Game Time: 7:00PM Central
TV/Radio: CSN, WGN-AM 720
DANGER! HIGH VOLTAGE!: Raw Charge
Last year, the Lightning were one of the more prolific scoring threats in the NHL. They averaged a 3.06 G/G, third best in the NHL (trailing only Pittsburgh and Chicago). They were led by perhaps the most dangerous 1-2 punch in the league with Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos leading the league in points (60 and 57, respectively) while Stamkos trailed only Alexander Ovechkin in goals for the shortened season. They’re going to be dangerous every time they touch the puck.
Now, scoring a bunch of goals every game is all well and good but it becomes a major problem for a team when you allow the other team to score the exact same number of goals every game. The Bolts scored 147 goals last year but allowed in 147 for perfectly matching 3.06 G/G and GA/G. Defense should have become a priority in the offseason for Yzerman but it still seems his defense is going to be a hell of a lot better skating forward than backward.
There were only two changes of note for the Lightning. The smaller, is the signing of Valtteri Filppula, who scored the first goal for Tampa Bay. Filppula will round out the scoring threats for the Bolts and improves their ability to enter the offensive zone along with linemates Purcell and Killorn.
The biggest change though is the departure of captain Vincent Lecavalier through a compliance buyout. Tampa bought out the remaining 7 years on his contract and agrees to pay him over $32 Million… while he still gets paid from his new four-year deal with the Flyers. So not bad work, if you can get it.
On the back end though, Tampa Bay still remains something of a mess. In 2012, the Lightning tried to improve their 30th ranked defense by signing two defensemen. Unfortunately for them, those d-men were Matt Carle and Sami Salo. Neither is really known as true shutdown defensemen. Salo is known more for being made out of glass than anything else. Shockingly, he played in 46 of the Lightning’s 48 games last year, which has to be some sort of record for him. Not shockingly, he was a scratch from the game against Boston with an upper-body injury and remains questionable for tonight’s match.
Tampa’s biggest talent on the blueline remains Victor Hedman who continues to improve and is the closest they have to a shutdown d-man. With Salo out, he skated with Andrej Sustr, who suffers for a severe lack of vowels, and played a team high 20:03 but came out of it a -1. Hedman is nasty but the lack of depth on the blue line is something the Hawks should be able to feast on.
In the net, Tampa will go back to Anders Lindback who was not overly impressive in his first season as the go-to guy. His .902 Sv% was 55th best in the league and the Lightning only felt confident enough in him to play half of the games, mostly getting spelled by Mathieu Garon before the addition of Ben Bishop, who now remains the team’s #2 option after being brought on in April.
So while there remain plenty of questions for the Bolts once you get past the forwards, things didn’t seem incredibly bleak against the Stanley Cup Runners Up in Game 1. 5-on-5, the teams looked fairly evenly matched. It was special teams that did them in though. After a successful kill, the Bolts got their own chance with the man-advantage but things didn’t go well. Mark Barberio, Salo’s replacement, fumbled with the puck in the neutral zone and took out Chris Kelly’s clear shot on the breakaway, leading to a penalty shot that was converted. It wouldn’t be the only shortie of the night for Boston, as Patrice Bergeron would convert on the kill in the third to put things away for good.
On the Chicago side of things, I’m writing this a bit earlier than most of our previews though due to some travel plans but there are early signs that Ben Smith may be put into the lineup, likely in place of Brandon Bollig. If that is the case, this is an encouraging sign that even with Bollig’s first regular season goal to open the Hawks’ season, Q and the rest of the team may realize that what he offers the team is incredibly limited. If not, or if he’s put in in place of some other poor soul… well.. fuck it. Even Bollig seems to realize he can only do so much with his fists.
So while the Bolts are going to be dangerous with the puck, they’re going to be pretty vulnerable without it. This is something a team like Chicago with a balanced attack ought to be able to take advantage of fairly easily. The Hawks are obviously coming off a solid third period that helped them buck the trend of Stanley Cup winners losing on their banner raising night. There’s not much the Hawks really need to change from their game plan on Tuesday.
If you’re not headed down to the UC tonight, you can get a PDF of tonight’s Indian right here: