Heating-up Lightning host Sabres
At the quarter point of the NHL schedule, the Tampa Bay Lightning are finally starting to get their season back to the way it was a season ago.
The Lightning host the Buffalo Sabres on Monday in the third of four meetings between the Atlantic Division opponents.
They meet for the final time of the season in Buffalo on New Year’s Eve. The first contests were not typical matches between two Eastern Conference playoff hopefuls.
As part of the 2019 NHL Global Series, Tampa Bay and Buffalo met in Sweden — the homeland of a pair of standout Swedish defensemen, the Lightning’s Victor Hedman and the Sabres’ Rasmus Dahlin — for games on Nov. 8 and 9 in Stockholm.
The Lightning won the games in Europe 3-2 and 5-3, and Hedman notched a power-play goal that thrilled the home crowd in the second victory.
“For me, coming home and finishing it off with two wins was a tremendous experience,” said Hedman, a native of Ornskoldsvik.
Tampa Bay sports a 5-3-0 record in November.
Team captain Steven Stamkos said the trip overseas and the good results were important and could be a turning point in what was a mediocre start to the campaign.
“In a funny way, I think this is what our team needed,” Stamkos said of the experience. “We became tighter as a group on this trip, and you saw it on the ice.”
The recent results support Stamkos’ claims.
In November, Tampa Bay has looked more like the club that authored an historic 62-16-4 mark a year ago than the one that has lost nine times in the first 20 games this season — almost half as many defeats as all of last year before the schedule even gets to Thanksgiving.
Against Anaheim on Saturday to open a three-game homestand, Brayden Point scored two goals and Andrei Vasilevskiy posted 36 saves as the Lightning turned back the Ducks 6-2 to win for the fifth time in seven games.
Injuries have hamstrung the Sabres’ forward group, sidelining Vladimir Sobotka, Marcus Johansson, Kyle Okposo, and Tage Thompson — all on the injured reserve. Okposo’s concussion has him out indefinitely.
But banged up Buffalo received some good news Thursday when defenseman Zach Bogosian was activated from injured reserve.
The team placed fellow rearguard John Gilmour on waivers, putting the Sabres’ defensive corps back at full strength.
Bogosian, 29, had hip surgery in April shortly after last season ended, and the recovery time was estimated to be five to six months.
The Massena, N.Y., native played in his first game this season and notched 22:03 of ice time in Sunday’s 5-2 win over the Florida Panthers in Sunrise, Fla.
Bogosian also recorded an assist for the Sabres, who scored on four of their first 14 shots and won for just the second time in 11 games.
“Just be patient,” Buffalo coach Ralph Krueger said of his advice to Bogosian. “It’s been a long time, and the team is here to support him.”
Part of that support was Buffalo playing with seven defensemen and 11 forwards in the win, which broke a three-game losing streak.
–Field Level Media