An extra day off may have been much needed for the slumping Tampa Bay Lightning, who suddenly are struggling to find the back of the net.
Their current skid began with a loss eight days ago to the New York Rangers, who hope to have defenseman Dan Girardi back for Sunday’s rematch at Madison Square Garden.
Tampa Bay (6-4-0) averaged 5.3 goals while winning six of its first seven games, but has totaled five during a three-game losing streak.
The Lightning put a season-low 19 shots on net in a 4-2 defeat at New Jersey on Thursday, as Steven Stamkos went without a goal for the second straight game after scoring at least one in five straight.
“We don’t seem to capitalize on our chances and it has been hurting us the last three games,” coach Guy Boucher said.
Tampa Bay was scheduled to play in Boston on Saturday in what was supposed to be its third stop on a four-game road trip, but a winter storm caused treacherous travel and the game was postponed – giving Boucher’s club an extra day to figure out how to bust out of its funk.
“We just needed to battle more,” said Martin St. Louis, who has an NHL-best 13 assists. “The last couple of games we spent too much time in our end zone and when we got on offense, we didn’t do a very good job of sustaining it.”
Tampa Bay was 6-1-1 in the previous eight meetings before New York’s 3-2 road victory Feb. 2, as Rick Nash and Carl Hagelin scored third-period goals for the Rangers after it was tied after two.
Stamkos scored his second goal of the game with 41 seconds remaining.
The Rangers are coming off a 4-1 win over the Islanders on Thursday, but coach John Tortorella said his team needs to pick up the pace.
“I still think we need to play with more energy,” Tortorella said. “We need more tempo in our game. We’ve got to continue to improve.”
New York (5-5-0) has been outscored 26-24 and is in the bottom third of the league in goals scored. It has converted only 4 of its 37 power-play opportunities (10.8 percent), ranking among the worst in the NHL.
“We have to find a way to get points,” Tortorella said. “I still think there’s a lot of sloppiness with our game. There are a lot of things that need to continue to improve.”
Rookie J.T. Miller provided all the offense necessary Thursday, netting two goals in his second NHL game. Marian Gaborik and Ryan McDonagh also scored.
“We need everybody to do good stuff for us,” said Henrik Lundqvist, who made 27 saves. “(Miller) plays so mature out there, making good decisions with the puck. It definitely brings some energy to the group. Guys come in and do well right away.”
Captain Ryan Callahan returned Thursday after missing the previous three games with a dislocated shoulder, and the Rangers could have Girardi back from a two-game absence due to a lower-body injury.
“I just want to get back,” Girardi said. “It would be nice to play Sunday.”
Martin Biron made 30 saves versus the Lightning in the first meeting, though Lundqvist could get the start Sunday despite going 1-2-4 with a 2.79 goals-against average in his last seven starts in this series.
It’s unclear if Tampa will go with Mathieu Garon, who made 27 saves in the first meeting, or Anders Lindback.