TAMPA — With all the chatter about how poorly the Lightning started the season, it is actually close to last year's pace in terms of points. Real close.
Entering Saturday's game against the Hurricanes, the Lightning was 38-22-4 with 80 points and was tied with the Panthers atop the Atlantic Division in points, but it owned the tiebreaker because of more regulation and overtime wins.
Last season after 64 games, the Lightning had the same amount of overall wins (38) but had two more overtime losses to reach 82 points (38-20-6).
"Somebody told me we're only two points off of last year's pace, which was kind of a record-setting season for us," coach Jon Cooper said. "Going through the year you kind of remember how it was a great year. I don't know if we have that same feeling about this year. Everybody is talking about how we've been up and down, inconsistent, and here we are about two points off of last year's pace.
"I'm really happy at where we're at. Any time you can say there's 18 games left and you're tied for first place, that's a pretty good spot to be. I know since Christmastime we've taken off and that's helped us, but you have to do it at some point. And the fact that we're doing it now at this point of the season is good for us."
With Tampa Bay's 4-3 overtime win against the Hurricanes, it has won a franchise-record nine straight. Before Saturday, it had given up two goals or fewer in five straight games for the first time in team history, which also has helped.
CLOSE TO RETURNING: D Andrej Sustr (upper body) missed his second game, but Cooper said he believed Sustr would return soon. "Probably one of the games Monday (or) Tuesday (at Philadelphia and home against Boston)," Cooper said.
GLAD TO BE BACK: With Sustr down, the Lightning is down to six defensemen. Still, it didn't have to call up anybody with the return of Jason Garrison, who played in his third game after missing the previous 10 with an ankle injury. "I feel pretty good now," Garrison said during the pregame skate. "The first game back there is always a little adjustment. It's nice to get a few games under my belt coming into the last part of the regular season. It's not hard, but it takes a little bit of time to get the speed of everything. It takes a few games to just get that comfort level you were at before."
NUTS AND BOLTS: With Sustr out, C Jonathan Marchessault was the lone (healthy) scratch for Tampa Bay. … LW Ondrej Palat's first-period goal was the 50th of his career. He added his 10th of the season and second of the game in the second period.