The Tampa Bay Lightning will try to start another run at Amalie Arena when they host the San Jose Sharks tonight.
The Lightning had their nine-game home win streak, the third-longest in the NHL this season, ended by St. Louis in a 2-1 loss on Sunday.
To get a victory and stay among the top eight in the Eastern Conference, the Lightning will have to account for a deadly San Jose power play, which ranks third in the NHL at 23 percent and second in the league on the road at 24.2 percent. The last time these two teams met on Dec. 5 at San Jose’s SAP Center, the Sharks were awarded eight power plays – the most this season by a Lightning opponent -- and converted three of them.
The Bolts were able to hold on for a 4-3 victory in that game after sprinting out to a 4-1 lead.
“We’ll have to be very disciplined,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “…We were able to sneak out a win, but we’ve got to be better in (the penalty kill) department.”
Tampa Bay, meanwhile, has improved vastly on the penalty kill since giving up three power-play goals to the Washington Capitals on December 18. In the 22 games since, the Lightning have allowed just five power-play goals (92.4 percent penalty kill), tops in the NHL over that stretch. The Bolts haven’t allowed a power-play goal in three-straight games and have given up just two power-play goals in their last 11.
Which team can score first will be another key to tonight’s game. The Sharks are 24-2-1 when registering the first goal and 18-1-0 when ahead after the first period.
The Lightning have given up the opening goal in five-straight games, going 2-3-0 over that stretch.
“You look at our last couple of starts, they’ve been pretty good, we’ve just given up the first goal,” Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness said. “It doesn’t mean we didn’t come out of the gates prepared. It doesn’t mean anything. It means we didn’t score, and they happened to get the first goal. We were quite happy with how we came out of the gates the last couple of games. We just obviously, with this team tonight, we don’t want to fall behind, and it just puts that much importance on us addressing what we did this morning and seeing in the execution of it tonight.”
With Jason Garrison out for an extended stretch due to a lower-body injury, Matt Carle has started the last three games after being a healthy scratch for 12 of the previous 17 games.
Should Carle make another appearance in Tampa Bay’s lineup tonight, he will be skating in his 700th career NHL game. Carle has played 11 seasons in the league with three separate teams (151 games with San Jose, 308 with Philadelphia and 240 with the Lightning).
“Milestone games are special, and it seems like when you get to 600, you wonder how long it’ll take you to get to 700,” he said. “Now, the same thing, hopefully I can get to 800.”
Being included in tonight’s lineup would have special meaning for Carle besides just playing in his 700th game. The 31-year-old defenseman was drafted by San Jose in the second round (47th overall) of the 2003 NHL Draft, and Carle made his NHL debut with the Sharks on March 25, 2006.
“It’s a special moment, and obviously you think about everybody that’s helped you along the way to get to this point,” Carle said.
Yesterday, Lightning GM Steve Yzerman released a statement saying the Bolts would not trade captain Steven Stamkos before the trade deadline and the entire organization, Stamkos included, wanted to focus making the playoffs.
Today, following morning skate, Stamkos was asked about the statement, and he said the announcement was a decision made both by him and Lightning management.
“Looking forward to not having to deal with all the questions for the remainder of the season and just focus on hockey,” he said. “That’s the goal is to do my best to help our team win.”
Stamkos reiterated it hasn’t been difficult for him to focus on hockey with the impeding contract situation looming. It’s something, as a professional, he has to deal with.
“All I can ask myself for is to come to this rink every day like I’ve been trying to do and prepare myself to help our team win,” he said. “Obviously, I feel like I have more to give. Now, maybe this helps, just coming to the rink and focusing on my game and what I have to do to help this team continue their playoff push.”
ODDS AND ENDS
Bowness said Vladislav Namestnikov’s availability will be a game-time decision. Namestnikov took a hard hit into the boards Sunday vs. St. Louis and left the game for a bit in the second period before returning to start the third…Bowness was filling in for Bolts head coach Jon Cooper at the post-morning skate press conference because Cooper is sick. Bowness said Cooper will be back for tonight’s game…The Lightning’s mixing of the lines from the third period vs. the Blues carried over into today’s morning skate. Stamkos centered a line with Alex Killorn on his left and Ryan Callahan to his right. The Triplets – Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and Nikita Kucherov – reunited while Cedric Paquette took Callahan’s spot on the third line with Valtteri Filppula and J.T. Brown. Erik Condra and Namestnikov split rushes at fourth line left wing with Brian Boyle at center and Jonathan Marchessault on the right. “We haven’t scored a lot lately, so we’ll try to spark something,” Stamkos said of the line switching…San Jose has won two in a row over Tampa Bay at Amalie Arena.