The Tampa Bay Lightning host the St. Louis Blues on Thursday in their second and last meeting of the 2016-17 regular season.
The game marks the first one for Andrei Vasilevskiy as the clear-cut No. 1 goaltender after the team announced on Wednesday that goaltender Ben Bishop will be out three to four weeks with a lower body injury. Vasilevskiy, 22, has started 12 of the first 33 games of 2016-17 and is 7-4-1 with a 2.41 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage. He’ll be backed up by Kristers Gudlevskis, the 24-year-old Latvian netminder with four total games of NHL experience.
For the Lightning, who defeated the Detroit Red Wings 4-1 on Tuesday, their matchup against the Blues gives them an opportunity to build some momentum before their four-day break.
The Lightning played one of their most complete games of the season against the Red Wings, but the victory came at a cost, as Bishop went down with an apparent groin or leg injury after making a kick save during the first period. (No specific injury has been identified by the team at this point.) Vasilevskiy stopped 22 shots in relief and yielded one goal as the Lightning secured their third win of the year over their Atlantic Division rivals.
The Blues enter Thursday’s contest coming off the heels of a 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars on Tuesday. The victory was just their second in their past six games, as they’ve dropped to third in the Central Division.
The Lightning have injuries to many key players and will be leaning on their depth again as they begin the first of back-to-back games — they play the Washington Capitals on Friday — before their break over Christmas.
St. Louis Blues at Tampa Bay Lightning
Amalie Arena – 7:30 p.m. EST
Broadcast Channels – Fox Sports Sun, FS-MW
2016-17 Season Series: St. Louis leads 1-0-0 (Dec. 1: 5-4)
St. Louis Blues – 18-11-5 – 41 Points
Road Record: 5-9-1
Hot Players: Patrik Berglund (four goals in past four games), Vladimir Tarasenko (15 points in 11 games in December)
Key Injuries: Robert Bortuzzo (lower-body), Paul Stastny (upper-body)
Jaden Schwartz-Jodi Lehtera-Vladimir Tarasenko
Alexander Steen-Patrik Berglund-David Perron
Robby Fabbri-Kyle Brodziak-Dmitrij Jaskin
Nail Yakupov-Scottie Upshall-Ty Rattie
Joel Edmundson-Alex Pietrangelo
Brad Hunt-Kevin Shattenkirk
Jay Bouwmeester-Colton Parayko
*These lines combinations are based upon the team’s morning skate on Thursday and subject to change. Wade Megan was recalled from the American Hockey League’s Chicago Wolves and is expected to be in the lineup, according to the St. Louis Post Dispatch’s Jeremy Rutherford. It’s possible Megan slots onto the third line and Yakupov and Rattie are scratched, per Rutherford.
Tampa Bay Lightning – 16-14-3 – 35 Points
Home Record: 7-5-1
Hot Players: Brian Boyle (four points in past four games), Jonathan Drouin (10 points in his past eight games), Valtteri Filppula (six points in past six games), Victor Hedman (four-game point streak), Brayden Point (three points in past two games)
Key Injuries: Steven Stamkos (right knee), Ryan Callahan (lower-body), Nikita Kucherov (lower-body), Ondrej Palat (undisclosed)
Alex Killorn-Valtteri Filppula-Cory Conacher
Brayden Point-Tyler Johnson-Erik Condra
Jonathan Drouin-Brian Boyle-Nikita Kucherov***
Ondrej Palat***-Tanner Richard-J.T. Brown
Victor Hedman-Anton Stralman
Jason Garrison-Andrej Sustr
Braydon-Coburn-Slater Koekkoek/Nikita Nesterov
**These line combinations are based upon the team’s morning skate on Thursday and subject to change.
***Lightning head coach Jon Cooper has ruled out Ryan Callahan, Kucherov and Palat. Vladislav Namestnikov and Cedric Paquette did not participate in the morning skate and are out, according to Lightninginsider.com’s Erik Erlendsson. The Lightning recalled forward Michael Bournival from the AHL’s Syracuse Crunch on Thursday morning and he may figure into the lineup.
****These defense combinations are based on historical pairings.
[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]1)[/miptheme_dropcap] The Lightning will look to win back-to-back games for the first time since they won four-straight games on from Nov. 14 to Nov. 19. They played well for the full 60-minutes against the Red Wings and reaped the rewards in a 4-1 victory. The Blues have won just five of 15 games on the road this season.
[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]2)[/miptheme_dropcap] During the first matchup between these teams, Tarasenko exploded for four points (three goals, one assist) and Kevin Shattenkirk tallied two goals and a pair of assists. The Blues converted three times on seven power plays — the ultimate deciding factor in the contest.
[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]3)[/miptheme_dropcap] The Blues boast the league’s ninth-ranked power play, operating at a 21.5-percent success rate. They’ve been even better when on the penalty kill, as they are second in the NHL (88.0-percent). The Lightning are ranked third on the power play (23.3-percent) but have struggled on the penalty kill, dropping to 23rd (79.1-percent). The Lightning PK unit was able to to kill all five of the Red Wings’ opportunities with the man advantage on Tuesday.
[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]4)[/miptheme_dropcap] The Lightning are so battered by injuries right now, Cooper may opt to dress 11 forwards and seven defensemen. Bournival, who was called up from Crunch this morning, may figure into the lineup on Wednesday if he’s able to arrive in time from Syracuse. Despite the injuries, the Lightning enter Wednesday’s game with an identical record to last year’s team at the 33-game mark of the season.
[miptheme_dropcap style=”normal” color=”#222222″ background=””]5)[/miptheme_dropcap] Lightning rookie forward Brayden Point tallied the second multi-point game of his NHL career on Tuesday. He tallied a goal and an assist and his play of late has drawn praise from Cooper. “It’s hard to say he hasn’t been our best player the last few games. He’s been outstanding,” Cooper said, according to the Tampa Bay Times’ Joe Smith.
The injury-plagued Lightning enter their matchup with the Blues as a team that’s seeking to string together back-to-back wins and build upon a strong effort on Tuesday.
In order to do this, they will need to limit the number of times they put the Blues on the power play, as it was a deciding factor in their 5-4 loss to the Blues on Dec. 1. Tarasenko has tallied 16 goals and 22 assists in 34 games and is dangerous with the man advantage. His 38 points are second to the Edmonton Oilers’ Connor McDavid (40) and he’s tallied 14 power play points which puts him in a four-way tie for third in the NHL.
The Lightning will rely upon Vasilevskiy to deliver during his first start since Bishop went down with an injury.
The action gets underway at Amalie Arena at 7:30 P.M. EST.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.