Buoyed by a big road win in Columbus last night, the Nashville Predators (19-11-3) return home to face the struggling Tampa Bay Lightning (11-12-9) tonight at the Sommet Center.
The Lightning started the season well going 10-6-7 but have gone 1-6-2 since November 28 and fell below .500 after their 4-0 loss in Chicago on Sunday night. Sunday's loss may have been the final straw for Coach Rick Tocchet.
According to Erik Erlendsson of the Tampa Tribune, there appeared to be serious fallout from the recent situation at the morning skate. He reported that Alex Tanguay, Jeff Halpern and Todd Fedoruk will be scratched from tonight's game and that eight defensemen will dress.
Additionally, coach Rick Tocchet put the threesome through a "bag skate" session and that there may be additional friction between Halpern and Tocchet as it appears that there are some non-ice related issues that has not been made public as neither would comment on the "healthy" scratch.
Antero Niittymaki (6-5-4, 2.26, .927) will start in net for the Lightning tonight. The Preds have not announced a starter, but I would be shocked if Pekka Rinne (13-6-2, 2.61, .909) does not get the call since Dan Ellis (6-5-1, 2.77, .908) played last night in Columbus.
Predator fans will get their first look at the Bolts 2009 Draft pick, defenseman, Victor Hedman, who is in his first pro season with the Lightning. They will also see a much different Steve Stamkos, who has transformed from an over-matched rookie to a point per game producer with a team leading 17 goals and 13 assists.
The Predators are hoping that their increased point production will continue as they have scored three or more goals in 12 of their last 15 games.
Nick Spalling will make his NHL debut as he was recalled to take the place of Jordin Tootoo on the Predators roster.
Predators Keys To The Game
Beware The Injured Lightning Bolts!...
Based on the information about the turbulent morning skate session at the Sommet Center Tampa Coach Rick Tocchet has done everything possible to scare and threaten the players that will be taking the ice tonight. He has not been pleased with the effort or results during the recent slide and wants it turned around tonight. With the situation as desperate as it appears for the Bolts, the level of play could be much improved if the Lightning responds to Tocchet as he hopes they will.
Strike Early and Often...
The Predators need to be aware that the Bolts are playing under threat and need to try to control the game early and not let the Lightning gain any confidence. The back to back goals against Steve Mason last night literally broke him and threw the Jackets back into their defeated funk taking the wind out of their sails. The same thing needs to happen early tonight against the Bolts.
Play a Full 60 Minutes...
The Bolts should be the more rested team since they were snug in their Nashville hotel room beds while the Predators were beating the Blue Jackets 5-3 in Columbus last night.
Tampa coach Rick Tocchet has stressed that he wants 60 minutes out of his players tonight and the Preds need to be aware and respond with 60 minutes of their own. After a game last night and a late bed time, it would be real easy to be sluggish as we have seen the Preds be at times recently. The Predators do not have back to back games for 11 days so they need to go full out from the start and keep it going for the entire game.
The Predators will leave for Edmonton on Wednesday and play the Oilers on Thursday. They will play Calgary on Saturday in an afternoon match, and Vancouver on Tuesday before scattering for a three day Christmas vacation.
Buddy Oakes for PredsOnTheGlass