Also, we miss Antti Niemi. He was so good to us.

Tampa Bay Lightning @ Pittsburgh Penguins: GAME #23

Time: 7:00 Eastern Time

Location: Amalie Arena

Broadcast / Streaming: ATTSN-PT, SUN

Opponent SBNation Site: Pensburgh

Preview:

It’s too bad the Penguins finally waived Antti Niemi. The Lightning have had such good luck against him this season. In the two previous meetings in Tampa between these teams, the Lightning put up 12 goals against Niemi. The second game, a 7-1 shellacking, caused Pittsburgh to put Niemi on waivers. He was claimed by the Florida Panthers and just nine days later would come on in relief against the Lightning and allow another two goals and take another loss from Tampa. Now he’s in Montreal, but he might be gone from there before the Lightning have a chance to face him again.

In the previous two meetings, the Lightning’s defense were able to keep two of the Penguins’ three elite forwards off the scoreboard. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both failed to register a point while Phil Kessel was held to a single assist. The big different this time around is that it’s the Lightning who are on the back side of a back-to-back on the road. The Penguins were in that situation in both of their visits to Tampa Bay.

For the Lightning, it’ll be important to come out fast and hard. Play an honest, road game effort and play solid defense. They’ll need to keep themselves out of the penalty box as they sport a top five power play unit. On the other side though, their penalty kill is in the bottom ten of the league and the Lightning will want to take advantage to score as often as they can when the Penguins give them a power play opportunity.

Five Questions with Mike Darnay of Pensburgh

Raw Charge: The lack of center depth has been a hot topic. What are your thoughts on the center depth Pittsburgh has this season? Do you think that the Penguins will be forced to add some scoring depth to their line-up to have any chance of going deep in the playoffs?

Mike Darnay: I don’t think that Riley Sheahan is a long-term answer towards giving the best effort at going for another Stanley Cup, but in the interim, it helped. Going from Carter Rowney and Greg McKegg as the 3/4 C’s, Sheahan and McKegg is MUCH better (Rowney has been hurt, as well). If they can go out and make a move to find a better 3C and have Sheahan as the 4C, the center depth problem can be fixed. I think they need to do it if they want to be honest about contending again, but they can kind of do so on their terms as long as Crosby and Malkin are healthy.

RC: Additionally, the defense has looked “so-so.” Is it the system or the personnel?

MD: I would say the personnel more than anything else. We haven’t seen major changes there. Justin Schultz spent some time injured, Matt Hunwick is new to the system and has spent some time injured. Kris Letang was coming off a long layoff. I think they’ll be fine.

RC: Crosby and Letang are both sporting double digit negative plus-minus ratings and are below 30% in even strength goals for percentage. Are they just not playing good defense or is there a certain amount of bad luck going on for those two?

MD: Perhaps a little bit of both. The 10-1 loss to Chicago is enough to submarine any players metrics or even a team and its metrics, but I think there’s something there about maybe not coming back enough to help out the defense. It’s a fine line, however. Come back too often or too deep and you’re cutting into your offense. I’m not sure what the solution is.

RC: What makes Kessel so special? He’s top 10 in scoring once again.

MD: Obviously, Kessel’s goal-scoring abilities are his best asset, especially his lethal wrist shot. Something that he does that I think help sets him aside is how well he carries the puck. We saw this especially the past two seasons when he was part of the HBK Line, acting almost as a center carrying the puck more than most wingers traditionally do.

RC: Who’s been the biggest surprise and biggest disappointment of the season thus far?

MD: For me, it was Antti Niemi. I knew he wasn’t great in Dallas but chalked it up to their run and gun open hockey. And he had a bad contract there, I thought this cheap 1-year deal might have been fine. But alas, he was dreadful, even if they were all the second legs of back-to-back’s, but I expected a lot better.

Tampa Bay Lightning:

Forward Lines:

Vladislav Namestnikov — Steven Stamkos — Nikita Kucherov

Ondrej Palat — Brayden Point — Yanni Gourde

Alex Killorn — Tyler Johnson — ?

Chris KunitzJ.T. BrownRyan Callahan

Defense Pairings:

Victor Hedman — Jake Dotchin ?

Mikhail Sergachev — Anton Stralman

Braydon Coburn — Dan Girardi

Slater Koekkoek

Goaltenders:

Peter Budaj

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Pittsburgh Penguins:

Forward Lines:

Jake Guentzel – Sidney Crosby – Bryan Rust

Carl HagelinEvgeni Malkin – Phil Kessel

Conor Sheary – Riley Sheahan – Patric Hornqvist

Kuhnhackl – McKegg – Reaves

Defense Pairings:

Brian Dumoulin – Kris Letang

Olli Maatta – Justin Schultz

Matt Hunwick – Ian Cole

Goaltenders:

Tristan Jarry

Matt Murray


Article first appeared on www.draysbay.com