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Pittsburgh vs. Tampa Bay Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (32-26-6-70) at Tampa Bay Lightning (21-30-12-54)

Where: St. Pete Times Forum
When: Tuesday, March 3, 2009, 7:30 p.m.
Radio: WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
TV: Versus Network
Season Series: Pittsburgh is 1-1-0 against Tampa Bay this season with both games played at Mellon Arena. The Lightning triumphed, 2-0, Dec. 23. The Penguins overcame a 3-0 third period deficit to net a 4-3 overtime victory Feb. 4.



  Pens vs. Lightning 2/4
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.

Pittsburgh has won five of its last six games and is riding a lot of momentum. The recent success has helped the Penguins jump back into a playoff position (the eighth seed currently). However, Pittsburgh's positioning is very fragile as the standings fluctuate daily. The Penguins are playing a Tampa Bay team that has no hopes of making the playoffs. In fact, the Lightning have one of the worst records in the league. After this game, the Penguins have a critical showdown with the Florida Panthers, which Pittsburgh is fighting with for those precious few playoff spots. Pittsburgh cannot afford to look ahead to the Florida game. The Penguins need to focus on taking care of Tampa Bay. Then, they can turn their attention to the Panthers .
The Tampa Bay Lightning can only hope that their 2009 is less eventual than 2008. It all began at the tail end of last season when Tampa Bay finished dead last in the National Hockey League with 71 points and 31 wins. That 2008 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 16-23-8 since taking over. Tampa Bay exploded for an 8-6 victory over Calgary on Sunday but are still riding a 2-5-1 stretch.
Tampa Bay had three coaches in less than a year. 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 shipped to San Jose for Ty Wishart, Matt Carle and first- and fourth-round picks. 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. The team has also been shopping All-Star Martin St. Louis. Got all that?
The Tampa Bay Lightning rank 22nd in the NHL with 2.57 goals per game. The problem for the Lightning is that they're too top heavy. Outside of Tampa Bay’s 1-2 punch of Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, Tampa Bay lacks scoring depth. The duo used to be on the same line but have been split recently. Lecavalier is skating with Malone and Prospal, while St. Louis is on a wing with Recchi and Stamkos.

St. Louis currently tops the Lightning with 62 points on 22 goals and 40 assists. He’s been on fire recently with a four-game scoring streak in which he’s compiled seven points (2G-5A). Lecavalier is right behind St. Louis in scoring with 58 points. He has a team-best 27 goals. Recchi, who notched five assists Sunday against Calgary, is running third at 45 points (13G-32A) and Prospal is fourth at 39 points (16G-23A). Malone missed nine games this season to injuries and has totaled 35 points on 22 goals and 13 assists. Malone has nine goals in his last 16 games. Stamkos is centering the second line for the Lightning and his 29 points (13+16) place him sixth on the team.
The Lightning completely overhauled their defensive unit but are allowing 3.00 goals per game, ranking 26th in the NHL. Meszaros is a 23-year-old first-round pick in 2004. He’s got great offensive ability and is sound in his own zone. Meszaros has two goals and 14 assists for 16 points on the campaign but has been out of the lineup after injuring his left shoulder Feb. 3 at Pittsburgh. His season was ended following shoulder surgery. Steve Eminger tops the Lightning defense with 29 points (4G-21A) and was a great pick up by Tampa Bay.

The Lightning are very green on the blue line with five 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. Injuries to Meszaros, Paul Ranger (left shoulder) and Jamie Heward (concussion) have forced some shuffling on the Lightning blue line.
Mike Smith has handled the reigns in net for Tampa Bay since his trade from Dallas at last year’s deadline. 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 recovering from a post-concussion syndrome 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.

The Lightning have turned to 22-year-old Karri Ramo and journeyman Mike McKenna. McKenna made his NHL debut in a 4-3 overtime loss to Pittsburgh. He signed his pro contract the day before the game. Ramo played in 22 games last year as the Lightning’s backup goalie. The two have rotated in net for Tampa.
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 last June’s NHL Entry Draft. Stamkos is riding a three-game goal scoring streak (3G-1A) and has six goals in his last seven games. He has 13 goals and 29 points on the season. His points set a Lightning rookie record (Lecavalier, 28) and his 13 goals ties Lecavalier for most by a Tampa freshman.

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. When Tocchet became head coach, Stamkos’ ice time has increased drastically resulting in improved numbers. He began the season toiling on the fourth line, but now he is the team’s second-line center and is playing with Martin St. Louis and Mark Recchi.
“I have no idea what to expect. They haven't talked to me. It's up to them. They can do whatever they want. I don't have a no-trade clause. It's not a big deal for me. Teams know I can help out. I'm sure people will call but we'll have to see how it works out."
- Mark Recchi told the Tampa Tribune on possibly being traded
> Mark Recchi tallied five assists against Calgary on Sunday and moved into 13th place on the NHL’s all-time scoring list, ahead of Bryan Trottier, with 1,426 points. His five assists set a new franchise record for the Lightning.

> Vincent Lecavalier tallied his 300th career goal against Calgary on Sunday.

Author: Sam Kasan

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