The Tampa Bay Lightning begin a three-game road trip in Western Canada when they faceoff against the Calgary Flames on Wednesday. The Lightning enter the game having dropped seven of their past eight contests and looking to turn things around in the first of two matchups between the clubs in 2016-17.
The Lightning are coming off of a 4-3 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday — a game they lead 3-1 before yielding a power play goal in the second period and two more in the third before the end of regulation. It was the first multi-goal game of Jonathan Drouin’s NHL career and if anything, the team’s lead earlier in the game showed them they could hang with one of the NHL’s best teams this season. All this, despite the inconsistency that has been the Lightning’s Achilles’ heel throughout the early part of this campaign.
The Lightning face a Flames team that’s won their past six games and outscored their opponents 24-9 in the process. Goaltender Chad Johnson, who started the season as a backup to Brian Elliott, has seemingly taken over the starting role with his play early on and enters Wednesday’s contest with a 13-4-1 record, 1.98 goals-against average and a .932 save percentage.
In order for the Lightning to beat the Flames, they must find a way to put pucks pasts Johnson and limit opportunities for the Flames’ skilled offense. The Lightning have struggled with costly turnovers and mental lapses of late — two things they cannot afford to do against a Flames’ offensive unit currently firing on all cylinders since the return of forward Johnny Gaudreau on Dec. 4.
Tampa Bay Lightning at Calgary Flames
Scotiabank Saddledome – 9:30 p.m. EST
Broadcast Channels – Fox Sports Sun, Sportsnet, Sportsnet 360
2016-17 Season Series: First Matchup of the Season
Tampa Bay Lightning – 14-13-2 – 30 Points
Road Record: 7-8-1
Hot Players: Jonathan Drouin
Key Injuries: Steven Stamkos, Ryan Callahan
Ondrej Palat-Tyler Johnson-Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn-Brayden Point-Joel Vermin
Brian Boyle-Valtteri Filppula-Jonathan Drouin
Vladislav Namestnikov-Cedric Paquette-J.T. Brown
Anton Stralmaq-Victor Hedman
Jason Garrison-Andrej Sustr
Braydon Coburn-Nikita Nesterov
Calgary Flames – 16-13-2 – 34 Points
Home Record: 7-7-0
Hot Players: Chad Johnson, Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan
Key Injuries: N/A
Kris Versteeg-Sean Monahan-Troy Brouwer
Johnny Gaudreau-Sam Bennett-Alex Chiasson
Matthew Tkachuk-Mikael Backlund-Michael Frolik
Micheal Ferland-Matt Stajan-Lance Bouma
Mark Giordano-Dougie Hamilton
TJ Brodie-Dennis Wideman
Jyrki Jokipakka-Deryk Engelland
1) Jonathan Drouin enters Wednesday’s game with three goals and three assists in his past four contests. Drouin has tallied 13 points in 21 games in 2016-17 and is currently seventh on the team in scoring. He’s taken on an increased role on the team’s roster with Steven Stamkos lost to a long-term injury.
2) The Lightning held an optional morning skate on Wednesday morning in Calgary. Ryan Callahan participated and was skating in a regular jersey. He has missed the past six games with an upper-body injury but accompanied the team on this road trip. However, it is unlikely he returns to the lineup on Wednesday. Nikita Kucherov also skated after leaving the team’s practice early on Tuesday. He did not participate in drills, according to the Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith, and may not play. Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness said that Kucherov is “fine” but did not say whether or not he would be in the lineup against the Flames, according to Smith. Andrei Vasilevskiy was the only goaltender participating this morning and an official announcement has not been made about who will start between the pipes for the Lightning.
3) Flames forward Johnny Gaudreau enters the contest with a four-game scoring streak (two goals, six assists) since returning to the lineup on Dec. 4. Sean Monahan registered a goal in the Flames’ 6-2 win over the Winnipeg Jets on Saturday, extending his point streak to seven games (four goals, five assists).
4) Flames goaltender Chad Johnson has been red hot in his past six starts, posting a 6-0 record and a shutout. During his past three games, he’s given up just four goals. His play and Gaudreau’s return to the lineup have been major factors in the team’s turnaround after dropping ten of their previous 16 games before their current six-game winning streak.
5) The Lightning recalled forward Erik Condra and defenseman Slater Koekkoek from the Syracuse Crunch of the American Hockey League on Dec. 12. On Wednesday, the Lightning also announced they’d recalled forward Cory Conacher and reassigned defenseman Luke Witkowski to the Crunch. It’s possible that if Kucherov does not play, Conacher, who participated in the morning skate on Wednesday, figures into the Lightning’s lineup.
The Flames have quietly become one of the league’s hottest teams over the past six games, while the Lightning have been making headlines after dropping seven of their past eight contests as they are going through one of, if not their toughest, streaks over the past three seasons.
The Lightning have had three days off for just the second time this season, in part because of traveling out to Western Canada, but need to get off to a strong start to get things turned around sooner than later. They enter tonight’s game in fourth place in the Atlantic Division and 10th overall in the Eastern Conference — a position that will drop if the Lightning cannot turn things around quickly.
If the Lightning are able to put together a strong effort against the Flames and skate away with a win, it could help set the tone for back-to-back games against the Vancouver Canucks (Friday) and Edmonton Oilers (Saturday).