A cursory glance at the Tampa Bay Lightning's season so far reveals graphic evidence of the peaks and valleys that coaches and players are always so fond of talking about. They began with three straight wins, alternated losses and wins over the next six games, mixed in a couple of three-game losing streaks after that and are currently riding a three-game winning streak.
Injuries, especially those affecting key contributors Vincent Lecavalier and Simon Gagne, have not made it easy to find and keep their groove and have necessitated a flurry of minor league call-ups and send-downs. Mathieu Roy, James Wright, Blair Jones, Mike Vernace and Johan Harju have all taken turns riding the Norfolk-to-Tampa (and back again) shuttle.
As coach Guy Boucher shuffles his roster, he's getting offensive production, especially from league scoring (goals and points) leader Steven Stamkos and Marty St. Louis, and commitment to key defensive components that are vital for his oft-discussed, non-traditional system to succeed. For example, the Lightning are currently 6th in the NHL in blocked shots, a category in which they finished 14th last season. Brett Clark leads the team in that category with 45.
This week, after spending considerable time on the road of late, the Bolts (11-7-2, 2nd, Southeast Division) get a handful of home games around the Thanksgiving holiday.
First up is a visit from the Boston Bruins (11-5-2, 2nd, Northeast Division). The Bruins have done well behind the offense of Nathan Horton, Milan Lucic and Mark Recci but they've really been carried by the play of goalie Tim Thomas who has been outstanding so far this season. He sports a goals against average of 1.49 and a save percentage of .954. He's posted four shutouts in his 13 starts so far this season.
On Wednesday, the New York Rangers (11-9-1, 3rd, Atlantic Division) come to town. Brandon Dubinsky leads the team in points (19) and goals (12). Henrik Lundqvist is the primary netminder for the Rangers.
Black Friday will be spent away from home as the Bolts visit the Washington Capitals (14-5-2, 1st, Southeast Division). They have two games before they meet the Lightning, but as of this writing, they've lost their last two games (one in a shootout) after a stretch of winning eight of nine, including a 6-3 win over the Lightning in their only previous meeting.
The next night, the Lightning return home to host the Florida Panthers (9-9-0, 5th, Southeast Division). the Panthers look to Michael Frolik, Michael Santorelli and veteran Brian McCabe for offensive production while relying on Tomas Vokoun in the net.