Preview: Lightning prepare for powerhouse showdown with Avalanche in town
TV: FOX Sports Sun
TIME: Pregame coverage begins at 6:30 p.m.
TAMPA, Fla. — A matchup of early-season conference powers takes place Saturday when the Eastern Conference leading Tampa Bay Lightning host the Western Conference leading Colorado Avalanche at Amalie Arena.
The Lightning enter the game winners of five straight and sit four points ahead of the Toronto Maple Leafs atop the conference standings. The Avalanche have won seven of their past eight on the road and sit tied with Nashville on top of the West standings.
It will be a matchup of Tampa Bay’s impressive depth up and down the lineup against Colorado’s trio of Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog, which will be back together after being broken up at the end of Thursday’s victory at Florida.
The Avalanche top line has combined for 48 goals and 124 points through 29 games. Rantanen leads the league with 47 points and 35 assists while MacKinnon is second with 44 points.
But for the third period against Florida, with the game tied 2-2, Colorado head coach Jared Bednar split up the top line, moving J.T. Compher to that top line and moving Rantanen to the second line. The Avalanche went on to win the game 5-2, with Compher scoring the tie-breaking goal.
“Whenever coach puts you out with guys of that caliber it’s exciting,” Compher told NHL.com. “It was a great opportunity for me, and seeing how hard those guys work, they dog pucks all the time. I just tried to get out there to get on the forecheck trying to create turnovers, and we had a real good shift, pinned them in their zone and were able to get a goal.”
That type of work ethic, Bednar felt, was not up to par, which prompted the switch to start the third period.
“I felt like our top guys were struggling to kind of gain some traction,” Bednar told NHL.com. “They did have their chances, they scored on Mikko’s tip (in the first period) and they were doing some good things, but the regular traction that I expect out of that line wasn’t there. I thought maybe I flip them [and] sometimes you can get a spark, and if I didn’t like it I could just move it back real quick.”
Bednar told BSNDenver.com on Friday that the trio would be back together to begin Saturday’s game against the Lightning, while goaltender Semyon Varlamov starts in goal.
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, has a deep group of forwards that features five players who have already reached double digits in goal, led by Brayden Point who is tied for the league lead with 21 goals. Linemate Nikita Kucherov is third in league scoring with 43 points.
The Lightning also have seven players with at least 20 points and 10 players with at least five goals scored through 30 games.
“It’s definitely a strength on our team,” said Lightning goaltender Louis Domingue, who is 9-2 in 11 starts since the loss of No. 1 goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy. “We saw it when some of our best players got injured, someone else jumped in the lineup and did a good job. It’s even guys that aren’t playing right now, when they come in, they are ready to go, and they do a good job.”