The Boston Bruins are in Florida this evening, looking to continue their road success – Boston is 7-1-0 away from TD Bank Garden this season – as they face the Tampa Bay Lightning. Being that your ever plucky road writer might not have a ton of time for a post-game review since his travel agent booked him a 7:15am flight back to Rhode Island, here are the top three things he’ll be watching for from his seat tonight in section 126…
Even if it is an offensive concept that has been somewhat common place since the NHL returned from the lockout in 2005, a lot has been made this season about Tampa’s “revolutionary” 1-3-1 forecheck that has the Lightning ranked ninth in the league in goals scored this season (62), sixth in shots per game (32.6) and fifth in goals per game (3.10). The Lightning, though having missed two players for much of this season that they planned on factoring heavily into their offense in Vincent Lecavailer and Simon Gagne, are an offensive team. Led by third year man Steven Stamkos, whose 34 points currently lead the NHL and was on pace to score 50 goals in 50 games before being shutout the other night in Buffalo, and Martin St. Louis, who is third in the league with 18 assists, the Lightning are a team that is all about scoring as many goals as they can in hockey’s version of the run-and-gun offense.
The Boston Bruins, on the other end, are a team that is about as vanilla as they get when it comes to offensive prowess. Despite an offense that now features a venerable goal scorer in Nathan Horton, some gifted playmaking centers like David Krejci, and a gritty Milan Lucic who is beginning to come into his own as a power forward, the Bruins are absolutely a defense first team. Head Coach Claude Julian’s way has always been a sit back and defend style, generating offense off the transition game by capitalizing on opponents mistakes, by evidence in the Bruins ranking 15th in the NHL in shots taken per game (31.4) and 26th in shots faced per game (34.0), but also first in the league in goals against at just 1.85.
What kind of game will both teams come out and play to start the game? Given Boston’s notorious habit of starting slow this season, not just how will they, but will they alter their game plan and become as aggressive as they will need to be if Stamkos and the Lightning open up a big lead on them tonight? How will the Boston defense and netminders handle the multitude of shots they are very likely to face this evening? Boston always seems content to sit back and let their opponents shoot at will, and the Bruins have been very good at defending their leads (undefeated both when scoring first and leading after the second period), but will their defense be able to withstand such a relentless attack from a team that will continue charging all night long?
Has Lucic Arrived?
After his strong rookie campaign in 2007-2008 and 17-goal season in 2008-2009, the folks in Boston were quick to anoint Milan Lucic as the next best thing to don the Black-and-Gold. He was “the Next Cam Neely.” We all love comparing players of today to the legends of the past, but I never bought the hype when it came to Lucic. A solid and bruising player? Sure. Cam Neely? Not in my eyes.
Lucic, however, is off to his best start as a professional. With 10 goals in 18 games, Lucic is on pace to nearly triple his career-high in goals. Before being shut out against the Kings, Lucic had recorded points in three straight contests and has found his way on to the score sheet in 14 of Boston’s 18 contests this season. He is a guy that the Bruins brass – and much of the Bruins faithful – have put a lot of stock in and hold as a pivotal cog in the Bruins success over the next few years. I am still not ready to jump onto the “Milan Lucic is the Next Great Bruin” train just yet, but I am starting to believe in his potential.
Tampa’s Young Guns
With the Lightning as bad as they had been since they won the Stanley Cup six years ago, they were very I often overlooked. With an 11-7-2 record so far this year, good for second in the Southeast Division and in a tie for fourth in the conference with Boston and the Pittsburgh Penguins, however, it is looking like those years of anonymity and high draft picks are beginning to pay off for Tampa.
Coming in to the season I would have told you that Tampa was a team with some good young talent and was going to be fun to watch, but still probably a year or so away from being a playoff team. The good news is I was at least right about the good young talent.
Everyone knows about Stamkos as a guy to always keep an eye on, but Victor Hedman is a guy to keep an eye on tonight. A lot was made of the 6’6”, 220lbs Swede following his showing at the World Juniors a couple seasons back before Tampa took him with the #2 overall pick in 2009, but I am not sure what to make of him just yet. He has the size to be a force, but so did Hal Gill. Hedman comes in to the night with a -1 rating on the season. Not what you want out of one of your top defenders, but tops among Tampa blueliners. He leads the team in total ice time per game at 21:42, but is ranked third in both power play and shorthanded ice time per game amongst the d-corps. Offensively he has mustered up just eight assists this season after putting up four goals and 16 assists in his rookie season.
About the Author
Written by Matt Preston
I'm no Heminway or Haggerty, but keeping the dream alive, even if I'm pretty sure my Nana is my only follower. Self-deprecation is key, grammar is optional.