On The Road With Dave Mishkin
Tampa Bay Lightning
@ Pittsburgh Penguins
Greetings from Pittsburgh, where the Lightning conclude their four-game regular season series tonight against the Penguins. The road team has won each of the first three meetings – the Bolts blanked the Penguins at Mellon Arena, 3-0, on January 18.
Last night’s game in Buffalo for the Lightning probably felt like Groundhog Day. For the third time this year against the Sabres, the Lightning squandered a lead of at least two goals and lost. The Lightning’s third-period problems, which have been well-documented this year, again surfaced last night. The Sabres scored six times in the final frame and rallied from a 4-1 deficit.
While it’s true that last evening’s game was in some ways a microcosm for what ailed the Lightning this year. John Tortorella has plainly said that the Lightning’s third period situational play this year has been a big factor in putting the Bolts where they are in the standings. But as I wrote in yesterday’s blog, the Lightning have played good, defensive hockey for much of the last few weeks. In fact, Tortorella told the media yesterday morning that during the past 25 games, the Lightning had yielded an average of only 11 or 12 scoring chances a game.
So hopefully, Tampa Bay can rebound tonight against Pittsburgh. At the very least, I’m sure the Lightning players are glad that they can get right back on the ice in a building where they’ve played very well the past few years. The Lightning bring a seven-game winning streak at Mellon Arena into tonight’s game.
Of course, the Bolts will try to make it eight straight in Pittsburgh without Paul Ranger, who hurt his shoulder last night in the third period. The other defensemen, then, must pick up Ranger’s minutes against an explosive opponent. Even without Sidney Crosby, who is expected to miss tonight’s game because of recurring discomfort in his ankle, the Penguins are capable of putting up big offensive numbers. They’re coming off a 5-2 loss to the Rangers on Tuesday, but had posted seven goals in back-to-back games prior to the Rangers’ contest. Evgeni Malkin has 97 points, second-most in the league and Marian Hossa has three points in his first two games back from his knee injury. So it’s imperative that the Lightning utilize the style they displayed for most of the first two periods last night (and in recent weeks): a good forecheck, solid neutral zone play and extended puck possession shifts in the offensive zone.