BRANDON — The Lightning welcome the Nashville Predators to Amalie Arena tonight to wrap up their current three-game homestand before going back on the road until mid November.
Nashville (6-3-1, 13 points) has hardly been a friendly matchup for Tampa Bay this decade. The Lightning (5-3-1, 11 points) do not have a regulation win over the Predators since 2013, and they are 3-10-2 against Nashville over their past 15 meetings since 2009.
Tampa Bay went 0-2 against Nashville last season, including a 4-1 loss at Amalie Arena in November. Their last win over the Predators, a 4-3 overtime victory at Bridgestone Arena, came on Jan. 23, 2018.
“They’re an unbelievably skilled team,” said Lightning defenseman Victor Hedman. “Their depth on the back end is top in this league, great goaltending, just a complete team that obviously wants to win.”
The Predators have had the Lightning’s number, and Nashville is bringing a not-so-friendly face to Amalie Arena this year. Matt Duchene, who signed with the Predators as a free agent in the 2019 offseason, led the Columbus Blue Jackets to their first-round sweep of Tampa Bay in last season’s Stanley Cup playoffs.
Duchene posted seven points for Columbus in only four games, leading the charge in ousting a record-setting Tampa Bay team. After failing to record a point in Game 1 of that series, Duchene recorded four points in Columbus’ Game 2 win.
So far this season, Duchene has 11 points in 10 games for Nashville, and the Predators’ 13 points have them tied with St. Louis for second place in the Western Conference’s Central Division.
The Lightning do not return to Amalie Arena until a Nov. 14 date with the New York Rangers. Over nearly three weeks, Tampa Bay will play five road games, including a two-game series against the Buffalo Sabres at Ericsson Globe in Stockholm, Sweden.
Cooper satisfied with early start
With 11 points through nine games, the Lightning are currently tied for fifth place in the Eastern Conference’s Atlantic Division. Through Tampa Bay’s first nine games a season ago, the Lightning were 7-1-1 with 15 points. Despite the inconsistent play to start the season, coach Jon Cooper said he is satisfied with his team’s performance.
“We’re improving a lot of areas of our game, Cooper said. “After nine games, it’s probably still a little early, but I guess if you go 5-3-1 every nine-game segment, you should be in half-decent shape. We’ve been tested by some pretty good teams here at the start.”
Those early tests have included tight wins over Pittsburgh and Boston, and blowout losses against Toronto and Colorado. The Predators, who have reached the playoffs in each of the past five seasons and played in the Stanley Cup Finals as recently as 2017, present another test tonight.
“I think we’re getting better,” Hedman said. “We skate hard, we work hard, we battle hard, but it’s with a purpose. It’s to become better in certain areas of our game.”