On The Road With Dave Mishkin
Tampa Bay Lightning
@ Philadelphia Flyers
Happy Valentine’s Day from Philadelphia, where the Lightning and Flyers play tonight at the Wachovia Center. It’s the third game in the four-game regular season series between the clubs and first of two in Philly. The teams have already split two games at the St. Pete Times Forum.
The Lightning, coming off a 3-2 home victory on Tuesday against Montreal, have picked up seven out of a possible eight points in their past four games. They’ve gotten points in seven consecutive road games (6-0-1) and are 7-3-1 in their past 11 overall contests. These improved results, especially those in the past four games, are the direct result of the Bolts successfully finding their team identity. They’re playing a simple game and, in doing so, possessing the puck for long stretches of time. In his meeting with the media yesterday, John Tortorella again praised the work of his third and fourth lines (the latter has featured several different players) in that regard. Specifically, the Craig MacDonald-Chris Gratton-Nick Tarnasky line continues to excel. Early in the second period on Tuesday, that line put together an excellent shift that helped the Lightning grab control of the game. Tampa Bay outshot the Canadiens, 27-12, in the final 40 minutes and, if not for Cristobal Huet, would have cruised to a more lopsided victory.
Of course, the Lightning’s star players are also producing. Vinny Lecavalier has a four-game scoring streak alive, Marty St. Louis has five points in those four games, Brad Richards has seven points in his past seven games and Vinny Prospal has six goals in his past seven.
Tortorella also stated that the club is really paying attention to the details of the game. He cited how the team played in the third period Tuesday – getting the puck in deep to the Montreal zone, forechecking effectively and generating 11 scoring chances on Huet in the final 20 minutes. That remark contrasts from his comments following last week’s win in St. Louis, when he criticized the Lightning’s lack of attention to detail. It’s the way the Lightning need to play each and every night, including tonight against the Flyers.
Philadelphia was 14-3-1 from Christmas to the All-Star Break and moved into first place in the Atlantic Division. However, the Flyers currently are in the midst of a four-game losing streak and have dropped into sixth in the Conference. The Philadelphia Daily News reported that the Flyers are “playing soft and turning pucks over at the worst times”. Whether that assessment is an exaggeration might depend on the eye of the beholder, but based on the comments from the Philadelphia players, it’s clear that the team is not playing as crisply or with as much desperation as it did prior to the All-Star Break.
A good start, then, is an important key for the Lightning tonight. The Flyers have been falling behind in games during their losing streak, so an early Tampa Bay goal could help the Lightning keep the Flyers down. Also, as was the case against Montreal, which owns the top power play in the league, the Lightning must avoid taking bad penalties tonight. The Flyers rank second in power-play percentage and have enjoyed the fourth-most power-play opportunities in the league. And finally, as stated earlier, the Lightning must continue playing with the same energy and attention to detail they’ve displayed in recent contests.