Tampa Bay Lightning @ Buffalo Sabres Preview

Josh Gorges will return to the Sabres lineup tonight.  He has not played since he sustained a knee injury on November 11th @ St. Louis. (Photo Credit Jen Fuller/Getty Images)

Josh Gorges will return to the Sabres lineup tonight.  He has not played since he sustained a knee injury on November 11th @ St. Louis. (Photo Credit Jen Fuller/Getty Images)

Tampa Bay Lightning (17-6-2) @ Buffalo Sabres (8-14-2)

Steven Stamkos and the NHL leading Tampa Bay Lightning will look to extend their win streak to five games when they lace up their skates at the First Niagara Center.  This will mark the first of three December matchups between the respective clubs.  Buffalo will travel to play the Lightning Thursday night. 

After an injury derailed much of his 2013-14 season, Steve Stamkos has been back phenomenal early in 2014. (Photo Credit Kim Klement/USA Today)

After an injury derailed much of his 2013-14 season, Steve Stamkos has been back phenomenal early in 2014. (Photo Credit Kim Klement/USA Today)

Three weeks ago, matchups against top competition would create a sorrowful atmosphere around Buffalo.  Now, fans can expect competitive entertainment as the club has won five of their last six games.  A home/home sweep over the Montreal Canadiens this past weekend has the players excited.  Head Coach Ted Nolan has appeared in a gleeful but determined tone over the past week.  He spoke to the media after practice on Monday about the positive attitude in the locker room.

“Right now, the guys are feeling good about themselves. They’re putting in time. They’re putting in the effort. We’ve had some breaks and we’re getting some wins.”

Cody Hodgson will hope to see his production experience a bolt tonight.  Hodgson has four goals and six assists in ten games played vs the Lightning.  Hodgson has experienced his worst season as a pro with just two points in twenty-four game played. 

Josh Gorges will be back tonight for Buffalo.  Gorges was the NHL’s leader in blocked shots when he was injured Nov. 11 in St. Louis.  Both Andrej Meszaros and Drew Stafford were absent from the morning skate today and will not play tonight.  The absence of Stafford leads me to believe that the Sabres will dress seven defensemen tonight. 

The visiting Tampa Bay Lightning currently hold the top NHL record and are coming off a 6-3 victory last night over the New York Rangers.  Six goals is no anomaly for this offensive juggernaut.  The roster is loaded with recent top picks and is headlined by Steven Stamkos (first overall, 2008) who has 15 goals already this season (25GP).  Winger Brett Connolly was the sixth overall pick in the 2010 Entry Draft.  Although success has not come easy for the 22-year-old, he scored two goals last night and was voted as the games first star.  He is has recently returned from an injury that forced him out of twelve games earlier this season. 

Victor Hedman (Second Overall, 2009) is another promising young, offensively gifted defenseman who tallied 55 points in 75 games last season.  Last night, in just his second game back from a hand injury that held him out of the lineup for nearly six weeks, he tallied three assists in 24:42 of ice time. 

Jonathan Drouin, the third overall pick in the 2013 entry draft, played his first NHL eligible season with his familiar QMJHL team, the Halifax Mooseheads.  In fact, of the top six players drafted in 2013, he was the only one not to stick around with the big club.  Drouin put up 108 points in the 46 games he played with Halifax last season. Whoa.

Drouin was able to stick with the Lightning this season.  It has not been an easy ride for the 19-year-old but with the phenomenal depth of forwards on the roster, nobody within the organization appears worried.  After an injury kept him away from action to begin the year, Drouin was inserted into the lineup Oct. 20.  In his first four games, Drouin averaged about 19:00 of ice time per game.  In his last thirteen games, Drouin has not once eclipsed 15:00 of ice time.  He has also been a healthy scratch twice.  Fans should expect to see Drouin play tonight. 

Ben Bishop started last night between the pipes for the Lightning so Evgeni Nabokov will likely get the nod tonight.  Jhonas Enroth will once again start for Buffalo and will hope to build on what was a phenomenal weekend.  He saved 71 shots on 75 attempts over the weekend in the two game set with Montreal (.946 SV%) 

Puck Drop is at 7:30 p.m..  Follow me on twitter @billybuckets27 for in game and post game reports.