| Tampa Bay Lightning @ Detroit Red Wings
Typically, as NHL teams head into their final couple of preseason games, their rosters have already been pared down from 55 or 60 players to maybe only 25 or 30. Those last few games, then, serve a two-fold purpose: determine which “bubble” players will start the season on the team and allow the regulars to build chemistry with their expected linemates.
The Lightning is in a different situation, however, heading into tonight’s penultimate preseason game in Detroit. For a variety of reasons, the team only brought 33 players into training camp. First, there weren’t that many open jobs. Second, the coaching staff wanted to start teaching the Lightning system right away (and that task is more difficult, if not impossible, with a larger number of invitees). Third, to allow Torts and his staff adequate time to run the camp the way they wanted – two conditioning days, four days of scrimmages and several days of practice in between the final preseason game and the regular season opener – the Bolts only scheduled five preseason games. In a perfect world, then, the Lightning would have used all these exhibition contests much as other teams utilize their final couple of games.
But then the injury bug hit. Jan Hlavac, Andre Roy, Chris Gratton, Michel Ouellet, Vinny Lecavalier, Dan Boyle and Ryan Craig have all missed time due to injury. So the potential line combinations of Hlavac-Richards-Ouellet and Karlsson-Gratton-Ward have not had the opportunity to build chemistry in preseason action.
Heading into this road trip, the Lightning roster stood at 27 players. Craig didn’t make the trip and Boyle, while on the trip, is out at least three and a half more weeks. Gratton is still encountering difficulty with his vision and won’t play tonight. As well, Lecavalier (who could play if needed), Richards and Marty St. Louis are getting the night off. To fill one of those roster spots, the Lightning has summoned forward Justin Keller from Norfolk to play in tonight’s game. For Saturday’s game at Dallas, however, I would expect that the Lightning put a lineup on the ice that is similar (if not identical) to the one that begins the regular season next Thursday against New Jersey.
So for tonight’s game, the Lightning will continue to take a long look at the players fighting to make the team: Craig MacDonald, Mathieu Darche, Kyle Wanvig, Bryce Lampman, Mike Lundin, Matt Smaby and even Keller. Also, tonight’s game will give everyone in the lineup a chance to play the Lightning’s system – this is true not only for those new to the system but also the Lightning veterans. In addition, the goaltenders will take another step towards determining the opening night starter – Holmqvist will start this game with Denis serving as the backup, but look for Denis to come in and play at some point tonight.
The Lightning should see a slightly different Detroit team than the one that played at the St. Pete Times Forum on Monday. Most of the Red Wings regulars played in a 6-1 blowout win over the Rangers on Tuesday. Tonight, some of the regulars who didn’t play on Monday will be in the lineup: Lidstrom, Chelios, Rafalski, Maltby, Draper, etc.