Game 38 Preview: Tampa Bay Lightning vs Montreal Canadiens

With their respite concluded, the Tampa Bay Lightning (23-11-3, 49 PTS), which scored early and often in a trouncing of the Panthers on Monday, will be paid a visit tonight by the Montreal Canadiens (22-13-3, 47 PTS), which blew a three-goal lead before closing out the Predators in overtime a week ago.

The Lightning took the first of the four scheduled regular season meetings between the two clubs, which are nearly neck-and-neck in the Atlantic division’s standings, last month. At 10-6-1, the Canadiens have, to this point, been effective on the road but the Bolts, at 14-3-1, have been even more so when playing host. Tampa Bay is still nursing a slew of injuries (forwards Ryan Malone, Steven Stamkos and defensemen Keith Aulie, Eric Brewer and Sami Salo) of varying degrees of severity while Montreal will be doing without the services of a couple vets — one (Douglas Murray) a hard-hitting but largely hapless defender and the other (George Parros) a sort of thinking-man’s pugilist — as well as a young forward in Michael Bournival.

After storming out of the gates to a 5-2 record, Montreal began a cooling-off process — driven by a floundering possession game — which had it at just a game over .500 the last time the two teams met. The Bleu, Blanc et Rouge followed that contest by riding a superb stretch of goaltending to a 10-1-1 over its subsequent dozen matches but with the offense in a bit of a dry spell — Montreal has scored no more than a goal in five of its last seven contests — wins have become harder to come by.

The Canadiens have settled in as a middling club when it comes to generating attempts and carrying the balance of play but find themselves, after finishing among the league’s best last season, near the bottom of the barrel in terms of limiting opposition attempts during 5v5 play thus far in the 2013-2014 campaign. Very competent special teams play — both a productive power play which has tallied 25 of Montreal’s 94 goals (26%) and a sharp penalty kill that only allows a 5th-best rate of 4.5 goals per 60 minutes shorthanded — as well as the aggregate body of work put forth by the goaltending tandem of Carey Price and Peter Budaj seem like the key stabilizers for a club that has mainly struggled to score at evens.

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MTL’s Rolling 5v5 Fenwick (Unblocked Shot Attempts) % via Extra Skater

It’s not an entirely different overall story for Tampa Bay (which has similarly benefited from excellent goaltending, mostly from Ben Bishop) but, possession-wise, the trend has been quite the opposite direction thanks to a stretch of play over the past few weeks that has included several dominant performances. While Tampa Bay’s transformation is probably partially due to hitting a relative soft spot in the schedule, it’s worth pinching yourself and recalling that the roster, at this point, has been missing one of the league’s elite offensive talents for longer than they iced him this season, began, and is still chock-full of players without a full-season of experience at this level. It’s a development that bodes very well for the club’s fortunes moving forward.

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TB’s Rolling 5v5 Fenwick (Unblocked Shot Attempts) % via Extra Skater

Having earned twelve of the twenty points possible in the current ten-game season segment, the Bolts are playing with house money in the next three contests. There is a tremendous opportunity in this weekend set; a win tonight and tomorrow against the Rangers would give the Lightning a healthy cushion in the standings before embarking on a four-game swing out West and seeing where the chips will have fallen after playing seven of eight games on the road.

NOTES


Season Series


TAMPA BAY LEADS 1-0
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Rosters


LIGHTNING CANADIENS
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STATPACK

 

Team

TOI, POSSESSION & SCORING TOTALS
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POSSESSION & SCORING RATES
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POSSESSION, SCORING & SHOOTING PERCENTAGES
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Special Teams

POWER PLAY
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PENALTY KILL
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Goaltending

ON-ICE TOTALS
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ON-ICE RATES
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ON-ICE PERCENTAGES
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Scoring

LIGHTNING
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CANADIENS
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Team stats cited from Extra Skater.

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