Tomorrow’s game will feature the Flyers and the Tampa Bay Lightning… but this is not your father’s Tampa Bay Lightning.
Heck, this isn’t your Tampa Bay Lightning.
It wasn’t all that long ago that the Flyers tried to embarrass the Lightning on national television by stalling with the puck because the Lightning were sitting with all five players back in the neutral zone and weren’t pressuring the puck.
Asked if they play the same way now, or even close to the same way, Flyers coach Peter Laviolette wrapped it up succinctly:
“No,” he said. (Lavvy quote of the day!)
And he’s right. The Lightning have been a far different team than they were a year ago… and for good reason, they missed the playoffs last season.
After a surprise run to Game 7 of the 2011 Eastern Conference Finals using a defensive-oriented, trapping forecheck that suffocated teams, the Lightning were “figured out” by the opposition and have abandoned that style.
They are still a good defensive team, but instead they rely more on blocking shots and frustrating teams by not allowing them into good scoring areas and by taking away time and space with relentless pressuring of the puck.
Quite simply, the gameplan against Tampa is to outskate them and not take penalties, which will allow for their lethal power play to get on the ice.
The Lightning are scoring a league-best 4.88 goals per game and their power play is clicking at 36.1 percent, also tops in the NHL.
“Their power play is the key as a lot of their goals come from the power play, so you got to stay out of the box,” said Kimmo Timonen. “We have to play good defense against them, but we also have to stop putting pucks behind the net and score some goals because one-or-two goals is not going to be enough.”
Especially against Tampa, who have three players in the top 10 in the NHL in scoring in Steven Stamkos (7-9-16), Martin St. Louis (3-11-14) and rookie Cory Conacher (5-7-12).
Captain Vincent Lecavalier, (4-7-11) who is tied for 13th in the NHL in scoring, is questionable for the game against the Flyers. He did not practice Monday.
“They are different,” Laviolette said. “They’ve always been talented offensively and defensively. They’ve gotten off to a really good start.”
The trick for Laviolette is to find a way to beat the Lightning. He is 1-7-1 against Tampa since Guy Boucher took over as Lightning coach.
Part of the will be doing what they did well against Carolina - crashing the net. If there's a spot that isn't viewed as a strength for the Lightning it's in goal, where Anders Lindback, despite playing well so far, remains unproven.
If the Flyers can get traffic in front of him and harass him a bit, it could lead to more goals - which, as Timonen pointed out, is exactly what the Flyers need.
The Flyers will once again be without Wayne Simmonds Tuesday as general manager Paul Holmgren announced Simmonds still doesn’t feel well and is dealing with a concussion resulting from an illegal elbow to the face Friday in Washington.
Simmonds, who is also unlikely for Thursday’s game against Florida, will take another baseline test tomorrow to see where he’s at, but the Flyers are treating him on a day-by-day basis for now.
The lineup will remain the same as it was Saturday against Carolina personnel-wise, but if Monday’s practice was any indication, it will be slightly different as far as lines are concerned.
Tom Sestito moved up to the third line to play on the left wing with Brayden Schenn and Jake Voracek. That dropped Max Talbot to the fourth line, where he will center Zac Rinaldo and Ruslan Fedotenko.
Holmgren also updated two injured Phantoms defensemen who played a lot of games with the Flyers last season.
Erik Gustafsson has played four games since returning from a bone fracture in his ankle in early December, however, Holmgren said he’s not quite up to the speed necessary to play in the NHL.
He did say they are keeping a close eye on him though and that he was a real possibility to come up to the Flyers once he is fully healthy.
Meanwhile, Marc-Andre Bourdon, who has missed more than two months with post-concussion issues, skated for the first time on his own while visiting a specialist in Atlanta, but is still a bit away from a possible return to hockey.
Rob Zombie, the heavy metal rock icon from the band White Zombie who has since forged a career as a Holywood director and screenwriter, will be at the game Tuesday to do some background work on the possible adaptation of a movie based around the lives of the Broad Street Bullies.
Zombie will meet with the media prior to the game to discuss the project.
To contact Anthony SanFilippo email firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter @AnthonySan37