Winnipeg Jets at Tampa Bay Lightning game preview
TV: FOX Sports Sun
TIME: Coverage begins at 7 p.m.
TAMPA, Fla. — Andrei Vasilevskiy has played six straight games since goalie Ben Bishop went down with a lower-body injury on Dec. 20, and the Tampa Bay Lightning are 4-1-1 since then heading into a home game against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday night.
“Vasy is getting better and better and better, and that’s what you like to see,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said of his 22-year-old, who has played as Bishop’s backup for the last two seasons.
“He was in command of his game (Saturday) and there’s a calm of confidence that goes over your bench. We’ve been seeing that out of him.”
Winnipeg (17-19-3) has less momentum entering its first game of 2017, having taken a 5-3 loss to Columbus and a 6-2 loss to the New York Islanders in its last two games as it opens a three-game road trip that includes a back-to-back with Tampa and the Florida Panthers.
The Jets had won four of five games before their recent setback, but coach Paul Maurice said his players aren’t too caught up in the standings right now.
“Coaches and fans probably look at the standings more,” Maurice said Monday. “(Players) just want to get a good feeling and a consistent game.”
Winnipeg has a young scoring nucleus as part of a developing roster — Patrick Laine, just 18, was the No. 2 pick in last year’s draft and leads the team with 19 goals to go with 12 assists; second-year forward Nikolaj Ehlers is only 20 and adds 10 goals and 21 assists, and 23-year-old Mark Scheifele leads the team in total points with 15 goals and 18 assists.
“Obviously, we didn’t play the way we wanted in the last two,” Scheifele said. “We’re together as a team, we’re in Florida. We have to hit the reset button a little and know those games are in the past.”
Tampa Bay (19-15-4) could get some break from a rash of injuries. Forward Ryan Callahan is now day to day and could return from a hip injury, though forward Cedric Paquette remains out and Brian Boyle is “doubtful” with the team’s most recent injury, leading to yet another callup in forward Adam Erne.
The Lightning have been led by their power play, ranking third best in the NHL, and it generated two first-period goals in Saturday’s 3-1 win over Carolina, scored by Boyle and Jonathan Drouin.
That lines up with a weak spot for Winnipeg, whose penalty kill ranks 27th in the NHL, stopping only 76 percent of opposing power-play opportunities.
The Lightning have one more game in a five-game homestand, trying to work their way back into the Eastern Conference playoff picture.
The Jets haven’t had the same success, but the way the current standings fall, both are three points out of the final wild card on their side of the playoffs with more than half the season still ahead.