Posted on: March 9, 2012 12:07 am
Edited on: March 9, 2012 12:10 am
By: Adam Gretz
There's always a winner and a loser in the NHL, and this is a new nightly look at some of the winners and losers in the biggest games and biggest situations across the league.
Tomas Vincour and the Dallas Stars: Dallas went into Thursday's game against San Jose holding a three-point lead in the Pacific Division over the suddenly slumping -- and fading -- Sharks. The one thing the Sharks had going for them was the fact that they had games in hand, as wel as three remaining meetings with the Stars. All of that only matters, of course, if the Sharks find a way to get into the win column again, and they fell short of that once again as the Stars found a way to scratch and claw out another win, beating San Jose in a shootout, 4-3.
It was probably the game of the night in terms of entertainment, and after San Jose took the lead, 3-2, with less than four minutes to play in regulation, Tomas Vincour scored the game-tying goal for the Stars on a goal that cleared the goal line behind Antti Niemi by, oh, let's say about an inch, sending the game to overtime.
The Stars had to kill off a 4-on-3 power play in the extra period, and ended up picking up the extra point in the standings thanks to Vincour's goal -- the only one in the shootout -- in the fifth-round.
With the win, the Stars now hold a four-point lead in the Division race. The two teams will meet two more times this season and the Sharks still have two games in hand, but again, sooner or later they have to start winning some of these games.
[Related: Stars 4, Sharks 3]
Washington Capitals: Say this for the Capitals -- they certainly make it interesting, and for the second time in a week they needed a late third period goal to force overtime, taking advantage of an Eric Brewer turnover, and then receiving a game-winning goal in the extra period from their captain, Alex Ovechkin, to pick up a 3-2 win against the Tampa Bay Lightning.
The win, combined with Florida's embarrassing loss to Philadelphia, moves the Capitals back to within two points of the top spot in the Southeast division.
Unfortunately, the Capitals may have to be without defenseman Mike Green for a game (or more) if the NHL decides to suspended him for his elbow to the head of Lightning forward Brett Connolly in the second period.
[Related: Capitals 3, Lightning 2 -- Video: Green elbows Connolly]
Boston Bruins: If nothing else, Boston's 3-1 win over the Sabres on Thursday night was big because it gave the Bruins consecutive wins for the first time since January 10-12. It also allowed them to maintain their three-point lead over the Ottawa Senators in the surprisingly tight Northeast Division race.
[Related: Bruins 3, Sabres: 1]
Florida Panthers: Yeah, they're still in first place, but you have to wonder how much longer they can go on like this. With their 5-0 loss to the Flyers, combined with the Capitals win, gives them just a two point lead in the division, and for the season they've now been outscored by 26 goals.
How bad is that? The only teams that have been outscored by more goals this season are the New York Islanders, Tampa Bay Lightning, Edmonton Oilers, Minnesota Wild and Columbus Blue Jackets.
That's not the type of company you want to be keeping at this point in the season.
[Related: Flyers 5, Panthers 0]
Another slow start for the Phoenix Coyotes: The Coyotes are making it difficult on themselves. On Thursday night against the Minnesota Wild they found themselves in a 2-0 hole for the fifth consecutive game, and it shouldn't be much of a surprise that for the fifth straight game they ended up in the loss column. Granted, this one came in a shootout, 4-3, giving them a point in the standings, but they can't keep falling behind by two goals early in games.
It's hard enough to win that way in the NHL for any team, especially one that isn't really built to play from behind.
[Related: Wild 3, Coyotes 2]
Anaheim Ducks: Bad night all around for the Ducks and their playoff chances. Not only did they lose to a Blues team that took over sole possession of the top spot in the NHL, a number of the teams they're chasing in the standings (Dallas, Phoenix, San Jose) gained a point. They're now back to being seven points out of the No. 8 seed.
[Related: Blues 3, Ducks 1 -- Blues take over top spot in NHL]
Los Angeles Kings: The Columbus Blue Jackets continued their spoiler role on Thursday with a 3-1 win over a Los Angeles Kings that couldn't afford to drop a game to the worst team in the league, on the same night the Blue Jackets did their part to erase the memories of Jeff Carter's brief stay in central Ohio by replacing his nameplates on fan jerseys with Jack Johnson nameplates.
