The Time: 4:00 PM EST
The Broadcast: TV - MSG2
The Florida Panthers are a top team in the league right now, but the Tampa Bay Lightning are no joke either...(checks notes). Yes, the back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions only have the second best record in the state of Florida right now, but they have not really skipped a beat this season. Steven Stamkos has re-solidified himself as the biggest offensive threat on the team, as he has nine goals and nine assists in 15 games this season, leading the Lightning in goals and points. However, a good thing for the Devils tonight is that the Lightning have not maintained an amazing goal differential this season.
In 15 games, the Lightning have scored 46 goals and allowed 42. Last season, in 56 games, they scored 180 and allowed 145. Their goal differential has shrunk ever since their insane 2018-19, and they just do not have the same type of depth they had in previous years. Last season, they had 11 players on track for 10-goal seasons if they played 82 games. So far this year, they only have nine players who have two or more goals (which would put them at a 10+ goal pace at this point of the season). Their departures and cap casualties, as well as the injury to Nikita Kucherov, are making an impact on the team’s offensive performance.
Tampa Bay is currently on a three-game winning streak, having beaten the Panthers, Islanders, and most recently the Flyers in a shootout. According to Natural Stat Trick, they are 11th in the league in CF% with a 51.34. The Lightning play low-event hockey, sitting at 25th in shot generation with 347 at five-on-five, while being third in the league in shot suppression with only 331 allowed. This suppression mostly works to their favor, as they are 10th in the league with a 52.60 xGF% - and they have good special teams to back up their play. With a power play averaging one success out of five opportunities and a penalty kill that has allowed only seven goals in 49 chances against (85.71% kill rate), the Lightning are above average in all situations. However, you cannot bet on beating Andrei Vasilevskiy, and you cannot bet on stopping Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point (or this season, Alex Killorn).
What the Devils Have to Do
After Mackenzie Blackwood’s performance on Thursday, I would be surprised to see him back in net. However, since the next game the Devils play will be Wednesday, November 24 - we might see Blackwood again tonight. However, I think Bernier could build off his relief performance into a good game against the Lightning. As for the skaters, there has been no change in the lines in practice:
#NJDevils workflow at practice...— Sam Kasan (@samikasan) November 19, 2021
Zacha - Hischier - Tatar
Johnsson - Mercer - Bratt
Kuokkanen - Boqvist - Sharangovich/Holtz
Vesey - McLeod - Zetterlund/Geertsen
Graves - Hamilton
Smith - Severson
Siegenthaler - Subban
White - Jaros
At this point, I do not see why Alexander Holtz is on the roster. If he does not play, everyone is losing. The Devils are wasting a roster spot, and Holtz is losing ice time he could have in Utica. I would very much like to see Fabian Zetterlund again, though - and at least he staves off Mason Geertsen. On the whole. I am not sure how I feel about these lines. I think Tatar should have been dropped in favor of Sharangovich last game, as the first line was not doing enough. But aside from that, I can’t see much movement here.
The Devils are going to have to play their most structured game of the year. They cannot fall victim to the Lightning with stretch passes into their defensive set-up, creating quick counterattacks for Blackwood or Bernier to face down. The Devils need to value possession of the puck to an extreme tonight - and making plays to keep possession during line changes rather than dumping it in limits what Tampa Bay can do in transition.
What do you think of this evening’s game? Will you be watching? Do you think the Devils have it in them to compete tonight? How do you think these lines will fare against the Lightning? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.