LIGHTNING (8-5-2) at BLUES (7-7-1)
TV: SUN (HD), FS-MW (HD)
Tampa Bay 7-3-0; St. Louis 5-4-1
This is the first of two meetings between the clubs this season. The Blues travel to Tampa Bay to play the Lightning on March 17.
It's Ken Hitchcock's third game with the Blues, and so far the results have been pretty good as the team has picked up three out of a possible four points, including a shutout win over Chicago in his debut. The Lightning, though, enter the game as the streaking team with wins in three straight and four of their last five games.
After playing a game of who blinks first with the Flyers for parts of Wednesday's contest, the Lightning got a game-tying goal Marc-Andre Bergeron
in the third period and the OT-winner from Brett Connolly
to beat Philadelphia, 2-1, for their third straight win. The Lightning allowed only 15 shots on goal and Dwayne Roloson
stopped 14 of them.
The game has since taken on a life of its own with each coach's tactics coming into question. Why wouldn't Guy Boucher have the Lightning forecheck and why wouldn't Peter Laviolette have his team attack the Bolts' 1-3-1 defensive system? The refs even blew the whistle to stop the play because nothing was happening.
The story will only continue Saturday night if Hitchcock decides to use a similar stall tactic that Laviolette employed Wednesday.
Of note, though, is the Lightning are winning games, albeit in extra time. They stumbled out of the gate, going 1-3-2 in their first six games, but are 7-2 since. This season, the Lightning have allowed only 13 goals in their eight wins, while giving up 32 in their seven losses.
After two games in St. Louis, Hitchcock will now get to coach a defenseman he knows very well from his previous job. The Blues and Blue Jackets confirmed the trade of Kris Russell
to St. Louis in exchange for Nikita Nikitin on Friday. Russell played under Hitchcock in Columbus and has 18 goals and 61 assists along with a minus-29 rating in 288 NHL games.
The Blues showed in Thursday's 3-2 shootout loss to Toronto the type of team they could be under Hitchcock. They allowed only an economical 22 shots on goal and held a 32-8 advantage in the final 45 minutes. However, Toronto scored on two of its three power-play chances, leading to Hitchcock to criticize his team for not working hard enough.
But the Blues were better overall in the second and third periods, providing further hope of what could happen under Hitchcock.
"We bucked up in the second and third periods and really played," Hitchcock added according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. "You're thinking that when you outshoot a team 31-8 over the final two periods you're going to win a lot of hockey games."
It's no surprise that the Lightning have heated up at the same time as Steven Stamkos
, who has 4 goals and 2 assists in the last three games. … Halak has allowed only 2 goals against on 51 shots in the two games since Hitchcock took over.
Lightning forward Ryan Malone
missed Wednesday's game with an upper-body injury and defenseman Victor Hedman
has sat out the last two games with an upper-body injury. … The Blues will be without David Perron
(post-concussion syndrome), Kent Huskins
(ankle), Andy McDonald
(concussion) and B.J. Crombeen
Stamkos had points in only two of Tampa Bay's first five games, but he has since registered at least a point in nine of the last 10 to give him 6 goals and 10 assists through 15 games. He finished last season with only 5 goals in his last 28 games.
"It's nice to contribute, especially in wins," Stamkos told the Tampa Tribune. "That's what I want to do, keep contributing but realize that I'm getting those opportunities and bounces because I am working hard at both ends of the ice. And you live and learn from past experiences.''