Home and healing; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Arizona Coyotes preview

After surviving a strenuous western Canada trip, the Lightning are on the mend back at home. Just don't underestimate the Arizona Coyotes, tonight's opponent.

Where: Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida
When: 7:30 PM EDT | Tickets: Check availability
Media: (cable) | 970 AM WFLA (radio) | Twitter Live Stream
Opponent Coverage: Five for Howling

Five games in seven days took their toll on the Lightning lineup with bumps, bruises and the like. Six out of a possible 10 points were had, though. That's nothing to get frustrated or upset about unless you were expecting an 82-0 season, which is an example of over-inflated expectations.

Four games are to be played in the next 10 days, which is a bit of a break (no pun intended) for the Lightning who had lost the likes of so many players at times during the fantastic voyage through the great white north: Victor Hedman, Alex Killorn, Ryan Callahan, Nikita Kucherov, Brett Connolly, J.T. Brown, and Vladislav Namestnikov. They all saw a loss of playing time (be it in-game shifts or appearances on IR). Radko Gudas disappeared before the trip, but returned in Winnipeg; Jonathan Drouin only got his first start this season when the Lightning ventured to Calgary to take on the Flames.

Battered, bruised, but with the schedule a bit less taxing. They're also sitting in second place in the Atlantic Division at current, three points behind the Montreal Canadiens for the division lead and a single point in front of the Detroit Red Wings and Boston Bruins.

The good news is the day-to-day guys are near if not at a return; Jon Cooper said during morning skate it's likely Brown and Killorn will play tonight. With it comes the news that Ryan Callahan's status has improved from week-to-week to day-to-day; he may play this week, which would certainly be another shot in the arm for the Bolts. I noted Vladdy Namestnikov missed playing time on the road trip; he disappeared a few times against the Minnesota Wild. He will be in the lineup tonight against the Coyotes; he was practicing in the second power play unit with Jason Garrison, Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Kucherov.

Brett Connolly's status is still pretty much "out". If he hasn't been placed on IR, he should be.

And for some strange reason, the Lightning are starting Ben Bishop in net tonight (sarcasm oozing). Ben didn't just face 40 shots in Winnipeg on Friday night, he relieved Evgeni Nabokov the next night in Minnesota and faced another 14 shots and made 11 saves.

Arizona comes into town in the basement of the Pacific Division at current. Don't read that as "last place", please... Last place in the Western Conference is a lot more formidable than in the Eastern Conference, where Buffalo and Carolina are in a contest for ineptitude. Arizona can hold their own, having 7 points on the season in seven games. Defensiveman Keith Yandle isn't just leading the Coyotes in scoring, he's on a (better than) point-per-game pace with 1 goal and 7 assists. Former Lightning RW B.J. Crombeen is making his return to Tampa in this game; he's only played in five of Arizona's seven games so far and is a minus-two.

As of this writing it hasn't been confirmed but Mike Smith should be getting the start for the Coyotes. He's regressed to a status comparable to his latter days in Tampa: a 2-3-0 record at the moment, a 3.80 GAA and a sub-.900 save percentage (.867). He's a hell of a lot more capable than that, so be wary if he does start tonight for Arizona.

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