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Pittsburgh vs. Tampa Bay Preview

by Sam Kasan / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (42-28-9-93) at Tampa Bay Lightning (24-37-18-66)

Where: St. Pete Times Forum
Tuesday, April 7, 7:30 p.m.
WXDX Radio, FM 105.9
FSN Pittsburgh, the game will be broadcast in HD, available on Armstrong 179, Atlantic Broadband 782, Citizen 737, Comcast 226/774, DISH 428, DirecTV 659 and Verizon Fios 576.
*View FSN's HD Broadcast Schedule here
Season Series:
Pittsburgh is 2-1-0 against Tampa Bay this season, including a 3-1 victory in Tampa Bay on March 3.



  Pens vs. Lightning 3/3

Silence St. Louis: Tampa Bay’s offense can be summed up as: Vincent Lecavalier and Martin 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. Lecavalier will miss the remainder of the season following wrist surgery. If the Penguins can shut down St. Louis, chances are they’ll come out of the game with two points.

Eye On The Prize:
Pittsburgh missed an opportunity to clinch a playoff berth against the Florida Panthers. The Penguins get another crack at securing the postseason against Tampa Bay. The Penguins are one victory away from pulling off one of the most dramatic turnarounds in team history. Locking up a playoff spot should be motivation enough for the Penguins to put forth their best effort.
The Tampa Bay Lightning can only hope that 2009 is less eventful 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. In the 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 19-30-10 since tasking over. Tampa Bay has lost its last six games (0-4-2) and is 1-5-4) in its past 10 games.
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. 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.

And all that isn’t counting the in-season moves. Tampa Bay traded Jussi Jokinen to Carolina for Joseph Melichar and Wade Brookbank. Then came numerous deals at the traded deadline, in summary below:

Tampa Bay traded Olaf Kolzig, Andy Rogers, Jamie Heward (Toronto), Steve Eminger (Florida), Mark Recchi (Boston) and acquired Noah Welch (Florida), Martins Karsums, Matt Lashoff (Boston), Richard Petiot (Toronto). Lastly, Gary Roberts retired. Got all that?
The Tampa Bay Lightning rank 23rd in the NHL with 2.52 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. With Lecavalier, who finished the year second on the team with 67 points (29G-38A), out for the rest of the year following arthroscopic wrist surgery, the burden really falls on St. Louis’ shoulders.

St. Louis currently tops the Lightning with 78 points on 29 goals and 49 assists. He is working with Steve Stamkos and former Penguin Ryan Malone. Stamkos has had an excellent season, setting a team rookie record with 43 points and 21 goals. Despite playing in only 69 games, Malone has netted 26 goals – one shy of his career high – and is tied for third on the Lightning with 45 points.

Jeff Halpern centers a unit between Vinny Prospal and Evgeny Artyukhin. Prospal is tied with Malone with 45 points on 19 goals and 26 assists. Halpern has battled through injuries all season, posting 13 points in 49 games.
The Lightning completely overhauled their defensive unit but are allowing 3.20 goals per game, ranking 27th in the NHL. Tampa is banged up on the blue line. Meszaros is done for the year after injuring his left shoulder Feb. 3 at Pittsburgh. Also injured are Paul Ranger (shoulder), Marek Malik (lower-body), Cory Murphy (right foot), Richard Petiot (shoulder) and Josef Melichar (lower-body).

The Lightning are very green at the back end with seven players 26 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 handled the reigns in net for Tampa Bay after 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. He is currently sidelined with post-concussion syndrome.

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 Feb. 3. 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 but Ramo is expected to get the start.
St. Louis is the little engine that could. The five-foot-nine forward has been defying the odds for nine NHL seasons. The former scoring champion has posted 29, 25, 43, 31, 38 and 33 goals the past six seasons. St. Louis has been on fire recently. He notched a nine-game scoring streak (19 points) in March and posted a point in 13 of 14 games in a similar span.
“I think this is just a perfect example of how my season has gone. Whereas earlier in the year people were saying maybe I should go back to Sarnia, maybe I should play in the World Juniors, now you are a 20-goal scorer in the NHL and being considered for the World Championship team. It’s been a pretty crazy season. But that just goes to show you what can happen when you are given an opportunity and put in the right situations.”
Lightning rookie Steven Stamkos on the possibility of being selected for Team Canada for the World Championships, Yahoo! Sports

> The 21 different defensemen used this season by the Lightning is a league record, according to Elias Sports Bureau, although the research is somewhat unreliable, particularly during the Original Six days when players often played both positions. But according to Elias, the next-highest number of defensemen used is 18 by the 1997-98 Edmonton Oilers.

Author: Sam Kasan

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