And speaking of Johnson, and adding insult to injury for the Kings, he managed to get some revenge on the team that trade him (for Carter) by scoring what proved to be the game-winning goal. The Blue Jackets have now won four consecutive games, something they had not done since November. Of 2010.
[Related: Blue Jackets, 3 Kings 1 -- Blue Jackets will fix your Carter jersey]
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter and like us on Facebook.
Tags: Adam Gretz, Alex Ovechkin, Anaheim Ducks, Antti Niemi, Brendan Shanahan, Brett Connolly, Columbus Blue Jackets, Dallas Stars, Eric Brewer, Florida Panthers, Jack Johnson, Jeff Carter, Los Angeles Kings, Mike Green, Minnesota Wild, NHL Discipline, Philadelphia Flyers, Phoenix Coyotes, San Jose Sharks, Shanaban, St. Louis Blues, Tampa Bay Lightning, Thomas Vincour, Washington Capitals
Posted on: December 28, 2011 5:05 pm
Edited on: December 28, 2011 5:21 pm
Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look what has gone wrong for the Tampa Bay Lightning.
By: Adam Gretz
It was less than a year ago that the Tampa Bay Lightning were a 1-0 loss to the Boston Bruins in Game 7 from representing the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup Finals. Thirty-five games into the 2011-12 season and Tampa Bay finds itself in 13th place in the conference, six points out of the eighth and final playoff spot. As we talked about last week, that's already a deficit that is dangerously close to being too much to overcome at this point in the season, especially with five teams ahead of them for the last playoff spot.
So what has changed for Guy Boucher's team in a span of eight months, going from potential Stanley Cup team to what is currently one of the worst teams in the league?
The easy answer is goaltending, as the duo of Dwayne Roloson and Mathieu Garon has been dreadful, currently owning the second-worst team save percentage in the league, barely ahead of the Columbus Blue Jackets for the 30th spot. The position was a major problem in the early part of last season as well, and it was covered up with a short-term band-aid thanks to general manager Steve Yzerman's New Years Day trade that landed Roloson from the New York Islanders. He ended up getting hot at the right time and helped lead the Lightning through the first two rounds of the playoffs as the team upset Pittsburgh and Washington, overcoming a 3-1 series deficit against the former, and sweeping the latter in four straight games.
Entering this season the Lightning decided to stick with the 42-year-old Roloson, a risky maneuver given his age and the number of miles that were already on the tires. So far, it hasn't worked out.
While the Lightning have become synonymous with their 1-3-1 neutral zone trap and have faced their share of criticism for playing such a "boring" system (no, we haven't forgotten about this), the team has given up a ton of goals over the past season-and-a-half. A lot of that has to do with the bad goaltending, as the Lightning do a pretty good job limiting the number of shots taken by the opposition (though, they are worse in that area this season). Still, they were 21th in the NHL in terms of goals allowed last season, and after 35 games this season are 27th.
There are a couple of things working against the Lightning this season.
While the team has young Stars in Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman, and great veteran players like Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, it also has some older parts that, obviously, are now a year older than they were a year ago. Even worse, they've also been without defenseman Mattias Ohlund for the entire season, a player that handled some of the toughest minutes and assignments last season. He didn't provide any offense, but he was the go-to guy in terms of defensive assignments. His absence has not only impacted the overall depth on the team's blue line, but also forced Hedman and Eric Brewer into playing all of the tough assignments that Ohlund would have ordinarily handled.
And, of course, there is more.
