Time: 7:00 pm Eastern Time
Location: Nationwide Arena
Broadcast/Streaming: Bally’s Sports Sun, Bally’s Sports Ohio
Opponent SBNation Site: The Cannon
On the How Concerned Am I About the Tampa Bay Lightning scale I’m currently at the Did I Lose My Sunglasses? point. You know how it is when you can’t initially find your shades, right? You’re pretty sure they are somewhere in the house or car, but if you did actually leave them at a restaurant, beach, or hotel you know it’s going to be a pain in the butt because you really liked them and you’re not sure if you can find a pair that fit and looked as good as they did. It’s the same with the Lightning.
I’m pretty sure that they will come around and get back to being one of the best teams in the league in time for the playoffs, but in the back of my mind there is a nagging voice asking, “what if they don’t?” Well, if they don’t then it’s going to be a real pain in the butt watching them shoot themselves in the foot game after game. Let’s face it, like the fact that you lost your sunglasses and someone didn’t steal them, the Lightning have done much of the damage themselves. In most of their ten regulation defeats this year, it’s been more them losing rather than the other team beating them. There is usually a stretch of play where the Bolts get fumble-itis with the puck, turn it over, and it ends up in the back of their net.
Even if they don’t win tonight, what would be nice to see is a complete 60-minute effort where they are outworking the Blue Jackets on most, if not every shift. That’s not an easy task against a team coached by John Tortorella, but the Lightning should be able to do it. Coach Cooper loves to preach process over results, so it would be nice to see the Lightning get back to executing their style of play.
There are some mitigating factors at play, no doubt about it. The right side of the blueline is in a bit of a spot right now with two rookies and Luke Schenn holding down the fort. That’s not ideal. Still, the Lightning have to play through it and now that the left side of the defense is healthy they should be able to find a way to compensate for the lack of experience on the other side of the ice. It will take a total team effort, but so does winning in the playoffs and the Bolts showed they could do that.
With the exception of the two back-to-back’s the I fully expect to see a heavy dose of Andrei Vasilevskiy down the stretch. Coach Cooper is a big fan of playing his number one goalie as much as possible and with average-to-below-average starts coming from his back-ups, it is somewhat warranted to put the potential Vezina-winner between the pipes as often as possible.
Vasy’s numbers have cooled a bit since his red-hot start to the season, but he is still stellar at 5v5 with a league-leading 18.94 GSAA according to Natural Stat Trick. Among goalies who have played over 1,000 minutes this season his 1.53 GAA is tops as well. As the last line of a sometimes shaky Lightning defense, he has held his own and more this season. Vasilevskiy is far-and-away the MVP of the team and the reason they are comfortably in the playoffs as opposed to scrapping it out with the Blue Jackets and Predators.
The Blue Jackets return home from a six-game road trip where they lost five times (a 3-1 win against the Lightning the lone bright spot) and the realization that their dream of playing the Lightning in the first round of the playoffs for the third year in a row is probably dead. They can’t score, they can’t keep the puck out of the net, and they can’t seem to get out of their own way.
Tortorella is most likely done at the end of the season as their head coach despite votes of confidence from his general manager. The team itself is most likely in need of a complete rebuild as well in the offseason as they are lacking in any type of identity at the moment. Max Domi appears to be back on the top line centering Patrik Laine, but they haven’t been filling the net with pucks. Since his arrival in Columbus Laine has just 7 goals in 30 games. Decent, but not good enough for the three-time 30+ goal scorer.
Elvis Merzlikins was pretty, pretty good in his two starts against the Lightning last week, stopping 68 of 72 shots and basically stealing their victory last Tuesday. Expect him to get at least one of the starts with Joonas Korpisalo getting the other.
Tampa Bay Lightning Lines
Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Tyler Johnson
Alex Killorn - Anthony Cirelli - Steven Stamkos
Barclay Goodrow - Yanni Gourde - Blake Coleman
Pat Maroon - Ross Colton - Mathieu Joseph
Victor Hedman - Cal Foote
Ryan McDonagh - Ben Thomas
Mikhail Sergachev - Luke Schenn
Columbus Blue Jackets Lines
Patrik Laine - Max Domi - Eric Robinson
Oliver Bjorkstrand - Jack Roslovic - Cam Atkinson
Nick Foligno - Alexandre Texier - Boone Jenner
Liam Foudy - Riley Nash - Mikhail Grigorenko
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Vladislav Gavrikov - David Savard
Dean Kukan -Mikko Lehtonen