The Tampa Bay Lightning have won twice so far without Steven Stamkos, and they’re perfect against the Western Conference.
The Lightning’s 7-0-0 mark against the West should be tested in the opener of this four-game trip Saturday night against a Phoenix Coyotes team that has won seven straight at home.
Tampa Bay (14-5-0) hasn’t missed a beat in two games since Stamkos suffered a broken leg Monday in Boston. The East-leading Lightning won 2-1 in a shootout at Montreal on Tuesday and 5-1 at home over NHL-best Anaheim on Thursday.
“We talked about this at length,” coach Jon Cooper said. “Nobody’s filling 91’s shoes. Not one person can do it. Nobody in the league can do it. But 20 guys can fill his shoes.”
Valtteri Filppula came through with two goals and an assist against the Ducks and Martin St. Louis also had three points as Tampa Bay continued its dominance of West foes. The rest of the Atlantic Division is 23-31-9 against the Western Conference, and the East is 45-58-17 overall heading into play Friday.
“I think the whole year we’ve been playing well as a team,” Filppula said. “Stamkos is a big part of the team. But now, we’re forced to play well without him, and I think playing the whole year pretty well, we have the confidence that we can do it.”
Tampa Bay is 10-2-0 in its last 12 meetings with Phoenix (13-4-3), which is 8-0-1 at home as it seeks its first eight-game run in the desert since a 10-game win streak Nov. 21-Dec. 29, 2009.
The Lightning will see a familiar face in Mike Smith, who faced 52 shots in Thursday’s 5-4 shootout loss in Chicago, the third-highest total by any team this season. The Coyotes were outshot 39-19 in Tuesday’s 3-2 overtime win in St. Louis and allowed 22 more attempts than they mustered two nights later even though they rallied from a two-goal deficit.
“I think the guys are trying to get me down to 170 (pounds) or something,” the 215-pound Smith said. “All seriousness though, we clawed back in it and we got a big point on the road and found a way to keep moving up the standings.”
The Coyotes have been outshot 35-10 after the second period in their last two games, but they’ve survived thanks to Smith stopping 34 of those shots.
“He’s been outstanding, he’s given us a chance to win, given us a chance to get points,” coach Dave Tippett said. “You can’t ask anything more from him. We gotta try to protect him a little more.”
Smith is 11-0-2 with a 2.01 goals-against average in his last 14 home starts. The ex-Lightning goalie has faced his former team once, making 17 saves in a 4-3 loss Jan. 21, 2012.
The Coyotes’ Derek Morris has missed the last four games with a lower-body injury, which is the same problem that caused fellow defenseman Zbynek Michalek to exit in the first period Thursday.
Phoenix’s struggling penalty kill is at 77.9 percent as it faces a Tampa Bay power play that ended a lengthy drought Thursday. The Lightning went 2 for 2 with goals by Filppula and St. Louis after being 0 for 19 through their first six games this month.
“The power play finally clicked for us, and that’s going to be a big key for us here on the road,” St. Louis said.