It’s unusual for the Habs to go into Tampa Bay and think of it as a “measuring stick” game for themselves. Usually it’s the other way around. But the Lightning have been one of the best teams in the NHL’s Eastern Conference most of the year.
And yet, Tampa Bay may be coming back down to earth. They’ve been overtaken by the Bruins and slipped to third in the East. The Canadiens’ three straight wins coupled with two losses in a row by the Lightning have moved Montreal to within four points of Tampa Bay headed into Saturday’s game. The Bolts are 4-4-2 in their last 10 after a strong run from Jan 1 to Feb 1 which saw them take 20 of a possible 27 points, including a six game winning streak.
The Lightning offence has hit a dry patch — only six goals in their last four games. They scored eight against Phoenix on Feb. 23, but if you throw that game out, they have only 10 goals in the six games surrounding it.
One reason for their struggles of late is that Steven Stamkos’s production has tapered off. He still leads the league with 41 goals but we’ve hit the time of year when defences begin to tighten and checking becomes closer. In his last 10 games, Stamkos has but one goal. He’s been something of a streaky scorer before — 19 goals in 19 games during one stretch this season; and twice this season has gone six games without a goal.
But this time it’s different. He’s not even getting that many shots on net — just two in the last four games — and it’s not sitting well with him.
“I haven’t been getting the chances, and it’s been tough and it is
definitely frustrating,” Stamkos told Eric Erlendsson of The Tampa Tribune. “This is the times you do worry a little, because you are not getting
the chances. I have to start taking this upon myself
and start generating chances by working hard and concentrating on the
Lightning coach Guy Boucher believes Stamkos is passing up chances to shoot, looking for high quality opportunities and passing when he doesn’t see them. He’s encouraging Stamkos to shoot more. Who Jacques Martin deploys against Stamkos tonight and how well they check him may have a big say in the outcome of the game. Damian Christodero in The St. Petersburg Times reports that both Boucher and GM Steve Yzerman have spoken with Stamkos to help boost his confidence.
Regular observers of Lightning games note that another problem for them recently has been their inability to easily gain the offensive zone on the power play. Opponents may have started to figure out a way to stop the Bolts PP in the neutral zone, preventing entries before Stamkos and company can set up shop and he can unleash his deadly one-timers from the faceoff circle.
Still, the Lighting always seem ready for the Habs. The Canadiens have only won once in regulation against Tampa Bay in their last 10 meeting, with TB holding a 6-1-3 record in those games. They are 3-0-2 in their last five at home against the Habs.
As Pat Hickey mentioned in his Gazette story, both Vinny Lecavalier and Marc-Andre Bergeron are questionable for the game. Lecavalier had been playing his best hockey of the season — seven goals (six on the power play) and 12 points in nine games. The Lightning may also be without Steve Downie (ankle). Ryan Malone remains out with an abdominal muscle injury as does defenceman Mike Lundin.
Dwayne Roloson is expected to start in goal.