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What To Watch For: Pens vs. Lightning

by Michelle Crechiolo / Pittsburgh Penguins

PENGUINS (22-17-4) vs. LIGHTNING (17-22-4)

WHEN: Jan. 15, 2012 - 1:00 pm  |  WHERE: Tampa Bay Times Forum

WATCH: ROOT SPORTS  |  LISTEN: Penguins 24/7 Radio, 105.9 FM

Steven Stamkos is the NHL's first player to reach the 30-goal mark this season. (Getty Images)
The Tampa Bay Lightning are in a situation the Pens can relate to, as the Bolts enter Sunday’s matinee looking for their first win of the New Year. They’re on a six-game winless streak where they’ve gone 0-5-1 over that stretch. And the Lightning, who exceeded all expectations last season when they lost in seven games to Boston in the Conference Final, haven’t been living up to their potential as they’re 12th of 15 teams in the East.

The Bolts are coming off a 4-3 loss to Washington on Friday, where they performed well and even outplayed their opponent for stretches – but ultimately fell short. Sound familiar?

One of the biggest problems for this Tampa Bay squad recently – and their downfall against the Capitals – have been slow starts, as they’ve been outscored 11-3 in the first period over their six-game winless streak. But despite that, they’ve got a talented forward group that’s been led by young phenom Steven Stamkos – who’s certainly doing his part to try and hoist his team out of the hole they’re in.

The 21-year-old notched his 30th goal of the season on Friday, becoming the first player this season to reach that point. It’s the third consecutive season in which he has reached that mark. In addition, captain Vincent Lecavalier has six goals and 10 points in his last nine games while Martin St. Louis has 12 assists in his last 11 outings.

Their problem lies more on the back end as Tampa Bay has the league’s worst defense, surrendering an average of 3.42 goals per game. They miss up-and-coming blueliner Victor Hedman, who’s been out since December 27 with a concussion. But their problem lies more between the pipes, as their tandem of Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon hasn’t provided any consistency in goal.

Roloson, the league’s oldest player, was the Bolts’ playoff hero last year but has hasn't won since beating Pittsburgh in November – going 0-6-1 with a 4.39 GAA in eight starts since. The team originally hoped that Garon would serve as a capable backup to Roloson when they signed him to a two-year deal in the offseason, but the 34-year-old has had to shoulder a bigger role with his goalie partner’s struggles. It’s unclear which one will start on Sunday.


The character Stamkos has displayed through the Bolts’ recent struggles has been remarkable. He’s the main cog in a talented forward lineup that is the envy of many other NHL teams, being the first player in the league to reach the 30-goal mark on Friday. Stamkos, who turns 22 in just over a month, has now reached that plateau for a third-straight season, giving him more career goals (149) before that age than any other active player in the NHL. But not only is he an elite scorer in this league, he’ll do anything for his team and his mates – which was on full display against Washington when Troy Brouwer boarded Martin St. Louis. Stamkos responded by beelining across the ice with fists flying, starting a fray in defense of his teammate. Look for that passion and intensity to be on display Sunday in Tampa.

Head coach Dan Bylsma said following practice Saturday that they would need their best defensemen to continue stepping up in order to string together more wins, specifically naming Brooks Orpik as one of those players. Orpik, a Penguins alternate captain and one of the team’s vocal leaders, has played outstanding the last few games. He’s drastically upped the physicality factor – collecting 22 hits over his last three contests – and is one of Pittsburgh’s best shutdown defensemen and penalty killers. With that being said, they’ll need him to deliver on Sunday against a team known for their offensive firepower and dangerous power play.

One of the Lightning’s downfalls have been allowing quick response goals from their opponents. Four times in its past six games, Tampa Bay allowed goals fewer than 35 seconds after it lit the lamp: twice (in 33 and 17 seconds) Jan. 3 against the Maple Leafs; in 30 seconds Tuesday against the Canucks, and in 24 seconds Thursday against the Hurricanes.

F Sidney Crosby, concussion-like symptoms (15)
D Simon Despres, Grade 1 MCL (2)
D Kris Letang, broken nose and concussion (19)
F Jordan Staal, knee (4)

D Marc-Andre Bergeron, upper body (1)
F Adam Hall, upper body (4)
D Victor Hedman, upper body (8)
D Mattias Ohlund, knee (43)
F Ryan Shannon, lower body (10)
F JT Wyman, upper body (4)

Author: Michelle Crechiolo

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