Down and Out in Columbus

The Blue Jackets showed why they are the hottest team in the NHL as they dominated the Lightning, 5-1.

With a couple of ugly games (including one against these same Blue Jackets last week) the Lightning were hoping to get a fast start and pull themselves out of their recent slump, instead a lackluster start doomed them to a 5-1 loss in Columbus on Tuesday night.

The Lightning were outworked all game long by a younger, harder-working team.  Wait, a young, hard-working team with an aggressive forecheck and a Russian goaltender coached by John Tortorella?  Why does that sound familiar?

Right before the puck dropped, noted shot-blocker Ryan Callahan was scratched with a lower-body injury.  Coach Cooper decided to go with a 11/7 rotation in front of young Andrei Vasilevskiy as Luke Witkowski was inserted into the line-up. Callahan’s absence was mitigated a bit by the return of J.T. Brown and Brian Boyle.

Columbus dictated play early on, relying on a tough forecheck and clogging up the neutral zone preventing the Lightning from gaining any speed through center ice. Vasilevskiy made a few key saves early on as the Blue Jackets built an early 3-0 lead in shots.

Their pressure would lead to the first goal of the game.  The Lightning chipped the puck to center ice and failed to win the puck.  Victor Hedman stepped up in the neutral zone to try and break up the play and only succeeded in running over Filppula which led to a 3-on-1 odd man rush.  A nice pass from Josh Anderson put William Karlsson alone on Vasilevskiy and the Swede was able to snipe the puck past Vasilevskiy on the stick side.

The Lightning didn’t get a shot on net in the first 10 minutes, and it wasn’t because of a biased statistician. They might not have even recorded a shot attempt.   A vigorous forecheck by Columbus limited the time and space the Lightning had for their breakouts.  The visitors, for the most part, were reduced to trying to pass it along on the boards or home-run passes up the center that were deflected away. The Bolts had issues even getting to the red line so that they could try to dump the puck in and use their speed to retrieve the puck.

Boone Jenner tripped Palat at the 10:03 mark and the Bolts were able to generate a little bit of offense with Kucherov getting the first shot on net on a nice set play off of the face-off.  Following the unsuccessful power play, the Lightning were able to finally get the puck into the Columbus zone and put some more pressure on the Columbus goalie.

Unfortunately, the Blue Jackets were able to regain control of the game and kept firing pucks at Vasilevskiy. He ended up facing 16 shots, stopping 15 of them.

The Lightning played a little better in the second, but that’s like saying a “D” is better than a “F” on a history quiz.  Both were still bad.  Despite their better play, Columbus actually built on their lead, scoring twice in the period.

Columbus picked up its second goal of the game on a turnover.  Nikita Kucherov controlled the puck behind Vasilevskiy and fluttered a weak clearing pass to center ice. Seth Jones picked it off and pushed it over to Alexander Wennberg who blasted it past a partially screened Lightning goaltender.

The Lightning seemed to finally find the back of the net when Jason Garrison fired a puck into the empty net.  The net was empty because Bobrovsky, who was about a foot outside his crease, fell down when he backed into Jack Johnson who was battling with Ondrej Palat in the blue paint.  The ref immediately waved it off and Coach Cooper threw the replay flag. For reasons unknown, or because the refs thought it would be fun to raise Cooper’s blood pressure, the call on the ice was upheld with the announcement, “The call on the ice stands, there is no goal, there is no goaltender interference.”  Um. OK.

Actually, the ruling was:

Ondrej PalatJack JohnsonSergei Bobrovsky

Columbus continued to build on their lead.  With six skaters on the ice due to a delayed penalty Scott Hartnell passed a puck out in front of the net and Josh Anderson put it past Vasilevskiy for his 7th goal of the year.

There were chances for the Lightning. Brayden Point used his speed to generate a solid scoring chance that Bobrovsky stopped.  Kucherov used some fancy stick skills to weave through three defenders but his pass to Namestnikov was left wanting when Vlad’s stick was lifted from behind.  Hedman hit Killorn with a rink-wide pass that sent the Harvard man in alone but the puck rolled on him and he was unable to finish.

A Lightning chance early in the second was a microcosm of the first forty minutes. A Columbus clearing pass ended up on Drouin’s stick. He dragged it to the middle of the ice and then passed it to an open Alex Killorn who held it, held it, held it, might still be holding it if it hadn’t been for a Blue Jacket knocking it off of his stick. If Killorn had shot it earlier he had traffic in front and a chance to not only score, but also create a prime rebound opportunity.

Outshot, out-chanced, and out-hit heading into the third, the Lightning needed to come out quickly and with a vengeance. They did, for one shift.  Kucherov had a nice chance right off the opening drop of the puck. Then the Blue Jackets scored on a nifty tic-tac-toe pass that Scott Hartnell buried past a helpless Vasilevskiy and the route was on.

After the fourth goal the ice tilted a bit in favor of the Lightning.  With Columbus sagging back, the Lightning were finally able to generate momentum through the neutral zone and push the play.  Unfortunately they weren’t able to solve Bobrovsky.

Even switching Brian Boyle to defense didn’t help stop the bleeding as former Bolt Sam Gagner snuck a puck past Vasilevskiy for the fifth goal of the game for Columbus. It looked like Brandon Saad had scored a sixth a few minutes later, but after review it never crossed the line.

Filppula finally broke the shut out in the dying moments as he corralled a rebound, shifted around a stickless Blue Jacket and then wristed a nice shot past Bobrovsky. It was a pretty way for the Finnish forward to score his 150th NHL goal. Andrej Sustr and Brayden Point picked up assists.

It’s hard to imagine the Lightning putting up a worse effort than they did the last time they played Columbus, but somehow they managed to. The Blue Jackets showed why they are the hottest team in the NHL as they dominated the Lightning from start to finish. Luckily for Tampa they don’t have to play them again until January.

The Lightning return to the ice on Thursday against the St. Louis Blues.

Three Stars:

3. Jonathan Drouin

2. Josh Anderson

1.  William Karlsson