You Can Take The Boy Out Of Bradenton - Hawks at Lightning Preview, Pregame Thread, Grapefruit League Game

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Game time: 6:30 PM
TV/Radio: CSN (local), Versus (US National), WGN-AM 720
Mutiny On The Electronic Bay: Raw Charge

There's nothing like a streak-halting loss to a left-for-dead Eastern Conference opponent to take the piss out of everyone is there? After having won 8 straight, the Hawks lost to the Panthers last night in Sunrise on the first half of the Florida two-step, but still find themselves in 4th entering tonight's game against the resurgent Lightning in St. Pete, who themselves are 3-4-3 in their last 10. Under the puppetry of freshmen GM Steve Yzerman and coach Guy Boucher, the 'Ning have once again catapulted themselves back into the thick of things this season after missing the playoffs for the last 3 seasons. Though however many plaudits we'd like to throw Yzerman and Boucher's way for either shrewd personnel moves or innovative forecheck systems respectively, most of the credit needs to be directed toward the maturation and flat-out awesomeness of Steven Stamkos. Even in spite of being mishandled horribly his rookie year by Barry Melrose, over the past two seasons, Stamkos has emerged as the league's premiere sniper, sharing the Rocket Richard last year, and currently leading the league with 41 goals this season, and 79 points total, good for 2nd in the league. His running mate the last two seasons has been the diminutive Martin St. Louis, who continues to defy logic and play the game of a power forward despite being only 3'7" tall. Oh, and if that wasn't enough, they still have Vinny Lecavalier, who despite battling a slough of injuries since his own Richard campaign is still a threat, and still exquisitely handsome.

Tampa's back end is somewhat renovated, boasting an array of very tall, but relatively immobile blue-liners, and no true puck mover. While Viktor Hedman has improved his defensive zone coverage, the offensive numbers aren't truly there just yet. Pavel Kubina, Matthias Ohlund, and pre-deadline acquisition Eric Brewer are also among the large, but not necessarily swift corps of d-men. All of this is in front of the still ambulatory Dwayne Roloson, who certainly isn't a long term solution in Tampa, but has been at least serviceable in net with a 2.61 GAA and .909 save percentage since escaping The Island, which is far better than what Dan Ellis or Mike Smith were able to do.

Tonight is also the suspected return of power-play specialist Marc-Andre Bergeron to the lineup, and his presence is key, as Tampa's power play accounts for nearly 29 percent (58/196) of all their goals scored, which is reinforced by looking at the +/- for the lineup. Stamkos is best on the team with only a +7, and Simon Gagne is a shocking team worst at -19. For all the offense they possess, they still give up more than they score, which means the Hawks need to stay out of the box at all costs, and not allow Stamkos to set up shop at the top of the left faceoff ring if they find themselves down a man (or 2).

As for the Men of Four Feathers, tonight presents not only an opportunity to begin a new streak, but also to maintain their place within the West. Another slip-up can't be afforded tonight, and if the Hawks come out as flat as they did yesterday, the Lightning won't be so kind as the Cats were in leaving the first with only a nearly-surmountable 3-0 lead. Tonight's lineup of skaters is assumed to the same as the last few, though it will be interesting to see if Quenneville goes back to pairing Marlboro 72 to not only to counteract Stamkos and St. Louis but also to keep Nick Leddy away from them, because Dave Bolland will almost assuredly be out there against them any chance there is. There's been no word yet as to who gets the nod in the cage tonight between Corey Crawford or Marty Turco, but although Turco played well in relief last night, Crow sitting for 40 minutes may green-light him for tonight in Q's mind. Regardless of who's in net, this figures to be a track meet, but the Hawks have the advantage on the blue line in that respect. A similar strategy as was employed against Calgary with shallow chip-ins at the opponent's line would serve the Hawks well tonight to be able to use their speed advantage on the Tampa D. It's a pedal to the metal night in every respect. 82 points are better than 80. Let's go Hawks.

UPDATE: Crawford will be starting tonight, and Fernando Pisani will re-enter the lineup per Tracey Myers. No word on who The Pope-Ah is replacing, but the early favorite would seem to be Stalberg.