Hockey season is back, and that means it’s also time for the return of Crashing the Net! Every week during the season, we take a look at the week ahead for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Normally, Crashing the Net gets published on Mondays, but we’re making an exception for the opening week of the since the 2016-17 season started last night. Coming off a run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, the Lightning enter this season as one of the favorites to raise the Stanley Cup in June, and they’ll begin the season with a four-game homestand. We’ll take a look at the first two games of that homestand, which starts off with a familiar foe making their first visit to Amalie Arena.
TONIGHT VS. DETROIT RED WINGS, 7:30 PM
The Lightning and Red Wings will meet up for the first of five matchups this season, with three of those taking place at Amalie Arena. Tampa Bay has eliminated Detroit in the first round of the playoffs in each of the last seasons. The two teams split their four meetings a year ago, with the home team winning every contest. Since the Red Wings moved to the Eastern Conference for the start of the 2013-14 season, the Lightning have won 9 out of 13 regular season meetings, and have also beaten the Wings six straight times in Tampa. The Bolts’ last home loss to the Wings was a 6-2 defeat on February 17, 2011. This will be the first time these two teams have met in a season opener. Since Steve Yzerman took over as GM of the Lightning in May 2010, the Wings are 6-6-3 in the regular season against Tampa Bay. Nikita Kucherov, who signed a three-year contract with the Lightning on Tuesday, led the Lightning in goals (3) and points (5) against Detroit last season. Detroit went 6-1-1 in the preseason, and will look to extend their streak of playoff appearances, which sits at 25 straight seasons, the longest active streak in the NHL. The Red Wings saw some departures in the offseason, Pavel Datsyuk left to go home to Russia, Teemu Pulkkinen was placed on waivers and claimed by Minnesota, Kyle Quincey signed with New Jersey, and Brad Richards retired. The team’s free agent signings include center Frans Nielsen from the Islanders, Steve Ott from the Blues, and Thomas Vanek from the Islanders. I look for the Lightning to get off to a quick start and cruise to an easy victory over their division rivals.
SATURDAY, OCTOBER 15TH, VS. NEW JERSEY DEVILS, 7 PM
The homestand continus for the Bolts when the Devils come to town for the first of three meetings, all of which take place by November 5th. New Jersey makes two visits to Amalie Arena this season and will be wrapping up a two-game road trip through the Sunshine State on Saturday. Last season, the Devils finished in last place in the league in goals per game (2.22) and shots per game (24.4), yet were still in the playoff race for much longer than most people thought thanks to the play of goalie Cory Schneider, who had a Vezina Trophy-like season despite not finishing as a finalist for the award. New Jersey will look to new acquisition Taylor Hall to help give them an offensive boost. One of the top young wingers in the game, Hall was picked up from Edmonton in one of the more surprising trades in recent NHL history, as the Devils traded defenseman Adam Larsson straight up for Hall. Many pundits believe this deal to be incredibly lopsided in the Devils’ favor, and New Jersey will need the offensive skills he brings to the table. Highly-touted 19-year-old center Pavel Zacha, Adam Henrique, and the return to health of Mike Cammalleri will also go a long way towards giving them some offensive punch. As will the progression of Kyle Palmieri, who scored a career-high 30 goals last season. Look for Hall to start on a line with Henrique, his former linemate in the OHL. New Jersey has had the Lightning’s number in recent years, but I expect the Lightning to get just enough offense to pull out a one-goal victory.