2010-11 NHL season preview: Tampa Bay Lightning

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boucherandyzerman.jpgLast season: (34-36-12, 80 points, 4th in Southeast Division, 12th in Eastern Conference) The Lightning have been a mess more or less since they won the Stanley Cup before the lockout. Almost universally bad personnel and front office decisions will do that to you. Really, Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos were the only bright spots of last season, although many will point out that changing their owner, GM and coach might be the real ‘highlight.’

Head coach: They say that Guy Boucher is bringing in a system quite unlike anything Lightning players have ever seen … whatever that means. All I know is that he can’t be much worse than Rick Tocchet and that the scar on his face makes him look a villain from a James Bond film. These are good things.

Key departures: G Antero Niittymaki, F Alex Tanguay, F Zenon Konopka, F Todd Fedoruk, D Andrej Mezaros, D Matt Walker, D Kurtis Foster. Few teams can match the Lightning when it comes to year-by-year turnover. The good news is, this summer resembles cleaning house compared to the ‘re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic’ type moves in previous years. They might miss Foster’s booming slapper a bit, though.

Key arrivals: G Dan Ellis, F Simon Gagne, D Pavel Kubina, D Brett Clark, F Sean Bergenheim, D Dominic Moore. Ellis is a slight upgrade over Niittymaki while Gagne is a considerable upgrade over Tanguay — if he can stay healthy. Actually, Kubina’s a step up from Meszaros, too. Just a bunch of shrewd moves by new general manager Steve Yzerman.

Thumbnail image for lecavalierwithnewteammates.jpgUnder pressure: When you make the kind of coin that Vincent Lecavalier does, you better produce. He’ll always be under a lot of pressure in Tampa Bay, but when you consider that Stamkos could rake in big bucks as his contract expires this season, Lecavalier needs to justify his very expensive existence. If the French-Canadian talent can make it happen this season, Tampa Bay might turn some heads sooner than some expect.

Protecting the house: Neither new addition Ellis nor Mike Smith are going to take the world by storm, but they’re both competent goalies. On the negative side, Smith is injury-prone while Ellis is unproven as a starter. I like the duo, but they’ll need some solid defense to shine.

Tampa Bay’s defense is a lot like its goalies: solid but unspectacular. Victor Hedman struggled in his first season, but he should be a special player one day. Mattias Ohlund is getting a little long in the tooth, but he’s a solid trooper. Kubina and Clark are nice additions as well. Boucher’s system will have a big impact on the quality of this group, but this could be the best group they’ve had in quite some time (even if that’s not saying much).

If nothing else, the Lightning should allow less than the putrid 260 goals they gave up last season.

Top line we’d like to see: Stamkos-Lecavalier-St. Louis. This trio boasts a speedy playmaker (St. Louis), a true gunslinger (Stamkos) and an elite center (Lecavalier). Tampa Bay would be wise to split Stamkos and Lecavalier for the sake of depth scoring, but if it needs a goal, this could be a great combo.

Oh captain, my captain: Lecavalier’s been the (admittedly pretty) face of the franchise since the team’s former owner called him the ‘Michael Jordan’ of hockey, even if he hasn’t always been the captain. I wonder if St. Louis might be a better choice, though, since he consistently produces while Lecavalier is decidedly up-and-down.

Street fighting man: If ridding themselves of last season’s leader Konopka wasn’t enough, the team openly states that it has an anti-fighting policy. Considering that Southeast Division is getting tougher (at least in Florida and Atlanta), that might be a minor concern.

Best-case scenario: Let’s not forget that the Lightning boasts top-level forwards that can compare to any in the NHL. Stamkos, St. Louis, Lecavalier, Gagne, Ryan Malone and Steve Downie are a pretty imposing group. Winning a Cup seems a little ridiculous, though, but what about a run to the Eastern Conference finals?

danellistbl.jpgWorst-case scenario: Boucher’s system doesn’t work out. Smith gets injured and Ellis has a new set of ‘Dan Ellis Problems’ (namely, letting in too many goals). Lecavalier flounders, Stamkos regresses, St. Louis shows his age and Gagne gets hurt for half the season while their defense fails miserably. The team finishes well enough that they don’t get a good draft pick, but low enough that they miss the playoffs.

Keeping it real: When you consider how bad the Eastern Conference is once you get past the elite teams, the lower seeds are wide open. The Lightning can definitely earn a seventh or eighth seed simply by improving by increments. They have a potentially explosive offense, a decent defense and an OK goalie duo. Sounds like the right mix in the diluted East.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale from 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, Tampa Bay earns a 3. I’d rather give them a 2.5, because they have a lot of talent, but are far from complete. There are a ton of unknowns from this team, but I think a Lecavalier-Gagne combo could wreak havoc on second-defensive pairings

Bruins, Khudobin top Penguins for fourth straight win

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Don’t look now but here come the Boston Bruins.

