The Tampa Bay Lightning host the Nashville Predators on Thursday to close out a five-game home stand.
The Lightning have earned eight points in their past seven games and are 2-1-1 in the past four contests on home ice. They will look to bounce back from a 6-4 loss to the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday — in a game where they got off to a strong start but were down 1-0 in the first period. They tied the game on Matthew Peca’s first NHL goal but fell behind minutes later and were never able to regain the lead, despite a pair of goals from Nikita Kucherov in the final period.
The Predators enter Thursday’s matchup on the front end of back-to-back games to start a three-game road trip. They have dropped four of their past five games, including a disappointing 3-2 loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Tuesday — in a contest that marked the return of former captain Shea Weber to Nashville for the first time since he was traded in the offseason.Predators defenseman P.K. Subban, the blueliner they received in the Weber trade, is out of the lineup with an upper-body injury — a major blow to the Preds’ defense corps.
The Predators are lead in scoring by Ryan Johansen (27 points) and possess offensive weapons like Viktor Arvidsson and Filip Forsberg, who have 24 and 23 points this season, respectively. Forsberg has just eight goals on the year — a slow start for a player of his caliber — but is a consistent threat to score, combining for 59 tallies over the previous two seasons.
The Lightning are expected to start Andrei Vasilevskiy for the seventh straight game. The Russian netminder stopped 28-of-33 shots he faced against the Jets on Tuesday and has posted a 3-3 record in his past six starts.
The Predators have not announced their starting goaltender for the evening, but it’s possible that given the back-to-back games, they will split the starts between Pekka Rinne and 21-year-old netminder Juuse Saros. Rinne has started 29 games, while Saros has gotten the call in six contests this season.
Let’s take a closer look at Thursday’s contest between these two teams.
Nashville Predators at Tampa Bay Lightning
Amalie Arena – 7:30 p.m. EST
Broadcast Channels – Fox Sports Sun, FS-TN
2016-17 Season Series: Nashville leads 1-0-0 (Nov. 21: 3-1)
Nashville Predators – 16-14-7 – 39 Points
Road Record: 6-9-2
Hot Players: Ryan Johnasen, Juuse Saros
Key Injuries: James Neal (upper-body injury), P.K. Subban (upper-body injury)
Filip Forsberg – Ryan Johansen – Kevin Fiala
Austin Watson – Mike Fisher – Colton Sissons
Calle Jarnkrok – Colin Wilson – Viktor Arvidsson
Harry Zolnierczyk – Mike Ribeiro – Trevor Smith
Roman Josi – Ryan Ellis
Mattias Ekholm – Matt Irwin
Anthony Bitetto – Yannick Weber
Pekka Rinne (or Juuse Saros)
*These line combinations are subject to change. The forward lines are based upon the team’s morning skate on Thursday, per Nashville Predators beat writer Thomas Willis. The team has not named a starting goaltender for Thursday’s game.
Tampa Bay Lightning – 19-16-4 – 42 Points
Home Record: 11-6-2
Hot Players: Victor Hedman, Nikita Kucherov, Ondrej Palat
Key Injuries: Ben Bishop (lower-body), Brian Boyle (lower-body), Brayden Point (upper-body), Steven Stamkos (right knee)
Ondrej Palat – Tyler Johnson – Nikita Kucherov
Ryan Callahan – Valtteri Filppula – Jonathan Drouin
Alex Killorn – Vladislav Namestnikov – Adam Erne
Cedric Paquette – Matthew Peca – J.T. Brown
Victor Hedman – Anton Stralman
Jason Garrison – Andrej Sustr
Slater Koekkoek – Braydon Coburn
**These line combinations are subject to change. The Lightning held an optional morning skate on Thursday, so line combinations are based on historical units and where each player could slot into the lineup.
1) Cedric Paquette participated in Thursday’s morning skate and will return to the lineup after missing the past six games with a lower-body injury. Brian Boyle is expected to miss his second straight game with a lower-body injury. For the Predators, Anthony Bitetto was recalled from his conditioning assignment on Wednesday and may be in the lineup for Thursday’s contest. He’s missed the past 15 games with an upper-body injury. Predators forward James Neal did not participate in the team’s morning skate on Thursday.
2) Andrei Vasilevskiy will make his seventh straight start on Thursday, since Ben Bishop was lost to an injury on Dec. 20. Bishop participated in the morning skate and head coach Jon Cooper said he’s on pace for a mid-January return, according to Lightning beat writer Bryan Burns. The Lightning recalled goaltender Adam Wilcox from the Syracuse Crunch in the American Hockey League on Wednesday and reassigned Kristers Gudlevskis and forward Michael Bournival.
3) The Lightning tallied two power-play goals in seven attempts against the Winnipeg Jets in their 6-4 loss on Tuesday. They have the league’s second ranked power play, with a 23.8-percent success rate. Their penalty kill has struggled and enters Thursday’s game operating at a 79.7-percent efficiency (23rd). The Predators are 15th on the penalty kill (81.7-percent) and 13th ranked on the man advantage (20.0-percent).
4) The Predators have not announced a starting goaltender, but it’s possible Pekka Rinne gets the call between the pipes. The 34-year-old netminder has posted a 13-10-6 record with a 2.50 goals-against average and a .917 save percentage. Juuse Saros, 21, is the backup and could get the nod. He’s 3-2-1 with a 1.16 GAA and a .957 SV% in six games of action this season.
5) Matthew Peca has gotten off to a strong start to his NHL career and enters Thursday’s contest on a two-game point streak (one goal, one assist). Adam Erne, who made his NHL debut against the Jets on Tuesday, was held scoreless but impressed Cooper in just over 12 minutes of action.
The Lightning will close out their five-game home stand before playing back-to-back games against the Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins this weekend. Thursday’s contest marks the end of a crucial eight-game stretch that Cooper referenced as being an important point in the season for the club given that they played just one game on the road in that span.
Tampa Bay is just days away from embarking upon an 11-day road trip in which they will play six games — a stretch that has the potential to dictate the second half of their season, which reaches the midway point with game No. 41 on Saturday. The Lightning must capitalize on the opportunity to earn two points on home ice.
The Predators have battled inconsistency this season and are currently three points outside of the last wild card spot in the Western Conference — making points all the more important for the club now. Despite their current spot in the playoff picture, the team has a talented group of forwards that can dazzle with their speed and creativity.
The Lightning will look to close out the home stand on a high note by earning two points when action gets underway at 7:30 P.M. ET.