Season Series: First of two meetings, with Columbus paying a return visit to Tampa Bay on Jan. 24, 2012. In the only matchup last season, the Lightning claimed a 3-2 win at the St. Pete Times Forum on Jan. 18, 2011, as Ryan Malone scored in the fourth round of a shootout. Steven Stamkos tallied twice in regulation for the Lightning, while RJ Umberger and Derick Brassard had goals for the Blue Jackets.
Big Story: Both teams enter play Saturday in the bottom five of the NHL in goal differential. Tampa Bay is 26th, having scored 84 goals while yielding 105 (minus-21), while Columbus is 28th, with 74 scored and 102 allowed (minus-28). Whether that indicates a tight, low-scoring affair or a back-and-forth barnburner at Nationwide Arena remains to be seen.
Lightning: All the talk and controversy surrounding Tampa Bay's 1-2-2 defensive system has dissipated, and right now the focus is simply on how the team can turn this season around after last spring's run to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals. Offense was the name of the game Thursday against Calgary. The Lightning scored three unanswered in the second period to carry a 4-2 lead into the third, but coughed it up. Fortunately for them, Stamkos took an Eric Brewer pass and scored 30 seconds into overtime for a 5-4 victory.
"We know in order to win we can't be blowing two-goal leads in the third period," Stamkos said. "In the end, we stuck with it. We made sure we got the one point at least, and then it was nice getting the two points in the end."
Blue Jackets: Curtis Sanford did everything he could to stymie another offensively-challenged team in Los Angeles in Thursday night's game in Columbus, making a season-high 39 saves. But the Blue Jackets only got him a single goal to work with, Jeff Carter's tally with 3:17 to play in the second period, and while Sanford carried that 1-0 lead into the third it wouldn't hold, and the Jackets suffered a 2-1 defeat.
"I wish I would know the answer why we came out with the effort like that. We didn’t get hurt for two periods, but then we got hurt at the most important time of the game," said Vinny Prospal, whose shot was deflected by Carter for the team's lone goal. "It was not just about defense, it is about the whole game, every aspect -- getting pucks in the zone, being able to sustain some kind of zone time in their defensive zone -- make the skill guys on their team play defense."
Who's Hot: Stamkos is heating up again, with 3 goals and 2 assists in his last two games for the Lightning. Dominic Moore has 1 goal and 3 assists during a four-game points streak. ... Carter is starting to find his goal groove with the Blue Jackets after a rough start, as he's connected in four straight games.
Injury Report: Tampa Bay forward Martin St. Louis (facial/nasal fractures) is out indefinitely. Defenseman Mattias Ohlund (knee) is on injured reserve and has yet to play this season. ... Columbus goalie Steve Mason (quad) and forward Derek Dorsett (leg) are day-to-day. Forward Kristian Huselius (groin) is expected to miss around a month. Defenseman Radek Martinek (concussion) is on injured reserve.
Stat Pack: The Lightning have won their last six games to go beyond regulation, four in overtime and two via the shootout. ... Blue Jackets defenseman Nikita Nikitin, who went scoreless in seven games this season for the Blues before being traded, has 1 goal and 10 assists in 16 games with his new club.
Puck Drop: While Sanford (2.42 goals-against average, .914 save percentage) has provided Columbus with some stability in net over the past month, Tampa Bay is still trying to get its goaltending picture settled. Veteran Dwayne Roloson has struggled all season, to the tune of a 3.67 GAA and .882 save percentage, while Garon has struggled of late and now sports a 2.79 GAA and .903 save percentage.