Sabres vs. Lightning: Behind Enemy Lines

Five questions with an enemy blogger was a big hit in the beginning of the season and with the Lightning on the schedule, it was the perfect time to bring it back. John Fontana of Raw Charge was kind enough to answer some questions and give us a better idea of what we are up against tonight.

1. I haven't had a chance to follow the Tampa Bay Lightning this season and I was surprised to find out that Vinny Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis both have only nine goals. What has been the biggest reason for their decline in production?

That's the million dollar question right there. St. Louis is among the league leaders for assists (always chipping in on goals - especially those from Ryan Malone and Steven Stamkos, who he has been paired with more times than not), but he's not scoring goals. Lecavalier is also assisting plenty but again - not scoring. Why?

I think part of the answer is the team philosophy right now being employed by Rick Tocchet, and the system in place. Tocchet favors players like himself -- gritty, go-to-the-net, dog-the-puck type guys who aren't finesse and speed. You're more likely to see the Bolts try to set up a screen / deflection goal than a tic-tac-toe goal, or break-away that St. Louis and Lecavalier thrived with under in John Tortorella's tenure as Head Coach in Tampa.

Both players are contributing on ice, but that goal production is no where near where what's expected of them. This also holds true for Alex Tanguay too...

2. While Lecavalier and St. Louis have struggled, Steven Stamkos has emerged as the player everyone thought he would be. What has changed to make Stamkos be more productive offensively?

The kid gloves were removed by Tocchet mid way through last season and since then, Steven has been Steven. He's been "rewarded" with being able to play with St. Louis and Malone. Mix this in with a bigger jump on the puck and a certain fearlessness on ice and the skills he already has, and you have all the makings of a goal-scorer.

It helps that he was tutored by Gary Roberts this summer. Roberts was his personal trainer, helping him get in condition for the season. As a former NHLer himself, Roberts probably also gave him suggestions in regards to his play as well.

However, he has to be fed passes that turn into goals - and that's where St. Louis has been chipping in steadily, almost like a quarterback on a power play (this, at even strength).

3. The Lightning are currently outside the top eight in the Eastern Conference but they are in striking distance. What do they need to improve in the second half of the season to be a legitimate playoff contender?

Consistency. The team needs to stop playing half-hearted games, where they give only a few minutes of effort for a chance to steal a point.

That had been how the team played in November, and in December they were pushed around mercilessly versus Western Conference opponents who weren't just trying to get-by like you're seeing here in the East.

Consistency is also needed for the Bolts in net. Mike Smith has been great recently, but he struggled mightily for the majority of the first half of the season. Antero Niittymaki needs a solid effort in front of him if he were to start, which he has not always gotten (see:

half-hearted efforts above). He's been consistent but the effort put out by the Lightning with him in net has been lacking.

Mix in more offense too. Tocchet has been trying to "jump start"

(insert player name here) all season but instead of tweaking his system, he's been juggling lines and hoping for a spark. Sadly, that's been the only consistent part this season for the Lightning - constantly moving players between lines. That won't cut it.

The Bolts need to raise their game, but with how weak the East has been this season, mediocrity could get them as high as sixth seed...

Or a prime tee-time in April.

4. The Lightning have been very good at home but they have struggled mightily on the road. Why have the Lightning struggled so much on the road this season?

That's a tough one to answer.... And honestly I can't say. Mindset?

Unprepared? I haven't the foggiest really. They come in, they get down, and then instead of raising to the challenge - they wallow, or don't make a deliberate effort to get back into the game until it's too late. Should blame be put on team leadership? On coaching?

Couldn't say.... I've seen several teams in several pro sports fall into this trap. I don't know why they get like that, or how they get out of it.

5. Every time we do this feature on Die by the Blade we ask for a prediction. Who is going to win...Sabres or Lightning?

OK, prediction, prediction.... Swami Johnny with the mop-top hair

predicts: Lake effect snow in the greater Buffalo area, with drifts as high as 4 feet.... An announced crowd of 25, and a goalie duel that leaves fans of both teams frustrated and blaming their own boys with not playing hard enough to beat the opposing goaltender. Which team will it be that victors? Can't say. I do expect a show in net on both sides of the ice though (Now watch as the Sabres win 11-9 in a

goaltending-joke-of-a-game.)

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