It has been a miserable trip north of the border for the Tampa Bay Lightning thus far, and they hope a coaching change can keep them in the playoff chase for the rest of the season.
After parting ways with Guy Boucher, the Lightning wrap up a three-game swing through Canada on Sunday night against a Winnipeg Jets team thrilled to see someone in their building other than the Washington Capitals.
Slow starts doomed the Lightning (13-17-1) in Ontario their past two games, falling behind 4-0 in losses at both Toronto and Ottawa. While Tampa Bay’s deficit didn’t hit four goals until the second period Wednesday, the Senators netted their four in a 7:11 span of the first period and eventually dealt the Lightning a 5-3 loss Saturday.
That was the breaking point for general manager Steve Yzerman, who fired Boucher on Sunday morning. The Lightning, facing a second straight season missing the playoffs, will be led by assistants Martin Raymond and Dan Lacroix in the interim.
“Guy has poured his heart and soul into the Lightning organization for these past three years and we appreciate all the work he has done,” Yzerman said in a statement. “But ultimately I am not satisfied with the direction we are heading and I believe making a change today is in the best interest of our franchise.”
Despite being 14th in the Eastern Conference with 27 points, the Lightning are only five points behind Carolina and the New York Rangers for eighth and also trail the Jets (16-14-2) by seven points for the Southeast Division lead.
Though Cedrick Desjardins took the loss on Saturday by allowing Daniel Alfredsson’s goal in the final seconds of the first period - the only one he yielded in 20 shots - he likely will get the start after Mathieu Garon stopped 8 of 11 shots prior to being pulled.
Rookie Tyler Johnson scored twice for Tampa Bay in the third period, but getting offense early may be key. The Lightning are 1-8-0 when allowing the first goal on the road compared to 4-2-0 in games they grab a 1-0 lead as the visitor.
Winnipeg is still atop the Southeast, but did itself no favors in losing consecutive home games to Washington. The Jets lost 4-0 on Thursday before being overrun by the Capitals 6-1 the following night as Ondrej Pavelec was yanked after giving up three goals on nine shots in barely over a period.
Despite the lost opportunity to create some space at the top of the division, coach Claude Noel is confident his team will bounce back.
“I still like our team and we’re still at the top of our division, we’re still a team that I believe will make the playoffs and that’s where we’re going, Noel said. “The world is not going to end tomorrow, I don’t think.”
Andrew Ladd Blake Wheeler and Evander Kane who have combined for 40 of Winnipeg’s 80 goals, have been held to a combined three goals and three assists the last four games. All three goals came in its 3-1 win over Boston on Tuesday.
Al Montoya who had 15 saves in relief of Pavelec on Friday, likely will get the start. He turned aside 28 shots in a 2-1 victory at Tampa Bay on March 7 and also had to relieve Pavelec in the first game between the teams Feb. 1, when the Lightning rolled to an 8-3 home win.
The Jets went 2-0-1 at home versus the Lightning last season.