ON THE ROAD WITH DAVE MISHKIN
|Tampa Bay Lightning @ Montreal Canadiens
Heading into last night’s game at Toronto, the Lightning players all spoke of playing on the road the way they have performed at home. Their first objective was to have a good start against the Maple Leafs. In many of their road games this year, the Bolts have spotted the opposition an early lead and have been unable to get back into the contest.
The Lightning did play a solid first period last night, limiting the Maple Leafs to only seven shots and just a couple of scoring chances. But another problem that has plagued the Lightning this season on the road reared its ugly head in the second period – allowing goals in bunches. With just under eleven and a half minutes left in the period, Brad Richards sustained a left knee injury and left the game. Less than two minutes after that injury, Toronto’s Jason Blake broke the scoreless tie. During the next 4:32, the Maple Leafs added three more scores and effectively ended the contest.
Handling opposition momentum surges continues to be an issue for the Lightning and it’s one that the team will have to rectify tonight at the Bell Centre. The Canadiens are a team that feeds off the energy of their enthusiastic fans so if and/or when Montreal gets momentum this evening, the Lightning must find a way to reverse that flow. Perhaps a big save or one good shift in the offensive zone can quell an opposition surge – such plays will be a crucial tonight.
Despite the home ice advantage the Canadiens usually enjoy, Montreal enters tonight’s matchup having lost its last five games at the Bell Centre. That’s why getting the lead will be so important for both teams. That club will gain confidence from its good start. The other team, conversely, likely will have to fight the "here we go again" feeling.
Special teams play should be a key tonight. The Canadiens own the top-ranked power play in the league, clicking at a 24.1 percent clip, so the Lightning must avoid taking bad penalties. On the other side of the ledger, Tampa Bay will bank on its own power play having success against a Montreal penalty kill unit that is just 27th in the league and has yielded eight power play goals in 20 chances during the past five games.
Traditionally, Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis have played exceptionally well in their home province. Again tonight, the Lightning will look to their stars to help them break out of their road funk. Their ability to produce will be even more significant if Richards is unable to play. Tonight’s game is also a homecoming for Montreal native Mathieu Darche, who is an alumnus of McGill University (located just a few blocks from the Bell Centre) and goaltender Marc Denis, who will start for Tampa Bay.
Richards will be a game-time decision tonight (and if he can’t play, it would be first game NHL game missed due to injury in his career), but Montreal will not have goaltender Cristobal Huet, who is recovering from a groin injury. Rookie sensation Carey Price will get the start and while Price has performed quite well this year, he has dropped three of his last four starts. It will be a priority for the Lightning to put consistent pressure on the young netminder.