Steven Stamkos (74 points) and Martin St. Louis (67 points) lead the Tampa Bay Lightning in scoring and have been an integral part of the team's success.
This is a feature I wish I could do more often but it's just hard to do with the grind of the season. Today, we'll be taking an in-depth look at the Tampa Bay Lightning and what makes them so successful, yet a target for a quality road win.
A lot of Red Wings fans have adopted the Lightning as their Eastern Conference team after Steve Yzerman became the team's General Manager. Yzerman came to a team that had a lot of the pieces already in place but improved them even more by signing Pavel Kubina, Dan Ellis, Sean Bergenheim, Brett Clark, Dominic Moore, Marc-Andre Bergeron, Randy Jones, re-signing Martin St. Louis, bringing Simon Gagne in via trade and recently trading for goalie Dwayne Roloson. Yzerman's team is sitting in a good spot as the games remaining to be played is 25 and the team has a six point lead on the Washington Capitals.
The Tampa Bay offense is very dangerous and something that the Wings will need to approach carefully. Like the Red Wings, the Bolts have the luxury of a line 1a and line 1b system. Vinny Lecavalier usually centers Simon Gagne and Teddy Purcell while Steven Stamkos centers Martin St. Louis and Steve Downie. If you ask me, that's an exceptional set of lines to be able to put out on the ice and hammer a team with. Simon Gagne hasn't been quite what was expected after coming over from Philadelphia in a trade for Matt Walker. Gagne has just 9 goals and 9 assists in 39 games played this season, but just because he's not producing all that many points doesn't mean he can be overlooked. Having to potentially deal with those two lines back-to-back is a tough task for any team and will be a big one for a Red Wings team that has struggled defensively at times this season.
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To say Steven Stamkos has been good is a huge understatement. Stamkos, who just turned 21, is on pace for 100+ points and should eclipse 50 goals. With Sidney Crosby out with concussion problems, Stamkos has an easier path to the Rocket Richard Trophy. But Stamkos is not concerned with individual trophies and he has his team sitting in a good spot heading towards the playoffs. Stamkos has quickly become an elite scorer and he can do it in any way imaginable and whether it's scoring on breakaways, playing the point on the power play, slamming home one-timers or using his hand-eye coordination, he can get it done. Watching this guy play is pretty incredible and he's already cemented himself as a top-scorer and a fan favorite, just three years into his professional career.
Shutting him down will be tough but is definitely feasible. However, the problem lies with having to shut him, Martin St. Louis, Vinny Lecavalier, Teddy Purcell and Simon Gagne down, too. Lecavalier has been the face of the franchise since being drafted first overall in 1998 by the Lightning and helped lead them to their first Stanley Cup in 2004. Lecavalier is looking to get back there and has an exceptional supporting cast to help get him there.
The Lightning have recently lost forward Ryan Malone to a severe abdominal injury for about 6-8 weeks and have recalled Johan Harju in his place. Malone, a former Penguin, had 11 goals and 23 assists in 50 games this season but the abdominal tear will keep him out for a significant amount of time. Harju, a 6'3" 205 lb forward from Sweden, only has a goal and an assist in his 9 games this season and has spent the majority of the time with Norfolk of the AHL. But expect Harju's numbers to improve as he plays alongside Dominic Moore and Sean Bergenheim. Bergenheim (11 G, 12 A) and Moore (10 G, 9 A) are solid contributors from the third line. Former Red Wing Mattias Ritola has played 24 games this year but was waived because of some health issues (Meneire's disease). Ritola cleared waivers and is in Norfolk.
The Red Wings will need to use their great defensive forwards like Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk, and yes, even Todd Bertuzzi, to help out a defense that will have its hands full with this talented Lightning team. It's a tough task and it can be done, but it will be tough on the road as Guy Boucher will get the last change.
Perhaps one of the least talked about defenses in the league, Tampa Bay is deceptively good. The Lightning allow the fourth lowest amount of shots on goal at 28.4 and although the goals against is pretty high, that seems to fall more on the goaltending end. The Lightning are in the top half of the league in shot-blocking, takeaways, and a lot of stuff that doesn't translate to the stat sheet. The blueliners are helped out by an aggressive forecheck that forces a lot of passes in order to get into the zone and then the offense has to deal with a defensive corps that is pretty big. Mattius Ohlund (6'4", 229 lbs), Victor Hedman (6'6", 229 lbs), Matt Smaby (6'6", 239 lbs) and Pavel Kubina (6'4", 259 lbs) are the bigger players on the team and all defensemen but the 5'9" Bergeron are above 6 feet in height.
Hedman, the second overall draft pick in 2009, is learning the game pretty well and has become a good defensive contributor as well as adding some points on the other end of the ice. Ohlund, the guy who knocked Zetterberg out for a handful of games last year, is more of a defensive defenseman than Hedman and is a tough guy to deal with in the defensive zone. Ohlund uses his size well to block shots and hit and he's a very smart player in the defensive end.
Tampa Bay's defense is pretty solid but it can be cracked. I expect big guys like Franzen, Bertuzzi and Holmstrom to get some good ice time to counter the size of the defense but also don't be surprised to see the speedy guys like Helm and Eaves try to get some separation and stretch the defense with that speed. It will definitely be an interesting match-up to watch and it could be a game where Datsyuk can flourish if it's a game that turns into something that resembles the All-Star game more than a regular season game.
Tampa Bay has used four goalies this season but the one that's the main man in net now is Dwayne Roloson. Yes, he of Islanders and Oilers fame. Roloson is 9-5-0 since coming to Tampa Bay from the Islanders and has four shutouts to his credit. He's had a few rough games (5 goals allowed to the Penguins, 5 to the Canes, and 7 to the Sabres) but he's been pretty solid otherwise. Dan Ellis is the other goalie on the roster but right now is seemingly the back-up to Roloson. Mike Smith, who looks eerily like Andy Samberg, was waived earlier this season but no team claimed him and he was not assigned to the Norfolk squad.
The Bolts' power play unit is one of the best in the league and is just a hair above Detroit's 20.6% at 20.8%, 5th best in the NHL. They're even better at home with a 24.2% mark.
Stamkos (4:35), St. Louis (4:31), Lecavalier (3:52), Simon Gagne (3:02), Teddy Purcell (2:57), Brett Clark (2:42), Pavel Kubina (2:52), Steve Downie (2:29), and Marc-Antoine Pouliot (1:45) are the top 10 in power play time on ice per game on the team but Johan Harju and Marc-Andre Bergeron are starting to get time as well. Bergeron can absolutely rip it from the point and that's potentially a big problem for the Red Wings because of Jimmy Howard's propensity to give up rebounds. With a shot that fast he may have to give up a juicy rebound in order to stop it. This is a highly skilled power play unit and can put up points at ease if given the advantage. Stamkos has 15 of his 40 goals (37.5%) on the power play and Martin St. Louis has 25 of his 47 assists (53.2%) on the power play, so they're efficient and lethal when they're out there.
However, there is one place that the Wings may be able to exploit the power play unit of the Lightning. Stamkos frequently plays on the point on the man advantage and with a guy as fast as Darren Helm on the penalty kill, there could be a few rushes the other way that puts the Lightning at the defensive disadvantage. Case in point, last night Darroll Powe (who is not close to Helm's speed) had a breakaway while the Lightning were on the power play and Stamkos had to hook him while in pursuit
:: Penalty Kill ::
Overall, this will be a tough road game for the Wings as they're playing a team loaded with offensive talent and a sneaky good defense. They'll have to be sharp like they were against the Bruins over the weekend in order to pull out a win.