TORONTO – The Tampa Bay Lighting are hoping to solve their road woes with a fruitful trip up north.
The Lightning were winless in five games on the road until they began a three-game swing through Canada with a 2-1 overtime win over the Toronto Maple Leafs on Tuesday night. Tampa Bay captain Vincent Lecavalier led the way, ending an eight-game goalless drought with the Lightning’s opening goal.
“I think Vinny had enough tonight,” said Lightning coach Rick Tocchet, whose team will visit Ottawa and Montreal on its trip. “It was a nice step, now we’ve got to build on that with Vinny; one step and keep going. He seemed like he had some jump and he penalty killed for us tonight, he did a nice job.”
Lecavalier has just two goals on the season to go with 10 assists in 13 games. The slow start has prompted talk of leaving the big centre off Canada’s Olympic team, a squad he definitely wants to be a part of.
“I’m always worried about Tampa (first),” said Lecavalier. “Obviously it’s in the back of my mind too that I want to be part of this Olympic team and even though I’m struggling a little bit the first month, I really think if I have a good month of November … I can be part of that team.”
While Lecavalier’s struggles certainly register as a surprise, so too does the solid play of goalie Antero Niittymaki, who turned aside 41 shots in the win over Toronto.
“He’s just been a pro,” Tocchet said. “His work has paid off. The guys are excited for him, he’s played excellent for us.”
Niittymaki, who signed with Tampa over the summer to push incumbent No. 1 Mike Smith, said he’s made a smooth transition to his new home.
“I’ve been feeling very comfortable since I came to Tampa,” said the 29-year-old Finn, who entered Tuesday’s game with a 2.18 goals-against average and stellar .930 save percentage. “I had a good camp and I’ve been working hard, and hockey’s pretty much the same everywhere. Good guys in the locker-room, so it’s pretty easy.”
The Lighting have also been impressed with the play of sophomore Steven Stamkos, who has already put up 11 goals and five assists for 16 points this year.