Preview: Penguins at Lightning
The NHL-best Tampa Bay Lightning still lead the league in scoring, but are going through an uncharacteristic offensive slump as they prepare to host the Pittsburgh Penguins on Saturday night. The Lightning have managed seven goals in five games since the NHLPA-mandated/All-Star break and were blanked twice in that stretch, including a 1-0 overtime loss to St. Louis at home Thursday.
“You’re not going to score at the rate we’ve been scoring all year,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper told reporters. “Sometimes you have to go through some of these trying times to see ultimately what doesn’t work. But in saying that, we’ve played a couple 0-0 hockey games (through regulation) in the past week that have been outstanding.” The Lightning split a pair of games with the Penguins this season, including a 4-2 setback at Pittsburgh on Jan. 30, and are a mediocre 4-3-2 over the last nine games despite holding a 13-point lead in their division. The Penguins have dropped three straight games and are 5-7-1 since winning a season-high eight in a row, but battled back to get a point Thursday with a 3-2 overtime loss at Florida. “We want to make sure that we’re playing the same way every night,” Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby told reporters. “We know what this is. It’s another thing to do it. We’ve got to put games together and find a way to do that consistently.”
TV: 7 p.m. ET, NHL Network, AT&T Sportsnet Pittsburgh, FS Sun (Tampa Bay)
ABOUT THE PENGUINS (28-19-7): Forward Jared McCann scored his first goal in four games Thursday since being acquired from Florida in a four-player deal. “I thought (McCann) had a strong game,” coach Mike Sullivan told reporters after the loss. “He can really skate. He was real good on the penalty kill. He gets a huge goal for us, short-handed. … I think he’s getting more comfortable with how we’re trying to play.” Crosby leads the team with 61 points, but has been left off the scoresheet in two straight games, while Phil Kessel (57 points, 798 in his career) has been blanked the past three contests.
ABOUT THE LIGHTNING (39-11-4): Right wing Nikita Kucherov leads the league with 81 points, but has not scored a goal in nine games while adding six assists to his total during that stretch. Center Brayden Point leads the team with 31 goals - three more than captain Steven Stamkos, who has notched a point in nine of the last 11 games with five goals and nine assists in that span. Goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy (21-7-4, .927 save percentage) has turned aside 109 of the 112 shots he has faced in the last three games, but managed one victory in a shootout 1-0 against the New York Islanders on Feb. 1.
1. Pittsburgh G Matt Murray (15-9-1) participated at practice Friday and could return after missing Thursday’s game with an upper-body injury.
2. The next game for Tampa Bay D Braydon Coburn (three goals, nine assists) will be the 900th of his career.
3. Penguins D Justin Schultz (leg) is close to returning after being out since mid October while C Evgeni Malkin (lower body) is questionable.
PREDICTION: Lightning 3, Penguins 2