Pittsburgh Penguins at Tampa Bay Lightning game preview

BY foxsports • December 10, 2016


TAMPA, Fla. -- The Tampa Bay Lightning and Pittsburgh Penguins meet Saturday night in Tampa, coming off opposite ends of 5-1 scores on Thursday, with the host Lightning scrambling to get back on track and the Penguins scoring at prolific levels.

"It's fun, but we have more confidence, and all four lines are playing amazing," Penguins center Evgeni Malkin said after a 5-1 win at the Florida Panthers on Thursday. "Everyone has helped our team win."

The Penguins (17-7-3) have scored 24 goals in the last four games -- all wins -- raising their scoring average to 3.4 goals per game, second-best in the NHL. The Lightning (14-12-2) are 1-5-1 in their last seven, including a 5-1 home loss to the Canucks on Thursday, putting them at the other end of the spectrum.

"There's no cause for alarm," Lightning coach Jon Cooper said Friday. "We have to get back to our basics. ... You're a little taken aback by that, but we have to be a little more consistent."

The two teams meet Saturday for the first time since last season's Eastern Conference finals, when Pittsburgh prevailed on the way to its overall championship win over the San Jose Sharks. The Penguins and Lightning meet again two more times during the season, but Saturday's game gives Tampa Bay a chance to change its momentum after a sustained scoring drought.

The Lightning got two key players back healthy Thursday in forward Jonathan Drouin and defenseman Jason Garrison, but forward Ryan Callahan remains out with a lower-body injury, adding to a list of lingering injuries that have limited Tampa Bay's scoring.

The Lightning power play, once a team strength, went 0 for 3 Thursday and is now 2 for 17 in the team's last seven games, having ranked among the NHL's five best over the entire season.

Pittsburgh has three of the NHL's top three scorers. Sidney Crosby is tied for the NHL lead with 18 goals and is second in total scoring when you add in 11 assists; Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov is tied with him there, with 13 goals and 16 assists. The Penguins also have Malkin (10 goals, 18 assists) and Phil Kessel (nine goals, 18 assists) to add to their offensive prowess.

"It's not just me. It's the whole line," Malkin said of the team's recent tear. "We need to stay at the same level, a good level, every game."

Lightning goalie Ben Bishop continues to struggle. A Vezina finalist last season, Bishop is 8-10-1 after Thursday's loss with a 2.86 goals-against average. But Cooper said he is not concerned about his start to the season and continues to work him and Andrei Vasilevskiy, who could get the nod Saturday against Pittsburgh.

"I'm not worried about him," Cooper said of Bishop. "He's a confident kid. He's the least of our worries."