ON THE ROAD WITH DAVE MISHKIN
|Tampa Bay Lightning @ Atlanta Thrashers
In examining the Lightning’s last four games, it’s not hard to distinguish the differences between their one win and three losses. During their defeats against Toronto, Calgary and Washington, the Lightning misfired on one or more of the following components of their game: solid defensive play, special teams, generation of offensive scoring chances and consistent goaltending. The team has not been deficient, necessarily, in all of those categories in all three games; certainly, the offense and power play were clicking in the 9-6 loss to Calgary, then against the Caps, the goaltending and penalty kill (which yielded the winning goal but was superb during both a five-on-three in the first period and a four-minute kill in the second) could not be faulted in the 3-2 loss. Conversely, in their one win last week against Montreal, the Lightning did play well in all of those areas. Tampa Bay fore-checked effectively against Montreal and kept the Habs pinned back in their own end for much of the game. When the Canadiens did pressure - especially late in the third period after they tied the score - Marc Denis made critical saves. The Lightning did allow one power-play goal but also came up with a difficult four-on-three kill in overtime.
Tonight, then, the Lightning’s mindset has to be focused on playing a complete game. Not only finding a way to fire on all cylinders, but also managing to do it for a full 60 minutes, just as they did last Tuesday in Montreal. Tampa Bay will be taking on an Atlanta club also seeking consistency. The Thrashers enter tonight’s game looking to break a four-game losing streak.
So both the Lightning and Thrashers want a good start tonight. Struggling teams sometimes need good things to happen over the course of a game so that they can recapture their confidence and swagger. That’s why getting and playing with a lead is an important objective for both clubs.
This game will feature the league’s top scorer (Vinny Lecavalier has 51 points) and top goal scorer (Ilya Kovalchuk has 26 tallies) so each team will make it a priority to contain their opponent’s most dangerous player. In four games against the Thrashers this year, Lecavalier has nine points. Kovalchuk has four goals and two assists in Atlanta’s two victories against the Lightning.
In five-on-five play during their four-game losing streak, the Thrashers have been outscored, 19-4. There’s no guarantee that the Lightning will be able to outscore the Thrashers by a similar ratio during five-on-five play, but it will certainly help Tampa Bay if it can keep the Atlanta power play off the ice.