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Pittsburgh vs. Tampa Bay Preview

by Jason Seidling / Pittsburgh Penguins

Pittsburgh Penguins (6-1-0-12) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (2-2-2-6)

Where: Mellon Arena
Saturday, Oct. 17 at 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 Broadcast Schedule here()

Season Series:
The Penguins captured the season series from the Lightning in 2008-09 by winning three of the four matchups. Each team won once on Mellon Arena ice, with the Lightning victorious on Dec. 23, 2-0, while the Penguins stormed back to score three third-period goals to erase a 3-0 deficit on Feb. 4, as Evgeni Malkin won it for Pittsburgh with an overtime tally. Malkin led all scorers in the series with six points (2G-4A).




Apr 7, 2009
PIT 6, TBL 4  
AP Recap

Orpik-Gonchar vs. Malone-Stamkos-St. Louis: The offseason departures of Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill means Brooks Orpik and Sergei Gonchar will again see a majority of the minutes against the opposition’s best forward line. They will have their hands full against Tampa Bay’s top trio, off to a fast start with a combined 12 goals and 23 points between the three. With the rest of the team contributing only four goals, keeping this unit off the board will be paramount to a Penguins’ victory.  

Strong Goaltending Early:
Home teams often come out flat after returning from extended road trips. The Penguins bucked this trend in ’08-09, going 2-0 in home games following road trips of four games or more. If, however, Pittsburgh is unable to get their feet moving early against the Lightning, they will need strong play between the pipes from Marc-Andre Fleury to keep them in the game while the skaters get their legs and feed off the positive energy the home crowd will deliver. 

Despite a plethora of top-end offensive talent, the Lightning have struggled since the National Hockey League returned from the lockout. Tampa Bay won the Stanley Cup prior to the NHL shutting down for a year, but hasn’t been able to make it past the quarterfinal round in two playoff appearances since then, going the past two seasons without qualifying for the postseason tournament. The Lightning’s 66 points last season were the second-lowest total in the league.

Faced with increased expectations  in ’08-09 after drafting Steven Stamkos No. 1 overall, signing free agents Vaclav Prospal and Radim Vrbata, and trading for Ryan Malone, Gary Roberts and Andrej Meszaros, Tampa Bay stuttered out of the gate, firing head coach Barry Melrose 16 games into his first season and replacing him with former Penguin winger Rick Tocchet. In his first stint behind an NHL bench, Tocchet guided the Lightning to a 19-33-14 record over the final 66 games. He was given the job permanently following the season.
Learning how difficult it is to blend a vast array of new faces into the lineup in one offseason after their struggles in ’08-09, Tampa Bay elected to make smaller-scale upgrades for this season. They did spend money on two proven, former all-star players in winger Alex Tanguay and defenseman Mattias Ohlund. Tanguay has recorded 50-or-more points in seven of his nine NHL seasons, scoring more than 20 goals on five occasions. Ohlund is a solid two-way defender brought in from the Vancouver Canucks in part to help mentor 18-year-old No. 2-overall selection Victor Hedman. Ohlund provides a good mix of skill and toughness, as well as the ability to log a ton of minutes, spending an average of 24:59 on the ice per game entering the 2009-10 season.

Hedman, the top prospect on many draft boards earlier this summer, is off to a fast start in his first season in North America. The 6-foot-6 rearguard has four assists through his first six games, in addition to averaging a team-high 24:52 of ice time, with 2:26 of that coming when the Lightning are shorthanded, a figure almost unheard of for such an inexperienced defender.

Joining Ohlund and Hedman as new faces on the back end are veteran sandpaper types Matt Walker, David Hale and Kurtis Foster. Walker had a breakout season last year in his only campaign with the Chicago Blackhawks, appearing in a career-high 65 games, scoring 14 points (1G-13A) and amassing 79 penalty minutes. Hale came via trade with the Phoenix Coyotes in a deal that sent Radim Vrbata back to the desert. Hale has spent time with New Jersey and Calgary in addition to his time in Phoenix. Foster was coming into his own with the Minnesota Wild prior to suffering fractured left femur in a game against the San Jose Sharks on March 20, 2008. The injury kept him out until well into the ’08-09 season, when he returned late in the season to play 10 games for the Wild.

