It is no secret that the Tampa Bay Lightning have had the Detroit Red Wings’ number for some time now. Since 2015-16, the Lightning has a record of 19-4-1 against them in the regular season. Moreover, the Lightning defeated them in 17 straight regular-season home games from Feb. 17, 2011, to April 4, 2021.
So far this season, the Lightning are 4-2-0 against the Red Wings. Despite a tumultuous month of April, the Lightning recently found their feet again and have won four of their last five contests. In contrast, the Red Wings have struggled, posting a record of 1-2-2 in their last five games. Ahead of their final meetings of the season this weekend, Red Wings’ contributors Devin Little, Patrick Brown, and Kyle Knopp sat down with me to discuss what is in store.
What Is the Key to Success for the Lightning This Weekend?
Andrew: Tampa Bay’s stars simply need to play like stars. A major driving force behind the Lightning’s slump in April was two-fold. First, the offense dried up. Ondrej Palat, for example, went 13 games straight without a goal from March 15 to April 22. He certainly wasn’t the only offensive player that was in a rut. In fact, the Lightning found the back of the net 46 times in April, ranking them at 13th in the league.
Secondly, to say that the defense has struggled would be an understatement. The Lightning also ranked 13th in goals against in April. Victor Hedman had a particularly rough month, and even he knew it. When speaking about his slump, Hedman said,
“I have to be better. It starts with me.”
The bottom line is that Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has garnered Hart Trophy consideration this season, needs help. It starts with the stars and leaders of the team. If Brayden Point, Palat, and Hedman play well, the team will follow.
What Is the Key to Success for the Red Wings This Weekend?
Devin: Listen, with such a depleted lineup, I’m going into this weekend expecting two losses – but that’s fine! The key to a successful weekend will be for the Red Wings to emulate their earlier efforts against the Lightning, hopefully leading to a closely contested couple of games. Strong play from guys like Michael Rasmussen and Joe Veleno would be nice, and goals from Filip Zadina and Jakub Vrana will leave Hockeytown feeling pretty good regardless of the final scores.
Pat: It seems to be a consensus answer, but I just want to see the kids get some quality minutes while keeping it relatively close. A huge bonus would be a goal from Rasmussen or Veleno, but those are not the expectations at this point, given a decimated roster. Honestly, a successful weekend to me would be a respectable margin and no serious injuries. Everything on top of that is gravy.
Kyle: To me, the key to the Wings’ success this weekend is allowing some of their younger guys to play and get valuable ice time at the NHL level. Close, competitive games would be great, but we need to let our future get more comfortable in their game at this point in our season.
What Line/Pairing Will Need to Have the Biggest Impact for the Lightning?
Andrew: I think the top forward line for the Lightning needs to find a way to keep lighting the lamp. Head Coach Jon Cooper has stuck with the line pairing of Palat-Point-Alex Barre-Boulet and they have started to find their rhythm. In particular, Barre-Boulet has been a creative force for the top line. After being held off of the scoresheet in his first seven games with the team, he has scored a goal in two of his last three games. It was never for lack of opportunity, though, and here’s hoping the floodgates have opened as they did for fellow rookie Ross Colton.
What Line/Pairing Will Need to Have the Biggest Impact for the Red Wings?
Devin: It’s not so much about a specific line as it is about specific players. Without Dylan Larkin in the lineup, there’s nowhere for Rasmussen, Veleno, and Vladislav Namestnikov to hide down the middle. If any of those centers look over-matched, it’s going to be a tough weekend.
Pat: How do Dennis Cholowski and Filip Hronek stack up against the Lightning? Can Gustav Lindstrom step up his game? The key to this weekend is how the defense responds to Tampa Bay’s electric lineup. Yes, it would be nice to see Veleno pickpockets the way he did in his first game, but it’s the defensive pairings of the 23-and-under club that will determine how close the Red Wings keep the game. If they don’t let the forecheck fluter them and exit the zone effectively, they may just hang in there.
Kyle: With injuries and the Jeff Blashill line blender this season, I’m not sure we see lines stay together throughout the weekend. All three defensive pairings will need to be on their game against the depth of the Lightning, but I think most Wings fans are hoping to see Veleno center a line between Vrana and Zadina.
Who Is the Lightning Player That the Red Wings Need to Watch Out for the Most?
Andrew: Fortunately for the Red Wings, Vasilevskiy will likely only start one game this weekend. You can be sure that whichever game he plays in, the boys in red sweaters will have difficulty getting on the scoreboard. Vasilevskiy is coming off of a fantastic performance against the Dallas Stars, posting his fifth shutout of the season. He has an exceptional 2.10 goals-against average and a .929 save percentage (SV%) in 39 games played overall this season.
Who Is the Red Wings Player That the Lightning Need to Watch Out for the Most?
Devin: As evidenced by his four-game performance against the Dallas Stars, Vrana is probably the only player on the Red Wings’ roster that can flip a switch and score at will. It’s got to be him.
Pat: I think the Lightning need to be wary of Zadina. Though he still hasn’t been finding the back of the net as we’d like, his smooth skating ability combined with his hockey sense has really highlighted his playmaking ability. The smallest seam presents an opportunity, and more often than not, it seems his pass finds its intended target. I still think the goals will come, but even without he remains one of the more dangerous playmakers Detroit has right now.
Kyle: Vrana would be the closest player the Wings have right now to someone that the Lightning needs to watch out for the most. In seven games played with Detroit, he has six goals and one assist for a point per game pace. The Lightning will also need to find a way to solve Jonathan Bernier and Thomas Greiss, who both sported a .962 SV% over the past week.
What Is Your Prediction for the Series?
Devin: The Red Wings fall a few spots in the league standings, which is good because they currently sit outside the bottom five, and while the sixth overall selection has been kind to Detroit, I’m sure fans would much rather see them pick higher than that.
Pat: Tampa Bay wins both handily but Detroit rejoices, celebrating Veleno’s first two goals as a Red Wing.
Kyle: I would like to think that the Wings will play inspired and the kids will come out with something to prove. Maybe the Lightning will be looking ahead to the first round of the playoffs or take the time to rest some key players, allowing Detroit to steal at least one point. However, I think the Lightning realize the postseason is on the horizon and have begun to get their killer mentality back, and therefore Lightning will strike twice in the Motor City.
Andrew: The Red Wings certainly haven’t been a walk in the park to play against this season. With their young guns out on the ice with something to prove, I am sure it will be much of the same this weekend. However, the Lightning is firing on all cylinders again and is in good form. I think the Lightning will win both games, but one of them will have to be settled in overtime.
The Lightning travels to Motor City on Saturday to play the first of two back-to-back matinee matchups. With only six games left in the season, the Lightning will look to keep their momentum going as they continue to battle for first place in the Central Division.
Andrew is a freelance writer who covers the Tampa Bay Lightning at The Hockey Writers. He is a passionate hockey fan who grew up near Tampa, Florida. He is a husband, father to a Golden Retriever, and is studying to be a Physician Assistant. Follow me on Twitter: @Andrew_Mulville