The Lightning are six points out of a playoff spot with a boatload of teams standing between themselves and a playoff spot. They are coming off a loss to the Bruins on Tuesday night, managing just 21 shots in a 4-3 loss. Of course they are without Steven Stamkos, who has not played since mid-November with a lateral meniscus tear in his right knee. Take a perennial 30 goal scorer (40-50 when healthy) out of any team's lineup and they will take a hit, but the Lightning have played without him before to some success but haven't been able to get their game in sync without their captain. Also absent from the lineup for most of the season has been Ryan Callahan, who has had a difficult couple of seasons in Tampa and has been limited to just 18 games with a hip injury. He has just 4 points in those 18 games.
On the plus side for the Bolts, Victor Hedman is having a Norris-calibre year, (at least in any year where Brent Burns wasn't having the season he is currently enjoying) with 41 points in 48 games Hedman is on pace to shatter his career high of 55 points.
Former Senator Ben Bishop, who was nominated for the Vezina Trophy last season, has had a tough year that included a recent stint on the IR. He is 2-2-1 since returning on January 12th, but has allowed 9 goals in his last two starts, including 5 goals on 17 shots to the lowly Arizona Coyotes before being pulled after 40 minutes two starts ago (Jan 21).
With rumors that Bishop, who will be a UFA at the end of the season, might be made available at or before the trade deadline with Andrei Vasilevskiy ready to be a #1 starter and a comparably adept alternative to the much more expensive Bishop. Big Ben would be a big coup for a team heading to the playoffs looking to shore up their goaltending, provided he can show before the deadline that he has his game back, but he won't get the chance tonight against his former club. The Senators will face Vasilevskiy in the Tampa goal.
From the Ottawa perspective, there are no more excuses about pre- or post-All-Star break distractions, it is time to get down to business. They had their 6 game points streak snapped with a loss to the Panthers on Tuesday and need to get back into the win column because things are tight behind them. No team is more than 7 points out of a playoff spot at the moment, and there is no true separation as of yet. Boston lost last night, which means they are still tied with Ottawa but the Senators now have 6 games in hand, many of which they will use over the next couple of weeks as Boston has a thin schedule including their mandatory "bye week". Even with a 6-2-2 record in their past 10 games, the Senators haven't gained much ground and back to back losses won't help matters.
I said it before the Florida game, and the same holds true for this one. It isn't a "must-win" game by any stretch of the imagination and they will still be in a good spot win or lose. But if they continue to leave points on the table against teams they should be beating, it will catch up with them eventually and games later in the season that shouldn't be, will become, "must win".
Mike Condon had an off night, as did many of the players in front of him, on Tuesday. The last time he had a game like that was the 7-6 loss to Columbus and he answered that with a 31 save shutout of the league leading Washington Capitals. He will set a franchise record tonight with his 26th straight appearance, and even with the recent All-Star break the fatigue might just be catching up to him. He has allowed 15 goals in his last 4 starts (and than includes the shutout of the Caps) and has had sub-.900 save percentages in three of his last 4, and 5 of his last 8 games. That is why I was such a proponent of resting him for that home game against the Blue Jackets that ended up being a 7-6 track meet.
The Senators as a club have been getting away from their game plan a bit lately, giving up 29 or more shots in 5 of their last 6 outings. Normally that isn't the end of the world, especially for this franchise, and they have been successful on the whole in spite of it. However when your goalie is playing every night for the foreseeable future (at least a couple of weeks or so), and has been for the better part of two whole months, you need to do everything you can to help him out and minimize his workload. By comparison, the Senators only gave up more than 30 shots once in the first 10 games of the current streak that has seen him start 16 straight games, with the 17th to come tonight.
While the higher-scoring games of late have been super exciting to watch and back-and-forth, the Senators find themselves on the wrong end of a lot of them. They need to play the system Boucher has designed - take care of your own end and the offense will take care of itself, even if it dulls the excitement a bit. They have the ability to score on the counterattack, but you can't transition when you are fishing the puck out of your own net, and usually two points in the standings is better than the excitement of an 8-7 or 6-5 loss.
As for the Senators lineup, Boucher said that Mark Borowiecki will be back in the lineup, and that he may try out the 7 defensemen, 11 forward strategy that he used with success behind the bench in Tampa. If so, that means that Chris Neil and Curtis Lazar could sit. (EDIT: Lazar draws back in, Neil is out. Borowiecki in, Claesson out - 12 F, 6D)