'Always a great challenge': Red Wings look to end long losing streak against Lightning
Detroit — The Tampa Bay Lightning don’t lose often to anyone in the NHL these days, and especially the Red Wings.
The Lightning have defeated the Wings 13 consecutive times in the regular season, including twice this season.
The last time the teams met, Dec. 4, the Lightning rallied to defeat the Wings 6-5 in a shootout.
“They’re a good team,” forward Justin Abdelkader said. “Over the last number of games, you look back at those games, we played them real well. We’ve been right there, we’ve led games, we’ve let games get away from us.
“It’s always a great challenge. We’ve had some good games, good rivalries with them. I would say right now, they’re the top end of the league.”
In an age of parity around the NHL, it’s amazing what the Lightning are accomplishing this season.
With 106 points (51-13-4), the Lightning are 15 ahead of the next team (division rival Boston).
The Lightning have both the No. 1-ranked power play (29.0 percent) and penalty kill (85.6 percent) in the NHL.
Forward Nikita Kucherov is the leading contender for the Hart Trophy (most valuable player) with a league-leading 108 points, while defending Norris Trophy (best defenseman) Victor Hedman (42 points) and potential Vezina Trophy (best goaltender) winner Andrei Vasilevskiy (.931 SVS, 2.24 GAA) are also having outstanding seasons.
And we haven’t even gotten to forwards Brayden Point (37 goals) or Steven Stamkos (34 goals).
“They have the complete package,” defenseman Niklas Kronwall said. “You have to be structurally sound defensively and try to take away all their time and space. When you talk about all the best teams and players, you try to take away their time and space and be strong in front of your net.
“They have some unbelievable talent.”
Playing the Lightning is always an experience for coach Jeff Blashill, as some of his best friends in the game include Lightning coach Jon Cooper and assistant coach Derek Lalonde.
As friends do, Blashill has occasionally heard about the streak in a good-natured way.
“But you know what, in the end you win lots you can stick your chest out a little bit,” Blashill said. “That’s life. All we can do about it is go and play great hockey and try to win a hockey game.”
Larkin still out
Forward Dylan Larkin will miss the games in Tampa and Florida this weekend with a back strain.
Blashill said Larkin will be re-evaluated before Tuesday’s game in Montreal. Larkin will also get a second opinion to confirm that there’s nothing structurally wrong.
“Precautionary reasons,” Blashill said of the second opinon. “Get a second opinion and make sure there’s nothing more to it. We’ll know more Tuesday where he’s at.”
Blashill likened the situation to “a spasm.”
With Larkin's availability uncertain, forward Christoffer Ehn will remain with the Wings through the weekend.
Zadina 'more dangerous'
Blashill is pleased with the progress of forward Filip Zadina over the rookie’s first five games.
“He’s gotten more dangerous as he’s stayed here,” Blashill said. “The depth in his game is pretty good for a young player. He stops on pucks, he blocks shots, he doesn’t circle a ton. He’s not perfect but he’s ahead of the game that way more than a lot of young players.”
Zadina will remain with the Wings for four more games before returning to Grand Rapids, so as not to burn a year off his entry level contract.
Red Wings at Lightning
Faceoff: 7 p.m. Saturday, Amalie Arena, Tampa, Fla.
TV/radio: FSD/97.1 FM
Outlook: The Lightning (51-13-4) have beaten the Wings 13 consecutive times in the regular season. … Tampa is coming off a surprising 3-0 defeat Thursday against Minnesota, ending an eight-game winning streak. … RW Nikita Kucherov (108 points) is the leading candidate to win the NHL’s MVP award.