National Hockey League

Streaking Lightning kick off trip vs. slumping Sabres

nhl1LIGHTNING (20-13-4) AT SABRES (17-16-7)
7 p.m. ET; MSG-B, FS-SUN, NHL.TV

The Tampa Bay Lightning have enjoyed their results at home in December, but the start of 2020 will see the Atlantic Division club taking their show on the road.

Head coach Jon Cooper and his group of Bolts will begin a four-game road trip with a 7 p.m. ET puck drop on Tuesday night in Buffalo against the slumping Sabres in the teams’ final meeting this season.

Tampa Bay feasted on its home schedule in December by earning points in seven of 10 contests (6-3-1), but now it will have to have to maintain the momentum by playing in Buffalo, Montreal, Ottawa and Carolina.

The club’s success within the division cannot be overlooked either.

After starting the season 2-2-0 against its foes from the Atlantic, the team has won 11 straight, routinely gaining ground and inching up the standings as they chase leader Boston, second-place Toronto and down-state rival Florida, in third.

Tampa Bay has been victorious in all three games against Buffalo, outscoring first-year head coach Ralph Krueger’s squad 13-7 in a trio of regulation wins.

The first two contests were in Stockholm as part of the NHL’s Global Series early in November, allowing Swedish locals to see homegrown stars like Tampa Bay’s Victor Hedman, who was named the league’s First Star of the Week on Monday, and Buffalo’s Rasmus Dahlin.

The Lightning earned a pair of one-goal wins in regulation over the weekend, beating Montreal 5-4 — despite being outshot 17-0 to start the game — and Detroit 2-1.

They earned their franchise-record 16th straight regular-season victory over the Red Wings — the third-longest win streak over one opponent in NHL history.

Sunday’s win over Detroit also marked the return of Lightning defenseman Braydon Coburn, who had missed the club’s last 13 games with a lower-body injury.

“We’ve won a couple of now, but it’s basically keeping us in the pack,” Cooper said. “Everyone (in the conference is) playing well.”

Buffalo is looking to salvage one game in the season series and play better without high-scoring winger Jeff Skinner.

Like last season, the Sabres started fast in the current campaign but began to fade before the calendar flipped the page on the new year.

Now riding a three-game losing streak after Sunday’s 3-2 loss in Boston, the club has only won once since the middle of December — a 3-2 home win over Los Angeles — and is 1-5-1 in its last seven matches.

Worse still, Buffalo will have to grow accustomed to playing without the dynamic Skinner, who produced a team-best 40-goals wearing a Sabres sweater for the first time last season.

The club announced on Saturday that Skinner, 27, will miss the next three to four weeks with an upper-body injury suffered Friday, sidelining the smooth-skating 10-year veteran while his teammates try to make up Atlantic ground.

Skinner’s 11 goals in 39 games puts him fourth on the Buffalo roster, which is led by captain Jack Eichel (24 markers), Victor Olofsson (16) and Sam Reinhart (12).

Though Skinner is without a tally in his last 11 games, Krueger said he saw improvements in the winger’s game.

“It’s definitely a setback as he was really feeling good of late, too, and it looked like he was on the verge of breaking out,” Krueger said. “We all know he’s streaky and we could’ve used that streakiness now.”

–Field Level Media

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