NHL on NBCSN: Can Global Series trip get Bolts turned around?

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NBCSN’s coverage of the 2019-20 NHL season continues with Friday’s Global Series matchup between the Buffalo Sabres and Tampa Bay Lightning. Coverage begins at 2 p.m. ET on NBCSN. You can watch the game online and on the NBC Sports app by clicking here.

The Tampa Bay Lightning dominated the regular season from start to finish last year. Where did that game them? It got them bounced in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs in just four games. That’s a cruel way to go out and it seems to have stayed with them heading into this year.

Heading into this Global Series weekend in Sweden against the Buffalo Sabres, only three teams in the Eastern Conference have accumulated fewer points than the Bolts and they are: the New Jersey Devils, the Ottawa Senators and the Detroit Red Wings. That’s not exactly elite company to be lumped in with at this point.

No matter what they went through last spring though, the expectations were clearly higher than 6-5-2 through 13 games this season.

“While you have these games, you do have to get points out of them,” head coach Jon Cooper said, per TampaBay.com. “I’m not going to sit here and say we have to win both of these games. I want us to play well.”

The Lightning won’t use this as an excuse, but they’ll finally get to enjoy some extended home cooking after this Global Series is over. Of their first 13 games of the season, only four were played at home. Once this Swedish excursion is over, they’ll play 16 of the final 23 games of 2019 at home. That will be a crucial part of the season.

Feeling good about their game is a must coming out of this trip to Sweden. They can also pounce on a Sabres team that has dropped three games in a row.

“Eventually we’re going to get rewarded and then hopefully we can go on a little bit of a streak here,” Cooper mentioned after Tampa’s last loss to the Islanders, according to NHL.com. “We are seeing improvement in a lot of areas, so we’ve just got to weather through this. We knew this was coming. … But we’re still above .500 heading into Sweden and hopefully we can come back with some more points and then dig our heels in once our schedule evens out.”

Getting reigning Hart Trophy winner Nikita Kucherov going will also help in their quest to dominate the Eastern Conference again. The 26-year-old led the NHL with 128 points last season, but he’s picked up 11 through the first 13 games of the year. Those totals are good for most players, but not Kucherov, who also added 41 goals last season.

The good news for Kucherov, is that the quality of his shots is right around the same as it was last year. His xGF% is at 52.59 percent this year, while it was 52.42 last year. His high-danger chances for percentage is up nearly five percent (50.3 last year to 55.2 this year). His shooting percentage has dropped from 16.7 percent to 12.8 percent though.

Here’s a lineup note heading into this afternoon’s game:

Hedman had missed the previous two games due to a lower-body injury.

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.