Despite setbacks Lightning may dominate Rangers tonight

The Lightning return home after disheartening injuries but still look promising.

click to enlarge GET WELL SOON, SAMKOS: Steven Samkos may be out but the Lightning aren't down for the count. - WIKI COMMONS
WIKI COMMONS
GET WELL SOON, SAMKOS: Steven Samkos may be out but the Lightning aren't down for the count.

click to enlarge GET WELL SOON, SAMKOS: Steven Samkos may be out but the Lightning aren't down for the count. - WIKI COMMONS
WIKI COMMONS
GET WELL SOON, SAMKOS: Steven Samkos may be out but the Lightning aren't down for the count.
  • WIKI COMMONS
  • GET WELL SOON, STAMKOS: Steven Stamkos may be out but the Lightning aren't down for the count.

As the Lightning, which have a record of 14-8-1, host the New York Rangers, 23-12-1, tonight, they're coming off of a four game on-the-road losing streak.

Earlier this month, on Nov. 11, one of the Tampa Bay Lightning's strongest players, Steven Stamkos, suffered a horrific blow — an injury to his leg, which resulted in surgery on his right tibia. While Stamkos is expected to fully recover, he's out for the rest of the season. There's always the potential he'll return towards the end of the season, but ultimately his absence is to blame for the lack of recent wins.

The injured list also includes Tom Pyatt, who has been out with a collarbone injury and is getting ready to return, although not in time for tonight's matchup. Mattias Ohlund has also been out since last season with a knee injury. Ryan Malone took a puck to the foot during the overtime loss against the Anaheim Ducks this past Friday and did not practice on Sunday or today. The team is not sure when Malone is expected to return.

With the Rangers return to the Tampa Bay Times Forum, also comes the return of previous Lightning head coach John Tortorella and ex-center Brad Richards. Tortorella helped lead the Lightning to the Stanley cup in 2004, Richards was there to help win it and holds the record for game-winning goals in a single playoff season with seven goals in 2004. Revenge would be too strong of a word to use and in this case would be better predicted as one of the seasons best face-offs.

The Lighting were in their hottest streak this season since we won the Stanley Cup back in 2004, until Stamkos was placed on the injured reserve list. Immediately after, consecutive games were won against the Montréal Canadiens (2-1 in a shootout) and the Anaheim Ducks (5-1); however, since then, the Lightning have lost the last four games.

Between Stamkos' injury and a recent recent lack of scoring, forward Nikita Kucherov and defensemen Dmitry Korobov were called up from the Syracuse Crunch, general manager Steve Yzerman announced yesterday.

Kucherov, 20, has been a rookie sensation in the AHL in 17 games this season, posting 13 goals and 11 assists. He leads all AHL rookies for goals and points and was recently on a nine-game-point streak.
While there's no doubt that Stamkos was the best player on the team when he fell to the ice, having amassed 14 goals and 9 assists for 23 points in only 17 games, his absence also calls into question whether the recent losses can be attributed to the void of Stamkos or the void of the offense during the California run. I say it's a combination of both, but that the Lightning will kick ice and still make the playoffs. The season is still early and Coach Jon Cooper, who led the Admirals to the Calder cup and the Crunch to a team record of 39—18—3—5, the best in the AHL just before his promotion, won't let that happen. Cooper has clearly made all the right moves in his new position since joining the team last year.

Tonight's game shouldn't be missed. The Bolts have been dominating on home ice and the Rangers have played their best on the road, but it will be end-to-end until the final buzzer.

My prediction is that the Lightning will still dictate the game, with a final score of 4-3, Lightning.

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