Scoring goals and winning games remain issues for the Tampa Bay Lightning, but those haven’t been problems in recent matchups with the Buffalo Sabres.
Coming off yet another disappointing offensive showing, the Lightning seek a seventh consecutive win against the improving Sabres on Thursday night.
After scoring a league-best 259 goals last season, Tampa Bay figured to have plenty of offense again in its attempt to remain among the league’s elite following an appearance in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Since scoring 27 goals during a 5-2-2 start, the Lightning have managed a mere seven in the past six games, resulting in a 1-4-1 stretch.
They appeared to make progress with a 4-3 victory at Carolina on Sunday to end a four-game losing streak, but were shut down again two nights later in a 2-1 loss at Detroit.
Tampa Bay is 3-3-1 when allowing two goals or fewer after it was 35-3-3 in such contests in 2014-15.
”You give up two or less goals a game and it should be a layup,” coach Jon Cooper said. ”But we’re losing an alarming amount of those games.”
Defenseman Anton Stralman hit the crossbar in the final minute with the goaltender pulled for an extra attacker Tuesday, at least the third time in the game the Lightning hit a post or crossbar.
”With goal posts, there’s nothing you can do,” Alex Killorn said. ”Sometimes they go in, sometimes they don’t.”
A meeting with the Sabres (5-7-0) appears to be coming at an opportune time for Tampa Bay (6-6-2), which has won the first two matchups this season and six straight in the series by a combined 21-4.
Ben Bishop stopped 24 shots in a 4-1 road victory Oct. 10 and turned away 31 in a 2-1 win at home a week later. He’s won eight straight starts against Buffalo, posting a 1.48 goals-against average.
The Sabres, however, are enjoying their best stretch of the season with three wins in four games, with the only blemish coming in a 4-3 loss last Thursday at Pittsburgh in which they outshot the Penguins 53-29.
Matt Moulson and Sam Reinhart scored third-period goals and rookie Linus Ullmark had another strong performance with 29 saves in Sunday’s 2-1 win over the New York Islanders.
”You go out and win a game in the third period,” coach Dan Bylsma said. ”You don’t see that often on the road in the National Hockey League.”
Ullmark has a .930 save percentage in his first three NHL starts and could be in net again in place of Chad Johnson, who has allowed 14 goals in his last three.
”It’s amazing what a couple of big saves can do,” Reinhart said of Ullmark. ”It can turn two losses into two wins just like that. He’s been great.”
The Sabres and Lightning will conclude their four-game season series Tuesday at Tampa Bay.
"You don’t see it that often," Buffalo defenseman Josh Gorges told the team’s official website of facing the Lightning again. "We’ve got to make sure we’re at our best; this is a team that was in the Stanley Cup Finals last year. They’re where we want to be so it’s a good test and a good matchup for us."
Tampa Bay is still awaiting the return of injured forwards Cedric Paquette (ankle) and Jonathan Drouin (lower body). Paquette has missed five games and Drouin four.