While the Philadelphia Eagles’ self-proclaimed “dream team” nickname still raises debate about its validity among other teams in the National Football League, a more appropriate description of its NHL brethren might be characterized as more like an opponent’s worst nightmare.
At least that was what Tampa Bay Lightning head coach Guy Boucher alluded to following Tuesday’s practice in Brandon.
“They have a lot of depth on all lines and they are loaded with skill,” Boucher said of the Flyers. “They’re one of the best teams one-on-one in the league and if they expose you, they’re going to make you look pretty bad.”
The Lightning and Flyers face off in the first of four meetings on Wednesday at the St. Pete Times Forum, in which all signs indicate, will be a tough test for Tampa Bay despite its current four-game home winning streak.
While both clubs come in with their own respective hot streaks – the Lightning have won six of their past eight games, while the Flyers have won three of their past four – Wednesday’s matchup is somewhat paradoxical.
Tampa Bay owns a 4-1-0 record at home this season, but Philadelphia has been equal to the task while on the road, displaying the same 4-1-0 mark in games played outside the confines of the Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers also lead the NHL in total goals scored this season, lighting the lamp 56 times, while the Lightning rank five from the bottom in the number of goals they’ve allowed this season.
To make matters even more daunting, already without Mattias Ohlund
, the Lightning also have Victor Hedman
banged up with an upper body injury, listed as day-to-day.
“Missing those top guys,” Boucher added, “demands a perfect focus.”
It is not as if the Lightning aren’t up to the challenge.
Twice this season Tampa Bay has snapped a pair of opponents’ three-game win streaks, and has also come back from at least two goals in each of its past two games, both of which were wins. If Tampa Bay wants to continue its current run of success, a strong defensive effort from the entire team, defenseman Brett Clark says, must be in order.
“We have to have a five-man group out there,” Clark said. “We really have to limit their time and space. It’s a big challenge, so everybody has to come together and step up. If we do that, good things can happen.”
Tampa Bay and Philadelphia met last season in a wild, high-scoring affair that saw the teams combine for 15 goals on the night, as well as an 8-7 Lightning victory. And while much of Philadelphia’s on-ice personnel changed over the summer with the losses of captain Mike Richards and former 40-goal scorer Jeff Carter, the potent scoring prowess has sustained itself even early on.
Philadelphia has scored eight or more goals in two of its past five games. Jaromir Jagr, who made his return back to the NHL from Europe this summer, comes in riding a seven-game point streak with 11 points in that span. Claude Giroux has nine points over his past five outings.
“If you try to forecheck Giroux and you’re alone, you’re in trouble,” Boucher said. “Even if you’re the best defenseman on the team, you’re still in trouble.”
Boucher added the most key element to shutting down Philadelphia is eliminating one-on-one matchups and stressed the need to play a tighter defensive game as an entire unit. Closing the gaps in the neutral zone, which proved successful against Chicago on Friday, is another practice Boucher hopes his team will utilize with equal success.
“We can do it,” Boucher added. “We’ve done it before, so it’s just a matter of becoming more consistent at it.”