The Tampa Bay Lightning are expecting to face a different New York Rangers team tonight at Amalie Arena than the one it defeated 5-1 in the Big Apple nine days ago.
Since that loss, the Rangers have won two straight and haven’t allowed a goal, shutting out Philadelphia 2-0 (Nov. 19) before dismantling the Atlantic Division leading Montreal Canadiens 5-0 (Nov. 23).
“They definitely found their game a lot better than the last game we played,” Lightning defenseman Anton Stralman said. “…They really straightened out some issues…It’s going to be a tough one.”
Stralman was one of three former Rangers skating against his previous team and had a team-high five blocks in that 5-1 victory.
The other two, Ryan Callahan and Brian Boyle, also played well in their return to Madison Square Garden. Callahan scored two goals, his first multi-goal game of the season, and Boyle dished out two hits and had two shots in 14:01 time on ice.
Rallying around the trio of Stralman, Callahan and Boyle, the Lightning put together their most complete game of the season to knock off the defending Eastern Conference champions.
“I’m pretty positive we’re going to get a better effort out of (the Rangers) than they had in New York,” said Lightning captain Steven Stamkos, who sits three goals shy of 250 for his career. “That was a tough one. Since that game actually, they’ve played very well. We knew we, whether it was the emotions that we were running high on that helped us play well that game, we’re definitely going to get a better effort from them tonight.”
The Lightning expect New York to get behind Martin St. Louis, who will make his first return to Tampa Bay following a late-season trade last season.
St. Louis played nearly 14 seasons in a Bolts jersey and still holds franchise records for most points (953) and assists (588). He is two points away from 1,000 for his career.
“We can’t get all wrapped up in (St. Louis returning), get distracted by that,” Lightning associate coach Rick Bowness said. “We have to make sure that we’re focused on playing Tampa Bay Lightning hockey.”
NO RED FOR HEDMAN
Victor Hedman took another positive step toward his eventual return to the Tampa Bay Lightning, skating for the first time in a regular practice jersey during the team’s optional morning skate Wednesday.
Hedman has missed 17 games (tonight’s Rangers game will be 18) since leaving the Vancouver contest (Oct. 18) with a fractured finger.
“What was really exciting was he had a regular jersey on, didn’t have a red jersey on today, that’s a good thing,” Bowness said. “He’s getting closer and he’s just biting at the lip to get playing again and we’re anxious to get him back.”
Lightning head coach Jon Cooper suggested Tuesday Hedman is still a couple games from returning but wouldn’t rule him out completely for Saturday’s matchup with the Ottawa Senators at Amalie Arena.
“If he’s in a regular jersey, he’s very, very close,” Bowness said. “If he’s still in a red jersey, then you’re looking at a few more days. But, he’s got to be very close at this point.”
Hedman has played in five games for the Lightning this season and scored goals in the first three, including the overtime game-winner versus Florida to open the season.
He also had three assists in the 7-1 dismantling of the Montreal Canadiens, prompting speculation Hedman would be a candidate for the Norris Trophy prior to the injury.
“He’s big for this team,” said Stralman, who has stepped up as the leader of the blue liners in Hedman’s absence. “I think if you look at his development the last few years, starting not just last year but two years ago…changes were made and he was starting to find it going into last year which obviously he had a terrific year. It looks like he carried that over into this year.”
DROUIN, BROWN SCRATCHED
Bowness told reporters forwards Jonathan Drouin and J.T. Brown would be healthy scratches for tonight’s game.
Vladislav Namestnikov and Brenden Morrow will return to the Bolts’ lineup in their place.
Also, Bowness said the defense will remain the same, meaning Mark Barberio will make his fourth appearance in five games and Eric Brewer is scratched for a second-straight game.
“(Brewer) is a very proud man, and he’s played well for us,” Bowness said. “With the depth that we have, players are sitting and they’re not playing their way out of the lineup. It’s not a case of they’re playing so poorly so they’re sitting. It’s a case of we have depth, and we’re trying to use everyone.”