Let's just look at some numbers through the first 35 games of the past two seasons:
So here we are. Lightning beat writer Erik Erlendsson has been pointing out over the past week on Twitter that the Lightning have given up nearly the same number of goals this season as they did through the same number of games last season. And he's right. But that's not necessarily a good thing because the number is way too high. And again, the Lightning had a trade in their back pocket on Jan. 1 last season that enabled the team to improve that area as the season went on. Roloson wasn't great, but he was good enough and enough of an upgrade over the alternative. He also hit the aforementioned hot streak at the right time. If the Lightning hadn't made that trade there's a good chance that playoff run never happens. Yzerman is going to need to pull off a similar move (or perhaps a bigger one, involving more of a long-term solution that isn't a player over the age of 40) to help get Tampa Bay back where it wants to be (and needs to be) in the crease if a return to the playoffs is in the team's future.
But while the goals against are nearly identical, there's a pretty large difference from one year to the next that sticks out like a sore thumb: the power play.
Both the number of power play opportunities and the frequency in which they've been able to score on the man advantage. The Lightning didn't win many games last season by keeping their opponents off the scoreboard, they won a lot of games by outscoring them in some of the highest scoring games in the league. A lot of that was the result of a power play that was pretty much unstoppable when it was on top of its game.
A year ago Tampa Bay had the sixth-best power play in the league, converting on 20 percent of its chances. This season? 25th. And even worse, it's a unit that's not generating a ton of shots when it does get an opportunity.
It's been a perfect storm for Tampa Bay this season. Some aging players, bad goaltending, the absence of the best and most reliable defensive defenseman on the team and a power play that's regressed. Basically, a little bit of everything.
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: December 27, 2011 9:50 pm
Edited on: December 27, 2011 10:07 pm
By: Adam Gretz
Tuesday's game against the Philadelphia Flyers was a rough one for Tampa Bay's defense.
It all started when Victor Hedman left the game with an upper body injury and did not return. Things looked even worse when Eric Brewer, one of Tampa Bay's top defensemen (along with Hedman) had to leave the game briefly after he was on the wrong end of a fight with Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds that left him with a rather large amount of blood on his face, as he had to be helped off the ice.
Not a pretty sight for a Tampa Bay team that isn't particularly deep on the blue line anyway, and has struggled to prevent opposing teams from scoring goals all year.
Brewer was able to return to the game for the start of the third period. The Lightning ended up winning the game, 5-1, despite generating just 16 shots on goal (and allowing 32).
For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.
Posted on: November 29, 2011 4:06 pm
Edited on: November 29, 2011 4:30 pm
Pucks and Numbers: a weekly statistical look at what's happening around the NHL. This week: A look at the way the Tampa Bay Lightning take advanatge of Marc-Andre Bergeron's offensive ability.
By: Adam Gretz
A quick look at the top-scoring defensemen in the NHL this season and the second name on the list, as of Tuesday afternoon, is Marc-Andre Bergeron of the Tampa Bay Lightning, currently with 19 points, trailing only the 21 that belong to Ottawa's Erik Karlsson. There are two things, to me, that stand out about Bergeron being in that spot: First, he plays significantly fewer minutes than the other defensemen near the top of the list. Second: His name isn't one that's usually near the top.
Whether or not he remains there for the rest of the season remains to be seen, but he's not only been one of the leading scorers among defensemen across the league, he's also been one of Tampa Bay's top scorers, regardless of position, and a lot of that has to do with the way head coach Guy Boucher utilizes him and takes advantage of what he does well, while also minimizing what he does not do well.
Every player in the NHL has strengths and weaknesses, and Bergeron's are easy to spot every time he steps on the ice. He has a heavy slap shot (Boucher actually talked about it at the Lightning's website on Tuesday) and is a threat to score from the blue line, while he also struggles mightily in his own end of the ice. In all honesty, he's probably the closest thing there is in the NHL to having a fourth forward on the ice without actually putting a fourth forward on the ice.
After spending the 2009-10 season with the Montreal Canadiens, Bergeron was not re-signed by the team and spent most of last season as a free agent before signing with the Lightning in January. He ended up playing 23 regular season games for them, as well as 14 of their 18 playoff games, scoring four goals and recording seven assists in a limited role, mainly in offensive situations and on the power play.
Since joining the team mid-way through last season, it seems as if the Lightning have made sure to put him in situations where his skills can be maximized: the power play, obviously, while also starting as many of his 5-on-5 shifts as they can as far away from his own net as they can get, while also sending him out against the other team's weakest competition.
