OTTAWA – The Ottawa Senators will attempt to win three games in a row for the first time since the first week of the season against the Tampa Bay Lightning, who hit the midway point of their season Sunday.
Senators goaltender Robin Lehner will start for the first time since Dec. 20 (a 4-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens). Former teammate Ben Bishop will start for the Lightning.
The Senators chose to keep Lehner and traded Bishop to the Lightning for forward Cory Conacher in April 2013. Lehner was asked Sunday if he tries to prove the Senators made the right choice when he faces the Lightning. He said the comparisons are media driven.
"I don't really," Lehner said. "I know [Senators general manager Bryan [Murray] and a lot of us, even me and [goaltender Craig Anderson] got a lot of that last year because you guys [the media] compared it, every bad game we had and every good game he had, it was the wrong choice.
"That's more of a you guys question than us. When [Bishop] was here, we were all three really good goalies and we all had a strong season that year. It's a matter of who and when and what their plans were. I'm happy [Bishop] got to go to a really good team that he can thrive in."
Bishop has emerged as the No. 1 goaltender for the Lightning.
"You look for the future and I was kind of the odd man out," he said of the Ottawa situation with Lehner and Anderson. "Everybody saw the writing on the wall and it worked out for the best. I got an opportunity down here in Tampa. Last year worked out really well and this year is going well, too. I think they're both playing well [in Ottawa]. It's worked out for everybody."
The Lightning had a four-game winning streak ended with a 6-3 loss to the Pittsburgh on Friday. The loss dropped their record on the road to 9-8-3. They are 15-4-1 at home.
Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said the Lightning's problems on the road aren't from a lack of effort.
"Sometimes when adversity has hit us, it's been hard to deal with in the sense our guys try too hard," he said. "We get a little bit of guys trying to do it themselves. What we've got to learn is the program works. We've got to stick with our structure and play the game out to the end."
Lightning captain Steven Stamkos said he's happy with the season so far, which sees the Lightning two points behind the Montreal Canadiens for first place in the Atlantic Division.
"I think we're where we want to be," he said. "We've played some pretty good hockey. We've got to be a little more consistent, especially on the road. We've done what we've needed to do at home. You look at where we are in the standings, at the points we've been able to accumulate, you'd probably take that at the halfway point of the year if you said we'd have this many."
The Senators are coming off wins against the Buffalo Sabres at home and the Boston Bruins in Boston on Saturday.
Dave Cameron, 5-3-2 since taking over as Senators coach on Dec. 8, is encouraged by the Senators willingness to stick to their game plan. They came back to defeat Bruins on Bobby Ryan's overtime goal.
"I didn't think we were real great in Boston, but that's what makes the win even better is we trusted our system," Cameron said. "I didn't think we had the energy, the jump we had previously, which is going to happen in an 82-game schedule, which is probably what Jon would say about Tampa Bay last game. You're going to have those and if you can find a way to win when you go through those your team is progressing and getting better."
One area that needs a boost for the Senators is the power play. They are 0-for-18 in the past five games.
Here are the projected lineups:
Alex Killorn – Steven Stamkos – Brett Connolly
Ondrej Palat – Tyler Johnson – Nikita Kucherov
Cedric Paquette – Valtteri Filppula – Ryan Callahan
Jonathan Drouin – Dan Boyle – Brenden Morrow
Victor Hedman – Andrej Sustr
Matthew Carle – Anton Stralman
Mark Barberio – Jason Garrison
Scratched: J.T. Brown
Injured: Mattias Ohlund (knee), Radko Gudas (lower body)
Clarke MacArthur - Kyle Turris – Mark Stone
Mike Hoffman – Mika Zibanejad - Bobby Ryan
Erik Condra - Jean-Gabriel Pageau - Alex Chiasson
Milan Michalek - David Legwand – Colin Greening
Chris Phillips - Erik Karlsson
Jared Cowen - Cody Ceci
Patrick Wiercioch - Eric Gryba
Scratched: Chris Wideman
Injured: Zack Smith (wrist), Chris Neil (knee), Marc Methot (back/hip). Mark Borowiecki (lacerated leg)
Status report: Methot played 18 minutes for the Binghamton Senators in a rehab assignment Saturday and came out of the game healthy, Cameron said. He described Methot's performance "as expected, rusty." Cameron hopes Methot, who has missed all but two games this season with a hip/back injury, will play a few more games in Binghamton. There's still no timetable for his return. … Neil, who has missed the past nine games with a knee injury, participated in the Senators optional morning skate Sunday. He is probably about 10 days away from returning. … Cooper said Gudas has returned to Tampa Bay. "He could be back for the Buffalo game [Jan. 9] or, who knows, he may not be back until after the All-Star Game. I'm not speculating on when he's coming back."
Who's hot: Ryan has four goals in his past two games. … MacArthur has two goals and an assist in his past three games. … Karlsson has three assists in his past two games. … Johnson has four assists in his past two games. … Palat has a goal and five assists in his past two games.