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Flyers Go for Three in a Row in Tampa

The Matchup:

Philadelphia Flyers (2-3-0) vs. Tampa Bay Lightning (3-1-0)
Tampa Bay Times Forum — Tampa Bay, FL
6:00 p.m. on Comcast Sportsnet

Setting the Stage:

Even beleaguered with injuries to Danny Briere, Andrej Meszaros and Scott Hartnell, the Flyers are finally hitting their stride. Disappointing loss after loss finally came to a halt once the Orange and Black hosted the New York Rangers and traveled to sunny Florida to take on the Panthers.

The team put forth two consecutive 60 minute efforts, and in the process, picked up two big wins to turn their season around. The Flyers are coming off of a 7-1 rout of the Panthers, capped off by a hat trick by Matt Read. Briere has since returned to the lineup.

This is the game where the Flyers must make a decision on 18 year old rookie Scott Laughton. They can send him back to the Oshawa Generals for no penalty, or burn a year of his entry level contract by keeping him with the Flyers for the rest of the season. Flyers' beat sources have differing information on this. A decision will be coming later today.

The Tampa Bay Lightning wanted to upgrade their defense and goaltending in the offseason; both ranked among the worst in the entire league last season. To that end, they acquired defensemen Matt Carle, Sami Salo and Keith Aulie, as well as traded for lanky goaltender Anders Lindback from Nashville.

It hasn't all worked out for them just yet, as the Lightning have given up 12 goals in 4 games, but have scored 19 goals to make up for it, giving them a misleading +7 margin. Tampa is coming off of a character effort against the Ottawa Senators. Down 4-2 in the second period, the Lightning rattled off 4 goals in the final 25 minutes of the game to cap off a 6-4 victory.

What to Expect:

At the surface, it looks like this could become a shootout. As mentioned prior, the Lightning have scored 19 goals in 4 games (4.75 per game), and the Flyers are coming off of an effort where they scored 7 goals against the Panthers.

Interestingly enough, only two of the Lightning's 19 goals have come from scoring machine Steven Stamkos. "Stammer" has become more of a setup guy with six assists. Cory Conacher, a Canisius College product and an undrafted player, has impressed the Lightning brass—and for good reason. He has 2 goals and 5 assists so far this year after scoring 80 points in 75 games with Norfolk (AHL) last season.

The Flyers will need to play defense to succeed in this game. The Lightning have a skilled offense, and they showed against the Senators and the New York Islanders that they can come back and win even while they are down. There should be no complaints with the defensive effort after allowing two goals in the last two games.

Just hope that Guy Boucher, coach of the Lightning, doesn't decide to go back to the 1-3-1 scheme that frustrated the Flyers in the infamous stall game, seen by all on the NBC Sports Network last season.

The Masked Men:

Ilya Bryzgalov (2-3-0, 2.21 GAA, .921 sv%) will likely get his sixth consecutive start for the Flyers. Bryzgalov slammed the door shut against Florida, and kept the Rangers offense frustrated in the two consecutive wins for the Flyers. The national media continue to believe the Flyers need to buy out the eccentric Russian and go with another option, but Bryzgalov's play in the early going has proven them wrong to this point.

UPDATE: Michael Leighton will make his first start of the season tonight against Tampa Bay. Leighton was 28-26 with a 2.58 GAA with Adirondack and was named to the AHL All-Star Game.

The 6'6" Anders Lindback (2-1-0, 3.67 GAA, .900 sv%) will get the start for the Tampa Bay Lightning. Lindback suffered a cut on his knee while playing in Finland during the lockout, but has repeatedly told reporters that it is no issue. Lindback has not yet shown the form of a starting goaltender in the NHL. It's early, but for the Lightning to contend, they will need him at his best from here on out.

Keys to the Game:

1. Score the first goal. If the game becomes a shootout, this may not matter, but if the Flyers choose to play the defense they have been over the past few games, then scoring first will make all the difference. In the three losses this year, the opposition not only scored the first goal of the game, but second goal as well. In the two wins, the Flyers scored the first and second goals of the game. No coincidence here.

2. Keep Bryz in the rhythm. Ilya Bryzgalov thrives on starting in bunches. In his four years in Phoenix, he played about 64 games per season. Even in the losses, Bryzgalov gave his team a chance to win. Don't worry if he doesn't know what "Flyers hockey" entails, just let him do his job. Stop the puck from going in the net.

3. The 1-3-1. If Lightning coach Guy Boucher continues to roll out the 1-3-1 forechecking scheme against the Flyers like they have in the past, Peter Laviolette will need to do better than to have a defenseman just wait in his own zone for the Lightning to break formation and instantly want to get the puck back. Dump it in, get after it, and create scoring chances. There's a reason why the Lightning had one of the worst defenses in the entire league last year.

Quotable:

Matt Carle on last year's infamous "stall game"..."Hopefully, you'll never see that again." (via Tampa Bay Times)