Originally posted on Fox Sports Florida  |  Last updated 1/7/12
It has been a difficult road thus far for the Tampa Bay Lightning both the season as a whole and playing away from the friendly confines of the Forum. Whatever happens in the final stop of a three-game swing through Canada Saturday night in Montreal, the Bolts can't wait to return to Tampa Tuesday to host Vancouver. Never mind that the Canucks are one of the best teams in the NHL, barely missing out on winning the Stanley Cup last season and currently atop the Western Conference's Northwest Division with a record of 25-13-3. At home, Tampa Bay is a robust 11-5-0. On the road, the team is skating on thin ice with a mark of 6-14-3. Following an encouraging showing last week before its own crowd, winning three straight, the Lightning proceeded to get blasted 7-3 in Toronto by the Maple Leafs (20-15-5) and then out-play Ottawa (21-15-5) for much of the game before falling 4-1. At least the Canadiens have been struggling, too, sitting dead last in the Eastern Conference's Northeast Division at 15-18-7. It's not difficult to see what ails the Lightning lately. They've been decimated by key injuries. You practically need a scorecard to keep track. Defensman Victor Hedman is out indefinitely with a concussion and Mattias Ohlund has missed the entire season following knee surgery. Forward Nate Thomas just returned in Toronto from injured reserve with a lower body injury -- right in time for forward Ryan Malone to leave the lineup with a lower-body injury following a practice collision with Thompson. Malone, the team's fourth-leading scorer, is listed as day to day, while forward Ryan Shannon is looking at least another three weeks off the ice with a knee injury. In addition, wings Adam Hall and J.T. Wyman were lost to upper-body injuries in the loss to Ottawa. And, of course, the team already had to go 13 days in December with team leader and playing-forward Martin St. Louis after taking a puck to the face during practice. St. Louis promptly tallied his 500th career goal -- a bright spot during a 7-2 loss to the San Jose Sharks Dec. 22. The battered state of the Bolts' defense spurred general manager Steve Yzerman to trade for reinforcements on Friday, sending 25-year-old forward Blair Jones to the Calgary Flames for veteran blueliner Brendan Mikkelson. At 6-foot-3, 206 pounds, Mikkelson could provide some much-needed muscle and experience to the depleted lineup. He's played in 86 games for Calgary and Anaheim. Prior to that, Mikkelson played 183 AHL games with Portland, Iowa, Toronto and Abottsford, notching 18 goals and 64 points. The Lighting will also be glad to have promising rookie forward Brett Connolly, back in the fold in Montreal, following a month on loan to Canada in the World Junior Championships. The 19-year-old played in all five games for his national team, amassing five goals and six points while helping his country earn a bronze medal. Meanwhile, scoring star Steven Stamkos continues to a bright spot for the Bolts. On Monday, he was named First Star of the Week for the period ending Jan. 1. Stamkos moved into first place in the league's scoring race with six goals during the week, helping the Lightning win its three straight home games. That performance helped pull his team to within six points of the eighth and final playoff spot, but Tampa Bay's road stumbles has dropped it back to 12th place in the Eastern Conference and eight points out of the final spot. It's been that kind of year, a distant memory from the Lightning's inspired run last spring through the post-season and into the Eastern Conference finals. Even before they were beset with injuries, the Bolts had trouble establishing any consistency in the current campaign. At 17-19-3, they're only ahead of the Carolina Panthers (14-21-7) in the Southeast Division. The only good news on the horizon is that the road leads home soon, with four of the next five games at the Forum. In spite of their health woes, it gives the Lightning a fighting chance to get back on track in about the only place things have gone right this season.
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