The Colorado Avalanche enter tonight's matchup at AMALIE Arena against the Tampa Bay Lightning on a downward trajectory having lost three-straight games and six of their last nine.
Don't tell that, though, to the Lightning, who, for some curious reason, always seem to have difficulties against the Avalanche.
Last season, the Bolts split a pair of games against Colorado. The Avalanche shut out the Lightning 4-0 on October 20 to hand Tampa Bay its first defeat of the season. The Lightning snuck out of Colorado with a 3-2 overtime victory on February 19 during their playoff push, the Avalanche rallying to force extra time in that game before former Bolt Jonathan Drouin made an incredible play in overtime to help the Bolts escape with two points.
The Lightning have lost two straight at home to the Avalanche.
"Video: Cooper | Pregame TBL vs. COLThey've always been a challenge for us because we've struggled to beat them," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said following Thursday's morning skate. "(Mikko) Rantanen's really turned into a top player in this league. (Nathan) MacKinnon I've seen a lot of from World Cup and World Championships. I know what he's capable of. They've got a young D corps that's up and coming. And then it's a Western Conference team you don't see very often."
The Avalanche begin a four-game road trip tonight in Tampa and are looking for their first victory since knocking off Winnipeg, one of the Western Conference's top teams, on November 29. The Avalanche dropped to last place in the Central Division during their latest losing slide.
"Sometimes, the scariest teams to play are the ones that have just lost a couple in a row," Cooper said. "Probably, they're a little hungry now. We can't buy into that. We have to just understand we've got two games left on this home stand. We've taken two, and we want to try and take all four."
The Lightning had a strong start to the 2016-17 season, winning their first three games, all at home. But in the final game of the four-game, season-opening home stand, the Bolts were blanked by an Avalanche team that would finish dead last in the NHL standings with just 48 points, 21 points less than next-to-last Vancouver.
That early-season loss to Colorado would foreshadow the difficulties the Bolts would experience over the next couple of months. One of the reasons the Lightning missed out on the playoffs last season was their 1-5-0 record against the three worst teams in the League: Colorado, Vancouver and Arizona.
Tampa Bay knows it has an opportunity tonight to take advantage of a team in a slump, something it wasn't able to do last season.
Video: Stralman | Pregame TBL vs. COL"We're expecting a tough matchup," Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said. "Just like we were in that little stretch a little while ago, you want to get back on track. I think at this point, every team that comes in here looks at this game as a big challenge and a big test for them. We have to be ready, that's the bottom line."
The Lightning will see the Avalanche twice in the next couple days as they close out the two-game season series in Colorado in nine days. Sometimes, playing a Western Conference team can be difficult because they aren't a regular opponent and therefore are a bit of an unknown.
In those circumstances, the Lightning say, it's best to focus on themselves and not worry about what the opponent brings to the matchup.
"We watch video on Colorado, and I think the most important thing when you only play a team a couple of times is to just worry about your own game and play your own style," Bolts center Brayden Point said. "Hopefully, we can do that tonight."
INJURY UPDATES: Lightning defenseman Jake Dotchin wore a regular jersey at morning skate for the first time since suffering an undisclosed injury that's forced him to miss the last seven games.
Cooper, however, didn't sound positive on the possibility of Dotchin returning tonight against Colorado.
"He's probably not that possible for tonight," Cooper said.
Fellow blueliner Braydon Coburn didn't participate in morning skate and remains out with a lower-body injury.
"He's plugging away, but some of these injuries, you've got to wait," Cooper said. "So, it's just going to take a little time."