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Pittsburgh vs. Tampa Bay Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (18-11-4-40) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (7-16-9-23)
Where: Mellon Arena
When: Tuesday, December 23, 2008, 7:30 p.m.
Radio: WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
TV: FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428 and DirecTV 659.
*View FSN's HD Broadcast Schedule here
Season Series: This is the first matchup between the two clubs this season.



Pens vs. Lightning 9/22
Pre-Game Therrien
Pre-Game Goligoski
Pre-Game Whitney
Pre-Game Gill
Pre-Game Sabourin

Shutdown the Top Guys: Tampa Bay’s offense can be summed up as: Lecavalier and St. Louis. The top tandem for the team has been the only legitimate scoring threat for the past two seasons. The Lightning lack scoring depth and rely almost entirely on their two star players. If the Penguins can shut them down, chances are they’ll come out of the game with two points.

Play Their Game: The Lightning have won a league-low seven games this season and appear on their way to landing the top pick in the 2009 draft. Players on the team are questioning each other’s commitment and the team if unraveling. Tampa has won one game in its last13 games. If the Penguins stick to their game, their talent should be enough land a victory. But Pittsburgh must be cautious not to take any opponent too lightly.
It’s been a very eventful 2008 for the Tampa Bay Lightning. It all began at the end of last season when Tampa Bay finished dead last in the National Hockey League with 71 points and 31 wins. That offseason, the Lightning had a major makeover from top to bottom - starting with the ownership. Hollywood producer Oren Koules and former NHL player Len Barrie assembled six other men to form the Lightning’s new ownership group. The next day, ESPN analyst and former Los Angeles Kings coach Barry Melrose was named as the Lightning’s new leader behind the bench. Lastly, the roster received a drastic overhaul (discussed below) in the hopes of returning Tampa Bay to the postseason.

However, the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry. Tampa Bay struggled right from the start, going 0-2-3 in the opening five games. Only 16 games into the season, Melrose was relieved of his duties with the team sporting a 5-7-4 record. Associate coach and former Penguin Rick Tocchet took over as interim head coach. Things haven’t gotten much better since then. Tocchet has steered the club to a 2-9-5 record since taking over. Tampa Bay comes into Pittsburgh having only won once in its previous 13 games (1-9-3).
The Lightning went from head coach John Tortorella - who led the club to its only Stanley Cup Championship in 2004 - to Melrose, and now to Tocchet. But keeping track of Tampa’s roster is even more difficult than keeping track of its head coach. Possibly the best player picked up in the offseason was stud forward Steven Stamkos, whom the team selected first overall in the 2008 Entry Draft.

It was a busy summer for general manager Brian Lawton. The Lightning added former Penguins Ryan Malone, Gary Roberts, Mark Recchi and Adam Hall, forward Vaclav Prospal and Radim Vrbata and goaltender Olaf Kolzig. Then came the trades…defensemen Dan Boyle and Brad Lukowich were traded to San Jose for Ty Wishart, first- and fourth-round picks and blueliner Matt Carle, who was dealt in November to Philadelphia with a third-round pick for defenseman Steve Eminger, forward Steve Downie and a fourth-round pick. Tampa Bay also traded blueliners Filip Kuba and Alexandre Picard and a 2009 first-round pick to Ottawa for restricted free agent Andrej Meszaros, who subsequently signed a six-year deal with Tampa.

Oh, and the Lightning re-signed Vincent Lecavalier to an 11-year contract through the 2019-20 season. Got all that?
The Tampa Bay Lightning are ranked dead last in the NHL with 2.22 goals per game. The problem for the Lightning is that their too top heavy. Outside of Tampa Bay’s 1-2 punch of Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay lacks scoring depth. Lecavalier topped the team with 92 points on 40 goals and 52 assists last year. St. Louis placed second with 25 goals and 58 assists for 83 points. After Lecavalier and St. Louis, the next highest scorer had 42 points. Tampa Bay needed more scoring balance, thus the many offseason additions.

Tampa’s top tandem currently leads the team with each man having an identical scoring line at 12 goals and 15 assists for 27 points in 32 games. No other player on the Lightning’s roster has topped 18 points. Prospal has 17 points (6G-11A) while playing alongside the two superstars. Jeff Halpern, who will play in only his third game this season following offseason knee surgery, centers the second line with Recchi and Malone. Both former Penguins are off to rough starts with Recchi netting 18 points while Malone has only 13. Stamkos, the future of the franchise, centers the third line for the Lightning and his 13 points place him sixth on the team.
The Lightning completely overhauled their defensive unit but are still allowing 2.97 goals per game, ranking 22nd in the NHL. That's an improvement over last season's last-place finish. Meszaros is a 23-year-old former first-round pick in 2004. He’s got great offensive ability and is still sound in his own zone. Meszaros has nine assists on the campaign. Steve Eminger tops the Lightning defense with 12 points (1G-11A).

The Lightning are very green on the blue line with four players 25 years old or younger. Tampa Bay is experiencing growing pains and has been inconsistent defensively. The pairing of Meszaros and Marek Malik has struggled lately, while rumors are swirling that Paul Ranger may be placed on the waiver wire. The defensive corps will improve with time. The Lightning organization will have to be patient while their “kids” learn on the fly.
Mike Smith has handled the reigns in net for Tampa Bay. He entered the season as the Lightning’s starter and has put up respectable numbers with a 2.50 goals against average and .924 save percentage, despite playing behind an inconsistent defense. But the lack of goal support leaves him with a 5-12-8 record on the season.

Olaf Kolzig signed in the offseason to be Smith’s backup at the age of 38. The veteran brings over 700 games and 300 victories with him to Tampa Bay. He’s been bothered by an undisclosed upper-body injury recently and didn’t make the trip to Pittsburgh. Karri Ramo, who was recalled from Norfolk, will backup Smith against Pittsburgh. The Finnish netminder played in 22 games last season.
Steven Stamkos is the future of the Tampa Bay Lightning organization. The team’s Official website was boasting of his talents for a month before Tampa Bay selected him with the first-overall pick in the June NHL Entry Draft. Stamkos has great vision and anticipation. He makes crisp, accurate passes, is poised with the puck and has a quick release on his shot. Stamkos was the No. 1 overall pick in 2006 by the OHL’s Sarnia Sting. He was the team’s captain and is mature beyond his years. He played mostly on the fourth line to start the season. Since Tocchet has become head coach, Stamkos’ ice time has increased drastically. He’s scored three goals and 10 assists for 13 points on the campaign but his production should climb as he plays more minutes.
“I've been coming to this rink since I was a little kid and it's weird. I never really changed over in the visitors locker room before. So I'm looking forward to this, it's going to be fun.”
- Ryan Malone told the Tampa Tribune
Ryan Malone had a slow start to the season with three goals in the first 14 games with his new team. Since then though, Malone has collected 10 points (4G-6A) in his last nine games, while recording a season-high five-game scoring streak.

Author: Sam Kasan

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