Greetings from Canada’s capital (actually surburan Kanata) where the Lightning play the Ottawa Senators tonight at Scotiabank Place. It’s the second of four meetings between the clubs and the first of two in the Sens’ home rink. The Lightning edged Ottawa, 4-3, in a shootout at the St. Pete Times Forum on December 4.
The Lightning are coming off a 6-3 loss in Montreal on Thursday in a game that was much closer than the final score indicates. Prior to that game, John Tortorella challenged his top players to take their game to a new level. That happened. Against the Canadiens, Vinny Lecavalier, Marty St. Louis and Vinny Prospal accounted for all three Tampa Bay goals and combined for seven points. Tortorella commented after the game that “I think our top players threw it right in my face after we challenged them the other day because they were the best players on the ice.” Thanks to the play of Tampa Bay’s top line, the Bolts were able to battle back from 2-0 and 3-1 deficits.
Despite that positive development, however, the Lightning still dropped their sixth consecutive game. The Canadiens broke a 3-3 tie nearly eight minutes into the third period and rode the momentum from that goal through the end of the game. So where does Tampa Bay go from here? Just because the Lightning lost on Thursday, it doesn’t mean that the team shouldn’t still try to reach and maintain that new, higher level of play. It’ll be especially important against the Conference-leading Senators.
Tonight’s contest likely will come down to a battle between the teams’ top lines. The Lecavalier, St. Louis and Prospal line will attempt to outperform and out-produce Ottawa’s first unit of Daniel Alfredsson, Dany Heatley and Jason Spezza. Lecavalier leads the NHL with 60 points, while the three Senators have all reached the 50-point plateau and rank among the league’s top 10 scorers. In the first game between the clubs, the Lightning were able to keep the Spezza line in check until the third period, when Alfredsson scored twice and that line was on the ice for Wade Reddon’s sixth-attacker tying goal. Just as Lightning opponents always emphasize the importance of containing Lecavalier’s line, the primary key for Tampa Bay tonight will be to limit the effectiveness of the Spezza line.
Ottawa’s team defense took a hit this past week when the Sens yielded 14 goals during a pair of losses to Washington. Goaltender Martin Gerber has been terrific so far this season, but he was stung for 10 of those goals in 67 minutes of work against the Caps. Even in last night’s win at Buffalo, the Sens blew a 3-0 lead and had to rely on two late goals from Heatley and Alfredsson in their 5-3 victory. According to local newspaper reports, goalie Ray Emery played a mostly solid game, but still yielded a bad goal that momentarily tied the score at 3-3. So perhaps the Sens haven’t solved all of their recent defensive struggles and the Lightning can prolong those difficulties for at least one more game.
For the first time in a few weeks, the Lightning get a favorable scheduling matchup. The Senators had to play last night in Buffalo while Tampa Bay was already here waiting for the Senators. As I am repeatedly mentioning in this blog, the Lightning would love to get a lead tonight. It’s more of a struggle for a team playing the second game of a back-to-back to be in catch-up mode and that’s the position the Lightning want to put the Senators tonight.