The Tampa Bay Lightning have cooled off slightly after a strong start and face a serious challenge this week when they begin a three-game west coast trip against the surging San Jose Sharks on Wednesday night. The Lightning, who also play Los Angeles and Anaheim on the trip, have dropped two of their last four games and avoided a third defeat during that stretch by outlasting Columbus 5-4 in a shootout Saturday.
“When we’ve had a little bit of a stinker, we’ve responded,” Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper told reporters. “You’ve got to like that about your group. The big thing is, you just can’t have the stinkers every second night. But I’ve really liked the way the guys have responded when we’ve had a subpar performance.” A big reason for that positive response is the play of goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy, who owns at least a point in 11 straight games, and the 23-year-old Russian will likely take on another red-hot netminder in Martin Jones on Wednesday. Jones (7-3-0, 1.98 goals-against average) has allowed no more than two goals in eight straight games and was named the NHL’s third star of the week on Monday. The Sharks have won four straight contests and permitted only nine goals in their last six outings after edging Anaheim 2-1 in a shootout Saturday.
TV: 10:30 p.m. ET, NBC Sports Network
ABOUT THE LIGHTNING (11-2-2): Captain Steven Stamkos tops the league with 25 points and linemate Nikita Kucherov leads the NHL with 14 goals while seven players have registered double-figure points in the early going. Brayden Point (seven goals, 16 points) centers the second line that has been a force on both sides of the ice with Yanni Gourde, who has scored in three straight games, and Ondrej Palat (four goals, nine points). Norris Trophy finalist Victor Hedman managed one goal in the first 15 games after scoring a career-high 16 in 2016-17, but has 10 assists - five in the last three contests.
ABOUT THE SHARKS (8-5-0): San Jose could get top-four defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic (concussion) back after a one-game absence and veteran blueliner Paul Martin (ankle) is closing in on his season debut. “They did a good job,” Sharks coach Peter DeBoer said of his defense Saturday. “It’s not easy taking (Vlasic) out. You see his importance. We bent but didn’t break.” Center Logan Couture leads the offense with eight goals (three on the power play) and 12 points while captain Joe Pavelski is tied for second on the team with four tallies and needs one to reach 300 in his career.
1. Sharks F Kevin Labanc, who has seven points but only one in the last six games, was reassigned to the American Hockey League’s San Jose Barracuda.
2. Tampa Bay F Chris Kunitz is scheduled to play his 900th game Wednesday.
3. San Jose won the last three meetings, including a 2-1 triumph in San Jose last season, and six of the past eight.
PREDICTION: Sharks 4, Lightning 3