The 2013 NHL realignment had not two but three teams move conferences. Focus has mostly been on the Winnipeg Jets and Detroit Red Wings switching from the East to the West and vice versa. That's not to say everyone has been entirely dismissive of the Columbus Blue Jackets moving as well, but it's been an afterthought.
The 2000-01 expansion team is now part of the NHL's Metro Division, and so far the fortunes for the Union Army haven't been any different than they were in the West: 10-14-3 and second-to-last in their division (their 23 points is a damn sight better than the Buffalo Sabres 14 or the Florida Panthers 19). Long-term, the Blue Jackets moving should serve them well - more natural regional rivalries exist in the east than the west (where Detroit was the only team close to a rival - and that driven more by the fans off-ice than on).
Tonight's game represents only the 14th time the Lightning have faced the Blue Jackets all-time (though it was already stated that the Union Army has only been around since 2000-01, and the Bolts have lately ruled the brief all-time series - 8-4-0 with 1 tie; that record is largely hoisted by the 6-1-0 head-to-head, all-time record when Tampa Bay faces the Blue Jackets at the Tampa Bay Times Forum. At Nationwide Arena, where the two clubs dance tonight, the record is a lot closer: Columbus has a 3-2-0 edge on the Lightning. The last game these two franchises played was January 24th, 2012 at Times Palace.
Ryan Johansen currently leads the Blue Jackets in points with 19 (10 goals, 9 assists). Center Brandon Dubinsky, who has missed the past six games for the Jackets, will play; he's got 15 points (5 goals, 10 assists) in 21 games for Columbus.
For the Lightning, the November swoon is over... Or so we hope. Losing Steven Stamkos, losing vital games against the Boston Bruins, Pittsburgh Penguins and that atrocious 0-3-1 road swing through the American West, the club finds itself down in the Atlantic Divisions standings (4th) but certainly not out (games in hand on every team in the division). The schedule looks easier going forward, but it's never really easier: A number of brief homestands and road-swings, including playing divisional foes Montreal, Ottawa and the Detroit Red Wings. The Wings and Lightning dance twice in 3 days (on December 12tha the Tampa Bay Times Forum and on the 15th at Joe Louis Arena), which might lead to some raised emotions, especially on the latter game (which is the flip-side of back-to-back games for the Lightning, who are set to play the Devils the night before).
As for tonight, Tom Pyatt will remain out as we noted yesterday that he's not ready to return from his broken collarbone. Pierre-Cedric Labrie was participating in the morning skate with a red no-contact jersey, so he's not likely going tonight. No word (as of this writing) if defenseman Radko Gudas will be able to go tonight.
Oh, yeah, and that Stamkos kid is out.
It'll be Sergei Bobrovsky between the pipes for the Jackets; he's 9-11-2 with a .906 save percentage and a 2.91 goals-against average. Ben Bishop is tabbed to start this one for the Lightningt seemingly out-of-the-blue).
Don't forget the Lightning watch party tonight at Sea Dog Brew Pub in Clearwater.
Other Game Coverage:
- Tampa Bay Lightning official team preview
- Full coverage on SB Nation