, John Tortorella has put his troops through intense on-ice practice and detailed video sessions in hopes of addressing and correcting some of the mistakes that plagued the Lightning in their 6-4 loss against the Panthers last Saturday. Specifically, Torts indicated that his team didn’t play physically enough, suffered numerous breakdowns and struggled with discipline (the Bolts were whistled for nine separate minor penalties and surrendered three power-play goals).
Regardless of the opposition, the Lightning will always need to play a physical game (or, as Torts says, with “jam”), limit opposition chances and stay out of the penalty box. The fact that tonight’s opponent is the Boston Bruins, who are playing their home opener after a successful 3-2-0 road trip to open the season, places even more emphasis on those areas.
The Bruins, who have missed the playoffs in each of the past two seasons, have a new head coach – Claude Julien, the erstwhile Montreal and New Jersey bench boss, has implemented a solid defensive system for Boston. The Bruins, who held the opposition to two goals or less in three of the five games on the trip, are playing a “box and one” – two defensemen and two forwards form a box around the slot area while the other forward acts as a rover. The objectives of this defensive zone coverage are to keep pucks to the outside (along the boards) and to block a lot of shots. So aside from the aforementioned keys, the Lightning players tonight must find a way to get their shots through to the net. Getting traffic in front will help in that regard, so that even if an initial shot is blocked, the rebound may fall onto a Lightning stick in a good scoring area. Another key for the Bolts will be quick puck movement in the offensive zone, which could open up some shooting lanes. Also, when the Lightning forwards possess the puck deep in the opposition’s end – a staple of Tampa Bay’s game – Bruin defenders could get worn down over the course of a long shift and potentially fall out of position.
Avoiding penalties box is especially important against the Bruins, who are tops in the NHL with a 28.6 percent conversion rate. Leading the way for Boston is center Marc Savard, who has picked up five power-play points (and seven overall points) in four games. Savard hurt Tampa Bay in last year’s season series, posting nine points in four games, including a five point effort in a 6-5 overtime win against the Lightning on November 4. A dual objective for the Lightning, then, is to minimize the number of power-play opportunities for the Bruins and, in doing so, to keep dangerous players like Savard, Patrice Bergeron, Phil Kessel and sniper Glen Murray from doing damage during man-advantage situations.
Boston’s best defenseman is, of course, Zdeno Chara, who will likely be out on the ice every time Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis and Vinny Prospal take a shift. It will be important tonight not only for those three players to create chances against the imposing Chara, but also for Brad Richards, Michel Ouellet and Jan Hlavac to wreak havoc on Boston’s other defensemen.
Lastly, goaltending will be a key, as it always is. The Bruins acquired former Minnesota netminder Manny Fernandez during the offseason, but so far this year, Tim Thomas has put up better numbers. Thomas owns a league-leading 1.34 goals against-average. If Johan Holmqvist can recapture the form he displayed in each of the first three games, the Lightning will be poised to pick up a road win tonight.
Tampa Bay will make one lineup change tonight. Doug Janik is back in the lineup, replacing Matt Smaby.