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Pittsburgh vs. Tampa Bay Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (24-23-5-53) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (17-24-10-44)

: Mellon Arena
When: Wednesday, February 4, 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: The Lightning triumphed, 2-0, Dec. 23 at Mellon Arena in the only other meeting between the two teams this season. 



Pens vs. Lightning 12/23
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 with Desperation: Pittsburgh starts a four-game home stand with its matchup against Tampa Bay. The Penguins need to pick up five of eight points on the home stretch to stay within grasp of a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. But the Penguins' last three games will be against Columbus, Detroit and San Jose. Pittsburgh HAS to get two points against Tampa and somehow squeeze three points from the final three contests or else its postseason aspirations will be on life support. The Penguins better give it everything they have because this has become a must-win regular-season game. 
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 steered the club to 12-17-6 since taking over. Tampa Bay comes into Pittsburgh with three straight loses.
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. Carle was later dealt 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 Lawton re-signed Vincent Lecavalier to an 11-year contract through the 2019-20 season - even though rumors are that Tampa will move the talented center. Got all that?
The Tampa Bay Lightning are ranked 24th in the NHL with 2.54 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, the Lightning lack scoring depth.

St. Louis currently tops the Lightning with 48 points on 18 goals and 30 assists. He’s been on fire recently, netting 21 points in his last 17 games. Lecavalier is right behind St. Louis in scoring with a team-best 23 goals and 24 assists for 47 points. Recchi is running third at 34 points (11G-23A) and Prospal is fourth at 32 points (13G-19A). Malone missed nine games to injuries and has totaled 27 points on 15 goals and 12 assists. Stamkos is centering the third line for the Lightning and his 19 points (6+13) placing him sixth (tied) on the team.
The Lightning completely overhauled their defensive unit but are still allowing 3.00 goals per game, ranking 22nd in the NHL. Meszaros is a 23-year-old first-round pick in 2004. He’s got great offensive ability but is still sound in his own zone. Meszaros has two goals and 14 assists for 16 points on the campaign. Steve Eminger tops the Lightning defense with 19 points (4G-15A).

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 all season. 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 2.62 goals against average and .916 save percentage, despite playing behind an inconsistent defense. But the lack of goal support leaves him with a 14-18-9 record on the season. However, he is dealing with an undisclosed upper-body injury and may not play against Pittsburgh. Olaf Kolzig signed in the offseason to be Smith’s backup at the age of 38. However, the veteran goaltender is out for the rest of the season following arm surgery. So the Lightning may turn to 22-year-old Karri Ramo or journeyman Mike McKenna. McKenna signed an NHL contract with the Lightning on Tuesday and saw action in relief of Ramo at Long Island later that day. He could make his first career start in Pittsburgh.
Vincent Lecavalier has morphed into a dynamic double threat. He has always possessed great vision to create plays and set up opportunities. Now he's also developed into a top-rate scorer. Lecavalier is netting almost as many goals as assists these days. Over the past five seasons, he’s notched 40, 52, 35, 32 and 33 goals. On the current campaign, the 6-foot-4, 219-pound center has 23 scores to go along with his 24 helpers for 47 points.

Lecavalier, who already has a Stanley Cup ring, has been on fire lately. In his past 15 games the Quebec native has 17 points (9G-8A). He’s also tallied five multi-point games in the past 11 contests. Lecavalier signed an 11-year contract through the 2019-20 season with the hopes of ending his career in Tampa. But trade rumors are swirling that the Lightning may move him.
“I came here to prove that I can still play, so did I expect to do this? Yeah, I did.”
- Mark Recchi told the Tampa Tribune on being the Lightning's third-leading scorer
> On Feb. 4, 1995, Pittsburgh defeated Tampa Bay 6-3 to tie a club record with its seventh consecutive victory to start a season (lockout year).

Author: Sam Kasan

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