Road-rampaging Lightning visit Predators
As they continue to lose players, the Tampa Bay Lightning keep winning games.
The formula makes no sense, but Tampa Bay has overcome a spate of injuries to win its past four as it tries to finish off a sweep of its five-game road trip Monday night against the Nashville Predators.
A 3-0 win over the Flyers in Philadelphia on Saturday was emblematic of the trip. Already without star center Steven Stamkos (right knee) for four months, the Lightning had to scratch left winger Brian Boyle and defenseman Anton Strelman due to upper-body injuries, forcing coach Jon Cooper to utilize a lineup with seven defensemen and only 11 forwards.
By the second period, center Brayden Point, along with left wingers Jonathan Druoin and Ryan Callahan, were in the trainer's room getting treatment for injuries. Before all three returned for the third period, the team was down to eight forwards.
“I think there was one point I got back on the bench and I was asking where everyone was,” center Tyler Johnson said. “I didn't know what was going on. That's always pretty tough. You don't really play like that, except for when you were about 9 years old, so it's been a while.”
Johnson must have enjoyed the flashback to his childhood. He scored Tampa Bay's first goal, the only one it would need as Andrei Vasilevskiy stopped all 32 Flyers shots to nab his second consecutive shutout.
During its successful journey through the New York Islanders, Detroit Red Wings, Buffalo Sabres and Philly, the Lightning (12-6-1) have outscored their opponents 15-4, enabling them to move within five points of first-place the Montreal Canadiens in the Atlantic Division.
“We have a lot of depth on this team,” said Drouin, who sealed the Saturday win with a goal at 4:26 of the third period. “We have had a lot of that for the past couple of years. I think everyone is elevating their play with Stamkos out.”
While Tampa Bay keeps overcoming adversity, Nashville (7-7-3) continues to create problems for itself by failing to win on the road. A 3-1 defeat to the Blues on Saturday night in St. Louis dropped the Predators to 2-6-2 away from Music City, compared with their 5-1-1 mark in Bridgestone Arena.
The Predators played the Blues even for two periods but gave up two goals in just over four minutes midway through the third period and finished their three-game road trip at 1-2-0.
“Until that second goal, I thought we had a really good chance to get two points in this game, but it didn't happen,” Predators defenseman P.K. Subban said.
Based on this season's early form chart, Nashville should thrive this week. The Predators are set to start a three-game homestand that sees the Dallas Stars and Winnipeg Jets arrive in town Wednesday and Friday, respectively.
“It's always nice to go home,” Nashville defenseman Roman Josi said. “We've been playing well at home.”
Right winger James Neal is the key to the offense lately for the Predators. His six-game goal-scoring streak was snapped in St. Louis, but Neal remains one of the NHL's hottest players with seven goals in seven games.