Lightning juggernaut hits the road to face Ducks
When the Anaheim Ducks face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Monday at Honda Center, it might seem like nothing has changed since the last time they met five weeks ago.
The Ducks (19-15-6) are trying to work their way out of a five-game losing streak, while the Lightning continue to wear out opposing nets and stack up victories with their high-scoring offense.
The Lightning (30-7-2) have won 13 of their past 14 games (13-0-1). The last time they didn't earn at least a point was a 3-1 loss against the visiting Ducks on Nov. 27. That was also the last time Tampa Bay has been held to fewer than three goals.
The Lightning had combined for 16 goals during a three-game winning streak when Anaheim arrived earlier this season. The Ducks were two days removed from a 5-2 loss at the Nashville Predators, dropping them to 5-9-4 over a five-week stretch with two goals or fewer in 13 of those games.
But the Ducks scored two goals within the same minute early in the third period and held on for the much-needed win behind 34 saves from backup goalie Ryan Miller.
The win was the start of a 9-1-0 surge, but the run seemed to hit a wall when the New York Rangers scored twice in the final 40 seconds of regulation in a 3-1 victory Dec. 18. The Ducks haven't won since.
After combining for four goals in the first four games of the current losing streak, Anaheim was looking good as it built a 4-2 lead with just under eight minutes remaining in the second period against the visiting Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night, but the Coyotes erased a two-goal deficit for the third time and won 5-4 in overtime.
Ducks coach Randy Carlyle remains confident the Ducks have the personnel and style of play to be successful against any type of opponent.
"We feel if we stick with it and stick with our template, if we can continue to play that strong forecheck and cycle down low, we'll get our opportunities to score," he said after the loss to the Coyotes. "Right now, with our lineup and the way we're made up, we have to develop that blue-collar and stay-at-home type of defending through the middle of the ice much better than we did tonight."
The Ducks breathed a sigh of relief when goalie John Gibson was able to play against the Coyotes after leaving a 4-2 loss at the San Jose Sharks on Thursday with an upper-body injury. Miller is already out another four weeks after sustaining a knee injury earlier this month. He and Gibson have combined to give Anaheim the top save percentage in the NHL at .916.
That number took a hit when Gibson gave up five goals on 30 shots against Arizona, which came in as the third-lowest scoring team in the NHL at 2.49 goals a game.
Tampa Bay has shown it can give up a high volume of goals as well. Its last two opponents have scored five goals apiece, and five of the past six have scored at least three.
"We've got to grow a little more here in that regard and not expect the track-meet game, although we can play it, but it's not the ideal formula as we move forward," Tampa Bay coach Jon Cooper said after a 6-5 victory against the Montreal Canadiens on Saturday.
The Lightning's Nikita Kucherov leads the NHL with 63 points, including six goals and 15 assists during a 10-game point streak.
Updated December 30, 2018