Lightning start eight-game road trip against Wild
SAINT PAUL, Minn. -- In football, much is made of a team's record coming out of the bye week. It's less discussed in hockey, and heading into their road game versus the Minnesota Wild on Saturday, the Tampa Bay Lightning would like to forget all about it.
Tampa still holds a solid lead atop the Eastern Conference, but had lopsided losses both before and after their five-day break, leaving the Bolts looking for answers as they head into an eight-game road trip.
"We've lost 9-2 in our last two home games. That's a concern, for a place that's usually a pretty tough place to play for teams. We haven't made it too tough the last two games," said Lightning coach John Cooper after his team dropped a 4-1 game to the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday.
"I think our team works pretty hard. They're just not working smart. They know the right way to play, and they know they're not playing the right way. We're just taking a lot of easy routes out right now that we never took before."
The Lightning have leaned on top goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy all season but suddenly fear they're leaning on him too much as their goal scoring has hit a drought.
"We're giving up way too many goals and having to rely on Vassy way too much," said right winger Steven Stamkos. "We need to take a look in the mirror, starting with myself, and give more of a passionate performance. You can't just go out there and expect to win."
The Wild had their bye during the week, and have not played since a home overtime loss to the Vancouver Canucks last Sunday. The time off was not enough to heal right winger Nino Niederreiter, who is still recovering from a lower body injury, and is now expected out until after the All-Star break. In his absence, the Wild recalled former University of Minnesota star Kyle Rau, who signed with the Wild as a free agent over the summer after playing 33 games for the Florida Panthers over the previous two seasons.
While the Wild were idle, the rest of the Central Division was going 8-0-1 during the week, meaning Minnesota has more ground to make up in the quest for a return to the playoffs. Wild coach Bruce Boudreau said he watched division rivals win games all week, powerless to do anything about it.
"I wish we didn't have (the break) because when you're watching every night and every Western Conference team is winning, it sort of angers you," Boudreau said. It is what it is, I'm just glad we're back here playing."
Wild top goalie Devan Dubnyk and his wife had a son during the break, and joked that he planned the break for then, but is anxious to get back on the ice.
"It's strange to have this many days off in the middle of the season, but as soon as you get back on the ice, it feels normal again," Dubnyk said.
Updated January 20, 2018