Last 10: New Jersey 5-5-0; Tampa Bay 6-4-0
Season Series: First of four meetings. New Jersey took three of four last season, with Ilya Kovalchuk leading all scorers with 3 goals and Martin Brodeur posting a 3-0 record in net.
Big Story: While the Lightning have garnered attention lately for their 1-3-1 system and many still remember the Devils as the team that played the trap to perfection in winning three Stanley Cups between 1995 and 2003, this doesn't necessarily shape up to be a defensive showdown. Tampa Bay is 12th in the NHL in offense, averaging 2.83 goals per game, and while New Jersey is only 24th at 2.41, that's a significant improvement over the 2.08 that ranked dead last a season ago. Both teams have uncharacteristically struggled at times to keep the puck out of their own net -- the Devils are 17th with a 2.76 team goals-against average, while the Lightning rank 23rd with a 3.00 GAA.
Devils: The return of Kovalchuk from a five-game injury absence highlighted New Jersey's best offensive output of the season in a 5-3 win Wednesday in Buffalo. Zach Parise opened the scoring with a shorthanded goal and then Kovalchuk struck on the power play to give the Devils a quick lead they wouldn't relinquish. Brodeur made a number of highlight-reel stops among his 29 saves and his teammates continued to tack on, with Patrik Elias' goal early in the third proving decisive.
"We needed it. We were a little down after the game in Boston, losing in the last two or three minutes," coach Peter DeBoer told the Newark Star-Ledger. "We needed a shot of energy. Obviously Kovalchuk back in the lineup and getting those two goals early really got us into the game."
Lightning: It's been a bit of an uneven start for a team that made it to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals last spring and the veteran netminder who led the way, but Tampa Bay got a dominant performance out of 42-year-old Dwayne Roloson on Thursday and topped Pittsburgh 4-1 in the first meeting between those teams since Roloson shut out the Penguins in the seventh game of their first-round series. Vincent Lecavalier scored twice and rookie Brett Connolly had a power-play goal that turned out to be the winner.
"Everybody did what they were supposed to do," said Roloson, who stopped 33 shots. "Guys were blocking shots, getting pucks in deep, and it sounds cliché but that's what you have to do to win a hockey game. That's all we did, was the little things."
Who's Hot: David Clarkson has goals in consecutive games for the Devils. Elias was held without a point for only the third time this season against the Bruins on Tuesday, but responded with a goal and an assist against the Sabres and leads the team in scoring with 17 points. … Steven Stamkos has 10 goals and 6 assists in the last 13 games for the Lightning. Lecavalier has 7 goals and 6 assists over the same span.
Injury Report: New Jersey is without forwards Travis Zajac (Achilles), Jacob Josefson (collarbone) and Eric Boulton (hand). … Tampa Bay forward Ryan Malone has missed the last four games with an upper-body injury. Defenseman Mattias Ohlund has not played yet this season following arthroscopic knee surgery.
Stat Pack:Mark Fayne's goal against the Sabres put him on pace for 14 this season -- the last Devils defenseman to record a double-digit season in goals was Scott Niedermayer, who had 14 in 2003-04. … Connolly scored the first power-play goal of his career and the first one allowed this season by Penguins goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in the Lightning's win Thursday.
Puck Drop: While Tampa Bay is in the middle of the Eastern Conference pack, it has won six straight at the St. Pete Times Forum after dropping its home opener. The Lightning have scored the first goal in all but two of their home games.