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Back to the grind and back to the games; Tampa Bay Lightning versus Columbus Blue Jackets preview

Several big names are still missing from the Bolts lineup, while one returns to the fold (maybe).

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Russell LaBounty-USA TODAY Sports

Amalie Arena, Tampa, Florida | When: 7 PM EST
Radio: 970 AM WFLA | Television: FS Florida Sun | Twitter: Live Stream
Opponent Coverage:The CannonThe Dark Blue Jacket

Santa Claus did not bring healing to Brian Boyle, Jonathan Drouin, Tyler Johnson or Ondrej Palat. Though this is a sales holiday in Canada and elsewhere in the world (Boxing Day), I don't think a panacea is going to be a clearance item on the shelves at retail establishments around the world.

So, we're down a couple of key players (still) after the Christmas hiatus. That keeps the Tampacuse channel still live and active. Yet there was a hurting player who participated in the morning skate for the Tampa Bay Lightning of note who had been out the past two games: J.T. Brown. If Brown starts tonight isn't assured, but it adds more likelihood the recent habit of head coach Jon Cooper using an 11 forward / 7 defenseman game-night lineup isn't assured either.

But no Boyle, Drouin, Johnson or Palat, so Tampacuse once again must abides and fills the void created by the stars absent from the lineup. It is good to know Cedric Paquette likely will be back in the lineup for the second straight game. It's also been a sound effort by the likes of Mike Angelidis, Mike Blunden and other fill-ins from Syracuse. Angelidis and Blunden, however, have been playing 4th line time and only Brian Boyle is a regular in the bottom six of the four MIA guys.

With whomever in the lineup tonight against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the most worrisome trait that no one should want to see tonight is the same or a comparable effort as compared to the December 22nd failure against the Vancouver Canucks, when the Lightning were afforded countless opportunities at both even strength and on the power play and just couldn't get anything going. Allowing 2 goals on 19 shots by the Canucks did them in, but not as much as the lackluster effort that rivaled that of a high school class awaiting their Christmas break.  Oh, Tampa Bay still put up 27 shots on goal, but there was something missing in the effort put out.

And remember: The Blue Jackets may be the dregs of the NHL standings at the moment (I say that respectfully because John Tortorella has righted the team the best he could on-the-fly so far) but they kept the Lightning tied up in the December 14th matchup between the two clubs. The Lightning won 2-10, but that's an awfully close result against a club that's given up 20+ goals more than it's scored in the season. A little math shows that the average score for a Columbus game is 3.11 - 2.44 in favor of the opposition (112/88 against/for).

Joonas Korpisalo will be starting for the Blue Jackets in net, and at the time of this writing the starting netminder for the Lightning hasn't been confirmed. Korpisalo made his NHL debut against the Lightning in the December 14th meeting at Nationwide Arena, stopping 27 shots. While his numbers in four games played aren't out-of-this-world (1-3-0, a 3.23 GAA and .902 save percentage) those are pretty respectable for a 21 year old put on the spot with a mess of a club playing in front of him.

While Ben Bishop will likely get the start tonight, I'd actually like to see Kristers Gudlevskis go between the pipes for this one. Gudlevskis started one game this season, the flip-side of back-to-back games that put him against a very intimidating opponent in the Chicago Blackhawks. Much like two years ago at the Sochi Winter Olympics, the Yak-man held up his end of the ice but ultimately fell (he lost 1-0 in overtime). At this point, Gudlevskis is only in Tampa Bay to fill a roster spot while Andrei Vasilevskiy works on conditioning with the Crunch. The intended plot for 2015-16 was to have Bishop and Vasilevskiy share starting duties. With Bishop having had 28 appearance this season (out of 35 total games played), sharing duties hasn't quite happened. Bishop is playing fantastic statistically (a 2.00 GAA, a .926 save percentage) but for the sake of working on tandem time, give the Latvian 23 year-old a chance.

If head coach Jon Cooper starts Bishop specifically because of lack of confidence in the team in front of the net, perhaps that's an even better reason to start Gudlevskis? It forces the team to step up - and Cooper being stern and direct to share that message is warranted.

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