The Tampa Bay Lightning vie for their 10th victory in 11 games when they host the Atlantic Division-rival Montreal Canadiens on Thursday in their first meeting since the teams pulled off a blockbuster trade during the offseason. The Lightning dealt skilled forward Jonathan Drouin to the Canadiens for 19-year-old defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, who has registered more points (23) than anyone on Montreal’s roster this season.
Sergachev, who is the point man on Tampa Bay’s second power-play unit, entered Wednesday second among all NHL defensemen with eight goals and has added 15 assists while posting a plus-12 rating for the league’s top team. The Lightning (15-2-1 at home) lead the league in scoring and have been getting strong goaltending from Andrei Vasilevskiy (23-5-1, 2.13 goals-against average, .932 save percentage) as they prepare to face the Canadiens, who have dropped two in a row. Montreal managed just 24 shots in Wednesday’s 3-1 loss at Carolina. Drouin, who recorded 21 goals and 53 points with Tampa Bay last season, has been limited to 18 points in 32 games with the Canadiens - including just one in his seven contests this month.
TV: 7:30 p.m. ET, TSN2, RDS (Montreal), FSN Sun (Tampa Bay)
ABOUT THE CANADIENS (16-17-4): Alex Galchenyuk scored the only goal for Montreal on Wednesday to tie Andrew Shaw for second on the team with nine tallies and pull even with Phillip Danault for the club lead at 21 points. Captain Max Pacioretty, who is slated to play in his 600th NHL contest on Thursday, is mired in a 10-game goal-scoring drought and Brendan Gallagher has notched just one of his team-best 14 tallies in his last nine contests. All-Star defenseman Shea Weber (foot) did not make the trip and David Schlemko (illness) also sat out as fellow blue-liner Brett Lernout made his second straight appearance on Wednesday.
ABOUT THE LIGHTNING (26-7-2): Nikita Kucherov led the league in goals (24) and points (51) through the holiday break and has landed on the scoresheet in seven consecutive games, collecting five tallies and six assists during his streak. Captain Steven Stamkos has cooled off a bit but still has 45 points while linemate Vladislav Namestnikov has recorded five of his career-best 15 goals over his last nine contests. Tyler Johnson enters Thursday with the longest point streak on the team, a nine-game run during which he has recorded five goals and nine assists.
1. The Canadiens have earned at least one point in seven of the last eight meetings (6-1-1) but lost the last matchup 4-2 at home.
2. Tampa Bay D Victor Hedman has registered two goals, six assists and a plus-12 rating over his last six games.
3. Montreal C Tomas Plekanec is three points shy of 600 for his career.
PREDICTION: Lightning 3, Canadiens 2