Game 19 Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning vs Anaheim Ducks

Having passed its first test following The Injury by riding Ben Bishop past an equally, if not more, impressive Carey Price, for a nail-biter of a road victory over the Canadiens, the Lightning (13-5-0, 26 PTS) have returned to the familiar confines of the Tampa Bay Times Forum to play host to the the Anaheim Ducks (15-4-1, 31 PTS), which experienced a slight hiccup to an otherwise red-hot start the other night at the hands of the Panthers.

Tonight is a showdown between each conference’s present standings leaders. Anaheim heads into the match on an impressive 8-1-1 run in its last 10 games. Tampa Bay is 8-2-0 in that same span. The Ducks’ depth has also been tested a bit and the club will also possibly be absent the services of a prominent center of its own in Ryan Getzlaf, who has missed the last two games with an upper-body injury.

The two cross-country organizations haven’t played each other since the latter half of the 2011-2012 season. The Lightning, bolstered by Steven Stamkos’ pair of goals, came out on top of that late February skirmish, which both clubs, coincidentally, also came into in the midst of very good runs. Both teams missed the playoffs that campaign but Anaheim got a bit of a head start in its resurgence, which was triggered by Randy Carlyle’s ouster and replacement by Bruce Boudreau in December 2011.

During the lockout-shortened season, the Lightning, of course, faltered and languished after a brief hot start. The Ducks, meanwhile, completed a dramatic regular season turnaround by finishing with 66 points in 48 games, good enough to finish with the third-best league record and second only to the Blackhawks 77 points in the Western Conference, although it was a short but sweet return to the NHL’s annual postseason derby as seventh-seeded Red Wings eliminated the Ducks in a quarterfinal series that took seven games to settle.

Anaheim’s decision to trade Bobby Ryan, a four-time 30-goal scorer, may have struck observers as an obvious gamble despite his dip in efficiency last season and a young, promising sniper in Jakob Silfverberg being part of the return. Given the club’s middling prowess finding the net and generating attempts at even-strength last season, that seemed a reasonable take to have coming into this one. That the Ducks got relief in the form of one of the league’s best power plays, in conjunction with one of the top aggregate save percentages at evens, may have served as another red flag.

Whatever widespread expectations for Anaheim were, apart from a penalty kill that has struggled even more than it did last season, many indicators are largely positive: in particular, the club is scoring at a better rate, its even-strength attempt differential, especially during tight play, has improved and the save percentages, on the balance at even-strength and during 5v5 close situations, may regress some but are reasonable bets to linger close their current level. That said, the Ducks have benefited from a fair bit of puck-luck in the early going. The league-best even-strength shooting percentage, particularly in close games, looks due for a cooling off a la what the Lightning underwent recently.

In short, Tampa Bay finds itself facing a team that’s, with a cursory glance, not altogether dissimilar from itself. Anaheim should definitely be season as another one of the early-season benchmark games, especially for a young club looking to assert itself while still in the wake of losing such a key cog to its offense.

Looking ahead, after tonight’s tilt the Stamkos-less Bolts will have their mettle tested further when they hit the road for a rigorous, four-game swing — with matches against the Coyotes, Kings, Sharks and, again, the Ducks — through some of the toughest destinations in the Western Conference. It’d be a tall order even with 91 in the lineup but the Lightning, who’ve already done quite well for themselves by accumulating twelve points already in this second ten-game leg of the season, can view positive results during the upcoming gauntlet like a bonus, especially if they can hold manage to hold serve at home tonight.


Season Series

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Special Teams

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Team stats cited from Extra Skater.

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