Atlantic Division rivals Tampa Bay Lightning and Detroit Red wings will meet for the first time this season at Tampa's Amelie Arena on Wednesday with an interesting story behind the benches.
In the off-season Detroit fired Jeff Blashill following seven seasons in charge and replaced him with assistant coach of the Lightning Derek Lalonde.
In a strange turn of events, Blashill then accepted the role left by Lalonde to be assistant to Jon Cooper at Tampa Bay, likely feeling as though it would give him a good opportunity to challenge for a Stanley Cup which Lalonde won twice in the position.
The visit of Detroit will be the second of a six-game home stand for the Lighting who have won their last two games, four of their last five (4-1-0) and hold third place in the division with a 15-8-1 record.
The Red Wings snapped a three-game losing skid against the Columbus Blue Jackets on Monday which was the start of a four-game road trip. The much-improved Red Wings sit just two points behind the Lightning in the division with a 12-7-5 record.
What: Detroit Red Wings @ Tampa Bay Lightning
Where: Amelie Arena, Tampa, Florida
When: 19:07, Tuesday 6th December, 2022
How to watch: Bally Sports Sun Extra
Odds: DET Red Winds +195, TB Lightning -235
48-year-old Blashill led the Red Wings through their long re-build period which resulted in six consecutive seasons of missing the playoffs and a .447 winning percentage which was second worst in the league over that time.
After missing the playoffs by nearly 30 points last season, General Manager Steve Yzerman decided enough was enough, not only appointing a new coach in Lalonde but significantly investing into the playing staff, a luxury not afforded to Blashill throughout his time.
When the Red Wings meet the Lightning there could be up to ten new players who weren’t on the roster last season, including number-one goalie Ville Husso (.912 save percentage), and top six forwards David Perron (seven goals, 12 assists), Dominik Kubalik (10 goals, 14 assists) and Andrew Copp (three goals, 11 assists) plus top four defencemen Ben Chiarot and Olli Maatta.
Despite not being given the opportunity to take the re-build project to the next stage, Blashill, a Red wings fan, said he holds no grudges and is proud of the work that he did to head the ship in the right direction.
The Red Wings' 29 points after 23 games if four more than they had a year ago and statistically they improved in every key area under Lalonde, including in points-percentage which sits at .604.
Detroit finished last season with the 26th ranked powerplay (16.3%) and the worst penalty-kill in the league (73.8%). Their goals scored was 25th (2.77 average per-game) and goals conceded 31st (3.78).
This season, the Red Wings have a 22% powerplay which is 18th and a penalty-kill which is 15th in the league at 78.3%. Their 3.17 average goals per-game is 15th and 3.08 average goals against per-game is 16th.
They are +270 to make the playoffs and 50-year-old Lalonde +1400 to win the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year.
The Lightning have played a lot of hockey in recent years, making the Stanley Cup Final three consecutive times, winning twice and after having their three-peat dream ended by Colorado Avalanche last season, have taken time to settle themselves into the new season.
Like any team that enjoys the incredible success of Tampa Bay, they have been forced to let go many key assets to stay within the NHL's strict wage cap and in the recent off-season this included associate Captain Ryan McDonagh and Ondrej Palat who holds Lightning's franchise record for most game-winning goals in the playoffs (12).
McDonagh's absence has given more responsibility to 24-year-old Mikhail Sergachyov who has thrived scoring 23 points (four goals, 19 assists) which is seventh among all defencemen.
Nick Paul, acquired mid-way through last season from Ottawa Senators, has also taken his game to a new level to help replace the offensive production lost with Palat's move by scoring 18 points (11 goals, seven assists).
Lightning's main stars have also begun to show their world class best in recent weeks with Nikita Kucherov leading the team for points with 36 (11 goals, 25 assists), Steven Stamkos second with 29 (13 goals, 16 assists) and Brayden Point third with 24 (10 goals, 14 assists).
Tampa Bay are seventh in the NHL for scoring averaging 3.50 goals-per-game while giving up the 15th lowest amount (3.08).
The Lightning are +650 to win the Eastern Conference for a fourth season in a row and +1300 to regain the Stanley Cup from the Avalanche.
The Lightning have dominated the Red Wings over recent seasons, especially in Tampa where Detroit have lost 23 of their previous 27 visits.
Detroit are a far more competitive and confident outfit now, though, and with a 5-3-2 away record will fancy their chances against Tampa who haven't been convincing at home so far going 7-5-0.
The Red Wings will also find confidence in their ability to keep games close, not losing by more than one goal in 13 of their last 17 games.