Game 28 Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning vs Ottawa Senators

The Tampa Bay Lightning (16-10-1, 33 PTS), back in Tampa after getting blanked by the Blue Jackets the other night, are due to take on the Ottawa Senators (11-13-4, 26 PTS), which took over and won Tuesday’s contest against the Panthers after falling behind by a couple goals.

Both teams come into tonight’s match suffering from recent inconsistency, although Ottawa currently occupying a more precarious spot in the standings after maintaining around a .500 win-percentage throughout the first few season segments. It’s been feast-or-famine offensively for Tampa Bay, which, after scoring three-plus goals in twelve of its first seventeen games, has done so in just four of the ten played since losing its superstar center to injury.

The Bolts won the last meeting and took two of the three between the two clubs earlier this year during the lockout-shortened, 48-game season although the Sens had previously swept the last full campaign’s season-series. Having made consecutive postseason appearances after firing Cory Clouston to hire its current bench boss, Paul MacLean, in June 2011, Ottawa’s struggles in the first third of this season might strike some as surprising.

It wasn’t supposed to be playing out like this. Yeah, there was the melodrama provided by the circumstances of Daniel Alfredsson jumping ship but the Sens acted decisively to obtain scoring-winger Bobby Ryan from the Ducks and, after not letting the freak injury its high-scoring defenseman — the key cog in the club’s engine — derail their season, what else but a return to the playoffs could become of one with a fully-healthy Erik Karlsson?

A return may still very well be in the cards, of course, but with the way the league’s playoffs are determined now, the Sens are going to likely going to have to be content to beat out one of a handful of teams it is presently at the bottom-end of a cluster with. That’s a tall order, even at this relatively early stage of the season.

A big part in Ottawa’s decline stems from a significant drop-off in its save percentages. The Senators, which enjoyed some of the league’s best goaltending last season (Ben Bishop, Robin Lehner, Craig Anderson — it almost didn’t matter who was in net), has seen both Lehner’s and, to a greater extent, Anderson’s save percentages cool off. It’s a development partly fueled by a decline in the club’s possession game: in 2012-2013, Ottawa was in the upper echelon of teams for the percentage of shot attempts for, a measure it is currently middling at, though it is still close to the mark it set last season for generating attempts. The change, then, stems from so far allowing about ten more attempts per 60 minutes of score-close action than it did earlier this year, a development that has taken it from the middle-ground to the bottom of the league in this aspect. Consequently, Ottawa has plummeted from a once lofty perch, in terms of attempt differential.

Tampa Bay, interestingly enough, has done just about the exact opposite to this point: its even-strength possession game has made strides while the goaltending — the doing of Bishop, obtained from the Sens near last season’s trade deadline — has been much improved. The Lightning still has its own warts and a mixed bag as well in the calculated risk of a more aggressive penalty kill which has, on the balance, been fairly successful — even managing to generate three shorthanded goals — despite giving up shots and attempts at a greater rate than it did before.


Season Series

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Special Teams

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Team stats cited from Extra Skater.

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