The Tampa Bay Lightning own the NHL’s best record over the last 10 games, going 9-1-0.
The Lightning have won seven-consecutive games at home, tied with Chicago for the longest active win streak in the league.
Conversely, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Bolts’ opponent tonight, is also on a bit of a tear with victories in their last four games, their longest win streak under head coach Mike Sullivan, who replaced Mike Johnston on December 12. The Penguins are 10-3-4 since December 21 and have a 12-game point streak against Eastern Conference opponents (9-0-3).
With both teams battling to secure a playoff spot in the East – the Lightning would be the fourth seed if the postseason started today and Pittsburgh is one point out in ninth place – tonight’s game at Amalie Arena between two of the league’s best teams of late figures to be fiercely contested.
“We know they’re red hot as well, scoring a lot of goals, especially the power play,” Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman said. “We’ll have a good challenge ahead of us.”
Pittsburgh has won 10 of its last 12 over the Lightning, although the Bolts have won two straight over the Pens at Amalie Arena.
Tampa Bay is closing in on the longest home win streak in franchise history. The Bolts won 10 in a row last season at Amalie Arena from December 11 to January 31.
The Lightning play five of their next seven, including tonight’s game, at home.
Pittsburgh All-Star center Evgeni Malkin has a lower-body injury and will miss at least the next two games, starting with tonight’s tilt against the Bolts at Amalie Arena. Malkin ranks in the top 10 in the NHL for goals (tied for 7th with 23) and points (tied for 9th with 49).
“Obviously, Malkin is a premier player in this league, and the last time they were here (on January 15), I thought he was the best player on the ice,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “But that can’t change our approach. Pittsburgh has won four straight, their power play is on fire, they’re scoring at will. They’ re playing really, really well. We’re probably catching them at their peak at the way they’re playing. I don’t think if you take one guy out, it’s going to change the way the rest of everybody is playing, although he is a big piece of their puzzle.”
Hedman said even without Malkin the Penguins have plenty of firepower. Pittsburgh captain Sidney Crosby scored a hat trick in the Penguins’ last game, a 6-5 victory over Ottawa at CONSOL Energy Center on Tuesday. Crosby could record his 900th NHL point tonight. He needs just two more.
“He’s been on fire as of late,” Hedman said. “We’re going to have our hands full tonight.”
The Penguins will also be missing centers Eric Fehr (lower body) and Nick Bonino (hand), who are injured and unable to play against the Lightning.
Tampa Bay has netted a power-play goal in its last four games and has five over that stretch. The Lightning scored two power-play goals in the win over Detroit on Wednesday and went 2-for-3 with the man-advantage.
The Bolts currently have the third-best home power play in the NHL at 25.3 percent.
“We’re attacking more,” Cooper said. “If you watch when we haven’t had success, we’ve just been really perimeter.”
The Penguins have also converted at least one power play in four-straight games and 14 of their last 18.
“They’re outstanding right now because they’re just attacking the net,” Cooper said. “No shot’s a bad shot. And when we kind of get that mentality in our head, we’re better. I think we’ve had a problem of trying to pick our spots of when to shoot and when not to shoot. When we’re apprehensive in shooting the puck, it goes south from there.”
Overall, Pittsburgh’s power play ranks eight in the NHL (20.5%). Tampa Bay’s is 13th (19%).
ODDS AND ENDS
Cooper said the Lightning will go with the same lineup tonight as the one that defeated the Red Wings on Wednesday, so that means Erik Condra will get the start tonight while Matt Carle and Jonathan Marchessault are healthy scratched…Ben Bishop, who won his 20th game of the season and 100th game as a member of the Lightning on Wednesday, is the scheduled starter in goal for the Bolts. Bishop has never beaten Pittsburgh (0-2-0, 4.93 GAA and .856 save percentage) in five regular season meetings all-time…Nikita Kucherov recorded his 13th multi-point game of the season with a goal and an assist Wednesday versus Detroit. Kucherov had 13 multi-point games all of last season (71 games)…Kucherov leads Tampa Bay for power-play points (20) and ranks tied for third in the NHL…The Lightning have the seventh-best goal differential (+15) in the league…J.T. Brown set a new career high for goals in a season with his fifth tally on Wednesday…The Bolts are fifth in the league for goals against per game (2.30).