So far, the Dads Trip is a perfect 3-0 on the road, so I hope those guys are comfortable with the travel. Mr Stillman just might make them a regular thing for road trips. It's a good thing to get these points while we can, because the hockey season is a grueling test. Every game presents a new challenge. That is certainly true of tonight's opponent, the Tampa Bay Lightning. Or, as I've started to think of the team, Starkiller Base.
The Lightning have had a lot a drama over the last few years. A combination of family issues and disagreements with the front office led captain and local legend Martin St. Louis to request a trade out of town. Eventually, GM Steve Yzerman acquiesced and Marty was sent off to the Rangers. It had been kept quiet all season long, but it didn't happen until the news was made public. Once there, Marty became a leader within the NY dressing room and helped carry the Rangers to the 2014 Cup Final. I'm not sure if seeing Marty succeed elsewhere made Tampa fans feel a whole lot better about the trade and their front office.
One of the game's best pure scorers Steven Stamkos is due to be a free agent (UFA) this summer, and Tampa management has yet to re-sign him to his next contract. Needless to say, this has made fans pretty restless. The waiting is wearing on them. Why would a superstar like Stamkos leave a team that was just in the 2015 Cup Final and has plenty of young talent to support future playoff drives? There have been widely reported stories of disagreements between Stamkos and head coach Jon Cooper. Most significantly, Cooper wants to play Stammer as a wing rather than as a center, his normal position. When the team signed Cooper to a multi-year extension, it was read by a lot of folks as the team sending a message to Stamkos. Nothing is settled yet, and the player holds a NTC, meaning that the Lightning are facing a prospect of letting him walk as a free agent with nothing to show for it.
Also this year, the Lightning's highest forward draft pick since Stamkos, Jonathan Drouin (third overall in 2013) got into a dispute with Cooper and the Tampa front office. The Lightning have a tough roster to crack, and Drouin was seeing other members of his draft class playing 100 or even 200 NHL games, and he still hadn't secured a regular gig on an NHL roster. He asked for a trade out of Tampa where he could have a shot with another team. He was sent to the AHL affiliate in Syracuse, NY where initial reports were that he was keeping a good attitude and contributing to the team. Suddenly, on January 20th the Drouin camp announced that they would sit out any further games (ostensibly to prevent getting hurt before he could be traded), and the team immediately suspended him without pay for failure to play. In this dispute, the team holds all of the power, so they can manage the timetable to their liking. However, the longer this draws on, the lower the return value he'll fetch on the trade market.
In the midst of all of this, the team has had a roller-coaster of a year. Before the season started, the Bolts were a favorite pick to come out of the East again to compete for a Cup. By December, they were free fallin' and not even in a playoff spot. Now, they are 4th place in the Atlantic Division, only 2 points behind Detroit and Boston, with a game in hand on both of those teams. The tightly-packed standings mean that every game is important, and every point matters. Inter-Conference game or not, these are points that they need. Much like the Panthers, the Lightning have been tough to beat at home, 18-8-2 within the walls of Amalie Arena. Tonight, they have a chance to tie a franchise record of 10 home wins in a row. They are coming off an overtime win against the Preds on Friday. They've won 7 of their last 10 games, and appear to be back on track with their preseason predictions. All of that adds up to a lot of momentum for Tampa.
Expect St Louis native Ben Bishop in goal for Tampa, and Brian Elliott for the Blues.
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Final Verse: Another early game today, with the puck dropping at 5PM St Louis time. The TV broadcast will be on Fox Sports MW, and the radio call will be on KMOX 1120 AM. The GDT should drop shortly before the puck does. Come join us, won't you? We'll see how long it takes before we hear "Ben Bishop is tall" jokes or see the Darren Pang in Bishop's gear photo. My guess is it'll be within the first 5 minutes of pregame.
Here's an interesting video of how the other Starkiller Base works: