Sword Play: Buffalo Sabres-Tampa Bay Lightning Preview

By Matt Clouden

Well, that would have been weird.

Since Sunday’s firing of head coach Guy Boucher, the Tampa Bay Lightning coaching search has been the source of plenty of speculation, mostly revolving around former Buffalo Sabres head coach Lindy Ruff. But after about 24 hours of uncertainty, the Lightning followed the Sabres’ model from earlier in the season by promoting their AHL affiliate Syracuse Crunch head coach Jon Cooper.

Cooper seems to be a divisive choice given his familiarity with Boucher’s system, but he is and was a very talked-about candidate for any open position this summer. His name even came up a number of times in the hours-long period during which the Sabres were unsure of who their next coach was.

Even though Ruff seemed to be the favorite, many pointed out that his style and systems were not necessarily well-suited to the Tampa roster. Steven Stamkos is a top-three player in the NHL and Martin St. Louis is seemingly an ageless wonder, but Ruff runs a defense-first ship — something that failed for the previous skipper Boucher.

Tampa’s goaltending has been everything but good this season as well, with their platoon of Anders Lindback and Mathieu Garon struggling mightily. Lindback has more starts, but has only posted a 2.88 goals against average and a thoroughly pedestrian .903 save percentage. Garon has earned a 3.00 GAA and a .904 save percentage in six fewer starts, including a 2-1 loss against the Sabres Feb. 26.

Ruff’s system relies on solid netminding and good team defense. As currently constructed, the Lightning just didn’t have the personnel for that type of game.

So, strike Cooper off your wish lists in the event Ron Rolston doesn’t get the full-time job after the season ends. Also, Sabres players can concentrate more on winning their fourth straight game — moving them to a single point out of eighth in the Eastern Conference — and not seeing their old coach  on the opposing bench.

The Sabres have won the only meeting between the two teams thus far this season. Puck drop is at 7:30pm EST in Tampa Bay.

Follow me on Twitter for NHL and Sabres news all season: @SwordPlay18.

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