Tampa Bay Lightning @ New York Rangers
The Lightning are 5-0-1 through six home games this year, but 0-3-0 on the road. While each game has its own individual storyline, there have been some common threads that have distinguished the home games from the road contests.
Tampa Bay has only trailed in one home game and that was by a modest 1-0 score against the Devils on opening night. (I’m not including Saturday’s OT loss to Buffalo, a game in which the Lightning was either tied or in the lead until the Sabres scored in overtime). Conversely, on the road, the Lightning has never led and has yielded a first period goal in all three matches. At home, the Lightning has held the opposition to one goal or less in 17 of 18 full periods played (again not including Saturday’s OT session). In all three of their road contests, the Lightning have surrendered at least two goals in a period. In two of those games, the Panthers – two goals in a 2:06 span to go up 2-0 – and Capitals – two goals in a 1:01 span to break open a 2-2 game – utilized a quick-strike attack to take control.
Certainly, there have been other factors. Tampa Bay owns one of the league’s top-ranked power plays on home ice, but the club has managed only one road power-play goal. Also, defensive breakdowns have been far less frequent at the St. Pete Times Forum. To break it down into its simplest form, the Bolts would serve themselves well tonight against the Rangers if they can 1.) Get off to a good start by grabbing the lead and 2.) Keep the New Yorkers from scoring goals in bunches.
To accomplish the first objective, the Bolts will have to avoid repeating recent history in New York. Finding a consistent offensive attack has been a difficult for the Lightning at Madison Square Garden during the past two seasons, where Tampa Bay has a 1-0 overtime win to go with 4-2, 4-1 and 5-0 defeats. Much of Tampa Bay’s offensive struggles at MSG can be attributed to the stellar play of Rangers’ goalie Henrik Lundqvist, the two-time Veniza Trophy Finalist. The Rangers are just 3-6-1 so far this season, but their poor start has had little to do with goaltending; Lundqvist has allowed a paltry 19 goals in those 10 starts. Instead, the Rangers are below .500 because they have only scored a league-low 16 goals. That’s why getting an early lead will be such a key for both teams tonight. The Lightning have shown how well they play with the lead while the Rangers know that Lundqvist can win a game with only a little bit of offensive support.
Dan Boyle has been participating in practices during the past week and could make his season debut tonight. In addition to all of the other things Boyle does (30 minutes a game, strong defensive play, great pass out of the defensive zone), his offensive prowess could certainly help the Lightning in the goal-scoring department.
One might incorrectly assume that, given their goal-scoring woes, the Rangers are incapable of scoring in bunches. But with free agent additions Scott Gomez and Chris Drury joining a team that includes Jaromir Jagr, Brendan Shanahan, Martin Straka and Petr Prucha, the Rangers are not offensively-challenged. The more likely explanation is that New York, having added Gomez and Drury (who are both averaging over 20 minutes per game), is in the process of building chemistry. At some point, the Rangers are going to score with great frequency. The Lightning will try to ensure that tonight is not the night when the Rangers find their scoring touch.