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Calgary Flames at Tampa Bay Lightning Preview and Game Day Thread: Is Nikita Kucherov ready to return?

Blake Coleman is also returning to Tampa Bay

Calgary Flames v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images

Calgary Flames at Tampa Bay Lightning: Game 36

Time: 7:00 pm Eastern Time

Location: Amalie Arena

Broadcast/Streaming: ESPN+, BSSUN, SNW

Opponent SBNation Site: Matsticks & Gasoline

The Tampa Bay Lightning ended a very unusual for them three-game losing streak with a confident win over the Columbus Blue Jackets and returned to the top of the league last Tuesday. Now they’re facing the Calgary Flames, who have slowed down recently, but still sitting at the playoff spot right now.

The biggest headline of the game is obviously a potential return of Nikita Kucherov. Yesterday, the Lightning placed center Riley Nash on waivers, which provides them with a roster spot. Earlier this week Jon Cooper already mentioned that he hopes that Kucherov will be ready by the middle of January, but that moment may have arrived mush earlier. Kucherov hasn’t played since the middle of October after suffering a groin injury, which later required surgery. He has been skating with the team for the couple of weeks now, recently appearing in a regular jersey and participating in contact drills. This is however a game-time decision and will depend on the Lightning’s medical staff.

While it will likely take some time for Kucherov to return to full game shape, the power play is the area where he could have an immediate impact, as we’ve already seen during last postseason. The Lightning’s power play have gotten better with the return of Brayden Point recently and they’ve fully took an advantage over the struggling Blue Jackets in the previous game, scoring three times with the man advantage, but overall their performance on power play is far from optimal this season. They’re currently 13th in the league with 20.18 PP% after being top-10 in the past few seasons.

Prior to the putting Riley Nash on waivers the Lightning also re-assigned defenceman Darren Raddysh from the taxi squad to the Syracuse Crunch. Ross Colton remains on the COVID-19 protocol list and will likely stay there at least until the end of the week. No updates on Zach Bogosian, who missed three games with a lower-body injury.

The Calgary Flames are coming to the Amalie Arena after a big loss against the Florida Panthers on Tuesday. The team were at the top of their division not a long time ago, but are struggling a little bit in the past week, losing five out of seven last games. The team however still remains one of the biggest offensive threats of the league, as two of their forward lines are in top-10 in the league by expected goals share according to MoneyPuck.com. Johnny Gaudreau leads the team with 37 points (14 goals and 23 assists) in 31 games and Andrew Mangiapane continues having another breakout season after scoring 18 goals in 31 games and already tied his career high for goals in a single season with more than a half of the season left.

Blake Coleman returns to Tampa after winning two Stanley Cups with the Lightning in the past two years. As with Yanni Gourde and Barclay Goodrow previously, he will receive his championship ring prior to the game and can expect a warm welcome from the local fans at Amalie Arena. One can hope that he will be less ruthless than Goodrow, who scored two goals in his return to Tampa Bay.

Tampa Bay Lightning Projected Lines

Forwards

Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov (?)

Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Steven Stamkos

Pat Maroon - Pierre-Edouard Bellemare - Corey Perry

Boris Katchouk - Mathieu Joseph - Taylor Raddysh

Defense

Victor Hedman - Jan Rutta

Ryan McDonagh - Erik Cernak

Mikhail Sergachev - Cal Foote

Goaltenders

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Brian Elliott

Calgary Flames Projected Lines

Forwards

Johnny Gaudreau - Elias Lindholm - Matthew Tkachuk

Blake Coleman - Mikael Backlund - Tyler Pitlick

Milan Lucic - Dillon Dube - Andrew Mangiapane

Brett Ritchie - Sean Monahan - Trevor Lewis

Defense

Oliver Kylington - Christopher Tanev

Noah Hanifin - Rasmus Andersson

Nikita Zadorov - Erik Gudbranson

Goaltenders

Jacob Markstrom

Dan Vladar