For the season, he's a plus-four, tops among all Tampa Bay defensemen, and has been on the ice for 14 even strength goals against, the second-lowest total on the team. That doesn't necessarily mean he's been the best, or one of the best, "defensive" players on the team. It actually says more about the way Boucher and the Tampa Bay coaching staff have used him, and the situations they've put him in.
We know he can score on the power play. It's something he's done throughout his career for every team he's spent time with. But let's take a look at how he's been utilized during even-strength situations in recent years.
(The table below looks at the following over the past five seasons: Percentage of shifts started in the offensive zone (Ozone%), total offensive zone starts (Ozone), Neutral Zone Starts (Nzone), Defensive Zone Starts (Dzone), Quality of Competition (Qualcomp) and the number of even-strength points he's produced. Data via Behindthenet.ca)
Obviously, none of his recent teams have asked him to play against the other teams best players, while most have gone out of their way to hide his defensive struggles by starting him in the offensive zone. No team has taken it to the extreme that Tampa Bay has, with only the Minnesota Wild in 2008-09 coming close. The one exception here is the '07-08 Islanders who gave him more defensive zone starts than any other team over the past five years, and it's not a coincidence that was the year he finished as a minus-14, still the worst mark of his career.
By starting nearly 70 percent of his even-strength shifts in the offensive zone Bergeron is far and away the top defensemen in the NHL in that area. Of the 127 defensemen that have played at least 20 games this season, the only ones that are starting even 60 percent of their shifts in the offensive zone are Detroit's Nicklas Lidstrom, Montreal's Yannick Weber and Vancouver's Alexander Edler, while only Sheldon Brookbank and Andreas Lilja have played against a lower quality of competition.
In other words: He's playing some seriously sheltered minutes, and that also can have an impact on the other defensemen on the team.
While Bergeron is getting some of the most favorable matchups in the NHL, his teammates Victor Hedman and Eric Brewer, are drawing some of the least favorable matchups, currently owning the highest QualCOMP numbers in the NHL (again, among defensemen that have played at least 20 games) while also starting, by far, the fewest shifts in the offensive zone. That might help explain, at least in part, why Bergeron is a plus-four, while the two better players defensively are currently a minus-five and minus-seven on the season.
Bergeron is a flawed player defensively, but he has value if he's used properly, and so far Boucher has demonstrated that he knows exactly where, and when, to put him on the ice to take advantage of what he does the best: help score goals.
Posted on: October 10, 2011 3:53 pm
Edited on: October 10, 2011 4:18 pm
By: Adam Gretz
Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Mattias Ohlund opened the season on injured reserve due to a knee injury, and according to multiple reports, is set to have both knees scoped and could miss the next four-to-six weeks.
Ohlund, 35, joined the Lightning prior to the 2009-10 season when he signed a seven-year, $25 million contract.
Two years in and it's looking to be a disappointing investment for Tampa Bay, at least from an offensive perspective, as his production has steadily decreased over the past couple of years. Add in the combination of him turning 35 last month with the fact he needs to have some work done on both of his knees and it isn't exactly encouraging.
In his two years with the Lightning he's yet to score a goal in 139 games, while recording just 18 assists. By comparison, in his final year with Vancouver during the 2008-09 season, the year before he signed with the Lightning, he scored six goals and was credited with 19 assists, and had scored at least nine goals in each of the previous four seasons. One of the biggest differences in his role with the Lightning is that he's been seeing significantly less time on the power play in recent years, but overall there's still been a decline.
Going all the way back to the 2007-08 season and his point-per-game average has followed a steady downward trend: 2007-08 (.040), 2008-09 (.030), 2009-10 (.019), 2010-11 (.007).
Still, even with the decline to his offensive game it is a blow to Tampa Bay's lineup as he is still a very solid contributor defensively for the Lightning and was a valuable player during last year's playoff run to the Eastern Conference Finals. Lightning beat writer Erik Erlendsson insists this won't put the Lightning in the trade market for another defenseman and will instead move forward with the players they already have on the roster, including Victor Hedman, Eric Brewer, Pavel Kubina and Brett Clark.
