The Lightning's next three games are on the road, starting with back-to-back games visiting the NHL's bottom dwelling clubs in Columbus and Toronto. While bottom-dwelling status for the Blue Jackets and Maple Leafs gives the idea that the Bolts have less of a challenge in this back-to-back affair, the circus that will ensue upon the team's arrival in Toronto puts a dent in that idea.
Having to face John Tortorella tonight puts another knock on the notion of easy-points gained and a victory ensured in Columbus.
For any Lightning fans that didn't live through the heady days of the Double-0's of the 21st century (2002 through the end of the 2007-08 season), coach Tortorella was part of the righting of the ship in Tampa. He was an integral reason why the Lightning won the Stanley Cup in 2004. The team's worst season of his era - 2007-08 - was a byproduct of ownership flux and the inability for changes to be made with the NHL club roster with ease. His dismissal as head coach from Tampa Bay (in favor of Barry Melrose) was an impulse-over-aptitude benchmark of the OK Hockey ownership group that took over the Bolts after '07-08.
Tortorella's got quirks, Tortorella is a real character, and John Tortorella's really damn good at what he can do as a coach of an NHL franchise. Don't dismiss him because of his explosion while in charge of the Vancouver Canucks. He's already straightened out the Blue Jackets, who were winless in their first eight games of the season. While the club is 3-4-3 in their past 10, they had climbed out of last place in the overall standings and Metro Division standings at times in the last few weeks. The Carolina Hurricanes struggles and the Pacific Division competitiveness (or the lack there of) had afforded the Jackets moments out of the dregs of the NHL.
Oh, that and the offensive output by the club. While the Jackets have been outscored 93-74 on the season, those 74 goals are still three more than the Tampa Bay Lightning this season. Nine players on the Blue Jackets roster have double-digit point totals; six of those nine have 15 points or more. Downside aspect is that most of those double-digit points players have negative plus/minus ratings (exceptions being Cam Atkinson, Brandon Saad, Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Murray who are all even).
By contrast, only three players on the Lightning have 15 or more points on the season - Steven Stamkos (22), Nikita Kucherov (18) and Victor Hedman (15). Perhaps it's a statement about scoring depth on the club? It's also possible to say this highlights Tampa Bay's scoring drought. While cogs from the third and fourth lines can reach 10+ points on the season in 30 games played, the absence of a solid and steady second line has put more pressure on overall performance by healthy assets in the Lightning lineup. The two-line threat is what truly enables scoring - especially when both the top and second line are potent as they were last season. With injuries to Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat, Jonathan Drouin, Cedric Paquette and other Lightning roster players, a steady second line has been put out to pasture while the Bolts take what they can get from capable players whose roles aren't supposed to be as goal-scorers but utility men (Brian Boyle and J.T. Brown spring to mind).
One last note: Don't let the goal differential for the Blue Jackets throw you off. Sergei Bobrovsky has a .916 save percentage in his 25 games in the crease. His 2.52 goals-against average leaves something to be desired but the ability is there in the man, if not in the defensive play by the guys in front of him. The Lightning has made lesser goalies look like Vezina candidates at times this season... But have also had a knack for making likely-Vezina candidates look like backups too. The point is, don't expect a gimmie game. A win has to be earned.