Canadiens could have tough time slowing down Lightning (Mar 09, 2018)

March 9, 2018

TAMPA, Fla. -- Two teams at nearly opposite ends of the NHL spectrum will square off Saturday as the surging Tampa Bay Lightning play host to the Montreal Canadiens.

Tampa Bay (47-17-4) entered Friday's games with the best record in the NHL, and the Lightning's 24 home wins are one behind Pittsburgh for the most in the league.

Montreal (25-31-11) has just three wins in its last 14 games, and the Canadiens are a league-worst 9-21-3 on the road this season.

"On the road, it seems like we're chasing the puck a lot," said Brendan Gallagher, Montreal's leading scorer with 24 goals. "It's about translating the home game onto the road. That's no reason why we shouldn't be able to do that."

Tampa Bay has the league's No. 1 offense, averaging 3.6 goals per game, and Montreal is 29th, more than a full goal per game lower at 2.5.

Gallagher's 24 goals would tie him for fourth on the Lightning, which has Nikita Kucherov (33), Steven Stamkos (27), Brayden Point (27) and Yanni Gourde (24) pacing their attack.

Having said that, Montreal has picked up points in two of its three meetings with Tampa Bay this year -- the teams each have a shutout win since the Lightning won the series opener 3-1 in December.

Half of Tampa Bay's remaining games are against teams out of playoff contention, so picking up easy points is a must as it tries to hold onto the top seed in the Eastern Conference.

The Tampa Bay lineup could get a boost Saturday with the healthy debut of defenseman Ryan McDonagh, acquired last week from the New York Rangers in a big deadline trade. McDonagh has been held out as he recovers from an upper-body injury, but he is excited to get settled in and ready for an extended playoff push.

"Changing to a new team, you're excited," McDonagh said of wanting to take the ice but being careful in his recovery. "You want to get comfortable around the guys, (get) up to speed with the way things are done here and the way they play.

"It's been a bit challenging mentally, but at the same time I'm trying to control what I can and get healthy so I can go out there and play when the time is ready."

Tampa Bay acquired young defenseman Mikhail Sergachev in the offseason from Montreal in exchange for forward Jonathan Drouin, who has disappointed. Drouin has just 10 goals in 62 games after scoring 21 with Tampa Bay last season.

Montreal's biggest challenge may be in containing the Lightning power play -- it's third in the league, converting 23 percent of opportunities -- and the Canadiens' penalty kill ranks 27th, stopping only 76 percent of opponents' power plays.

Tampa Bay has won lately without the power play -- it is 1 of 13 in the last six games, but somehow still went 5-0-1 in that span. The Lightning had two power-play goals in the most recent game with Montreal, a 4-3 shootout win last month.

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