TAMPA, Fla. -- It might be early in the season, but the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Florida Panthers have been speeding in opposite directions.
The Panthers (1-4-0) will face the Lightning (4-1-0) on Tuesday night at the Tampa Bay Times Forum in the first of five games this season between the teams. The Panthers arrive staggering, having dropped their past four games in regulation. Saturday night in Sunrise, they were manhandled by the Philadelphia Flyers, 7-1.
Florida has been hit by some key injuries, but forward Kris Versteeg is set to return to the lineup and make his season debut against the Lightning.
For Tampa Bay, the picture could not be more different. The Lightning are riding a four-game win streak and have yet to lose on home ice through three contests. Their game on Sunday was perhaps their best of the season, a solid 5-1 victory over the Flyers.
In that game, eight different players hit the score sheet for Tampa Bay, and five games into the season, 12 skaters have found the back of the net. Steven Stamkos has a five-game season-long scoring streak entering Tuesday, and Martin St. Louis has eight assists, including four against the Flyers.
Despite the positives, Lightning coach Guy Boucher is taking nothing for granted against their cross-state rival.
"Their coach (Kevin Dineen) said he was really disappointed after their last game and that they would be ready for the next one," Boucher said. "They have urgency, they have lost four in a row, Versteeg's back -- they will come out charging."
For his part, Boucher doesn't plan to mess with what is working and the Lightning will send out a lineup identical to their previous game.
For the Panthers, Drew Shore, who played in the AHL All-Star Game on Monday in Providence, R.I., should be back in time to be in the lineup.
"Drew’s made some good strides early," Dineen said, "and his compete level is fairly high, so he deserves to continue to get a quality shot here."
But the big addition for Florida is Versteeg.
"Our confidence level is not huge right now," Dineen said, "but one of Versteeg's strengths is that he can go out and affect the outcome of the game."
Ryan Malone – Steven Stamkos – Martin St. Louis
Cory Conacher – Vincent Lecavalier – Teddy Purcell
Adam Hall – Nate Thompson – B.J. Crombeen
Tom Pyatt – Benoit Pouliot – Dana Tyrell
Eric Brewer – Matthew Carle
Victor Hedman – Sami Salo
Brian Lee – Keith Aulie
Scratches: Brendan Mikkelson, Pierre-Cedric Labrie, Marc-Andre Bergeron
Kris Versteeg – Tomas Kopecky – Tomas Fleischmann
Jonathan Huberdeau – Peter Mueller – Alex Kovalev
Scottie Upshall – Shawn Matthias – Drew Shore
George Parros – Jerred Smithson – Jack Skille
Filip Kuba – Brian Campbell
Ed Jovanovski – Keaton Ellerby
Mike Weaver – Dmitry Kulikov
Scratches: Mike Santorelli, Tyson Strachan
Injuries: Stephen Weiss, Marcel Goc, Sean Bergenheim, Erik Gudbranson, Michael Caruso