Buffalo - December 2, 2014 -
Who: Tampa Bay Lightning
Where: First Niagra Center, Buffalo, NY
Know thine enemy: The Lightning are actually pretty good. Like “tied for the most points in the NHL” good.
They’re led by one of the best offenses in the game and hoooo boy, they are deep. Put it this way: vaunted rookie Jonathan Drouin has nine points in 18 games, putting him 11th on the team in scoring. If he were a Sabre, he’d be tied with Brian Gionta for fifth on the team.
Leading the way to the surprise of no one is Steven Stamkos with 15 goals, 29 points in 25 games this year. What is somewhat surprising is the sophomore effort of Tyler Johnson. Everyone expected Nathan MacKinnon to be the second-year player playing at a great pace, but Johnson’s 26 points in 25 games are hard to top in that category. They have a whopping 10 players with at least double-digit points and half a dozen guys with 20 or more.
On the back end, Ben Bishop isn’t have quite as dominant a year, but really, it’s more than getting the job done. He’s 15-3-2 with a 2.30 goals against average and .917 save percentage behind a much-improved Lightning defense. With Victor Hedman back, they’re only going to get better and better as they go.
About the Sabres: KINGS OF THE WOOOOOOOOOOOOOOORLD!
At no point before the season began would I have ever believed that this team would be winners of five out of six and one of the hotter teams in the league. Yet here we sit.
They can thank Jhonas Enroth for that, as he has been playing at a very high level all year despite facing a shooting gallery on a nightly basis. He looks more confident than he’s ever looked and it’s showing in his play. I don’t know how long he can keep it up before he comes back to Earth or starts to fatigue, but he’s been the driving force for the Sabres.
The biggest difference over this recent stretch is that the offense is making the most of their chances. The usual suspects - *cough* Tyler Ennis *cough* - are doing their thing, but guys like Matt Moulson, Brian Gionta and even Brian Flynn are starting to score. Hell, they had a pair of highlight-reel goals over the weekend and I’m not sure they’d had one all year before that.
At some point, this is all going to go back to normal, but it’s fun to see the team trying hard and succeeding instead of getting thumped on a nightly basis.
The part where I predict things: While the Sabres are playing better, they’re still A.) giving up a ton of shots and B.) pretty inept offensively on the season. That’s a bad combo when you’re playing a team that scores a ton and has a goalie who doesn’t give up much.
The team has been playing way above its head of late, but a little dose of reality comes back into the fold tonight.
Score: 5-1 Lightning
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