Game 31 Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning vs Detroit Red Wings

Back in The Big Guava after seeing an utterly dominant even-strength performance squandered against the Capitals on Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Lightning (17-10-3, 37 PTS) will play host this evening to the Detroit Red Wings (15-9-8, 38 PTS), which fell to the Panthers in OT the other night after allowing the other Floridian franchise to claw back into the game.

The Bolts came out on top the last time these two teams met nearly a month ago. It was a rare victory over the Wings, even more notable for the fact that the win came in Detroit and it just so happened to be Steven Stamkos’ last full game before breaking his leg against the Bruins, an injury that has him sidelined indefinitely. Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay’s premier defender, also remains unavailable due to injury along with Keith Aulie, Ryan Malone, and Tom Pyatt.

The Red Wings will also missing several key regulars, as dynamic Swedish forward Henrik Zetterberg (ailing from a herniated disc), goalie Jimmy Howard (knee) and Stephen Weiss (groin), who missed the last contest between the two clubs, are all out. So is former Lightning college free-agent target Danny DeKeyser, who is still recovering from a shoulder injury while on long-term injured reserve. Forward Darren Helm might also be inactive.

Like Tampa Bay, which has and continues to receive key contributions from players who have excelled after getting seasoned in the AHL (Radko Gudas, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and, to a lesser extent, Nikita Kucherov), Detroit has turned to young talents to aid the marquee vets in dealing with the in-season adversity. Red Wings forwards Tomas Tatar (6 goals, 7 assists in 24 games), Gustav Nyquist (4 goals, 3 assists in 10 games) and Joakim Andersson (4 goals, 6 assists in 32 games) have been impressive like their counterparts with the Lightning.

Even statistically, the two clubs — in an ongoing dogfight for the Flortheast Atlantic division’s final guaranteed playoff spot — have plenty in common, particularly at even-strength where their possession proxies (% of all attempts, unblocked attempts and shots on goal) as well as shooting and save percentages — especially during 5v5 score-close play — vary from close to virtually identical.

With Howard out, Jonas Gustavsson will tend to Detroit’s crease tonight. After several forgettable seasons in Maple Leaf blue and white and a rough go of things backing up Howard during the lockout-shortened season earlier this year, the 29-year old Swede is finally living up to his nickname (“The Monster”). Gustavsson, who’s won eight of the eleven games he’s played in so far, is having a career year although his workload has been much lighter than many of the top performers to this point, including the Lighting’s own revelation, Ben Bishop, this season.

With 5 goals, the Lightning offense broke out in a big way against the Capitals, aided in no small part by an attack that exploited a weak even-strength club to generate its second-highest attempt and shot totals on the season. Detroit, however, like Tampa Bay, has been good at slowing the opponent’s pace through much of this season but is also one of the clubs with the lowest attempts for rate in the entire league. That said, both teams combined for an entertaining and fairly high-event affair the last time they played.

In short, it will be interesting to see whether the Lightning can muster more of the same effective play it has managed shown since the last half of the Jets game and also whether the feast-or-famine cycle will continue. Also keep an eye on the defensive pairing of Radko Gudas and Matt Carle, who both logged 28+ minutes against Washington. Gudas, in particular, has been tremendous in the two games he has played since returning from injury and looked every bit the reliable anchor that he was expected to provide Matt Carle at the beginning of the season.


Season Series

Tampa Bay leads 1-0
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Special Teams

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Team stats cited from Extra Skater.

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