The Tampa Bay Lightning won its first two games on this current five-game road trip and will look to make it three straight against the Sabres tonight.
Following a nail-biting 4-3 victory over the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday, the Tampa Bay Lightning head into Buffalo seeking its third straight win on the road. The Lightning previously won three straight during the opening homestand of the regular season.
Coming off of back-to-back wins over two Eastern Conference opponents earlier in the week, the Lightning look poised to make this a successful road trip and will certainly want to improve on their 5-4-0 record away from home. They are among only a handful of teams with five wins on the road this season thus far.
If the past is any indication, the Tampa Bay Lightning have a good chance of pulling out another win over the Buffalo Sabres tonight. Last season, Tampa Bay posted a 3-1-0 record against the Sabres and are 7-1-0 in Buffalo the past five seasons. In addition, Lightning goaltender Ben Bishop has never lost to the Sabres in regulation (8-0-1 in nine games) and he happens to be starting in net tonight for the Bolts.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Head-to-head, this is a pretty uneven match-up, despite the recent disappointing news surrounding one of the Lightning’s top players (more on that later), so let’s take a look at what both sides have faced coming into the first of four meetings between the two teams this season.
Simply put, the Tampa Bay Lightning is one of the best offensive teams in the NHL and it boasts two of the top three scorers in the league. Currently, forward Nikita Kucherov is second in the NHL with points (21) in 16 games played and has definitely picked up the pace following a slow start. The 23-year-old Russia native is scoring at a 1.31 points per game rate and will look to keep it up as the season moves along.
Captain Steven Stamkos is currently tied for third in the league with 20 points in 17 games played and is second on the team behind Kucherov. He also has three Power Play goals and seven points on the man advantage and is shooting at a 15.5 percent rate. There’s no doubt Stamkos was having one of his best starts of the season, especially in the past few games.
However, the team was faced with the devastating news that their leader and one of their top players would be out for an extended period of time on Thursday. Stamkos, who fell awkwardly along the boards during in the first period against Detroit, is projected to be out at least four months with a lateral meniscus tear. He flew out to Vail, Colorado today to meet with a knee specialist and will undergo arthroscopic knee surgery to repair it.
This is obviously heartbreaking news for many fans and it’s a tough one to swallow, especially since the 26-year-old sharpshooter has faced a few other major injuries in his career. If you can recall, this is the third one in the past three years, and even with him out, the Tampa Bay Lightning have found a way to win and be successful without their captain.
They’ll miss his offense and leadership, but it’s nothing they can’t overcome.
To make matters a bit better, it was announced that forward Jonathan Drouin will likely be back in the lineup tonight after missing seven games due to a concussion. However, the Lightning will be without defenseman Anton Stralman, so Luke Witkowski will likely mix in during the game.
On the Buffalo side of things, the Sabres have had their own slew of injuries problems thus far and will be without five players, most notably forwards Jack Eichel and Ryan O’Reilly. Not having those players healthy, among other things, hasn’t helped Buffalo, which currently sit at second to last in the Eastern Conference with a 5-7-4 record and a minus-9 goal differential.
Overall, the Sabres have struggled scoring goals (30th in the NHL with 30 goals in 16 games and a 1.88 goals per game rate), but aren’t necessarily giving up that many either. Buffalo has given up the ninth least amount of goals in the NHL and is allowing around 2.44 goals a game, which is just below the league average.
In terms of special teams and possession metrics, the Buffalo Sabres have the 11th best Power Play, converting on 20.8 percent of their chances, and the 15th best Penalty Kill, which is right around the league average at 82.8 percent. Buffalo is also below 50 percent in both the SAT and USAT categories and the team is getting around 28.4 shots on goal per game.
With injuries on both sides of the ice, it’ll be interesting to see who steps up and fills the void. Both teams are obviously looking for a win, though the Sabres may be more desperate for one. Expect Bishop to start in net for the Lightning and Robin Lehner to start for the Sabres.
The Tampa Bay Lightning will look to make it three straight wins tonight against the Buffalo Sabres. Despite the disappointing news surrounding the team’s captain, there’s reason to believe that the Lightning will pull through and continue to climb the standings as the season progresses. Tune in locally at 7 p.m. on Fox Sports Sun or Lightning Radio on 970 WFLA for puck drop. The game will also be available on the Fox Sports Go app in select areas. Go Bolts!
Projected lines (subject to change):
Tampa Bay Lightning
Ondrej Palat – Vladislav Namestnikov – Nikita Kucherov
Alex Killorn – Tyler Johnson – Brayden Point
Jonathan Drouin – Valtteri Filppula – Ryan Callahan
Cedric Paquette – Brian Boyle – J.T. Brown
Victor Hedman – Andrej Sustr
Jason Garrison – Nikita Nesterov
Slater Koekkoek – Braydon Coburn – Luke Witkowski
Evander Kane – Sam Reinhart – Kyle Okposo
Marcus Foligno – Johan Larsson – Brian Gionta
Evan Rodrigues – Zemgus Girgensons – Matt Moulson
Will Carrier – Derek Grant – Nick Baptiste
Josh Gorges – Rasmus Ristolainen
Jake McCabe – Cody Franson
Casey Nelson – Justin Falk