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Tampa Bay Lightning vs. Columbus Blue Jackets: Tampa Bay need more offense from their top lines

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Is Ben Thomas going to make his NHL debut?

Columbus Blue Jackets v Tampa Bay Lightning Photo by Scott Audette/NHLI via Getty Images

Columbus Blue Jackets at Tampa Bay Lightning: GAME 36

Time: 7:00 pm Eastern Time

Location: Amalie Arena

Broadcast/Streaming: BSSUN

Opponent SBNation Site: The Cannon

After losing on Tuesday night to the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Tampa Bay Lightning have extended their losing streak to three games – their longest streak so far this season. The team’s performance wasn’t terrible, in fact the Lightning outshot the Jackets 38-21 and controlled the pace of the game for most of its time, but goalie Elvis Merzlikins stole a game for Columbus, making 37 saves and earning a win for his team.

Before the previous game the Lightning were already missing two of their top four defensemen – Ryan McDonagh and Erik Cernak were both absent due to their lower body injuries. The Lightning defence took another hit on Tuesday night as Jan Rutta couldn’t also finish the game after sustaining a lower-body injury. The Lightning also nearly lost Victor Hedman, who fell into the boards after collision with Mikka Lehtonen. Luckily for the Lightning, Hedman returned 4:25 minutes after his injury, recording career-high 10 shots on goal during the night. At some point of the game, Mikhail Sergachev was the only Lightning top four defenseman playing for the team.

Yesterday the Lightning had their first practice in a relatively long time. Both Ryan McDonagh and Erik Cernak appeared during the practice wearing regular jerseys, although Cernak went back to the locker room after skating for 10 minutes. Jan Rutta was absent during yesterday’s practice. According to Jon Cooper, Rutta and Cernak are steps back from their return, on the other side Ryan McDonagh is close and the coaching staff expecting some good news on his conditions, which would allow him to play tonight. If McDonagh isn’t ready, the Lightning would have to recall an additional defenceman from the Syracuse Crunch. Ben Thomas is the most likeliest candidate, however, the 24-year old player hasn’t played a single game in the NHL yet.

Per Cooper, Mitchell Stephens is also being close to return. The Lightning forward hasn’t played since late January and it would be really interesting to see Jon Cooper’s choice for Lightning’s lineup, as Ross Colton perfectly fitted into a fourth-line centre role during Stephens absence.

While the Lightning defence was in a depleted condition lately, the reason for Lightning’s three-game losing streak lies also somewhere else. The Lightning offence has also taken a step back and wasn’t contributing at their normal level, especially their top line: Brayden Point went without any point in the last four games, Steven Stamkos scored just one goal in the last five games. Ondrej Palat has four points in the last five games, but was scoreless in the two latest contests. The Lightning’s fourth line has been very effective in limited minutes, but the team needs much better impact from their top lines to break the losing streak.

The Lightning’s homestand continues after tonight’s game with back-to-back against the Detroit Red Wings this weekend.

Tampa Bay Lightning Lines

Forwards

(lines from yesterday’s practice)

Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Tyler Johnson

Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Steven Stamkos

Barclay Goodrow - Yanni Gourde - Blake Coleman

Pat Maroon - Ross Colton - Mathieu Joseph

Defense

Victor Hedman - Cal Foote

Mikhail Sergachev - Luke Schenn

Ryan McDonagh - Andreas Borgman

Goalies

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Curtis McElhinney

Columbus Blue Jackets Lines

Forwards

Max Domi - Kevin Stenlund - Patrik Laine

Oliver Bjorkstrand - Jack Roslovic - Cam Atkinson

Boone Jenner - Alexandre Texier - Nick Foligno

Eric Robinson - Zac Dalpe - Liam Foudy

Defense

Zach Werenski - Seth Jones

Vladislav Gavrikov - David Savard

Mikko Lehtonen - Dean Kukan

Goaltenders

Elvis Merzlikins

Cam Johnson