The Tampa Bay Lightning, widely picked to be one of the top Eastern Conference teams, will host the Pittsburgh Penguins, one of the better teams in the conference so far, Wednesday at Amalie Arena.
The Lightning are led offensively by the expected suspects — Steven Stamkos has nine points, Nikita Kucherov eight, Kevin Shattenkirk and Victor Hedman seven each through eight games — but nonetheless the team has been doing the equivalent of treading water, mostly trading wins and losses.
Most recently was a 6-2 loss at home Saturday against Colorado.
“We’ve got to get it consistent, find that motivation and find that competitiveness right from the first puck drop,” Tampa Bay defenseman Ryan McDonagh told the Tampa Bay Times. “We’ve got to look each other in the eye at the start of each game and make sure that we’re all there and ready to battle for one another.”
The Lightning has been at its best in games following losses when the coaching staff has gotten in the players’ kitchen and challenged them to bounce back.
“You look at the Carolina and Ottawa (losses), they probably weren’t our best efforts. (The coaches) challenged the team, and they responded,” coach Jon Cooper said.
Against the Penguins, the Lightning is looking for yet another rebound game.
Toward that end, with no games since Saturday, Tampa Bay coaches ran a long, rigorous practice Monday.
“The ice was getting bad at the end (of the practice), and we still competed,” Lightning forward Mathieu Joseph told the Times.
Tampa Bay then took a day off from practice Tuesday.
Pittsburgh, conversely, played Tuesday night, a 4-2 loss at Florida, and then traveled to Tampa.
After scoring 23 goals during a five-game winning streak, the Penguins have mustered just two over the past two games, both losses. Partly, they ran into goaltenders who had strong games — Vegas’ Marc-Andre Fleury shut them out, and Florida’s Sergei Bobrovsky allowed two goals.
“I love how our team’s competing. I think we’re competing hard,” coach Mike Sullivan said of a Pittsburgh team that is missing several key forwards because of injuries. A few seem to be nearing a return, but not as soon as Wednesday.
“I love our resilience,” Sullivan said. “I just think we keep playing the game. We’ve got good energy. We’re a resilient group.”
Backup goaltender Tristan Jarry is a good bet to start for the Penguins given the back-to-back games after Matt Murray started Tuesday. Jarry is 1-1 in two starts — both during back-to-back setups.
He has given up just three goals in those two starts. He was on the wrong end of Fleury’s shutout Saturday.
Jarry beat out Casey DeSmith for the backup role this season after it was the reverse last year. It was also in part a business move — Jarry requires going through waivers to be sent to the American Hockey League; DeSmith did not.
The Penguins seem happy with the decision so far.
“Oh, I think he’s been real solid,” Sullivan said of Jarry. “Both of our goalies have been real solid. They’re giving us a chance to win, making timely saves. Tristan has had two strong games. You can’t always control the outcome.”
–Field Level Media