The Tampa Bay Lightning will try to convert the improved efforts of the last four periods played into the first victory of the season when they host the Atlanta Thrashers (2-2-1) tonight at the St. Pete Times Forum.
Beginning with period three against the New York Islanders, and carrying over to the entire game that Minnesota won in a shootout, the Lightning have put together some good hockey but they have yet to grab that first elusive win, mostly due to a goal shortage, which the team hopes will end soon. Despite featuring plenty of firepower in the lineup, the offense has scored a league-low eight goals.
“We’re being tested now,” Coach Barry Melrose said following the Minnesota game. “The commitment, the energy, the passion – there were so many positives tonight.”
Tampa Bay defense, by contrast, has allowed just 12 goals in five games and has been improving with each game. The addition of Lukas Krajicek and the return from injured reserve of Paul Ranger has had a stabilizing influence on the “D” unit.
The Lightning has also enjoyed outstanding work in the net from the duo of Mike Smith and Olaf Kolzig. Together, they have combined for a 2.40 Goals Against average, eighth best in the NHL.
Atlanta, like the Lightning, has had their struggles on the power play so far this season and has found goals elusive. They have failed to score on their last 21 power-play opportunities and have managed only seven goals in the last four games.
The Thrashers come into town off a shootout win in Buffalo on Saturday night, handing the Sabres their first loss of the season.
Beyond last season, when the Lightning posted a 2-4-2 record against the Thrashers, their first losing record since the 1999-00 season, the Lightning have enjoyed a 16-7-1-1 all-time record against Atlanta at home.
Coach Melrose has selected Mike Smith to start in net tonight. Lightning forward Gary Roberts is expected to participate in his 1,200th career NHL game Tuesday.
“We have to believe that if we keep playing like this, we’ll be rewarded,” Coach Barry Melrose said.