Concluding the Florida trip tonight, the Red Wings will take on the underachieving Tampa Bay Lightning on the road. This is the first matchup of the season between these two Atlantic Division foes. This also marks the first time these two teams faceoff with Steve Yzerman back on the Detroit side. The former Tampa Bay GM is currently in the Czech Republic, but this should still be a meaningful game for him to watch.

The Lightning currently sit fourth in the Atlantic Division with a 19-13-4 record. Putting them on pace for a massive step back from their 62-win season from a year ago.

Projected Lines

Detroit Red Wings

Due to the Red Wings being on a back-to-back, both games in which are on the road, we don’t have updated practice lines. Only an optional skate was held. Nevertheless, Valtteri Filppula has already been confirmed as out. Filppula left the Florida game early and did not return. So the second-line center for tonight is up in the air. Players on the roster with experience playing center include: Andreas Athanasiou, Robby Fabbri, Luke Glendening, Darren Helm, and Frans Nielsen. Take your pick, but line combinations could be even more wacky than usual.

Jonathan Bernier is the expected starter. Jimmy Howard got the nod in Sunrise on Saturday, which indicates Bernier is next up in the rotation.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Things haven’t gone as smoothly as they did last season for this Tampa Bay squad, but they still boast some of the most lethal offensive players in the game. Nikita Kucherov is the reigning league MVP, Brayden Point is arguably a top-10 center in the game, and Steven Stamkos is still a perennial 30 goal scorer.

They lost some pieces from last season, namely J.T. Miller, but there have been new names to carry load. Anthony Cirelli is enjoying a breakout season, on pace to shatter his rookie totals from last season. Kevin Shattinkirk was brought in as a free-agent and has bounced back nicely in a smaller role. The 30-year-old has posted 5 goals and 23 points in 36 games.

Three Thoughts

1.) Center depth being exposed

It’s no secret the Red Wings own one of the league’s worst center cores. After Dylan Larkin, there isn’t much down the middle. Filppula has come in as a free-agent acquisition and done a decent job as a gap-filler, but not much else. Still, now that Filppula is sidelined, the center concerns become even more real. The 2C position is a complete mystery without Filppula.

Athanasiou got some reps at center to start the season and it didn’t workout. Not to mention, Athanasiou played a strong game on Larkin’s wing last night. So he doesn’t seem like the logical solution for Filppula’s replacement. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Glendening get shoved in there for the time being.

Either way, there is no actual fix. Hopefully Filppula will return to the lineup soon.

2.) Tampa’s electric offense

Despite their stepback in the standings, the Lightning are still scoring goals at an incredible rate. The club currently ranks second in the NHL in goals per game (3.56). For perspective, the Red Wings have the league’s last ranked offense (2.21). Nearly a goal-and-a-half difference. The talent between these two rosters is night and day.

A large portion of Tampa Bay’s offense comes from the powerplay. The Bolts own the league’s best powerplay with a 29.4% success rate on the man-advantage. Kucherov leads the team in scoring with 40 points, good enough for T-14th in the entire league.

3.) Zadina’s workload

With Anthony Mantha out for the next month with a rib injury, one has to think Jeff Blashill will start to increase Filip Zadina’s workload. The Red Wings No. 1 pick from 2018 only logged 13:13 minutes of ice time against the Panthers and wasn’t on the ice for most of the late stages in a one-goal game.

Since playing over 17 minutes against the Kings on Dec. 15, Zadina has yet to play over 14 minutes. Now would be the time to get the kid going, as it looks as though he’ll be staying with the team for quite some time.