The Pittsburgh Penguins won three straight games in the first half of December for the first time since their seventh straight win.
They appear to be as healthy as they have been for a while and should gain some confidence as they rebounded from a blowout loss to Edmonton a week ago.
All of those positivity numbers will be put to the test when the Penguins take on Tampa Bay at 7:08 tonight at Amalie Arena.
That’s partly because the Penguins picked up two one-sided victories over the Lightning in 2022-23, including a 7-3 decision at PPG Paints Arena on Sunday, meaning it’s Tampa Bay in their last meeting of the regular season shouldn’t be lacking in motivation.
And then there’s the Tampa Bay roster, which looks very similar to the roster that has competed in and won two of each of the last three Stanley Cup playoffs. When a team is built around Andrei Vasilevskiy, Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman and Steven Stamkos, it has the potential to overwhelm or even embarrass almost any opponent.
The Lightning have a solid place in the Eastern Conference playoffs and are challenging Toronto for second place in the Atlantic Division, but have stuttered lately, winning 2-3-2 in their last seven games.
Nonetheless, they have the fourth-most offensive line in the NHL, averaging 3.52 goals per game, due in part to their power play scoring about one in four of their opportunities.
Tampa Bay has done well against the Penguins with man advantage this season, converting two chances out of seven, but the Penguins’ powerplay was even better, going 3-on-9 against the Lightning.
Both teams have made personnel changes since Sunday’s game — the Penguins traded Teddy Blueger and added Mikael Granlund, while Tampa Bay brought Tanner Jeannot from Nashville and Michael Eyssimont from San Jose — but the most significant change in tonight’s game could be in goal for the flash.
Backup Brian Elliott started their previous two games against the Penguins, likely because Tampa Bay played both times the night before, stopping just 68 of 80 shots.
Tonight, the Penguins are expected to face Vasilevskiy, who has a career record of 14-9-5 with a .910 save percentage and 3.08 goals against average.
Pittsburgh Penguins expected lines
Guentzel-Crosby doctor blade
Sugar Malkin Rust
Expected Tampa Bay Lightning Lines
Jeannot Paul Colton
Maroon Bellemare Perry
Penguins Power Play: 44 for 206, 21.4%, 13th (tie)
Penguins penalty kill: 38 for 191, 80.1%, 15
Blitz Powerplay: 53 for 207, 25.6%, 2nd (tie)
Blitz penalty kill: 35 for 188, 81.4%, 12th place
Pittsburgh Penguins game notes
Evgeni Malkin has 27 goals and 33 assists in 43 career games against the Lightning.
The Penguins have won their last two games in Tampa and are 4-1-1 overall in their last six games against the Lightning.
Kris Letang has at least a point in each of his last six games against Tampa Bay.
Sidney Crosby has two goals and three assists against the Lightning in 2022-23, bringing his career total to 22 goals and 39 assists in 45 games.
Tampa Bay is 22-5-3 at the Amalie Arena and had earned at least a point in 16 straight games there before suffering a 4-1 loss to Florida on Tuesday.
Lightning winger Tanner Jeannot, acquired from Nashville Sunday, ranks fourth in the NHL with 216 hits.
Tampa Bay defenseman Ian Cole, a member of the Penguins’ Stanley Cup winning teams in 2016 and 2017, has not scored in his last 32 games.
Lightning winger Corey Perry, who has spent most of his career in Anaheim, has scored 13 goals in 23 career games against the Penguins, though he hasn’t scored in five encounters with Tristan Jarry.
Former Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman has a minus-4-plus-minus rating against the Penguins in the two games this season.
how to watch
Television: AT&T SportsNet
Radio: 105.9 the X