The Tampa Bay Lightning continue their four-game home stand with a divisional matchup against the Ottawa Senators on Thursday.
It’s the second meeting between these clubs, whose seasons have taken vastly different paths since their only previous contest — a 4-1 Lightning victory back on Oct. 22. At the that time, the win was their fourth in five games to open the 2016-17 season and they were sitting atop the Atlantic Division standings, right where many in hockey believed they would be throughout the campaign. The Senators were 3-2 and adjusting to the coaching style of bench boss Guy Boucher who was brought in during the offseason in place of Dave Cameron.
Fast forward to today and things look a bit different.
The Senators are in second place in the Atlantic while the Lightning are in sixth place and six points behind the Philadelphia Flyers for the last wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. The Senators have 58 points and three games in hand, while the Lightning have 50 and are looking to gain some ground in the race for a playoff berth with just 31 games left in their season.
The Lightning are 1-3-2 in their past six contests and are coming off a 4-3 loss to the Boston Bruins on Tuesday. In that game, they played a strong first period but after taking a 1-0 lead early in the second period the game shifted heavily in favor of the Bruins, who kept the Lightning from earning a crucial two points.
Tonight’s contest marks the return of Boucher to Tampa Bay — where he coached the Lightning for two and a half seasons before being replaced by current head coach, Jon Cooper, during the 2012-13 season. Boucher is best known for helping lead the Lightning to the 2011 Eastern Conference final against the eventual Stanley Cup champion, Boston Bruins.
Putting the past aside, this is a big game for both clubs, as they each look to gain ground in the East as the regular season begins to wind down. For the Lightning, playing desperate hockey is key as they have officially reached the point of “now or never” in terms of a need for points to reach their playoff goal. It may be just Feb. 2, but this game should have a playoff feel from the drop of the puck.
Let’s take a closer look at Thursday’s contest between the Senators and Lightning.
Ottawa Senators at Tampa Bay Lightning
Amalie Arena – 7:30 p.m. EST
Broadcast Channels – SUN, RDS2, TSN5
2016-17 Season Series: Lightning lead 1-0-0 (Oct. 22: 4-1)
Ottawa Senators – 26-16-6 – 58 points
Road Record: 12-9-0
Hot Players: Erik Karlsson
Key Injuries: Craig Anderson (personal reasons), Clarke MacArthur (concussion)
Ryan Dzingel — Kyle Turris — Bobby Ryan
Mike Hoffman — Jean-Gabriel Pageau — Tom Pyatt
Zack Smith — Derrick Brassard — Mark Stone
Chris Kelly — Curtis Lazar — Tommy Wingels
Marc Methot — Erik Karlsson
Dion Phaneuf — Cody Ceci
Mark Borowiecki — Chris Wideman
*These line combinations are subject to change.
Tampa Bay Lightning – 22-23-6 – 50 Points
Home Record: 12-9-2
Hot Players: Victor Hedman
Key Injuries: Michael Bournival (upper-body), Ryan Callahan (lower-body), Steven Stamkos (right knee)
Brian Boyle – Valtteri Filppula – Jonathan Drouin
Alex Killorn – Tyler Johnson – Brayden Point
Ondrej Palat – Vladislav Namestnikov – Nikita Kucherov
J.T. Brown – Cedric Paquette – Gabriel Dumont
Victor Hedman – Jake Dotchin
Braydon Coburn – Anton Stralman
Jason Garrison – Andrej Sustr
**These line combinations are subject to change. The team held an optional morning skate on Thursday morning and Michael Bournival participated in a red no-contact jersey. Vasilevskiy is expected to start but there has not been an official announcement made at this time.
1) The Lightning power play was held off the board on Tuesday against the Bruins, and has dropped to sixth in the league (22.3 percent) while their penalty killing unit yielded one goal and is now 21st in the NHL (80.0 percent). The Senators enter Thursday’s contest with the 22nd ranked power play (16.9 percent) and 10th on the penalty kill (82.8 percent).
2) The Senators have dropped three of their past four contests and have yielded 15 goals in that span. The Lightning must look to shoot first and pass second, as a high number of shooting attempts (and shots on goal) will give them the best chance to win.
3) Senators defenseman Erik Karlsson, who hails from Sweden like the Lightning’s Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman, leads the Senators in scoring with 41 points in 48 games. He’s a smooth skater and moves the puck well and will almost certainly be a finalist for the Norris Trophy as the league’s best defenseman at season’s end, along with the San Jose Sharks’ Brent Burns and potentially Hedman.
4) Brayden Point returned to the Lightning lineup on Tuesday for the first time since Dec. 29. He tallied a goal and was a plus-1 in 15:47 of time on the ice. The 20-year-old rookie now has four goals and 12 assists in 37 contests.
5) While there should be plenty of action on the ice in this contest, other games that will be important to monitor, given their impact on the Eastern Conference playoff picture, are the following: New York Rangers vs. Buffalo Sabres and Montreal Canadiens vs. Philadelphia Flyers.