The Lightning get back on the horse tonight after Sunday's tough 2-1 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins. The Bolts played well in the game but penalty trouble in the third led to two Pittsburgh goals. The biggest news coming out of the game was the injury to Steven Stamkos.
Though he didn't come out of the game, Stamkos was ailing afterward. Both Stamkos and Head Coach Rick Tocchet today said that he will be a game time decision tonight. Stamkos would like to play and he was held out of the morning skate in lieu of further treatment to loosen up his back. He will take the warm up and see how it feels. Tocchet said he will not risk Stamkos' health if there is any doubt, offering a bigger picture view by saying "his career is more important to me than this game." If Stamkos can't go the only other available forward is Zenon Konopka, who has been nursing a back injury of his own. Tocchet said he would be forced to play Konopka if Stamkos couldn't go. So obviously Konopka isn't far from being well enough to play.
This gauntlet of a home stand (three division leaders and the fourth team in the West) continues tonight as the Lightning play host to the Phoenix Coyotes, who have surprised the hockey world this season by ranking fourth in the Western Conference with a 42-22-5 record to this point. Sun Sports' Bobby "the Chief" Taylor had the question of the day during Tocchet's morning press conference today: "With Mike Lundin covering the other team's best player, how does he cover (goaltender) Ilya Bryzgalov?" Although it was a joke, Chief wasn't far off on his assessment of the Coyotes netminder. He leads the NHL in shutouts with eight, is fourth with a 2.27 goals-against average and is tied for fourth with 36 wins. Tocchet said this morning that Bryzgalov could be the NHL's MVP this season, saying he is tough to beat when he's set in the crease. Look for the Lightning to shoot the puck and get traffic around the net.
Opposing him in the Tampa Bay net will be Antero Niittymaki, making his third consecutive start. He has shown the signs of getting hot in the previous two games, posting a .942 save percentage and a 2.01 goals-against average despite a 1-1-0 record. Whether it is him or Mike Smith, I think everyone agrees that the Lightning will need a hot goaltender to take a run at the 7th or 8th playoff position. For now it looks like Nitty is holding up his end of the bargain.
The Lightning will practice at the Times Forum tomorrow before taking on Olympic MVP Ryan Miller and the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday. What is arguably the toughest home stand this season continues on Saturday when the Washington Capitals, already with the 2009-10 Southeast Division title in tow, come to town.