After a season in which the Chicago Blackhawks didn’t play any games against teams from the Eastern Conference, they will play their second in a row against a team from the East Coast on Saturday night when they battle the Tampa Bay Lightning at 7pm.
This game will see a slightly different Lightning team than the ones fans are used to seeing. Late last season, the team fired Guy Boucher, who had been known just as much for his Bond villain-appearance than for his coaching prowess, and replaced with Jon Cooper, who had led the Syracuse Crunch to the best record in the AHL last season before his promotion.
The Lightning also let go of longtime captain Vincent LeCavalier over the offseason, shedding his contract using a salary cap amnesty buyout. That move paved the way for Martin St. Louis to take over as captain of the Bolts, and they still have the ever-dangerous Steven Stamkos in their rotation as well.
Both teams have only played one game apiece this season, but where the Blackhawks were successful against the Washington Capitals (a former divisional rival of the Lightning until the realignment for this season), the Lightning were beaten 3-1 by the Boston Bruins at TD Garden.
Key to the Game: Be More Aggressive on the Penalty Kill
The Hawks have been talking all week long about needing to be more aggressive on their penalty killing unit after conceding three power play tallies to the Capitals, and the Lightning may be the perfect team to deploy that more intense approach.
That’s because the Bolts gave up two short-handed goals to the Bruins last week, including a penalty shot goal to Chris Kelly that marked the first time in NHL history that a team’s first goal of the season had come via the penalty shot. Overall, the Lightning went 0-for-5 on the man-advantage despite their prodigious offensive talent, and that went a long way to hampering their efforts in the game.
If the Hawks can get their forwards more active in going after the Lightning puck carriers, they should be able to have a lot more success in that area, and to silence a lot of doubts surrounding the team after a shaky first effort.
Blackhawks to Watch: Ben Smith
Smith will be making his season debut with the Hawks tonight, and he will likely see time both on the third line with Andrew Shaw and Brandon Saad and also on the penalty killing unit with Marcus Kruger. If he can replicate the performance that he had in the preseason in those areas, then he should be just fine.
Bolt to Watch: Valtteri Filppula
Stamkos and St. Louis get all the headlines for the Lightning offensive attack, but Filppula is just as dangerous and proved it on Thursday. He had the Bolts’ only goal against the Bruins, and in only 15 minutes of ice time he won 10 of 17 faceoffs, fired four shots (two of which found their way on net) and showed that he is out to prove something after the Detroit Red Wings let him go during the offseason.