The strong starts of the New Jersey Devils and Tampa Bay Lightning seem long forgotten as both continue to fight through their current struggles.
New Jersey, though, has been successful in most of its recent matchups with Tampa Bay, and it seeks an 18th victory in 21 games between the teams on Tuesday night.
The Devils (10-7-5) began the season 8-1-3, but they’ve gone 2-5-2 since and have lost five straight after falling 4-2 at Toronto on Monday. Marek Zidlicky scored twice for New Jersey, which has been outscored 19-9 during its skid.
“Sure there’s frustration,” coach Peter DeBoer said. “We’re getting a couple of goals a game. When you don’t get rewarded for trying to do the right things with wins, it gets frustrating.”
The Devils haven’t won since Martin Brodeur began suffering from a sore back after he beat Washington on Feb. 21. The veteran, who went 5-1-1 with a 1.84 goals-against average in seven starts prior to the injury, remains on injured reserve.
Johan Hedberg has started each game during the skid and is 0-5-1 while allowing at least four goals four times over his last six starts, including Monday.
It’s unclear if Hedberg will again get the call or if DeBoer will give 23-year-old Keith Kinkaid his first NHL start.
New Jersey hopes whoever is in net can help guide it to a 10th victory in the last 12 home meetings with the Lightning, who also will be looking to end a five-game losing streak after they fell 4-3 at Pittsburgh on Monday.
Tampa Bay (9-12-1) began the season 6-1-0, but it has gone 3-10-1 since and scored six goals over its last four games combined. It still ranks second in the league with 76 non-shootout goals, though.
“It’s the little things sometimes you get away with in the game and nobody ever talks about it, and right now it’s costing us,” said Steven Stamkos, who scored twice to increase his NHL-leading total to 17. “When you’re on a streak like that, those little things, it’s almost like you have to play a perfect game.”
The Lightning have been far from perfect lately, as coach Guy Boucher was quick to point out.
“We sabotaged ourselves with turnovers,” Boucher said. “There’s no excuse. There’s no reason for it. They’re easy plays. Make the easy play and that’s it.”
Despite the skid, though, Boucher believes his team isn’t far off from getting back on track.
“We’re playing good against the top teams. We’re right there and we’re so close,” he said. “We’ve just got to learn to get rid of those turnovers and being impatient with our offense.”
Stamkos has 10 goals and seven assists in a 10-game points streak – the longest current run in the league. He also has two goals and five assists in a four-game points streak against New Jersey and nine goals and nine assists in 17 lifetime games.
Mathieu Garon left in the second period with a lower-body injury Monday, and Anders Lindback allowed two goals on 18 shots in relief.
Lindback, who is 7-4-1 with a 3.24 GAA in 13 starts this season, will get the start in this contest – his first since giving up three goals on 10 shots and being pulled after the first period in a loss to Pittsburgh on Feb. 24.
He made 23 saves Feb. 7, but Patrik Elias had a goal and two assists while Andy Greene, Adam Henrique and Ilya Kovalchuk each scored as New Jersey won 4-2.