The Tampa Bay Lightning didn’t lose more than two in a row in 2014-15 until the Stanley Cup Final, but they’re in danger of doing so already this season.
Tampa Bay could be missing a couple of key players Saturday night when it tries to bounce back at home by beating the Buffalo Sabres for the second time in a week.
Though they lost back-to-back games on 11 occasions last season, the Lightning didn’t drop three straight until the end of a 4-2 series loss to Chicago in the Stanley Cup Final.
Now they’re hoping to display that same type of resiliency as they look to avoid their first three-game regular-season slide since an 0-3-2 stretch in March 2014.
After outscoring their opponents 13-6 during a 3-0-0 start, the Lightning lost 3-1 at Detroit on Tuesday and 5-3 to visiting Dallas on Thursday. Alex Killorn was unable to play Thursday due to an upper-body injury and Victor Hedman left the game after taking a hard hit.
Killorn has two assists in four games and Hedman has four in five. Hedman, one of the club’s top defensemen, also ranks among the NHL leaders with six takeaways.
"We’re concerned for his well-being,” center Brian Boyle said. ”We want him to be OK.”
The Lightning are struggling on special teams. They’ve allowed seven goals on 15 penalty-kill situations to rank near the bottom of the NHL after tying for seventh (83.7 percent) last season. They’ve also gone 3 for 15 on the power play.
"It’s very frustrating," Boyle added. "It’s something we take a lot of pride in, I take a lot of pride in. The preparation is there. We’re touching on all the right things. We’re being coached the way we’re supposed to be. We need to go out and execute."
Buffalo (1-3-0) has scored four power-play goals in its last two games, but it also gave up four on eight penalty-kill situations. Florida’s Aleksander Barkov converted a third-period power-play goal Thursday that proved to be the difference in a 3-2 road defeat.
Defenseman Jake McCabe scored his first NHL goal for the Sabres before Tyler Ennis added his first of the season on a late power-play chance. Jack Eichel, the 2015 No. 2 overall draft pick, leads the team with two goals.
Buffalo, which has gone 5-23-2 in October over the past three seasons, hopes to get off to a better start after falling behind in three of its first four games.
"We had that slow start again, first period we didn’t have much going," captain Brian Gionta, who missed the first three games due to a lower-body injury, told the team’s official website. "We have to find a way on the penalty kill to shut down their power play."
Tampa Bay went 0 for 3 on the power play last Saturday, but Erik Condra, Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and J.T. Brown scored in a 4-1 win at Buffalo. Stamkos, who has a team-high four goals, has scored in each of his last three meetings.
The Lightning have outscored the Sabres 19-3 during a five-game winning streak that is their longest ever in the series. They’ll be without defenseman Nikita Nesterov for this meeting after he was suspended for two games for boarding Stars forward Curtis McKenzie.
Ben Bishop has posted a 1.55 goals-against average while winning his last seven starts versus Buffalo dating to his time with Ottawa.