Game 25 Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning vs Philadelphia Flyers

After enjoying an emotional tribute to Martin St. Louis and subsequently everything seeming to go its way en route to a drubbing of the Rangers, the Tampa Bay Lightning (15-8-1, 31 PTS) will host another match filled with particular import, this time against the Philadelphia Flyers (10-11-2, 22 PTS), which couldn’t recover from a two-goal hole while going toe-to-toe with the Panthers the other night.

The two clubs haven’t played since late March, when they were locked neck-and-neck several games outside of the playoff picture. The Lightning bested the Flyers that night — taking the three-game season series in the process — and, with each team going on to miss the postseason, wound up with a much better draft slot. Tampa Bay, of course, continued the transition it began with promotion of Jon Cooper after relieving Guy Boucher of his duties by opting to use one of the two compliance buyouts it was allowed under the league’s new collective bargaining agreement in order to part ways with its former captain. Philadelphia — fresh from deciding to shed the contrats of Ilya Bryzgalov and Daniel Briere — continued its own transformation by inking Lecavalier to a manageable deal duration- and cap-wise prior to the start of free agency, soon after, Valtteri Filppula effectively became Lecavalier’s replacement after agreeing to terms with the Bolts.

We’ve all known this day was coming but there’s no way around it: it’s going to be weird return of VL4(0) to the home a franchise he served for so many years. For many, it might even be all the more peculiar to witness Lecavalier donning the orange and black in Tampa. It’s a change that has benefited all parties to this point, at least in reference to the decision-making surrounding Lecavalier. The two clubs do arrive at this juncture, however, in very different circumstances, with the Lightning still retaining one of the top records in the Eastern Conference while the Flyers — making up ground by going 6-2-2 in the last ten games after a dismal 4-10-1 start to the season, currently hold 11th-place.

For Philadelphia — a franchise that seems forever mired in a search for stable goaltending (not unlike the Lightning of recent seasons) — it’s been a bit of a Twilight Zone season. Steve Mason, after what seemed like years of disappointment following a Calder Trophy-winning rookie season in Columbus with the Blue Jackets under the tutelage of Ken Hitchcock, has been a revelation in net. His (record) record is backed up by a stellar .938 even-strength save percentage, and despite earning the lion’s share of starts, has actually been the worse goaltender, at least by that metric, as his teammate Ray Emery holds a sparkling .944 mark at 5v5. The small caveat there is the sample size, as Mason has faced 437 shots at 5v5 and Emery just 126. Where the two goaltenders differ is while killing penalties — Emery is stopping just above 80% of shots on opponent’s power plays (.804 PKSV%) while Mason is doing much better (.896 PKSV%). While penalty-kill save percentage has been noted as mostly random in the past, it does seem as if the Lightning could exploit Emery a bit with lateral puck movement while on the man advantage, as new Flyers coach Craig Berube opts for his “back-up” netminder tonight in Tampa.

With Ben Bishop nicked up in practice earlier today, Jon Cooper will opt for Anders Lindback in net against Emery (though this was reportedly the plan all along) — so the Flyers, who have struggled mightily to score goals (2.17 goals per game, 25th in the league ahead of only Buffalo, Carolina, New York, New Jersey and Florida) will have the marginal benefit of avoiding Ben Bishop in favor of Lindback (.882 ESSV%, .850 PKSV%).

So the Lightning — whose usually-potent offense has remained as such this season so far (7th in the league with 2.88 goals per game) — will have to find a way to solve this unexpected version of the Flyers that not only features their former captain but also an anemic offense and significantly above-average goaltending. Fortunately for the Bolts, built on the back of that excellent goaltending is Philadelphia’s 103.1 PDO (5th in the NHL), which may indicate the recent upward trend for the Flyers (6-2-2 in their last 10) is at least in part due to some good luck moreso than sustainably improved play.


Season Series

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Special Teams

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Team stats cited from Extra Skater.

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