LIGHTNING (2-1-2) at SENATORS (3-2-0)
Season Series -- It's the first meeting this season between these two teams, who sit at or near the top of their respective divisions. Ottawa took seven of eight points in the four-game series last season, winning twice via shutout and once in overtime after losing the first game in a shootout. The Senators have won four of the last five meetings and are 11-3-2 in the last 16 against the Bolts.
Big Story -- Everyone keeps waiting to see what identity the Senators will adopt this season after moving big gun Dany Heatley right before the start of training camp. So far, the Sens have been successful by applying a blue-collar, up-tempo work ethic to grind out games. Tampa Bay has adopted a similar style as it awaits an awakening from its own big gun -- Vincent Lecavalier.
Lightning -- Tampa Bay has yet to receive a goal from Lecavalier after five games. The big centre is a mere two seasons removed from a 52-goal campaign. Fortunately, Marty St. Louis, Steven Stamkos and Ryan Malone have been able to carry the load, scoring 11 of Tampa Bay's 15 goals this season. The Lightning will once again turn to goalie Mike Smith, the No. 1 starter who sat out the last two games nursing a minor back ailment.
Senators -- Goaltending has been the key for Ottawa so far this season. In fact, the team does not have a forward who has as many as three goals. Daniel Alfredsson, Mike Fisher and Peter Regin lead the team with two apiece. But the tandem of Pascal Leclaire and Brian Elliott has combined to allow just 13 goals in five games -- though Pittsburgh scored four in a 4-1 win at Ottawa on Monday, ending the Senators' three-game winning streak. Leclaire gets the start tonight.
Who's Hot -- St. Louis has nine points so far and Ryan Malone has already put together a hat-trick. Stamkos isn't suffering from the slow start that plagued his rookie season. But coach Rick Tocchet knows his team needs a more balanced attack if it hopes to stay in the top half of the Eastern Conference standings all season. "You are going to go through stretches during the season where one line is going to carry you," he told the Tampa Tribune. "But when you are successful as a team, that means you are doing a lot of the little things right. As the season goes on, it gets harder to get by with just one line like that.
"But I also think that if you play solid defence and have your special teams come through for you, it can help get you through some of those prolonged slumps. Eventually, though, you are going to need production from other lines.''
Injury Report -- Ottawa's Regin (upper body), who has been a revelation, and Jesse Winchester (right knee) took the pre-game skate with the team this morning but won't play until Saturday in Montreal at the soonest. Defenceman Filip Kuba is expected to skate tomorrow or Saturday and head coach Cory Clouston is hoping to have the Czech blueliner back for the Oct. 22 visit by the Nashville Predators. For Tampa Bay, Kurtis Forster, who played the point on the power play throughout the preseason, is making his return after missing three games. David Hale, who has the flu, is questionable for this contest.
Stat Pack -- Steven Stamkos has three goals in Tampa Bay's first five games. Last season, he did not register his third goal until Nov. 29 in appearance No. 23 of his rookie campaign. "His strength level is just through the roof compared to last year at that time," Tocchet said.
Puck Drop -- These two teams played four relatively close games last season, and it should be more of the same this year are both have adopted a more traditional north-south, drive-the-net game that is big on effort and far less reliant on the big offensive play.
--Shawn P. Roarke, NHL.com