The Tampa Bay Lightning will be looking to build on their impressive performance against the Sharks on Thursday night when they go for two straight wins and four straight wins at home as they face off against the Buffalo Sabres tonight at The St. Pete Times Forum.
Tampa Bay (3-3-2) played arguably their best game of the season on Thursday, keyed by two goals by Steven Stamkos and a display of outstanding goaltending by Mike Smith. Smith, who earned his first win this year while stopping 32 of 34 shots, is expected to get the starting nod again tonight.
Marty St. Louis will look to extend his franchise-record eight-game scoring streak to start the season. He currently has nine assists, ranking him second in the NHL.
Ryan Malone claimed his seventh goal of the season Thursday, and now has six scores in the last five games. Malone has connected on 29.2 % of his shots.
Although his first goal of the season is long overdue, Vincent Lecavalier remains among the team scoring leaders with seven assists, including one on the first NHL goal ever by James Wright on Thursday night. Lecavalier also earned praise from the coaching staff for his defensive work against Joe Thornton, holding the Shark’s high-scoring center without a shot on goal for the evening.
“I think this was Vinny’s most solid game of the year,” Lightning Coach Rick Tocchet remarked. “I don’t care that he didn’t score, he was very solid.”
Tocchet also cautioned the team not to take too much from the win, explaining that the goal isn’t highs or lows, but steady play every night.
Arriving to test Tampa Bay’s equilibrium, however, are the Buffalo Sabres, who have started the season fast, going 5-1-1 to date and claiming the top spot in the Northeast Division. The Sabres made few changes in the off-season and are essentially the same team that finished 10th in the Eastern Conference last season, missing the playoffs for the second consecutive year.
The difference so far has been the consistent play of goaltender Ryan Miller, who has gone 5-0-1 on the season while compiling an impressive 1.65 goals-against average.
Forward Thomas Vanek is leading Buffalo in goals scored with four while center Derek Roy is setting the pace for assists with six.
The Sabres, who have yet to lose on the road this year, are in the midst of a three-game road swing, which opened Wednesday night with a 5-2 win over the Florida Panthers.
Expect the Lightning to leave it all on the ice and empty their tanks tonight; following this game they enjoy four days off at home before meeting the Ottawa Senators at the St. Pete Times Forum on Thursday.
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