After completing a three-game road sweep of the California teams with a 3-0 win at San Jose on Saturday, the Tampa Bay Lightning open a three-game homestand against the Vegas Golden Knights on Tuesday.
It will be the first game in 21 days at Amalie Arena for the Lightning since a 4-3 shootout victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Jan. 14. Tampa Bay, which is 15-7-2 at home this season including 7-0-1 since mid-December, then played six consecutive road games, including four in six days after a nine-day break for their bye week and the All-Star Game.
That four-game trip began with a 3-2 overtime loss at Dallas, but the Lightning bounced back for wins at Los Angeles (4-2), Anaheim (4-3) and the shutout at San Jose as backup goaltender Curtis McElhinney finished with 30 saves.
Steven Stamkos led the way for Tampa Bay on the western trip, earning NHL Second Star of the Week honors on Monday after scoring five goals to go along with three assists in the four games.
Stamkos has scored 23 goals, the 11th time in his 12 seasons that he has hit the 20-goal mark. He still believes there’s room for improvement for the Lightning, who are 15-2-1 in their last 18 games.
“It’s getting there,” Stamkos said. “I still don’t think we’re at the right mindset in terms of the way we control play and turn the puck over and make smart decisions. It’s getting better as we progress here after the break. I still think there are some areas we can improve in, but we are getting the results lately. It’s a process, and I like the direction we are heading.”
Interesting comments, especially since Tampa Bay claimed seven of a possible eight points on the challenging road trip.
“After the break it was a little sloppy to start but before that the run (12-2-0, 10 wins in a row) was outstanding,” Stamkos said. “I thought the best hockey obviously of the season so far because we paid attention to the details of defending, not turning pucks over, just really coming back hard. Our gap with our (defense) had been outstanding in the neutral zone.
“We’re trying to get back to that level is what I meant. After the break it was a little sloppy, but I think we are trending in the right direction.”
The Lightning are a perfect 8-0-0 against Pacific Division teams heading into Tuesday night’s game with the Golden Knights, who enter Monday in third place in the Pacific, just one point ahead of Calgary and two in front of fifth-place Arizona.
Vegas will be playing the seventh of eight consecutive road games that were split in half by the bye week and All-Star break. The Golden Knights come in off a back-to-back sweep at Carolina (4-3) on Friday and Nashville (3-0) on Saturday.
Marc-Andre Fleury picked up his 459th career victory, which is tied for fifth all-time with Henrik Lundqvist of the New York Rangers, and 59th career shutout, which ranks 18th all-time, in the victory over the Predators.
Vegas outshot Nashville, 14-2, in the first period, holding the Predators without a shot for a span of 16:37 and to just eight shots over the first two periods. The Golden Knights finished with a 77-42 advantage in shot attempts, including 19-4 in high-danger chances.
“I thought we defended hard, we were tight, and we got big saves when we needed to,” said Vegas coach Peter DeBoer.
“The battle is so close to make the playoffs here,” Fleury added. “Two big points for us, and we’ve got to keep it rolling.”
–Field Level Media