ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Tampa Bay Lightning take on the Anaheim Ducks on Sunday night after having ravaged the San Jose Sharks and Los Angeles Kings by a cumulative 10-3 score this week.
Clearly, the Lightning (13-2-2) have no fear of the California gauntlet which has destroyed other East Coast teams taking the West Coast swing over the past several seasons.
The team is enjoying its best 17-game start with 28 points. Tampa Bay’s previous best came in its Stanley Cup-winning 2003-04 season, when it earned 26 points through 17 games. The Lightning have won five straight road games.
The team is averaging four goals per game to lead the league going into weekend action. The Lightning features the NHL’s two leading scorers in Steven Stamkos (8-22-30) and Nikita Kucherov (16-13-29).
“It’s great. We played against really good teams and that was a good test for us,” said Kucherov after beating the Kings. “They’re big, they’re fast and they play a really good game. We did a good job.”
The Ducks (7-6-3) don’t equal Tampa Bay in offensive production. Anaheim’s top two scorers, Rickard Rakell (6-8-14) and Corey Perry (3-7-10), have 24 points combined. The Ducks have three players with 10 or more points — Rakell, Perry and Andrew Cogliano (3-7-10).
The Lightning feature nine players with 10 or more points each. On Thursday versus the Kings, 10 Tampa Bay players hit and scoresheet and five different players scored goals in a 5-2 win.
Tampa Bay’s transition game defies opposition. It took the Lightning eight seconds to go from their own goal line to seeing the puck sail into the Kings’ net Thursday night.
Signs point to the Ducks awakening offensively. Anaheim has gained points in the last three games. The team came back from an early one-goal deficit to beat Vancouver. Three Ducks’ goals in Thursday’s 4-1 win came on the power play. Anaheim had scored only five power-play goals this season prior to that game.
“It’s been a long wait for our power play to awaken,” Coach Randy Carlyle said after the game. “I think tonight we were more determined to get pucks back on our entry. We moved the puck effectively and got the puck towards the net. We were more tenacious and hungry for the puck.”
Anaheim exhibited scoring depth against Vancouver. The Ducks got two goals from the defense and two from Jacob Silfverberg in the win. Silfverberg scored his two goals 35 seconds apart early in the third period.
The Ducks are resilient. Regular starting goaltender John Gibson was forced out of Tuesday’s game versus Los Angeles when he was struck by a teammate’s stick. On Thursday, Anaheim added Ryan Miller to its list of wounded players after the netminder suffered a likely groin injury in his 13-save win over the Canucks. He left in the third period and Reto Berra finished out the game.
Gibson practiced Friday and Saturday and proclaimed, “Everything is good now.” He will start against the Lightning.
Tampa Bay comes to the game with resolve.
“We realize that we’ve got one more game to really make this a great road trip,” Killorn said after Thursday’s win. “There’s a ton of confidence in this room. We realize that our top guys are doing really well. They’re feeding our whole team.”
Matching speed against Tampa Bay, which the Kings were set to do, is not a winning strategy. The alternative, playing lock-down defense, is not Anaheim’s game.
Everything must go well for the Ducks to prevail. Doing so, they will accomplish what teams with a stellar reputation (the Sharks) and a stellar record (the Kings) could not.