Bad puns notwithstanding, the Tampa Bay Lightning (14-16-2) will need play some of their best hockey of the season if they want to win tonight against the San Jose Sharks (17-10-2). The Sharks are currently the second place team in the Pacific Division (37 points) and the Bolts are treading water in fourth place in the Southeast Division (30 points), but the differences between the teams go deeper than that.
To state the obvious, if a hockey team wants to consistently win games, they have to do one major thing: control the puck. Whichever team dominates possession in a game has the best chance of winning; maybe they'll get unlucky and the other team will make the most of their limited opportunities, but over the long run, puck possession equals more wins. And when it comes to puck possession, the Sharks have been the 11th best team in the NHL (51.1% Fenwick), while the Lightning have come in toward the bottom (45.9% Fenwick).
The Bolts are also down a couple key players, as Nate Thompson and Matt Gilroy are both day-to-day with injuries. Martin St. Louis skated with the team today for the first time since suffering his eye injury 12 days ago, but he still isn't expected back anytime soon. With all these players out, the Bolts will need their top players to continue to carry the team...especially the red hot Steven Stamkos (seven points in the past three games).
Mathieu Garon (.905 Sv%, 2.75 GAA) will be starting in net for the Lightning, making this his sixth start of the last seven games (and he played in the seventh game as well). Coach Guy Boucher hasn't explicitly stated that he has lost faith in starting goalie Dwayne Roloson (.882 Sv%, 3.46 GAA), but his actions so far this season seem to suggest it. Garon has played over 200 more minutes than Roloson, and considering how Roli has played when on the ice, Garon may become the de facto starter going forward.
The Sharks and Lightning last played each other during the 2008-2009 season, and the Lightning haven't won a game in San Jose since back in 2002-2003. Both teams are searching for their third straight win.
Location: HP Pavilion, San Jose, California
Gametime: 10:30pm EST
Coverage: Sun Sports, CSN-California