|Tampa Bay Lightning||Nashville Predators|
|5-on-5 Close SF/60||30.6||12th||29.8||14th|
|5-on-5 Close SA/60||27.3||5th||27.8||7th|
|5-on-5 Close Save %||.937||4th||.908||27th|
|# of PP's/Gm||3.22||21st||2.98||28th|
|# of PK's/Gm||3.36||20th||3.07||7th|
Tampa Bay Lightning
The Lightning haven't let a months-long absence by their superstar hold them back, as they've established themselves as the #3 team in the Eastern Conference thanks to a well-rounded 5-on-5 game. Their skaters out-shoot the opposition with regularity, but what has pushed Tampa Bay up among the league's elite is the breakout campaign by goaltender Ben Bishop, who currently ranks 2nd among the NHL's save percentage leaders.
Circling back to those superstars, however, we have two items of special note these days. Steven Stamkos had hoped to return to action in tonight's game, but his recovery from a broken leg will still take at least a while longer. The big news, however, has team captain Martin St. Louis requesting a trade out of town, and not only that, he apparently only wants to go to the New York Rangers - putting GM Steve Yzerman into a terrible position, when he should instead be planning how to position his team for a long playoff run.
Our comrades at Raw Charge sum up the quandry by the Bay thusly:
A swift resolution would be best for the Lightning, but if they can't get full value, do they make the deal anyways? The Rangers system isn't exactly overloaded with young talent, which is what Yzerman would target in any deal. Maybe Dan Girardi would draw some interest, but with only one destination team Yzerman has no leverage. He'd be forced either into a bad deal or no deal, dragging this out into the offseason, which could be one hell of a distraction for the playoff-bound Lightning.
Yup, that's a pretty gray cloud hanging over the team these days - is there any chance this could spill over into a sloppy on-ice performance tonight?
The stage is set for a dramatic playoff chase over the final weeks of the season, but the margin for error is incredibly slim, given the number of teams Nashville must pass in order to grab the last wild card spot in the Western Conference. There is simply no time for excuses like "shaking the rust off after the Olympic break", and that's presumably why we saw captain Shea Weber participate in practice yesterday, while many Canadian gold medalists rested. For the Predators, the playoffs have begun.
|2013 - Shea Weber||56||15||23||38||-10||32||9||0||3||139||10.8|
While the return of Pekka Rinne could add both a performance boost in goal and a morale boost for the team, for now the burden falls on the shoulders of Carter Hutton to make sure the team has a chance to win on a regular basis. Who knows, there could be an opportunity to earn the backup job in 2014-15 either here in Nashville or elsewhere based on what he's done in Rinne's absence.
On defense, look for a new pairing as Michael Del Zotto has been practicing with Ryan Ellis, forming a duo which could really jump-start the attack with their ability to quickly move the puck up-ice.
Remember, the Preds are promoting tonight's game as a re-launch to the season, complete with gold t-shirt giveaways and free food for season ticket holders from 5:00-6:00 p.m. at Bridgestone Arena. So show up early, get your grub on, and maybe I'll see you tonight...