There's a glimmer of hope for the Tampa Bay Lightning (3-3-2) after it's 3-0 shutout of the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday night. The Lightning played the system for 60 minutes and showcased improved defensive zone coverage in front of Mathieu Garon, who had 21 saves in Saturday night's win. Garon also registered his 20th career shutout Saturday and has surely earned his third consecutive start in tonight's rematch against the Sabres.
Garon has had two excellent showings in his previous two starts, stopping 37 of the 38 shots he has faced, but it's too early in the season to even be discussing whether or not the Lightning have a goaltending controversy. The situation is a simple one. Tampa Bay's starting goalie, Dwayne Roloson, has a 5.11 goals against and .858 save percentage in five games played. They also have their backup, Garon, who has a .948 save percentage and 1.51 goals against average, and he has started in the last two games. So what do you do?
If you're Guy Boucher, you ride the hot goalie until he's not hot anymore. Roloson can use the time to rest and to work with goalie coach Frantz Jean. The rest will do him some good, and it's a win-win situation. This happens in the NHL; a team's starting goaltender struggles, and the backup comes in to help him out. No need to panic, Lightning fans.
Goaltending and defense are two of the major reasons why the Lightning have turned it around in the last few games. There's no doubt that the Lightning's five games after the season opening 5-1 win against Carolina were horrendous and need to be forgotten. Roloson might be getting blamed for the Lightning's lackluster effort in that five-game skid, but he did not have much help on defense in those games. The Bolts have surely improved since then, stringing together consecutive wins for the first time this season. Coming into Tuesday, the Lightning are first in the NHL with blocked shots (136). Defensemen Brett Clark leads the team with 28.
For Buffalo, they have outscored their opponents 9-3 in the season's first three road tests prior to being shutout by the Lightning on Saturday. Tonight is only the second time the Sabres will be playing in front of their home crowd at the recently named First Niagara Center (previously HSBC arena) and home has been kind to the Sabres, especially in this series. Buffalo goaltender, Ryan Miller has won seven of his last nine home contests against the Lightning and he is 17-5-0 lifetime against Tampa Bay. Miller is one of the reasons for Buffalo's quick start, he is nine of eleven in his last regular-season starts, dating back to the 2010-2011 season. He has allowed two goals or fewer in those starts, including posting three shutouts.
Players To Watch: Defensemen Marc Andre Bergeron has contributed well offensively for the Lightning and showed his two-way playing ability. Bergeron leads NHL defensemen in scoring with nine points.
Eyes will also be on Brett Connolly, who will be playing in the final game of his allotted nine game "trial" before the Lightning have to decide whether or not to send him back to the Juniors. Connolly has two assists so far this season, but the stat sheet doesn't show everything this kid has done. Connolly is showing poise by being able to play alongside Martin St. Louis and Vincent Lecavalier, and that task is not an easy one, especially for a nineteen-year-old. Don't expect Steve Yzerman to rush his development, but don't expect him to ignore his on ice contributions and the way the Lightning have been playing with him in the lineup either. I think he's a good, solid player, but he needs some more development in the Juniors. He needs to get bigger and more physical, and there's no need to rush him into the the lineup.
Sabres' forward Thomas Vanek has five goals and an assist in his last three games against the Lightning. He has 16 goals in 12 career home games against Tampa Bay. Buffalo rookie Luke Adam is second among NHL rookies with six points (three assists and three goals.)
Injury Report: Tampa Bay: Mattias Ohlund (knee) looks to be out six to eight weeks after having arthroscopic surgery on both knees. Buffalo: Tyler Ennis (ankle) is day-to-day and not expected to play tonight after suffering an ankle injury last Saturday.
When: October 25th 7:30 P.M.
Where: First Niagara Center Buffalo, New York
Coverage: Versus (NBC Sports Network on Jan. 22)(T.V.) 970 WFLA (Radio)
Prediction: The Lightning are 20-6-0 with a tie in its last 27 efforts in Buffalo, but I think Buffalo will avenge Saturday's 3-0 shutout. Sabres: 3 Lightning: 2