The Tampa Bay Lightning are still looking for their first win under interim coach Rick Tocchet. They seem to be getting closer all the time.
Coming off back-to-back shootout losses that followed the firing of Barry Melrose, the Lightning hope to snap a five-game losing streak when they host the Nashville Predators on Friday.
Tampa Bay (5-7-6) had dropped three straight games in regulation before firing Melrose last Friday, just 16 games into his return to coaching. Melrose hadn’t been behind an NHL bench in more than 13 years before the Lightning hired him in the offseason.
Tocchet was charged with getting the Lightning back on track, and the team has shown progress in his first two games. They allowed one third-period shot in a 3-2 shootout loss to Carolina on Sunday, then recorded a franchise-record 52 shots and erased a 3-0 deficit Tuesday before losing 4-3 in a shootout to Florida.
“That’s a game right there that we’re going to build on,” Tampa Bay goalie Mike Smith said. “Just shows how we can play when we play with passion.”
The increased offensive chances marked progress for the Lightning, who rank last in the NHL with 38 goals. They’re hoping for more production from not only core players Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis, but this year’s No. 1 overall draft pick Steven Stamkos, who has just five points through his first 18 games.
Three Lightning players - Radim Vrbata, Evgeny Artyukhin and Steve Eminger - scored their first goals of the season during the comeback against the Panthers, which could be another positive sign as Tampa Bay looks to climb back into contention in the Eastern Conference.
“It’s just one of those nights where when you’re not winning, those games seem to slip by,” Stamkos said Tuesday. “We need to find a way to change that. I thought it was our best game in a while.”
The Predators (9-8-1) certainly weren’t at their best in their last game. After finishing a six-game western trip with three straight victories, they fell behind 4-0 barely halfway through a 4-1 loss to San Jose on Monday.
They also dealt with a scary moment when Jason Arnott, tied for the team lead with eight goals, was left motionless on the ice and taken off on a stretcher following a collision. Arnott was taken to the hospital, but was quickly released with just a neck strain and could play Friday.
“He’s going to be fine,” Nashville coach Barry Trotz said after the game. “… I expect him to be ready for Tampa Bay.”
The Predators scored their lone goal against the Sharks in the third period, when they outshot San Jose 16-8 and picked up three major penalties for fighting. Nashville had 36 penalty minutes in the physical affair.
“I liked the fact that we weren’t going to back down,” Trotz said. “Our team had all the reason to go away quietly and they didn’t want to do that. I give them a little bit of credit for that. That shows a lot of pride in the room.”
Nashville has not won at the St. Pete Times Forum since a 3-0 victory in its first visit March 24, 1999. The Predators are 0-2-0 with two ties at Tampa since then.
The Preds have lost three straight against the Lightning, the most recent defeat coming by a 2-1 score in overtime at Nashville on Feb. 7.