The Tampa Bay Lightning had one of the most feared offensive attacks in the league even before Jonathan Drouin was healthy enough to make his NHL debut.
Now that the rookie is getting into form, Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo knows his club will face an even tougher task to stop the Lightning.
Tampa Bay looks to take four of five on a road trip that ends Saturday night in Minnesota.
It’s not surprising the Lightning (5-2-1) are led in goals by two-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner Steven Stamkos, who scored his sixth in the first period of Friday’s 4-2 victory over Winnipeg. The contributions he’s getting from his supporting cast are what make Tampa extra dangerous on the offensive end.
Ondrej Palat netted his third goal and added an assist, Nikita Kucherov had three assists and Tyler Johnson added two. Drouin, the 19-year-old winger who missed the first five games recovering from a thumb injury, scored his first NHL goal and added an assist after recording his first NHL point in Tuesday’s 2-1 overtime win over Calgary.
"I was so glad he got his first goal," coach Jon Cooper said. "I know he’s putting a little pressure on himself to score. He’s learning the NHL game, and he did a lot of good things."
With Stamkos leading the charge and Drouin and company providing the necessary help, Yeo knows his club will be under fire in this contest.
"That’s a team that plays fast and counters very quickly," Yeo said. "They come at you with every line and attack you aggressively, so we’ve got to be ready."
Darcy Kuemper could be the Wild’s most valuable weapon to stop the Lightning after he made 26 saves in Thursday’s 2-0 win over Arizona. Each of his victories have come via shutout and he improved to 3-1-0 with a 0.50 goals-against average in four outings.
If he’s in net for this contest, he’ll have a much shorter layoff. The Wild (3-2-0) are tied for the fewest games played in the league and had three days off before Thursday’s victory.
Charlie Coyle and Jason Pominville scored for Minnesota, which also had a five-day break earlier in the season.
"I feel like teams are ahead of us a little bit in terms of the games they’ve played and are at the pace they want to be at," Yeo said. "The good news is that we still look like a pretty good team, but these games are going to make us better if we do things the right way."
The Wild are hoping to get opportunities to improve their power play, which dropped to 0 for 19 after failing to convert on three chances Thursday.
"They’re just not going in for us right now," defenseman Jared Spurgeon said. "We’ve got to work on it and have got to bury them. That will be a difference in some games."
Minnesota likely will face backup Evgeni Nabokov after Ben Bishop made 40 saves for the Lightning on Friday. Nabokov is 1-1-0 with a 1.47 GAA in two starts, most recently making 21 saves Tuesday against the Flames.
"If you want to put yourself in the position to be in the playoffs, you need goaltending," Cooper said. "The two guys we have back there have been outstanding for us."
Lightning forward Ryan Callahan will miss his third straight game after sustaining a lower-body injury in Monday’s loss to Edmonton. Forwards J.T. Brown (upper-body injury) and Brett Connolly (lower body) also could sit out after they left Friday’s game in the first period.
Yeo said defensemen Keith Ballard and Christian Folin won’t play again after missing Thursday’s contest due to illness.