Blackhawks return home to face struggling Lightning
- NHL.com Staff Writer
LIGHTNING (11-11-9) at BLACKHAWKS (19-8-3)
Last 10 --
Tampa Bay 2-6-2; Chicago 6-3-1
Season series --
This will be the only meeting of the season between Chicago and Tampa Bay. The Blackhawks won their sole matchup with the Lightning last season, 5-3, on Feb. 17 at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Big Story --
Tampa Bay will try to put the breaks on its current slump against the Central Division-leading Blackhawks while continuing on its season-high six-game road trip.
The Bolts could certainly ask to be in better shape as they make the second stop on this road swing. Tampa Bay has won just one of its last eight games, dropping from the thick of the East's top eight to the outside looking in. One could stick the blame on goaltender Mike Smith, who has won just once in his last five starts. While Smith has given up at least three goals in four of the five games over that stretch, he has gotten very little help from his defense. Smith hasn't faced fewer than 30 shots in any of those five games.
The offense, too, is wounded for the Bolts. While Ryan Malone managed to play Friday after leaving Wednesday's loss to the Oilers with an injury, center Steven Stamkos did not. Stamkos, who will likely be a game-time decision after suffering an upper-body injury against Edmonton, has had a breakout sophomore season, leading the Lightning with 17 goals. Tampa Bay could use Stamkos in the lineup, and after not scoring in seven games, last year's No. 1 pick is due for some production.
The brief homecoming for Buffalo-native Patrick Kane
and former-Sabres Brian Campbell
did not go as planned Friday. While Kane did manage to tally an assist in front of his friends and family, it was still the ninth straight game without a goal for the 2008 Calder Trophy winner, and a frustrating 2-1 loss for the Hawks -- their fourth in the last seven games.
The Blackhawks will try to get back in the groove they were in last month during their eight-game winning streak by opening up a five-game homestand. The friendly confines of the United Center have been particularly comforting to the Hawks this year, with their 12 home wins the most in the League. Starting goalie Cristobal Huet
, who had an impressive 31 saves in the loss to Buffalo Friday, may be even more comfortable at home than the rest of the Hawks, having won nine of his last 10 starts in Chicago.
Who's Hot --
Despite only scoring six goals this season, winger Martin St. Louis
leads the Lightning with 33 points, including five in his last four games. Chicago's Jonathan Toews
, meanwhile, has four goals in his last six games.
Injury Report --
Stamkos is still considered day-to-day for Tampa Bay, while the Blackhawks will be missing Dave Bolland
, who has been out since early November following back surgery.
Stat Pack --
To say Vincent Lecavalier is off to a slow start might be putting it mildly. Just two years removed from consecutive 40-goal campaigns, the former No. 1 pick has only lit the lamp six times in 31 games this season. At that pace, Lecavalier would finish the year with roughly 16 goals, which would be his lowest total since scoring 13 goals in 1998-99 -- his first season.
Puck Drop --
While Tampa Bay waits for the return of Stamkos and a revival of its offense, the Bolts can still jump into a tie with Montreal for eighth in the East with a game in hand despite their recent stumble in the standings. The job won't be easy against Chicago, which would like a bigger cushion in the Central -- the Hawks only lead the surprising Predators by two points -- and doing so in the United Center could be even harder. The Lightning hasn't won in Chicago since March of 2004, three months before Tampa Bay won its only Stanley Cup.