Photo: Getty Images
Posted on: September 23, 2011 1:41 pm
Edited on: September 26, 2011 2:09 pm
The days of the South-least Division are slowly fading away.
For the last half decade, the Southeast Division has been the Washington Capitals' playground with four teams chasing. Of course the Caps have been very good through that time, but fattening up on their division "rivals" undoubtedly helped them to four straight division championships.
Just take the 2009-10 season as an example. That year the Capitals had 18 more points than the next closest team in the East while no other team in the division finished even in the top nine of the conference standings. That's especially amazing when you consider there are only 15 teams in the East.
They stil finished atop the East despite a transformation. Head coach Bruce Boudreau changed the way the team plays, trying to lock down on defense. As a result, the league's highest-scoring team the past few years dipped all the way to 19th in scoring. Alex Ovechkin had a very good season by almost anybody's standards. Just not his own.
The trick for Boudreau is to find that happy medium. They showed defense is something they can and in the past they showed they can score. Now they need to show they can do both. If they don't, especially early, Boudreau will hear the calls for his firing. The most successful regular-season team hasn't done enough after it to satisfy the increasingly antsy and demanding fan base.
But the somewhat surprising emergence of the Lightning last year has beefed up the division's rep. Tampa Bay figured to be on its way back up the NHL ladder, but the boom that came out of last season seemed to be ahead of schedule. Now the division has two of the game's elite scorers in Steven Stamkos and Ovechkin. With the Bolts unceremoniously sweeping the Caps in the playoffs last year, we just might have the beginning of an actual division rival for Washington.
The division also features something new: the most amped up fan base in the league, at least for one season. The Winnipeg Jets are still stuck playing in a division that will have them being true fish out of water. To say the Jets will suffer from jet-lag isn't just a fun pun but a reality they face. With that said, what was one of the easiest road trips in the NHL just became one of the toughest, especially for the teams in the Southeast that should look into taking the Concord to Manitoba.
Southeast Division (in order of predicted finish)
Washington Capitals: The Caps have become one of the league's elite teams and have done a pretty remarkable job of keeping their core together. Well this offseason owner Ted Leonsis and crew decided it was time to shake up the roster a touch to try and find the missing recipe to move Washington deeper into the playoffs. Enter Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer and Tomas Vokoun among others. I don't think there was a bigger offseason addition in this division than the Caps getting Vokoun, especially when you factor in the salary he'll be getting. Vokoun's talents have been hidden in Florida in the past four seasons, but he's an excellent goaltender but he is (or at least was) prone to prolonged slumps. As for Ward and Brouwer, they considerably beef up the Caps' toughness up front along the boards who are very capable two-way players.
Strengths: They have shown they can do every facet of the game well. It is a challenge to find a more talented team in hockey, including on the blue line. That's not something you could say in the past, but John Carlson and Karl Alzner complement each other well enough to make one of the best young defenseman duos in the NHL.
Weaknesses: It is tough to pinpoint any with this team, it is very well-rounded. It will be interesting to see how they handle expectations and increased heat when they hit some rough patches. Also, from an organizational standpoint the team has very little room to maneuver under the salary cap. That could be worth monitoring if/when GM George McPhee decided to tweak the roster.
Tampa Bay Lightning: Everything came together for a great run to a seven-game series in the Eastern Conference finals last season under new coach Guy Boucher. He brought in the ol' 1-3-1 system that seemed to be a magic trick for the Bolts. Now the question becomes can they repeat or was last year lightning in a bottle (that pun really was not intended)? One thing strongly in their favor is that the return almost the entire roster intact from last season. They did lose a couple of players such as Simon Gagne, but not much in the way of being unable to repair. one player who is back is Eric Brewer, and he'll be better for having spent camp and beginning the season in Tampa Bay. It will be interesting to see how this team fares with expectations on their shoulders.
