Preview: Lightning back at home, try to get groove back against Red Wings
TV: FOX Sports Sun
TIME: Pregame coverage begins at 7 p.m.
TAMPA — The Tampa Bay Lightning still have the best record in hockey, but road losses on back-to-back nights have their lead on Boston down to a single point.
If there’s one constant in Tampa Bay’s success in recent years, it’s a specific dominance over the Detroit Red Wings, who come to Amalie Arena on Thursday night having lost 10 regular-season meetings in a row against the Lightning.
“The results have been bad, no question,” said Detroit coach Jeff Blashill. “When they have the puck, they’re a real, real good team.”
Detroit (23-23-9) has won two in a row, with a 5-4 shootout win at Washington and a 2-1 win against Anaheim on Tuesday night. But the Lightning have owned them over the past two-plus seasons, including a 4-1 series win to eliminate them in the 2015-16 playoffs.
“We know what we have to do to win the game,” Detroit’s Martin Frk said of their struggles against Tampa Bay. “We need to score more goals than they do. That’s how you win the game. We have to go play our game and get the win.”
Tampa Bay (38-16-3) has already won three meetings this season, with a pair of 3-2 victories in October and a 5-2 win in January, so this is the final opportunity for Detroit to end their skid.
The Lightning lead the league with 3.5 goals per game — they have five players with 19 or more goals, which is what right wing Anthony Mantha now has to lead Detroit’s scoring effort. Center Dylan Larkin leads the team with 43 points, mostly on 34 assists.
Tampa Bay has the NHL’s overall points leader in Nikita Kucherov, who has 30 goals and 42 assists. Steven Stamkos isn’t far behind with 21 goals and 44 assists, but the surprise spark has been rookie Yanni Gourde, now third among rookies in scoring with 22 goals and 21 assists.
The Lightning’s recent struggles have included their penalty kill unit — it gave up two power-play goals in Tuesday’s loss to Buffalo, and it’s allowed 10 power-play goals in the last 10 games.
“The penalty kill has been a sore subject with us for quite some time now,” coach Jon Cooper said. “We make every power play look like the best power play in the league.”
Tampa Bay has killed off 14 of 15 power plays in its three wins against Detroit, so Thursday would be a chance to get back on the right foot on special teams. Detroit’s power play ranks just 21st in the league, and the Red Wings’ penalty kill unit ranks 24th, facing one of the NHL’s best power plays from Tampa Bay.
“We’re not used to this,” Cooper said of the back-to-back losses, which included a missed 5-on-3 in Tuesday’s loss. “You keep playing like this, things like that are going to happen.”
Tampa Bay remains home to face New Jersey on Saturday, while Detroit goes to Nashville on Saturday.