The Tampa Bay Lightning have won a lot of National Hockey League games over the last few seasons.
In fact, since the start of 2013-14, no other team in the League has won more games than the Bolts, Tampa Bay owning 305 victories over that span to second place Washington's 299.
Very few of those wins have come against the Nashville Predators, however.
Three (in 12 attempts) to be exact.
When the Lightning and Predators match up tonight at AMALIE Arena (7 p.m. puck drop), the final game of a three-game home stand for the Bolts and the last contest at AMALIE Arena until November 14 because of the Global Series trip to Sweden, Tampa Bay will be looking to snap a three-game losing skid to Nashville. The Lightning have dropped five of their last six to the Predators. In fact, you have to go all the way back to the 2013-14 season to find the last time the Bolts defeated the Preds in regulation, Tampa Bay dropping Nashville 4-2 at home on December 19.
"We've had our hands full with them," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "We only play them twice a year, but they've gotten the better of us. The results of the games, we've played pretty well against them and felt in some of these games we've deserved a little bit of a better fate. It would be nice to turn the tide tonight."
What makes Nashville such a difficult team to defeat?
"Well, they're a top tier team in the League, and it starts with their goaltender, who's one of the best," Cooper said. "You grab a top four of (Mattias) Ekholm and (Roman) Josi and (Ryan) Ellis and (Dante) Fabbro and a good vet in (Dan) Hamhuis and those guys, that's a solid group to start with. They added (Matt Duchene) this past summer. They've just got a plethora of skill. (Nashville head coach Peter Laviolette) knows what he's doing behind the bench, and it's why they make the playoffs every single year and they're a threat to win."
Tampa Bay's futility against the Predators extends to AMALIE Arena too. The Lightning have lost three straight at home to Nashville and have scored just one goal in each of those three defeats, the Preds outscoring the Bolts 16-3.
"They're very structured. They're a very good team defensively. Through that, they're very patient so they wait for their opportunities to strike and they don't really get out of place or try to do too much when things aren't going their way," Lightning defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk said. "They kind of just rely on what their systems are. We have to make sure we don't get frustrated by it, especially through the neutral zone. Just put pucks behind them and go to work in the offensive zone. I think that's going to have to be the recipe for us tonight. They're a big, physical team, so we've got to be ready for that as well."
The Lightning can counter Nashville's physicality with the fourth line trio of Pat Maroon, Cedric Paquette and Luke Witkowski. Maroon (Feb. 16, 2013) and Witkowski (Feb. 17, 2018) both netted their first career NHL goals against Nashville. Witkowski and Paquette combined to provide a pivotal goal for the Lightning in the last game Wednesday against Pittsburgh, Witkowski finding Ryan McDonagh in front for a one-timer and Paquette, making his season debut, tipping it into the net to tie the game 2-2 in the third period in a contest the Lightning would eventually win 3-2. Witkowski finished the evening with nine hits.
"I wish it was 10," Witkowski deadpanned.
The Holland, Mich. native has dished out 20 hits over the last three games and now leads the Lightning for hits. He ranks 19th in the NHL in that category.
"That's what I'm here to do," he said. "If I get a chance to hit somebody, I'm going to hit them."
With Paquette back in the mix, the fourth line has re-found that connection they developed in the preseason before Paquette got hurt in the preseason finale and is looking to make more of an impact.
They'll be asked to put their work boots on again tonight in hopes of ending the Lightning's skid against the Predators.
"I like playing with those guys," Witkowski said of his linemates. "They're easy to read off and very predictable. We're keeping it simple, not trying to do anything flashy, putting it in their zone and going to work. I think the defensemen on the other team are hearing us coming. That's helping us out."