LIGHTNING (5-4-4) at SENATORS (6-4-2)
Last 10 -- Lightning 5-3-2; Senators 5-3-2
Season series -- The teams have split their two meetings, with the home team winning both times -- easily. The Senators beat the Lightning 7-1 at Scotiabank Place on Oct. 15, and Tampa Bay beat Ottawa 5-2 at the St. Pete Times Forum two weeks later. The Lightning will host the Senators on April 8 in the final meeting this season. Ottawa won three of four games in 2008-09, including one in overtime.
Big story -- Both teams' top centers are struggling this season. Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier has only 2 goals and 9 assists, has been criticized by coach Rick Tocchet and demoted to playing on checking lines. He got his second goal this season Tuesday night in Toronto, a game the Lightning won 2-1 on Ryan Malone's overtime goal. The Lightning are an improved team this season, but they won't go far if Lecavalier can't meet or beat his 11-year career averages of 27 goals and 62 points.
Senators center Jason Spezza missed the past two games with a back injury but he practiced Wednesday and hopes to play. Spezza has no goals and 8 assists in 10 games this season. The Senators are an improved team but won't go far if Spezza can't play up to his career averages of 21 goals and 61 points.
It might surprise some people but Spezza (1.03 points per game in his career) has been a better points producer than Lecavalier (0.85 ppg). Lecavalier won the Stanley Cup with TampaBay in 2004 while Spezza helped his team to the 2007 Stanley Cup Final, where they lost to Anaheim.
Lightning -- Tampa Bay is 1-4-1 on the road this season while the Senators, at 3-2-2, haven't been very successful at home. The Lightning have been outscored 20-10 in their road games, have been outshot 140-100 in those games and are 1-for-16 on the power play with only 21 shots.
Senators -- With three key players injured and another (center Mike Fisher) trying to play though an injury, Ottawa caught a break with only one game scheduled in the past week. They've got a chance to make some hay, with eight of their next nine games at home. This is a team that was out of contention when coach Cory Clouston was hired last Feb. 2. The Senators then went 19-11-4 to finish fourth in the Northeast Division. Now, they are in second place in the Northeast and in contention for their fourth division title this decade.
Who's hot -- Lightning center Steven Stamkos, the No. 1 pick in the 2008 Entry Draft, is tied for second in the NHL with 11 goals and leads the League with five power-play scores. He went pointless against Toronto, only the second time he's been kept off the scoresheet this season. Stamkos had 2 goals and an assist in the Lightning's win over the Senators on Oct. 29.
Fisher, the Senators' second-line center, has goals in three of the last four games. Fisher is second in team scoring with five goals and 11 assists for 16 points. He'll likely center Alex Kovalev and Chris Neil tonight, while Spezza returns between captain Daniel Alfredsson and Milan Michalek. Neil is second in the NHL with 59 hits in 12 games.
Injury report -- Spezza is questionable because of his back injury. Defenseman Anton Volchenkov is expected back in about a week after an elbow problem heals. Right wing/center Jesse Winchester hurt his knee during training camp, went to Binghamton for conditioning and may return tonight. Fisher skipped practice Wednesday but will likely play.
Lightning defenseman Paul Ranger missed the final 29 games last season, during which he had shoulder surgery. Ranger had a goal and an assist in eight games this season and was minus-2 when he left practice last week and requested a leave of absence, which was granted. Otherwise, the Lightning are healthy.
Stat pack -- Both teams have defensive problems, ranking in the lower third of the league. Ottawa (20th) has allowed three goals a game while Tampa Bay has allowed 3.17. They are almost identical in 5-on-5 scoring, and both teams have trouble on the power play. Ottawa, though, is excellent at penalty-killing, ranking third, while Tampa Bay ranks 21st. The Senators worked quite a bit on their power play during practices this week. Ottawa ranks seventh in limiting shots on net but 20th in goals allowed, which points a finger at the goaltending. Both Pascal Leclaire and Brian Elliott are under .900 in save percentage.
Puck drop -- "Vinny knows he's struggling, and he's got to get some passion in his game," Tocchet said of his captain. "I talked to him about it. It's not just scoring. He's the captain of the hockey club, and it's not just him. But he's the main figure on our team. We've got to get him going. He has to show us that he's ready to play. He knows it."