The Lightning will be paid back, in spades, later this season for all the time they're putting in on the road, but right now, the stretch of short trips away broken up by even shorter "homestands" is a grind. The Lightning have played 14 games in 28 days so far this month, nine of them on the road with only two consecutive home games. Head coach Guy Boucher noted after Saturday night's shootout loss to the Florida Panthers that this is by far the toughest part of the team's schedule and that the biggest challenge is finding time to practice. Still, the Lightning (13-8-3, 2nd Southeast Division) have done well enough to find themselves 5th overall in the Eastern Conference, and that's with Simon Gagne and team captain Vincent Lecavalier missing significant time due to injuries. Of course, t doesn't hurt that Steven Stamkos remains red-hot. WIth a league-leading 21 goals, people are starting to talk aloud about possible 50-in-50 scenarios. All the attention on Stamkos has taken attention away from the superb play of Martin St. Louis, as well as the production the Bolts have gotten from Teddy Purcell, Sean Bergenheim, Nate Thompson, Adam Hall and Dominic Moore. Even beter news is that reports indicate Gagne could rejoin the lineup soon and that Lecavalier is rehabbing on schedule and should be back in two to three weeks.
This week's schedule is a perfect example of what the Lightning have faced in terms of travel this month; two games on the road and then a single home game before heading out for three games in western Canada.
First up is a visit to the Air Canada Centre in Toronto to face the Maple Leafs (8-11-3, 5th, Northeast Division) on Tuesday. The Leafs started the season hot but depth issues have caught up with them and they find themselves in last place, having gone 3-6-1 in their last ten games, currently mired in a four-game losing streak. Phil Kessell leads the team in goals with 10 while Clarke MacArthur leads in points (18) and assists (11). Jonas Gustavsson is the primary netminder, now that Jean-Sebastien Giguere is out with a groin injury.
Thursday, the Bolts head to Boston to take on the Blruins (12-7-2, 2nd, Northeast Division). The two teams just met on November 22nd, with Tampa Bay winning that contest 3-1 at the St. Pete Times Forum. As noted at the time, Boston is one of the NHL's best defensive teams, paced by the stellar goaltending of Tim Thomas (1.56 GAA and a .951 save percentage). Nathan Horton leads the team in points with 18.
Saturday night, the Lightning are home long enough to check their mail, feed the cats and oh yeah, play the Colorado Avalanche (13-9-1, 2nd, Northwest Division). The Avalanche are 6-4-0 in their last ten games and are led offensively by Milan Hejduk, with 26 points and by Peter Budaj replacing the injured Craig Anderson in goal. Colorado has run into a string of injury problems recently. Along with Anderson, David Koci, Chris Stewart, Daniel Winnick and Adam Foote are all banged up to varying degrees.