Game 16 Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning @ Detroit Red Wings

There’s no shortage of attention being paid to tonight’s showdown between recently-minted divisional foes, the Tampa Bay Lightning (11-4-0, 22 PTS) and host Detroit Red Wings (9-5-3, 21 PTS). Yes, the prodigal son returns (again) and it’s a noteworthy homecoming for another familiar face. The Bolts, after dispatching the Oilers on Thursday, have won three-straight games and are 8-2-0 in their last ten match while the Wings fell in overtime the other night after allowing two goals in the final frame to the Stars, erasing separate leads.

There’s no need to dwell on the (relatively) recent history between the two clubs as there isn’t much and what little there is has been an overwhelmingly one-sided affair in Detroit’s favor. The last tilt, a 4-2 decision at Joe Louis Arena in late November of the 2011-2012 season, marked the sixth-consecutive Red Wings victory over the Lightning dating back to the 2003-2004 season. So, yeah, it’d be nice to see the Bolts get this particular monkey off the organization’s back and, though stone-cold Steve Yzerman is likely to downplay any particular significance to tonight’s contest, you can’t help but think there’s an immense amount of private satisfaction at stake with the game serving, essentially, as a showcase of his latest handiwork before his managerial mentors.

Regardless of tonight’s outcome, the early returns from signing Valtteri Filppula and Stephen Weiss — who will miss tonight’s game with a groin injury — stand in stark contrast to each other. Acquired in the off-season for similar term and money, Filppula, with six goals and six assists, is tied with Alex Killorn for third in overall scoring and has hovered within reach of a point-per-game pace without having to make sacrifices to his two-way play and the value he provides as a puck-retriever and mover in his own end. Even if the 29 year-old Finn’s production tails off a bit, ignoring the sharp decline in production during what was an injury-plagued campaign for Filppula during the lockout-shortened season and turning to him in the wake of deciding to part ways with Vincent Lecavalier stands, to this point, as a rather large feather in Yzerman’s cap. Weiss, meanwhile, has struggled to live up to expectations having put up just two goals and an assist before aggravating his groin.

Detroit has had its defensive depth tested in dealing with the absences of Jonathan Ericsson and Brendan Smith (both of whom have suffered shoulder injuries) and Johan Franzen is also out for the Red Wings, who have recalled Luke Glendening, either to anchor the second line or fill in for another center who gets tabbed with that assignment, as head coach Mike Babcock is apparently loathe to split Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg, both of whom — with 18 points apiece — sit just outside the top-ten in league scoring. The Lightning, meanwhile, have arrived at this juncture very much healthy.

There are particular differences, of course, but both teams are built similarly. Each has a top-flight line and well-seasoned youth infused in the forward and defensive ranks. In Jimmy Howard, the Red Wings have an entrenched go-to goaltender (although Jonas Gustavsson has put up the better numbers in limited action) whereas the Lightning have leaned on Ben Bishop, who’s put together a terrific stretch, for much of the early going this season but has only recently emerged as the clear-cut starting option.

Put bluntly, if there was ever an opportune time to play the Red Wings, especially in their barn, it’s probably now. Tampa Bay has a chance to exorcise some demons against a club that has won 25 of 32 all-time meetings between both organizations and extend its divisional and conference lead while keeping a game or two in hand on nearly every foe in the process but a loss, still early in the season and at the start of a road-heavy stint in the schedule, is arguably easier to rationalize and move on from.

There are other, statistically-driven observations worth making but it’s no secret that Detroit’s special sauce has been rooted in its ability to secure and retain the puck and family obligations mean further elaboration is not possible beyond suggesting that the off-season turnover and injuries so far have seemed to hurt the Red Wings’ possession game, which has a bit off from the efficiency it showed last season.


Season Series

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Special Teams

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Team stats cited from Extra Skater.

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