Time: 7:30 pm Eastern Time
Location: Amalie Arena
Broadcast/Streaming: SunS, FSOH
Opponent SBNation Site: Jackets Cannon
The Tampa Bay Lightning return home from their California road trip tonight to face the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Bolts’ winning streak and points streak ended on Saturday against the Sharks when they lost in regulation for the first time since the end of November. The loss was a deserved one. They got outplayed by one of their competitors for the claim to being the best team in the NHL.
Even with the loss, the Lightning have still won eight of their last ten and have points in nine of their last ten. The Blue Jackets aren’t far behind them recently with wins in seven of their last ten and points in eight of their last ten. Columbus currently sits third in the Metropolitan Division, three points behind the Capitals and one point behind the Penguins. They’ll likely be in the scrum for wild card positions over the second half of the season.
The big storyline for the Jackets this year is what to do with their two superstars who are headed for unrestricted free agency. Both Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin seem unlikely to re-sign in Columbus. That has prompted trade speculation. But as long as the team looks to be competitive in the Eastern Conference, giving up on the season would be tough to justify.
Once Bobrovsky and Panarin are gone, the team will probably take a step back. This might be their best chance to make a playoff run and to give up on that would be taking asset management to an extreme that would be insulting to fans. And given that the players would only be acquired by their new teams for half of a season, the return likely wouldn’t be enough to justify punting on the last chance to compete with this group of players. When the front office decided not to trade those players over the summer when they might have gotten a bigger return, they locked themselves into going for it this year.
The Lightning enter the game still missing J.T. Miller. That means Adam Erne will continue to stay in the lineup. On defense, Braydon Coburn missed the last game with an injury but was back to skating in a regular jersey yesterday in practice. His injury shuffled the defensive rotation. Erik Cernak was due to miss the previous game so assuming the team wants to get back on track, he figures to be the healthy scratch tonight.
At 5v5, the Jackets look close to average on the season. They’ve been better over their last games mostly due to better defensive play. The goaltending has also improved, which is a good sign for a team that has been used to getting stellar play in net from Bobrovsky over the last couple of seasons.
On special teams, Columbus has a league average penalty kill. But their power play is a nightmare. They generate very little offense and finish even less of their chances than expected. That’s a recipe for disastrous results.
The Lightning continue to grade well at 5v5. The offense in particular has been generating better shots in the last ten games. On special teams, the power play has been lights out recently. They’re generating tons of dangerous chances and finishing a high percentage of them.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Tyler Johnson - Brayden Point - Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat - Steven Stamkos - Yanni Gourde
ALex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Adam Erne
Mathieu Joseph - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan
J.T. Miller (injured) - Danick Martel
Victor Hedman - Dan Girardi
Ryan McDonagh - Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn - Mikhail Sergachev
Columbus Blue Jackets
Artemi Panarin - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cam Atkinson
Anthony Duclair - Alexander Wennberg - Josh Anderson
Markus Hannikainen - Boone Jenner - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Lukas Sedlak - Brandon Dubinsky - Riley Nash
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Ryan Murray - Markus Nutivaara
Dean Kukan - David Savard