Strengths: They roll out two excellent lines at the top. The Ryan Malone-Stamkos-Martin St. Louis line is one of the best in the game and the second group of Nate Thompson-Vincent Lecavalier-Teddy Purcell isn't too shabby, especially if Purcell continues his growth. They also had excellent special teams last year, ranking in the top 8 of both power play (it helps to have Stamkos, who scores 17 on the PP last year) and penalty kill a season ago. I also love the man on their bench as Boucher is a star in the making among coaches.
Weaknesses: I am still not in love with the goaltending situation. Dwayne Roloson was very good after being picked up by GM Steve Yzerman (he would qualify as another strength), but he just doesn't inspire a lot of confidence in me to keep it up. The addition of Mathieu Garon to back him up is a good one, though. Moreover, consistency might be an issue, especially for Stamkos. He really slowed down last season, failing to score 50 goals when he appeared to be on his way to 60 midseason.
Carolina Hurricanes: If the playoffs were a night club, the Hurricanes have been the guy standing at the front of the line until the bouncer says they're full. Every year it seems they are squarely on the playoff bubble, including last season when it came down to Game 82, which was a sound defeat. This season figures to be more of the same for the 'Canes as they might just be the next-best thing to a playoff team the East has to offer. They had a very pleasant surprise in Calder Trophy winner Jeff Skinner last season and captain Eric Staal is still leading the show. Gone, though, is another Carolina long-timer in Erik Cole (now in Montreal). One thing you have to love about this franchise, though, is its consistency. GM Jim Rutherford has been there ever since they became the Hurricanes (and before). It seems like their best players don't leave the organization, either. Hopefully for them the consistency in their finishes doesn't stay the same, but instead they crack the postseason. But in a beefed up East, that will be tougher said than done.
Strengths: They have an excellent captain in Staal, both from a leadership standpoint and player quality. They also boast one of the better goalies in the league in Cam Ward, an All-Star last season. And there's that whole consitency thing they have going on, often helps in the old chemistry department.
Weaknesses: There is not much depth to talk about in Carolina. After Stall, Skinner, Jussi Jokinen and Tuomo Ruutu, they aren't likely going to find a whole lot of scoring. They also don't posses a ton of size among the forwards, hence the reason they brought in Anthony Stewert and Alex Ponikarovsky this offseason to help. There just doesn't seem to be enough to crack the postseason, but Rutherford admits to this being somewhat of a "rebuilding" phase. That's a pretty competitive team for one that's rebuilding.
Florida Panthers: The Panthers were incredibly active in the free-agent market in July, adding a slew of veterans to hold the tide while the youngsters develop. Undoubtedly the Panthers are better than they were last season, but how much better? They did lose arguably their best player in Vokoun and are replacing him with the combination of Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen, not exactly an exciting development. But it can't be denied that the Panthers now at least have NHL-quality players across their lines (and defensive pairings, led by Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski), but they still aren't high-quality players, not guys that you figure can get them into the playoffs, finally. The trick in Florida is not doing anything now to hinder the future, which is very bright as the system is loaded.
Strengths: I do like the defensive corps they are putting together, especially if 2010 No. 3 overall draft pick Erik Gudbranson makes the team as expected. It's very hard to say at this point with so many new faces coming together what kind of strenghts we're looking at, it's tough to predict how they will play together. But we do know something that isn't likely be a strength this year ...
Weaknesses: The aforementioned goaltender position. With Vokoun gone, the Panthers are relying on the combination of Jose Theodore and Scott Clemmensen. Now, both do have experience, Theodore more so than the Clemmer, but in no way do they make up for what Vokoun, Florida's best player in recent seasons, took with him. You also have to wonder about chemistry issues with this team having brought in so many new faces. We'll put new coach Kevin Dineen as an "unknown."
Winnipeg Jets: The virtue of such a home-ice advantage will likely make the Jets a little better than the Thrashers were last season, but not enough. Thankfully for them the new home crowd in Winnipeg will just be jacked to have hockey back. They will need to take advantage of the home crowd, especially with a stretch of 10 home games in 11 contests that stretches from the end of November through December. But they will need to find scoring punch, especially from the forward group. They have excellent point producers among the defensemen in Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom, but Ladd needs more help. Hopefully, that's where Evander Kane will fit in. In his third year since being drafted in the first round (all of his time spent at the NHL level) this could be the year he steps up his game and becomes a franchise fixture. He is already a popular figure partly by virtue of his Twitter account and the way he has taken to Winnipeg.
