The Tampa Bay Lightning will welcome Ben Bishop back to the lineup when they take on the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday.
It’s good news for a Lightning team that has been without Bishop since he suffered a lower-body injury during a game against the Detroit Red Wings on Dec. 20. He was originally expected to be out for three-to-four weeks but his return today marks just over a three-week recovery time. Andrei Vasilevskiy started nine straight games as the team’s number one goaltender in Bishop’s absence and posted three wins as the team continued to struggle collectively.
The Lightning return to game action for the first time since a disappointing 6-2 loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday — the day after dropping a 4-2 decision to the Philadelphia Flyers. The team allowed 84 shots and came out of the games without a point — something that the team cannot afford to have happen much longer as they are trail the Flyers by six points for the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
The Sabres are a team that, like the Lightning, has also experienced more than their share of injuries to key players during the first half of the season. They began the season without Jack Eichel and have dealt with the losses of Kyle Okposo, Ryan O’Reilly, Dmitry Kulikov and Tyler Ennis, among others, to injuries at certain points thus far. While Okposo and O’Reilly have since returned, Ennis is still out of the lineup with a groin injury and Kulikov is still sidelined with a lingering back injury.
The Sabres will turn to goaltender Anders Nilsson between the pipes against the Lightning. The 26-year-old Swede is 7-3-4 and has posted a 2.37 goals-against average and a .930 save percentage this season. Nilsson stopped 39-of-40 shots he faced in the Sabres’ 4-1 victory over the Flyers on Tuesday.
The Sabres trail the Lighting by one point in the Eastern Conference wild card race, adding an important dimension to this matchup as these teams have entered the latter half of the regular season.
Buffalo Sabres at Tampa Bay Lightning
Amalie Arena – 7:30 p.m. EST
Broadcast Channels – Fox Sports Sun, MSG-B
2016-17 Season Series: Tampa leads 1-0-0 (Nov. 17: 4-1)
Buffalo Sabres – 16-15-9 – 41 Points
Road Record: 7-7-6
Hot Players: Marcus Foligno, Anders Nilsson, Ryan O’Reilly, Sam Reinhart
Key Injuries: Tyler Ennis (groin), Dmitry Kulikov (back)
William Carter – Ryan O’Reilly – Kyle Okposo
Marcus Foligno – Jack Eichel – Brian Gionta
Evander Kane – Sam Reinhart – Justin Bailey
Nicolas Deslauriers – Zemgus Girgensons – Matt Moulson
Jake McCabe – Rasmus Ristolainen
Zach Bogosian – Cody Franson
Justin Falk – Taylor Fedun
*These line combinations are subject to change.
Tampa Bay Lightning – 19-19-4 – 42 Points
Home Record: 11-7-2
Hot Players: Jonathan Drouin, Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov
Key Injuries: Brian Boyle (lower-body), Braydon Coburn (upper-body), Brayden Point (upper-body), Steven Stamkos (right knee)
Ondrej Palat – Vladislav Namestnikov – Nikita Kucherov
Brian Boyle – Valtteri Filppula – Jonathan Drouin
Gabriel Dumont – Cedric Paquette – Michael Bournival
Alex Killorn – Tyler Johnson – Matthew Peca
Victor Hedman – Anton Stralman
Jason Garrison – Nikita Nesterov
Braydon Coburn – Andrej Sustr or Luke Witkowski
**These line combinations are subject to change. J.T. Brown and Ryan Callahan did not participate in the morning skate on Thursday, according to the team’s beat writer, Bryan Burns. Braydon Coburn and Brian Boyle each participated and are game-time decisions, per head coach Jon Cooper.
[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]1)[/miptheme_dropcap] The Lightning recalled forward Gabriel Dumont from the Syracuse Crunch (American Hockey League) on Wednesday. The 26-year-old has tallied five goals and five assists in 19 games with the Crunch this season. He’s played 18 NHL games with the Montreal Canadiens and will be making his Lightning debut if he figures into the lineup.
[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]2)[/miptheme_dropcap] Buffalo Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen is a player to watch in Thursday’s contest. The 6’4″, 207-pound blue liner has registered 27 points in 40 games this season and is set to shatter his previous career-high of 41 points in 82 games that he set last season. His unique set of skill and size make him a valuable commodity in the NHL and he’s a player the Lightning need to monitor from the back-end.
[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]3)[/miptheme_dropcap] The Lightning have dropped four straight games and have been outscored 22-9 in that span. They are seeking their first win of 2017 and Thursday’s game gives them an opportunity to win the first of back-to-back games before embarking upon a 13-day road trip that will see them play six games — a crucial stretch of games that has the potential to define their season.
[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]4)[/miptheme_dropcap] The Sabres, like the Lightning, have battled consistency throughout 2016-17 season but are coming off of one of their most complete performances of the season against the Flyers on Tuesday. Eight players figured into the scoring and the team exploded for three goals in the middle frame. Reinhart paced the team with a goal and two assists, while Nilsson finished with a .975 save percentage on 40 shots.
[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]5)[/miptheme_dropcap] The Lightning have managed 19 wins through 42 games based in part on their consistent power-play production. They boast the NHL’s second ranked power play, operating at a 23.5-percent success rate. On the other end of special teams, however, the team has struggled, as their penalty kill is 22nd (79.4-percent). The Lightning power-play unit must capitalize on the Sabres’ 30th ranked penalty kill (74-percent) and limit power play opportunities for Buffalo who is ranked 7th (22.3-percent) with the man advantage.
Steven is a lawyer and writer with a passion for the game of hockey. He’s the Lead Writer covering the Tampa Bay Lightning with THW. He’s also been press credentialed through the Lightning since 2016. His work has been published at The Fourth Period, LightningInsider.com, Bolt Prospects, The Sports Daily Network, U.S. College Hockey Online and College Hockey News. He’s had radio appearances on TSN 690 in Montreal, Lightning Power Play Live and multiple podcasts to give insight and analysis on the team. He can be reached on Twitter @StevenDiOssi and by email at email@example.com.