It took the Nashville Predators until the middle of January to win their 20th game last season.
The improved Predators have a chance to reach that mark nearly a full month earlier in 2009-10, if they can avoid a fifth straight loss to the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning on Tuesday night.
Nashville, which has won three of four, can move into a tie with Central Division-leading Chicago with a victory in this contest. The Predators didn’t earn their 20th win last season until Jan. 13.
Tampa Bay (11-12-9) has lost four in a row overall, but has outscored the Predators 15-7 to win the last four games between the teams since Nashville’s 3-2 home victory Jan. 25, 2003.
The Lightning beat the Predators 4-1 at home Nov. 21, 2008, in their lone meeting last season. They’ve won their last two trips to Nashville, most recently 2-1 in overtime Feb. 7, 2008.
The Predators, who have scored at least four goals in nine of their last 15 games overall, may be poised to give Tampa Bay better competition this time.
“We got a lot of contributions from all lines,” said winger Ryan Jones(notes), who’s scored his only two goals of the season in the past two contests. “Sully got three. Any time a guy can put in three it’s going to give you a chance to win.”
Sullivan has nine goals on the season and six points in his last four games. He has four goals and eight assists in 17 career games versus Tampa Bay, but no points in his last three against the Lightning.
Dan Ellis(notes) had 28 saves Monday for Nashville, which improved to 14-2-1 when scoring the first goal. Starter Pekka Rinne(notes), who is 13-6-2 with a 2.61 goals-against average but has never faced the Lightning, could be back in net Tuesday.
Tampa Bay’s offensive struggles continued Sunday with a 4-0 loss at Chicago on Sunday. The Lightning, who mustered 18 shots, have scored 13 goals during a 1-6-2 slide and have been outscored 12-3 during a four-game losing streak.
“When you’re losing, you’ve just got to keep believing in the locker room you can win,” coach Rick Tocchet said. “When there’s pressure, it just seem like we cave in certain situations.”
“It’s been one-and-done and it’s hard to score in this league like that,” said forward Martin St. Louis(notes), who has a team-leading 33 points this season and six points in his last four games against Nashville.
Tampa Bay goaltender Mike Smith(notes) is 3-1-0 with a 2.00 GAA against the Predators. He could return to the starting lineup Tuesday after sitting the past two games in favor of Antero Niittymaki(notes).