Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Our long national nightmare is over: Tampa game preview

Trips to Florida haven't ended well for the Penguins of late, going just 1-8-1 in the past ten games playing in the sunny confines of Tampa. A look at the new-look opponents.

  • Tampa, as you might expect from a team mired at the bottom of the standings, are struggling of late. They've gone 1-5-1 in their past seven games.
  • Further, in the three games since trading scoring forwards Brad Richards and Vaclav Prospal (and replacing them with Jussi Jokinen and Jeff Halpern) the Lightning have scored just 6 goals. Over the past 11 Lightning games, Martin St. Louis has just 1 goal (and has 0 points in the last 6 contests) and Vincent Lecavalier has just 1 goal in his last 11 matches. Are the remaining "big guns" still a little stunned with all the trades and losing or something more close to sulking?
  • Mike Smith, the centerpiece of the Richards trade, has started all 3 games and has a 3.32 GAA and a 88.2% save percentage. Also it's worth noting that Halpern, a grinder best remembered for his Mario Lemieux-pestering days, has 2 goals and 2 assists with TBL, so his output has seen a little bump with his new club.

And some notes from the good guys:

  • The Penguins final record without Sidney Crosby: 11-6-4. Not bad considering that's a stretch that's a quarter of the season. Obligatory shoutouts to Messrs. Malkin, Conklin, Malone, Gonchar and Sykora.
  • As we mentioned, Marc-Andre Fleury gets the nod in net tonight. Conklin has faded recently, and while it's still a little early to say the wheels are falling off Cinderella's carriage, it still is nice to know the Pens can turn back to Fleury (who's personaly on a 5 game winning streak).
  • Maxime Talbot and Pascal Dupuis get the chance to play on Crosby's line tonight. A great chance for both of them to audition and prove they should be the 3rd guy with Crosby and Marian Hossa. With Talbot's energy, nose for the net and the improved production he's shown this year (20 points in 49 games compared with 24 points in 79 games last season), give him the edge. But it's probably anybody's game at this point.
  • Keep an eye out for Jeff Taffe playing with Jordan Staal and TK on the 3rd line tonight. Taffe's quietly carved out a niche as a player who belongs in the NHL.
  • Ryan Whitney's also back. We wouldn't be adverse to see Kris Letang sit for a night. Shootouts aside, it looks as if he's hit a little bit of a wall, not unexpected at this point in the season for a 21 year old defenseman in his first professional campaign. Letang's decision makings, zone coverage and even some of his passes have seemed a little off. He's had to deal with working with a new partner in Hal Gill, since Brooks Orpik's promotion to the top line.

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