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Struggling Ducks host surging Lightning

by Matthew Mankiewich /

LIGHTNING (8-4-6) at DUCKS (6-10-3)

Last 10 -- Lightning 5-1-4; Ducks 3-5-2

Season series -- It's the only meeting of the season for these two. Tampa Bay won the last matchup on Jan. 9, 2009, at the Honda Center; the Lightning's 4-3 victory snapped their three-game losing streak to the Ducks.

Big story -- It's more than a slide for the Ducks; it's becoming a free-fall. They've lost 10 of their last 13 (3-8-2) and have sunk to the near-bottom of the NHL in points. They return home for seven games after a disappointing 0-3-1 Eastern swing in which they allowed 18 goals, prompting a series of individual meetings on Sunday with coach Randy Carlyle, then a team meeting before a 5-2 loss in Pittsburgh.

The Lightning are headed in the opposite direction. Tampa Bay is 4-0-1 in its last five games, including a trip-opening 4-1 win in Phoenix on Monday.

Team scope

Lightning -- The recent wave of good fortune has vaulted the slow-starting Bolts into eighth place in the Eastern Conference, one point out of fifth. Monday's game in Phoenix was a perfect demonstration of how well things are going. Vincent Lecavalier had a two-goal, one-assist performance, Alex Tanguay also had a three-point night and Mike Smith made 30 saves as the Lightning won at Arena.

The solid start by Smith, his first in six games, earned him another one in Anaheim, even though Antero Niittymaki had gone 3-0-2 over five straight starts.

"We're lucky as coaches to have two really good goalies going for us," Rick Tocchet said to the St. Petersburg Times. "Smitty is going to take the ball, but Niitty is going to play, too."

Ducks -- Captain Scott Niedermayer may be wondering how many meetings it will take to get the Ducks on track. "We've had lots of meetings, and so far they haven't been productive," he said. "But you have to try and get on the same page and get the approach that's going to work for this team to come out and play well."

Carlyle had his team skate on Tuesday despite getting back into town late the night before, trying both to set them up for the upcoming homestand and make up for not practicing Sunday due to the meetings.

"I felt with our schedule that is coming, we're going to play every second day here as we go, that we should try to get on the ice as much as possible to try to improve our overall execution level," Carlyle told the Ducks' Web site.

Who's hot -- Tanguay has four goals and 10 points in his last nine games after getting just two assists in his first nine. Corey Perry remains an offensive force for the Ducks. His 12-game scoring streak is not only a career high, but the longest by any NHL player so far this season.

Injury report -- Ducks center Saku Koivu, out the last five games with a groin strain, skated on his own before practice Tuesday and for close to 15 minutes with the team. … Lightning defenseman Mattias Ohlund was wearing a walking boot on his injured right foot on Tuesday but he expects to be ready to play. Center Jeff Halpern sat out for what the team called "body maintenance."

Stat pack -- The stat sheet doesn't play out for the Ducks in some significant categories. They're not just near the bottom of the NHL in points (28th), but in goals allowed (3.42 per game, 27th) and penalty killing (74.2 percent, good for 28th) as well.

Lightning center Steven Stamkos is scoring goals but struggling in the faceoff circle. He won just 2 of 13 against the Coyotes and is 29-for-79 (36.7 percent) in his last six games. Since jamming his left wrist into the end boards in practice last week, he is just 11-for-38 (28.9 percent) in three games.

"You don't want to use the wrist as an excuse," Stamkos said to the St. Petersburg Times. "I just have to bear down and focus and keep practicing and get back in the groove."

Even with their recent success, the Bolts have been outshot in eight straight and 13 of 14. Overall, they have been outshot 577-491, and even period-by-period, 191-150 in the first, 198-172 in the second, 164-151 in the third and 24-18 in OT.

Puck drop -- It's still early, and a team with the Ducks' talent level shouldn't be languishing so low in the standings. Whatever solutions they come up with to dig themselves out of the hole, they'll be tested by a hot Lightning team.

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