Game 14 Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning vs St. Louis Blues

The Tampa Bay Lightning (9-4-0, 13 PTS), after rousing themselves mid-game to take care of business against a depleted Hurricanes squad last night, go to work again this evening opposite a much more formidable foe, the St. Louis Blues (8-1-2, 18 PTS), which blanked the Florida Panthers Friday to extend its win-streak to three games.

If the road tilt against Carolina was perceived as a ‘winnable’ game, tonight’s match should understood as a significant challenge awaiting the Bolts. Under the guidance of Ken Hitchcock, who replaced Davis Payne in November 2011, St. Louis has transformed into one of the West’s best clubs, one that gets a lot of mileage out of whoever might be in net (oft-injured Jaroslav Halak, Brian Elliott, Jake Allen and, before being shipped to Ottawa, Ben Bishop) in no small part to the tremendously disciplined defense the skaters in front play while carrying the balance of play more often than not. It’s been a very good formula for regular season success even if the payoff has been limited as far as postseason results go (the Blues bowed out to the Kings, the eventual Stanley Cup Champions, in the 2nd-round of the 2012 playoffs and again in the 1st-round this past spring).

The two clubs haven’t played each other since April of the 2011-2012 season, when the Blues, resurgent and en route to its impressive 109-point finish in the standings, took a road victory in decisive fashion. Since then, there’s been some personnel changes (most recently, the signing of Derek Roy and swap of David Perron for Magnus Paajarvi in the offseason) but Hitchcock’s squad is churning along largely as before, except, perhaps, having a player scoring at the prolific pace (however long it’s bound to last) Alex Steen, who comes into tonight’s contest as the league’s leader in goals, has.

St. Louis, currently sitting third in what should be a season-long Central Division dogfight, still has a solid possession game at even-strength (5v5, 5v5 Close) where, like the Lightning, it is fairly stingy when it comes to allowing opposition attempts (5v5, 5v5 Close). To their credit, Halak and Elliott alike have been difficult for opponents to solve even when the puck does get to them. Offensively, the Blues are lagging a bit in terms of generating attempts (5v5, 5v5 “Close”) — although Tampa Bay is an even greater offender in this regard  — but this problem has been alleviated in the early going, as with the Lightning, by managing some of the top shooting percentages, particularly during 5v5 play and with the man-advantage.

Consequently, both teams are among the league leaders in goals scored. The Blues have managed exceptionally well during tightly-contested 5v5 play where good process (controlling the puck, limiting attempts and, thus, chances) has yielded good results for the Blues: 14 goals for while allowing just 5. The Lightning got off to a hot start, defensively, in this game state but the goal differential has leveled off a bit over the preceding handful of games.

The last time a premier team rolled into town for a Saturday night showdown, the Bolts seemed to have difficulty getting up for the challenge, delivering a mostly listless performance in the process of getting smoked by the Bruins. The stakes may not be as high given that conceding points to an out-of-conference opponent is a much-lesser sin but tonight presents another golden opportunity for the Lightning, which will enjoy a lengthy layover before hosting the Oilers on Thursday, to make a statement with its play against top competition and bank a couple more points it might otherwise wish it had once in the midst of the late-season grind.


Season Series

TIED 0-0
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Special Teams

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Team stats cited from Extra Skater.

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