Game 15 Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning vs Edmonton Oilers

Fresh from a four-day break following an assertive home victory over the Blues, the Tampa Bay Lightning (10-4-0, 20 PTS) will host the Edmonton Oilers (4-10-2, 10 PTS), which, beset by injuries and a poor start out of the gate, earned a badly-needed overtime win against the Panthers on Tuesday.

To date, the Lightning’s schedule has featured a number of high-caliber opponents and a few thoroughly-flawed or heavily-distressed clubs; the Oilers, as their record indicates, are one of the latter squads. Anything is possible (witness the lowly Sabres knocking off the mighty Sharks last night) within a single game, of course, but Tampa Bay ought to be licking their chops at the chance to pummel a hobbled Edmonton team that has had immense trouble keeping the puck out of the back of its net.

The two clubs last met in the tail-end of the 2011-2012 season, at the time a largely inconsequential match which the Lightning won via the skills competition. Both ended up finishing up well out of playoff contention; the Oilers won the Nail Yakupov sweepstakes while the Lightning, despite a heavy run on defensemen in the first 10 picks, was content to add Slater Koekkoek to its growing prospect pool. Guy Boucher would toil on in Tampa Bay but Tom Renney would give way to Ralph Krueger in Edmonton.

A lockout-shortened season later and the two clubs are drastically different: in Tampa Bay, Jon Cooper has taken over the reigns as the Bolts’ bench boss, Lecavalier is gone and a significant youth movement is underway while, for Edmonton, it’s now The Dallas Eakins Experiment and doing damage control with Yakupov.

Fortunately for the embattled young Russian forward, he’ll be on a line tonight with dynamic left winger Taylor Hall, who makes his return from a knee injury. Hall will reportedly wear a knee brace for the foreseeable future to protect the knee. But with Hall back in the lineup, the Oilers have all three of their prized 1st overall picks in the same game for the first time since October 19th in Ottawa.

Looking at the disparity in these teams’ records, you might wonder what’s been the biggest difference. It’s hard not to point to goaltending. For the Oilers, who have used three netminders this season, only one of them has an even-strength save percentage over .900. That’s awful. Devan Dubnyk, their presumed starter (who was quite good last season), has an ESSV% of .876. Jason LaBarbera, signed from the Phoenix Coyotes to back up, has been only slightly better at .891. Richard Bachman is the lone bright spot at .903 but he’s injured and won’t play tonight.

Compare those numbers to that of entrenched starter Ben Bishop, who gets the nod again tonight: Bishop’s ESSV% is a sparkling .927, a touch better than his overall save percentage of .925.

As we’ve seen, however, goalie play can only mean so much — a team dominating control of the puck can overcome poor goaltending and a team with terrific goaltending can still be beat if they don’t shoot to score enough goals to win the game. Looking at the 5v5 Close stats, these teams look pretty similar — Corsi For% of 48.5% for the Lightning, 44.8% for the Oilers; Fenwick For% of 48.1% for the Lightning, 45.1% for the Oilers. So both teams are controlling shot attempts at a fairly similar, sub-par rate. (Tampa Bay is right around 20th in both Corsi and Fenwick; Edmonton closer to the bottom of the league).

So the biggest difference then between these two clubs is undoubtedly the goaltending, where Ben Bishop has led the Lightning to a 10-4 overall record and the underwhelming trio in Edmonton has them at 4-10-2.

Unfortunately for Edmonton, their struggles don’t stop at 5v5. They’re also not a very good special teams club either, which is surprising considering the wealth of offensive talent up front and how dominant their core was in the AHL during the lockout, particularly on the man advantage. Injuries to their top players have definitely been part of the problem, as Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, and Sam Gagner have all missed time for various reasons (among others), but 16 games into the season the Oilers are converting on just 13.5% of their power plays (24th in the NHL) while the Lightning are at a 21.4% clip (7th in the NHL). The penalty kill is a similar story — a recent hot streak for the Lightning has them at 85.4% (7th in the league) while the Oilers are down at 76.8% (26th in the league).

So on paper, the Lightning should have the advantage in all situations, but, anything can happen. The Oilers have their most complete lineup of the season and head coach Dallas Eakins has admitted some mistakes in implementing his defensive system and has worked to correct them.


Season Series

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Special Teams

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Team stats cited from Extra Skater.

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