Thanks to their 4-3 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday afternoon the Bruins were able to continue their climb up the Eastern Conference standings with their fourth consecutive win, all of them coming with backup goaltender Anton Khubodin in net.

Friday’s win ended up being a little more difficult than it looked after 20 minutes.

The Bruins stormed out of the gates and dominated the first period, scoring a pair of goals and limiting the Penguins to just four shots on goal. They held a 3-1 lead in the second period until the Penguins were able to strike back with a pair of goals, including a really flukey game-tying goal from Sidney Crosby that needed to go through two different replay reviews, to tie the game.

But early in the third period David Pastrnak was able to sneak behind the Penguins’ defense on a breakaway and score what would prove to be the game-winning goal.

With that win the Bruins are for the time being in the third playoff spot in the Atlantic Division.

The Penguins, meanwhile, continue to look like a lost hockey team. Their loss on Friday was their ninth in their past 13 games and they have still just won just 11 of their first 24 games this season.

Friday’s game was also the Penguins’ third consecutive loss.

Defense continues to be an issue, as does depth scoring and 5-on-5 offense.

Things will not get any easier for the Penguins on Saturday when they have to return home for a game against the NHL’s best team, the Tampa Bay Lightning.

It will be the third time the Penguins have played the Lightning this season in the second half of a back-to-back situation. They lost the first two games by a combined score of 12-5.

WATCH LIVE: Pittsburgh Penguins at Boston Bruins

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If you are looking for a break from your Black Friday shopping or your relatives in town for the holidays we have something that should work nicely: Some afternoon hockey as the Pittsburgh Penguins visit the Boston Bruins.

The Bruins enter the game having won three in a row, all with backup goalie Anton Khudobin in net. He has allowed just four goals in those three games.

The Penguins, meanwhile, are still trying to find their stride this season and have won just four of their past 12 games. They are still trying to figure out ways to replace some of the depth they lost this summer.

Opening faceoff is at 1 p.m. ET.

You can catch all of the action on NBC or on our NBC Live Stream.

Click Here For The Live Stream

Preview: NHL On NBC: Bruins’ Khudobin looks for fourth straight win in matinee matchup against Pens.

New York Rangers reveal 2018 Winter Classic jerseys (Photos)

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The Buffalo Sabres already revealed their look for the 2018 Winter Classic earlier this week, and on Friday the New York Rangers gave us our first look at what their uniforms will look like for the Jan. 1 game to be played at Citi Field in New York.

[Buffalo Sabres reveal 2018 Winter Classic jersey (Photos)]

Have a look, both in the picture at the top showing the front of the uniforms, as well as the picture just below showing the back.

Thoughts on the Rangers’ look?

The 2018 Winter Classic is scheduled for a 1 p.m. ET faceoff at Citi Field in New York, the home of the New York Mets.

This year’s game will be the 10th anniversary of the annual New Years Day game.

Related: Buffalo Sabres reveal Winter Classic Jerseys 

NHL on NBC: Bruins’ Khudobin looks for fourth straight win in matinee matchup against Pens

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It’s Black Friday, which means that the NHL on NBC will air a matinee game. This afternoon, the Boston Bruins will host the Pittsburgh Penguins at 1:00 P.M. ET. You can watch the game online by clicking here

The Bruins are in a weird goaltending situation right now. Tuukka Rask, who’s been their starter for the last few years, has taken a back seat to Anton Khudobin.

Khudobin is a career backup, but he’s looked terrific over the last week or so. The 31-year-old has won three consecutive games (all on the road) over Los Angeles, San Jose and New Jersey. In those three contests, he’s allowed just four goals.

“We’re playing with our hearts,” Khudosin said of the team’s recent winning streak, per the Boston Herald. “That’s how we’re playing. Right now, I think we put everything into one game. We’re focusing on that one game that we are playing. After the game, whether it is lose or win, we go on to the next game. I think that’s really important. It’s always hard work (that) pays off. When guys are playing like this, they’re not scared of the puck. They block the shots, they’re laying down to do whatever. Then there is always going to be positive result.”

Here’s an injury update for the Bruins:

Things have been going better for Boston than they have been for Pittsburgh recently. The Penguins have lost two games in a row and four of their last six contests. They’re coming off a 5-2 loss to rookie sensation Brock Boeser and the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday night.

“For us, we just have to find the consistency, something we show at different times,” captain Sidney Crosby said, per the Pittsburgh Tribune. “A couple mistakes here and there end up hurting us. We had some tough bounces. You have to work through your bounces at some point.”

In six games since Nov. 10, the Penguins scored five goals against Buffalo and four goals against Nashville. If you take those two games away, they have just seven goals in the remaining four contests.

Things won’t get any easier for them on Friday afternoon, as they’ll face a tough Boston team without superstar center Evgeni Malkin, who is dealing with an upper-body injury. He’s day-to-day at this point.

Enjoy the game!