Tampa Bay Lightning @ Pittsburgh Penguins
Greetings from Pittsburgh, where the Lightning and Penguins will play tonight for the second time this season. In the first meeting, which took place eight nights ago at the St. Pete Times Forum, the Penguins snapped a 12-game losing skid against the Lightning with a 4-1 win.
That game was much closer than the final score indicates – it was a 2-1 game until late in the third period. In watching the game tape afterwards, head coach John Tortorella counted 20 scoring chances for the Lightning, an impressively high number that usually leads to a victory. In other words, the Lightning didn’t play a particularly bad game in the first meeting, they just didn’t score enough goals to win.
The big storyline heading into that first game was the matchup between Vinny Lecavalier and Sidney Crosby. As it turned out, while both players had opportunities to score, neither one recorded a point in the game. Instead, the Penguins’ line of Jordan Staal, Peter Sykora and Ryan Malone
accounted for three of the four Pittsburgh goals (the only one they didn’t figure in was Evgeni Malkin’s empty-netter). So in essence, the Penguins won the first contest because they received scoring from a secondary line and got terrific goaltending from Ty Conklin.
The Penguins are one of the hottest teams in the NHL. Their victory against the Lightning last week was the Penguins’ eighth consecutive victory, a streak that ended two nights later with a shootout loss in Atlanta. But the Pens knocked off the New York Rangers, 4-1, on Monday night and enter tonight’s contest with a 9-0-1 record in their past 10 games. They’ve allowed only 13 total goals in those 10 games (not including the Atlanta shootout goal).
Following Tampa Bay’s 3-0 loss Tuesday to Colorado, the Bolts on Wednesday held a tough early morning practice followed by a players-only video session. One would expect, then, that the Lightning will play a spirited game tonight. They will need such an effort against the streaking Penguins. While secondary scoring (for Pittsburgh) played a major role in the first game between the clubs, I believe, as most people did prior to the January 10th contest, that this game will come down to a battle between each club’s top players. It would be surprising if both Lecavalier and Crosby were held off the score sheet again; rather, I expect that both players and their linemates will be involved in the offense. The winner of that matchup likely will be on the team that garners the two points tonight. As Tortorella told the media this morning: “Our big boys need to outscore [their] big boys.”
Then there is the Conklin factor. People around the NHL have expressed amazement that a career journeyman has been able to go 10-0-1 since his minor league recall. They are skeptical that he will be able to keep it going because he has never before shown these capabilities. But the Conklin who played against the Lightning last week was big in his net, square to most every shot and seemed unflappable. In short, he looked like a confident goalie. And confident goalies are difficult to beat. (It didn’t hurt his swagger when he made an incredible glove save on Vinny Lecavalier in the first period, either). So perhaps the “experts” will be proved right – that Conklin will come back to earth soon. But the Bolts have to figure that Conklin will continue to be on his game tonight and therefore, they may need to generate upwards of 20 chances again if they hope to score enough goals to win.