Rangers face dangerous Lightning
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TAMPA, Fla. -- The New York Rangers are still seeking their first road win of the season, and they will try to get it Thursday night against a Tampa Bay Lightning team that is tied for the league lead with six home wins.
In fairness, the Rangers (4-7-2) have played 10 of their 13 games at home, but they still take an 0-3-0 road record into Amalie Arena, where the Lightning won their first six games before a loss Saturday to the Anaheim Ducks.
"Since I've been here, we've always been an excellent road team," Rangers coach Alain Vigneault said. "We're playing one of the best if not the best team in the league right now. It's a great challenge, a great opportunity for us, and we need to be ready."
Tampa Bay has the NHL's top two scorers in Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. Kucherov leads the league with 13 goals, Stamkos leads with 18 assists, and they are the top two in points with 24 (Kucherov) and 21 (Stamkos). Together, they have helped the Lightning average league-best 4.1 goals per game and worked together on a power play that is scoring on 29 percent of its opportunities, the second-best rate in the league.
Still, the Lightning only went 1-1-1 against the Rangers last year, though they picked up a key piece in former New York defenseman Dan Girardi, who has brought leadership and experience to the Tampa Bay blue line. He and Lightning teammate Ryan Callahan were once key players for the Rangers, and they will be reunited with New York goalie Henrik Lundqvist, among others, on Thursday night.
Lightning coach Jon Cooper has had good success with new line combinations this season, tweaking his lineup even during the season, finding success with an 11-7 split that sets up a rotating line and an extra defenseman. Tampa Bay is also sixth in the league now in goals against, allowing only 2.7 goals per game.
"As coaches, as a staff, we never stop trying to make your team better or see what chemistry might work," Cooper said, "to put players in position to succeed."
New faces such as rookie Mikhail Sergachev and rising stars such as second-year phenom Brayden Point have provided a spark, with Girardi and fellow newcomer Chris Kunitz adding much-needed playoff experience to a young lineup.
The Lightning are coming off an eight-goal outburst in a Tuesday win at Florida, but they also have shown themselves capable of winning a defensive game behind Andrei Vasilevskiy, who has won nine straight decisions and is 10-1-0. No other goalie in the league has more than eight wins.
Mika Zibanejad has a team-best eight goals and five assists for New York, and Lundqvist has played well against Tampa Bay through the years (19-13-6 with a 2.38 goals-against average).
The two squads won't see each other again until March -- in Tampa on March 8 and in New York on March 30 -- but the Rangers have a chance to make their first road win a big one on Thursday.
Updated November 2, 2017