Devils brace for Lightning fast start
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TAMPA, Fla. -- Quick strikes have been the tone-setter for the Tampa Bay Lightning during a season-long, five-game homestand.
The New Jersey Devils want to avoid another slow start when they visit Amalie Arena on Sunday.
In the first two games of the homestand, Tampa Bay has scored in the opening minute and rode the momentum to victories against Florida and Chicago. Overall, the Lightning have opened the scoring in four consecutive games after giving up the first goal in nine of the previous 10.
Getting on the board first, especially early in the game, can change the approach to the game.
"You're not chasing the game," Lightning forward Ryan Callahan said. "Obviously it's a lot easier to play with the lead in this league. Teams are so talented it's hard to come back sometimes. You know, to get behind the eight ball kills your momentum at home when you don't score first, and it takes the crowd out of it pretty early. It's a lot easier when you score that first goal, and I think even at home it's more important just to get the crowd into it. It gets everyone going."
Tampa Bay continues to be without defenseman Anton Stralman and forward Ondrej Palat. Stralman has missed seven games with an upper-body injury while Palat has been out since Oct. 26 with a fracture in his left foot. Both players have been skating with the team and are considered day-to-day, though coach Jon Cooper said he expects at least one of the two players to return before the end of the homestand Friday.
New Jersey, which was eliminated by Tampa Bay in the opening round of the playoffs last season, is looking to climb out of the bottom of the Metro Division standings. Since starting the season with five wins in eight games (5-2-1), the Devils are 4-7-2 in the past 13, a stretch that began with an 8-3 loss to the Lightning on Oct. 30.
Keeping the puck out of the net has been the biggest issue for New Jersey, which has allowed three or more goals eight times in those 13 games. The Devils have lost all eight of those games, including an overtime loss Friday to the New York Islanders when New Jersey started on its heels to begin the game and never fully recovered despite a late goal to salvage a point.
"It was an unfortunate first period; we have to be way better," New Jersey defenseman Andy Greene told NHL.com. Goaltender Keith "(Kinkaid) was fantastic and gave us a chance. If he doesn't do that, the game is over in the first."
New Jersey will be without rookie forward Joey Anderson, who was placed on injured reserve with a lower right leg injury suffered when he went skates first in to the Montreal net on Wednesday. Anderson is expected to miss at least a week, coach John Hynes told reporters before Friday's game.
Brayden Point leads Tampa Bay with 15 goals while Nikita Kucherov paces the club with 30 points and 21 assists after recording three points in each of his last two games.
Updated November 24, 2018