Game 22 Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning @ San Jose Sharks

It’s been a disappointing and, frankly, humbling start to this road leg for the Tampa Bay Lightning (14-7-0, 28 PTS), which has another tough draw on the docket in the form of the San Jose Sharks (13-3-5, 31 PTS) . Tampa Bay, run roughshod by the Kings the other night, is coming off of its first consecutive loss while San Jose, well-rested after last playing on Sunday, took a thumping at the hands of the Blackhawks in its last game.

After posting a couple of spirited performances in the immediate wake of Stamkos’ injury, the Lightning’s subsequent performances have left a lot to be desired. Against the Kings in particular, the offense looked to be smarting from the absence of its superstar center as the Bolts ended up with its second-lowest shot attempt total (36) of the season, a figure that might have been worse had the score not gotten out of hand so early in the match.

Perhaps the roster composition, which was slightly different as head coach Jon Cooper opted to go a bit ‘heavier’ (in terms of style rather than size) by inserting Dmitry Korobov and P.C. Labrie into the lineup at the expense of Andrej Sustr and B.J. Crombeen, was something of a factor but part of the club’s struggles in the last two games are explained by a swift reversal of own-zone fortune: the Bolts have been stuck by a concentrated dose of bad breaks (see Michael Stone’s, Mike Ribeiro’s and Shane Doan’s tallies in the Coyotes game; Anze Kopitar’s, Matt Frattin’s, Justin Williams’ and Dwight King’s goals in the Kings match), highlighted by Martin Hanzal scoring from the corner, while falling to the ice. Add to the discussion as well as the Lightning’s own caroms, deflections on net, iron rung and close misses. Of course, there isn’t much from the Lightning’s body of work over the past two games, though, to provide consolation and, with the ice tilted its opponents carrying the balance of play, the poor puck-luck merely compounded the club’s struggles.

In any event, Korobov has since been returned to the Syracuse Crunch in the AHL and Mark Barberio looks to draw back in against the Sharks tonight with the hope that his puck-moving and skating abilities may be a boon to the Lightning in their neutral zone play, which was atrocious again against the Kings two nights ago. Puck possession is established in the neutral zone via zone entries, and against the Kings the Bolts were routinely forced to dump the puck in and chase after it rather than carry it in with control with the opportunity to generate offense. Their 5v5 game was terrible, generating barely any good scoring chances and relying on a power play marker and a deflected deump-in for the two goals that beat Ben Scrivens.

Furthermore, after the team’s first consecutive losses of the season, Jon Cooper has turned to goaltender Anders Lindback for tonight’s tilt against Antti Niemi and the Sharks. Niemi enters tonight’s match with some struggles of his own, but still as one of the league’s elite netminders (.918 ESSV%), with a significant advantage over Anders Lindback (.895 ESSV%), though Lindback hasn’t exactly faced the easiest schedule (Boston Bruins twice, Pittsburgh Penguins, one start against the Florida Panthers, and a relief appearance to open this road trip in Glendale against the Phoenix Coyotes).

Look for the Lightning to re-commit to strong system play, better breakouts and defensive zone coverage as they get back to the style that saw them win the first two games without Steven Stamkos against strong opponents (Montreal Canadiens, Anaheim Ducks) before giving up 5 or more two straight games against the Coyotes and Kings. The schedule does not ease up over the back half of this West coast swing, so a renewed effort to strong, fundamental play will be key to getting back into the winning column against some of the league’s best teams.


Season Series

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Special Teams

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Team stats cited from Extra Skater.

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