The Tampa Bay Lightning host the New York Rangers to begin a three-game homestand at Amalie Arena on Monday.
It’s an important game for both clubs, who find themselves moving in opposite directions in the Eastern Conference standings the last couple of weeks.
The Lightning have gone 8-2-2- in their past 12 games and are entering the contest on the heels of a dramatic 2-1 shootout victory over the Buffalo Sabres on Saturday — a game highlighted by Nikita Kucherov’s game-winning goal in the second round of the shootout. Kucherov, who tallied an assist in regulation, has been on a red-hot scoring pace, registering 14 points in his past six contests and was named the NHL’s First Star of the Week on Monday.
The Lightning are three points behind the New York Islanders for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference playoff race with 18 games remaining in the regular season.
The Rangers enter Monday’s contest seeking to turn things around after slipping offensively and in the standings of late. They have dropped three of their past four games and have been outscored 14-5 in that span — far from the sort of offensive output they received earlier in the season.
Their play has dropped them down to the first wild card spot in the East, with 84 points — outside of the top three spots in what has has been a dominant Metropolitan Division throughout the 2016-17 campaign.
The Lightning are expected to start goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy — who will be looking to earn his fourth straight victory in a row, while the Rangers will likely turn to Henrik Lundqvist.
Let’s take a closer look at Monday’s contest between the Rangers and Lightning.
New York Rangers at Tampa Bay Lightning
Amalie Arena – 7:30 p.m. EST
Broadcast Channels – SN, TVAS, SUN, MSG+
2016-17 Season Series: Rangers lead 1-0-0 (Oct. 30: 6-1)
New York Rangers – 41-22-2 – 84 points
Road Record: 22-8-0
Hot Players: N/A
Key Injuries: Jesper Fast (shoulder), Michael Grabner (hip), Dan Girardi (ankle), Kevin Klein (back)
Chris Kreider — Derek Stepan — Mats Zuccarello
Pavel Buchnevich — Mike Zibanejad — Rick Nash
Jimmy Vesey — Kevin Hayes — J.T. Miller
Matt Puempel — Oscar Lindberg — Brandon Pirri
Ryan McDonagh — Brendan Smith
Marc Staal — Nick Holden
Brady Skjei — Adam Clendening
*These line combinations are subject to change.
Tampa Bay Lightning – 30-26-8 – 68 Points
Home Record: 17-11-2
Hot Players: Nikita Kucherov
Key Injuries: Ryan Callahan (lower-body), Steven Stamkos (right knee)
Ondrej Palat — Tyler Johnson — Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn — Brayden Point — Jonathan Drouin
Adam Erne — Vladislav Namestnikov — Yanni Gourde
Gabriel Dumont — Cedric Paquette — J.T. Brown/Greg McKegg
Victor Hedman — Jake Dotchin
Jason Garrison — Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn – Andrej Sustr
**These line combinations are subject to change and based upon the Monday morning skate.
1) Yanni Gourde was recalled by the Lightning from the Syracuse Crunch on Monday morning and participated in the morning skate. He has skated in 55 AHL games this season, registering 22 goals — sixth in the league — and 46 points. He leads the Crunch in goals and is third in assists (24) and points. He’s a speedy forward who is also a threat to score shorthanded (he leads Syracuse with four tallies) and has seen two games of action with the Lightning this season. It appears he’s been called up as an insurance player if the Lightning have a player who is out of the lineup for injury on Monday.
2) The Rangers enter the contest with four players that have scored more than 18 goals (Grabner, Kreider, Miller, Nash) but as a team have managed to score just five goals in their past four contests. Grabner has been out of the lineup with a hip injury. He has traveled with the team and participated in the morning skate on Monday but is not expected to play against the Lightning, according to head coach Alain Vigneault.
3) The Lightning enter the contest with the third-best power play in the league (22.7 percent) and the 22nd ranked penalty killing unit (79.7 percent). The Rangers are 18th on the man advantage (18.1 percent) and 15th when shorthanded (81.2 percent).
4) Lightning forward Brayden Point continued his impressive play since returning from a wrist injury by scoring during his shootout attempt against the Sabres on Saturday. He leads the team in shootout scoring percentage, finding the back of the net in five-of-seven attempts this season.
5) During the first matchup between the clubs, the Rangers flexed their offensive muscles, handing the Lightning a one-sided 6-1 loss. These teams play each other on Monday and again in New York on March 13 — both of which will have an important impact for one club hoping to attain a favorable playoff position — the Rangers — and the Lightning who are making a late season run at a wild card playoff position.