Strengths: They were above average on the power play last season, finishing 12th in the league thanks to Byfuglien and Enstrom. Thrown in the potential of Zach Bogosian as an offensive weapon and that's a lunch of firepower coming back the blue line. I like Ondrej Pavelec in net if he can get a little better support from his teammates. I will put one more in this category, and that's the patience of the front office. They have a lot of first-round talent on the roster and they don't seem willing to abandon the long-term plan for a quick fix to appease the riled up fans.
Weaknesses: The forwards need to show more. Outside of Ladd, nobody up front cracked the 20-goal barrier last season in Atlanta. They need to find a way to tighten down defensively after giving up the second-most goals per game in hockey last year at 3.20. The forwards doing a better job of creating scoring chances and possessing the puck will certainly contribute. The penalty kill was almost equally bad last year, clocking in at 27th in the NHL. Like the Panthers, we'll put new coach Claude Noel as an "unknown."
Photo: Getty Images
Tags: 2011-12 Season Preview, Alex Ovechkin, Andrew Ladd, Brian Campbell, Brian Stubits, Bruce Boudreau, Cam Ward, Carolina Hurricanes, Claude Noel, Dustin Byfuglien, Dwayne Roloson, Ed Jovanovski, Eric Brewer, Eric Staal, Erik Cole, Erik Gudbranson, Evander Kane, Florida Panthers, George McPhee, Guy Boucher, Jeff Skinner, Jim Rutherford, Joel Ward, John Carlson, Jose Theodore, Karl Alzner, Kevin Dineen, Martin St. Louis, Mathieu Garon, Ondrej Pavelec, Scott Clemmensen, Southeast Division, Steve Yzerman, Steven Stamkos, Tampa Bay Lightning, Teddy Purcell, Tobias Enstrom, Tomas Vokoun, Troy Brouwer, Washington Capitals, Winnipeg Jets, Zach Bogosian
Posted on: March 14, 2011 4:29 pm
Edited on: March 14, 2011 4:54 pm
Tampa Bay Lightning (38-22-9) at Toronto Maple Leafs (30-29-10)
Air Canada Centre, 7 pm ET
SERIES: Tampa 3-0-0; Toronto 0-2-1
IMPLICATIONS: Tampa can pull within a point of fourth-place Pittsburgh in the conference standings and to within three points of Southeast Division-leading Washington. Toronto can climb back within fourth points of eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings.
BREAKDOWN: The Maple Leafs aren’t just looking to just avoid a season sweep by the Lightning. A victory is nearly a must to keep pace in the hyper-competitive East. There is currently one team (Carolina) between the Leafs and the eighth-place New York Rangers and there will only be a dozen games left on Toronto’s schedule after tonight. With the Atlanta Thrashers and a resurgent New Jersey Devils team on their tail, the Leafs might not to want to squander this home tilt.
Tampa has shut out the Toronto in each of the last two meetings and the Lightning have outscored the Leafs 10-3 overall this season. Martin St. Louis, Simon Gagne and Steven Stamkos each have two goals and an assist versus Toronto this season. The Lightning enter on a two-game skid.
MATCHUP TO WATCH: Tampa Bay D Eric Brewer vs. Toronto D Dion Phaneuf. Brewer played more than 25 minutes in Saturday’s loss to Florida and he can expect a heavy workload again tonight. This is the final game the Lightning will be without defenseman Pavel Kubina, who was suspended three games for his hit to the head of Chicago’s Dave Bolland. Phaneuf, Toronto’s captain, logs nearly 25 minutes a game himself has thrown 161 shots on net, but only has four goals to show for it -- only two more than a season ago when he was limited to 26 games due to injury.
KEY STAT: 26.4. The average age of Toronto’s roster, the third-youngest in the NHL.
Photo: Getty Images