Five of Nabokov’s six previous appearances have come in the second game of a back-to-back scenario. Tonight will be just the second time the Bolts will turn to Nabokov outside of a back-to-back set.
Nabokov last started for the Lightning in Buffalo and surrendered only one goal but fell 2-1 in a shootout.
“We’re trying to get him in the net once every 10 days, once every two weeks at the latest,” associate head coach Rick Bowness said. “It’s good timing. He had a good game last game. We want to keep him sharp.”
The Lightning are hitting the road for five games starting with Saturday’s visit to the Verizon Center to play the Washington Capitals. Tampa Bay has two separate back-to-backs on the road trip, and Nabokov will likely be called upon in one or both to give Ben Bishop a break.
“It’s important we give (Nabokov) a game before we hit that stretch, and it’s a good time now to give (Bishop) a little bit of a rest as well,” Bowness said. “So, the timing is good.”
Nabokov is 2-3-1 with a 3.15 goals-against average and a .883 save percentage over those seven appearances. Bowness said the Lightning need to get Nabokov more playing time, in part, to keep Bishop fresh.
“You look around the league, Bish is at the high end of games started for number one goalies,” Bowness said. “Is there a specific number? No, but if you work off the 60 [games for Bishop], 22 [starts for Nabokov], give or take a couple either way depending on the situation, that’s what you’re trying to get, which means Nabby’s got to get in there once every four or five games and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
BREAKING OUT OF A SLUMP
Both Tampa Bay and Carolina are on losing streaks entering tonight’s matchup.
The Lightning have dropped two straight and three of their last four, this after winning four in a row.
The Hurricanes are on a three game losing streak.
“They’re a lot better team than their record is,” Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said. “They didn’t get off to the best start. Again, just like Columbus, just like Buffalo, just like Washington coming in here, they see where we are in the standings and they want to make a statement and beat one of the better teams in the East.”
In a loss Saturday to Columbus, the Lightning limited the amount of offensive opportunities given up to the Blue Jackets but couldn’t put the puck in the net.
Against Washington, the offense was there, but, defensively, the Lightning were subpar.
“We all believe that the offense will take care of itself here, and we just have to cut down on those chances against, play more like we played against Columbus defensively and the same way we played against Washington offensively,” Bowness said. “Get offense from defense, that’s what it is. We’ve got enough speed and skill in that [locker] room to take care of things, but the mentality has to be, and it goes back to playing the right way, you get your offense from playing good team defense.”
Carolina has scored just one goal in each of its last three games, losses to Washington, Detroit and New Jersey.
“They’re going to be hungry, we’re going to be hungry, and it should be a good test for us tonight,” Stamkos said.
One area where the Lightning have struggled of late has been in their starts to games. Against Columbus, the Bolts gave up the first two goals and trailed 2-0 after the first period.
In the loss to Washington, the Capitals scored 40 seconds into the game, putting the Lightning on their heels and forcing them to play catch up the rest of the game.
“We’ve been falling behind a little bit, and when that happens, you start doing some things that are a little uncharacteristic and start cheating up there,” Stamkos said. “So, if we can get off to a better start and just calm down the first five, 10 minutes, then we can play our game and we know what we can do when we do that.”
Tampa Bay is one of the better teams in the league at rebounding after surrendering the game’s first goal, going 6-6-0, tied for fourth-best in the NHL.
Still, constantly playing from behind is not a strategy the Bolts want to get accustomed to.
“We’ve been kind of getting behind the eight ball lately, and it’s a tough league to come from behind in,” Stamkos said.