The Eastern Conference-leading Tampa Bay Lightning hope to find the spark that led to a red-hot start when they begin a four-game homestand against the surging San Jose Sharks on Saturday. The Lightning have dropped four of their last six contests after earning at least one point in 17 of their first 19 games this season, and they managed just seven goals during a lackluster 1-3-0 road trip that ended with Wednesday’s 3-2 setback at Boston.
“The season is a roller coaster,” Tampa Bay left wing Chris Kunitz told reporters. “You don’t ever get too high. Don’t believe what everyone is telling you the first week, and don’t buy into what everyone is telling you a week before Christmas. … We know we haven’t played up to our snuff for 60 minutes and know we can be better.” The Sharks must contain the Lightning’s top line of captain Steven Stamkos - the league’s leading point producer (37) - Nikita Kucherov and Vladislav Namestnikov, which totaled three goals and six assists in a 5-1 victory at San Jose on Nov. 8. The Sharks are a different team now, however, recording at least one point in six straight games (4-0-2) after edging Florida 2-1 on Friday. Captain Joe Pavelski scored his 300th career goal in the victory to snap an 11-game drought as San Jose has outscored opponents 9-2 over the last three contests.
TV: 7 p.m. ET, NBCSN California (San Jose), FSN Sun (Tampa Bay)
ABOUT THE SHARKS (14-8-2): Backup Aaron Dell turned aside 61-of-63 shots in the last two games, but No. 1 goaltender Martin Jones (.935 save percentage in November) could return Saturday after dealing with a minor injury. Joonas Donskoi (12 points) missed Friday’s game due to an undisclosed injury while defenseman Tim Heed (upper body) also sat out and both are considered day-to-day. Logan Couture was kept off the scoresheet Friday but has registered six points in as many games and leads the team with 21 - five better than Joe Thornton, who notched an assist in the win.
ABOUT THE LIGHTNING (17-6-2): Tampa Bay has been fairly healthy through the first two months of the season but was missing four players at practice on Friday and must use some of its depth this weekend. Cedric Paquette is serving a one-game suspension for an illegal hit on Wednesday and Cory Conacher was recalled, but defenseman Jake Dotchin could miss his sixth straight contest while Ryan Callahan and blue-liner Braydon Coburn both sat out Friday - all with undisclosed injuries. Kucherov tops the team with 17 goals but has gone six games without one.
1. The Sharks have won four straight meetings at Tampa Bay, including a 3-1 triumph last season.
2. The Lightning have recorded a power-play goal in five straight games and 10 of their last 11.
3. San Jose RW Joel Ward needs one point to reach 300 for his career and Couture is three away from 400.
PREDICTION: Lightning 4, Sharks 2