TV: FOX Sports Sun
TIME: Pregame coverage begins at 6:30 p.m.
TAMPA, Fla. -- It wasn't an easy move last spring when the Lightning made the decision to trade away Ben Bishop, turning the net over to young Andrei Vasilevskiy as a new No. 1 goaltender.
But as Bishop returns on Thursday night with the Dallas Stars, Vasilevskiy owns a 13-1-1 mark and the Lightning have the best record in hockey, dominating their way to a 14-2-2 start.
The Lightning's prolific scoring has been their calling card, with Nikita Kucherov leading the NHL with 16 goals and Steven Stamkos owning an NHL-best 23 assists. As a team, the Lightning lead the league with 3.9 goals per game, helped by a power play that ranks as the NHL's second-best, converting 28.6 percent of their opportunities.
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But Vasilevskiy and the defense in front of him have also been stellar, yielding only 2.5 goals per game, the third-lowest total in the league. Vasilevskiy has a 2.32 goals-against average that ranks seventh in the league, while Bishop is a more modest 7-5-0 on the season with a 2.67 GAA for the Stars (9-8-1).
Thursday marks his first time back to Amalie Arena, and he'll likely get a warm reception after five seasons and 131 wins with the Lightning.
"I'm going to be excited. You want to treat it like any other game, but I'm sure it's going to be a little different feeling coming in here, going to the other locker room," the 30-year-old said Wednesday. "It's a great sport, and this just makes it that much more fun."
The Lightning just returned from a three-game California sweep, showing off their scoring, including four goals in a span of 2:02 against the Los Angeles Kings. Dallas doesn't have nearly the same momentum, 1-2-1 in its last four, most recently a 4-3 shootout loss at Florida.
Left wing Jamie Benn leads the team in scoring with 10 goals and nine assists. If there's one area where Dallas is most dangerous, it's the power play, which is the NHL's best at 30.2 percent this season. It will be a good challenge for the Lightning penalty kill unit, which is eager for the challenge.
"Everybody's doing all those small things, whether it's the forwards pressuring up the ice and interrupting their breakouts or holding the blue line," defenseman Anton Stralman said Wednesday. "When they come in our zone, we actually apply pressure early and clear a lot of pucks early on. We don't get hemmed in our zone and spend the whole time there. We're able to get to pucks and fire them down the ice. I think that's the difference."
The two teams split their meetings last season, with the Lightning winning 6-3 in April after taking an overtime loss in February.
Both goalies likely will be cheered by the Tampa crowd on Thursday night, but it's another chance for Vasilevskiy to show the Lightning made the right decision in sticking with him as their future.