Lightning pregame: Tampa Bay set to face a ‘dangerous’ team

Tampa begins its four-game homestead tonight against the Senators.
Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27), left, works to move the puck past Ottawa Senators right wing Alexandre Burrows (14) during the first period of Tuesdays (3/13/18) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Ottawa Senators at Amalie Arena in Tampa. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD   |   Times]
Tampa Bay Lightning defenseman Ryan McDonagh (27), left, works to move the puck past Ottawa Senators right wing Alexandre Burrows (14) during the first period of Tuesdays (3/13/18) game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Ottawa Senators at Amalie Arena in Tampa. [DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times]
Published March 2

TAMPA – Not many teams in the NHL have gone through the changes that the Senators have this season, losing a lot of their core group and having a head coaching change with less than 20 games remaining in the season.

Add on that the team is sitting last in the league with just 49 points and it can seem that there isn’t much to worry about. But that certainly doesn’t make Ottawa any less of a threat for the Lightning. In fact, it makes them dangerous.

“When you usually get in the last 15-game stretch of the season, there’s some teams that are really looking to build towards next season, and those are dangerous teams,” Steven Stamkos said after Saturday’s morning skate. “There’s not a lot of expectation on their side, so they usually come out, they play really hard and they’ve got some really good young talent over there.”

Ottawa fired its head coach Friday and will use Marc Crawford for the remainder of the season. The Senators also traded three of their top four scorers at the trade deadline Monday and have made many roster adjustments throughout the season.

“Ottawa’s in a situation much like us a couple years ago when we’re the outside looking in,” coach Jon Cooper said, “probably not making the playoffs, a bunch of new guys in the lineup that are fighting for jobs and it can arguably be the scariest teams to play because they really have nothing to lose.”

Tampa Bay will use its matchup against Ottawa as a way to regroup coming off a 4-1 loss to the Bruins on Thursday night. The Lightning ended February on a “sour” note despite carrying a 12-1-2 record overall.

“I think that was a little bit of an awakening for us of where we need to be and where we are not right now,” Cooper said. “Those reminders can be good right now, especially at this time of the year and now we have to see what we can do with this.

The Lightning are coming into a difficult stretch of the season, facing off against 13 teams in the Eastern Conference (nine of those teams being divisional opponents) in its next 17 games.

“You look at the schedule at the beginning of the year and you don’t know who’s in the playoffs, who’s not, and who’s going to be relevant,” Cooper said, “and it just turns out now that 60-plus games in, a lot of the teams we’re playing in the end are definitely relevant so it will be a good test.”

The Lightning will face off against the Senators at home tonight at 7.

Contact Mari Faiello at [email protected]. Follow @faiello_mari.

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