Greetings from the Big Apple, where the Lightning play the Rangers tonight at Madison Square Garden. It’s the third meeting in the season series; the Rangers won each of the first two games between the clubs. Before I get to an analysis of tonight’s game, I’d like to congratulate Vinny Lecavalier for being named to the starting lineup for the upcoming All-Star Game!
As was the case in Thursday’s game against Montreal, Tampa Bay did some very good things in Saturday’s overtime loss to Ottawa. The Bolts outplayed the Conference-leading Senators for most of the first two periods. Still, the Lightning only led, 3-2, heading into the third period and once the Sens tied the game early in the final period, the Lightning had difficulty mounting any pressure through the rest of the game. It’s the same snowball effect that has plagued the Lightning during their losing streaks this year – when the opposition gets momentum, the Bolts can’t seem to wrestle it back. Especially when the other team grabs momentum due to a fortunate break, which happened on Dany Heatley’s tying goal. Goaltender Johan Holmqvist had swung the puck toward the corner boards where defenseman Mike Lundin was positioned. The puck hit a loose stick on the ice, however, and instead of reaching Lundin, it ricocheted backwards to Ottawa’s Jason Spezza. Taking advantage of that bounce, Spezza fed Heatley in front for the Sens’ third goal. As Spezza said after the game, the “hockey gods” were smiling on the Senators.
Perhaps the “hockey gods” can give the Lightning such a good break tonight at MSG, where, since the lockout, the Lightning have had difficulty scoring goals. Tampa Bay is just 1-4-0 in their last five games in New York City and have not netted more than two goals in any of those games. Rangers’ goaltender Henrik Lundqvist, considered in many hockey circles to be one of the top five netminders in the NHL, has had a lot to do with those meager offensive numbers.
That’s why trying to find a way to play with confidence is so important for the Lightning tonight. They’ve lost seven in a row and are heading into a building where they haven’t gotten good results over the last couple of seasons. But the team, specifically Vinny Lecavalier’s line, has shown signs of recapturing that positive karma during the last two contests. Building on those positive developments will be the first step in righting the ship. Once that happens and the Lightning get a win, they will be able to parlay that victory into more good karma. Thanks to the inconsistent play of the other Eastern Conference teams, the playoffs and even the divisional crown are both still within reach. Several Lightning players stated in Ottawa that they feel the team will make the playoffs.
The Rangers have been one of those aforementioned inconsistent teams. They enter tonight’s game having dropped all three contests during a Western Canadian road trip. Despite the free agent additions of Scott Gomez and Chris Drury, New York has not been the offensive force that many of their fans had anticipated. Their team defense has been quite good – they rank sixth in the league with a team GAA of 2.37. But their offensive production has been spotty. To complicate matters for the Rangers, two of their top offensive players got hurt in Saturday’s shootout loss to Edmonton. Martin Straka has a concussion and definitely won’t play tonight. Brendan Shanahan suffered a knee injury and will be a game-time decision.
So against the shorthanded Rangers, the Lightning, in addition to playing with confidence, energy and determination, will need to come up with a sound defensive game, both five-on-five and while on the penalty kill.