As the faces around them change almost with the seasons, veteran superstars Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier continue to spearhead the Lightning offensive attack. St. Louis provided his usual production, scoring 30 times and assisting on 50 others in all 82 games, but Lecavalier struggled to replicate his success of the previous two seasons. The 29-year-old Lecavalier has watched his goal total fall from a league-leading 52 in ’06-07 to 40 the next season down to 29 last year, his lowest total since scoring 20 goals in 2001-02. Through the first six games of the season Lecavalier has failed to hit the back of the net, picking up five assists to go with a team-worst minus-5 rating.

Pittsburgh native and former Penguin Ryan Malone is off to a hot start for the Lightning. He notched his second-career hat trick in a victory over the Carolina Hurricanes last Saturday night and leads the Lightning with six goals. Malone rebounded from a slow start to record 26 goals and 45 points in his first season in Tampa Bay. Another player whose play picked up as the season went along was that of Steven Stamkos, the No. 1-overall selection in the 2008 draft. Stamkos is off to a hot start in his sophomore campaign, scoring three times and assisting on four others through the first six games. Stamkos scored 23 times as a rookie. Checking-line forward Stephane Veilleux, signed as a free agent from Minnesota, will supply secondary scoring in addition to teaming with another offseason addition, Todd Fedoruk, to provide energy on the bottom-two lines.  

After using an NHL-record 22 defensemen in ’08-09, the Lightning hope the stockpile they have now accumulated will prevent such a disaster from repeating. Paul Ranger, Andrej Meszaros and Lukas Krajicek are the lone holdovers who saw significant minutes with Tampa Bay last season. Ranger, equally impressive at both ends of the ice thanks to his 6-foot-3 frame and offensive repertoire, missed the final 24 games of last season, and played in only 42 games overall. During the periods when he was healthy, he recorded 13 points (2G-11A). Prior to last season Ranger’s point totals had gone up each of his first three seasons, highlighted by a career-high 10 goals in ’07-08.

Much was expected of Meszaros after Tampa Bay traded two of their top-six defensemen, Filip Kuba and Alexandre Picard, along with a 1st-round draft pick, to get the rugged defender. The just-turned 24-year-old Meszaros played all 82 games each of his three seasons in Ottawa, never recording less than 35 points. He had 16 points (2G-14A) in 52 games during his first season with the Lightning. Krajicek hopes to have found a home after bouncing from Florida to Vancouver prior to landing in Tampa. The former 1st-round selection set career highs in assists (17), points (19) and ice time (19:37) in ’08-09.   

Unable to adequately replace Nikolai Khabibulin, who left for Chicago post-lockout, the Lightning two years ago traded the third member of their ‘Big Three,’ center Brad Richards, and acquired Mike Smith in exchange from the Dallas Stars to be their go-to-guy in goal. Despite uneven play in front of him, Smith has proven to be a quality backstop capable of stealing games.

Unfortunately, Smith was unable to play after January 30th due to post-concussion syndrome, the symptoms of which had been plaguing him for weeks prior to Smith succumbing to the injury. Before leaving the lineup, Smith posted a 14-18-9 record with a respectable 2.62 goals-against average.

Antero Niittymaki arrives from Philadelphia to back up Smith. In 13 career appearances against the Penguins, Niittymaki has a 4-5-3 record with a 4.18 goals-against average.

Five-time all-star Martin St. Louis continues to be one of the NHL’s most consistent and most durable performers year-after-year despite standing only 5-foot-9, 177 pounds. The diminutive winger needs just five points to reach 600 for his career. He leads the Lightning in both assists (7) and points (10) through the first two weeks.

The 2003-04 Art Ross Trophy winner, St. Louis has recorded 70-or-more points in five of his past six seasons, including 94 on 38 goals and a league-leading 56 assists when he captured the scoring title. Along with the offensive exploits he brings, the Lightning know they can count on St. Louis every night, as he has missed only two games, both in ’05-06, over the past six seasons. In 33 career games against the Penguins, St. Louis has 13 goals and 18 assists.

"He came to camp in really good shape, and if he really has a presence for us down low in that line. He's playing a lot. He's playing every facet of the game - penalty kill, power play, four-on-four - and his leadership role has been improved from last year."

- Lightning head coach Rick Tocchet describing the early-season success of former Penguin Ryan Malone to the Tampa Tribune.

78: Percentage of penalties killed by the Lightning in 2008-09, the fifth-worst percentage in the league. 

Author: Jason Seidling

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