BLUE JACKETS (15-24-9) at LIGHTNING (30-14-2)
Thursday, 7 p.m. ET, Amalie Arena, Tampa
TV: Bally Sports Ohio, CBJ app
Radio: Eldorado Scioto Downs Blue Jackets radio network (97.1 The Fan flagship)
As the Blue Jackets have come down the stretch, the biggest issue with the team's play as it tries to find wins has been battling a small margin for error.
With a lineup depleted by the losses of some of its best players, it's not that the Jackets have to play perfect hockey to win -- that will never happen -- but it's close. With a bevy of youngsters and AHL veterans in the lineup, Columbus has to cut down on mistakes to get a win, but in games like Tuesday's setback vs. Florida, there were simply too many miscues to stay competitive.
Turnovers in bad spots on goals two and three, for example, stood out, as while the Blue Jackets aren't trying to stifle creativity in making plays, sometimes at certain spots on the ice, the sure thing has to be done.
"I still think we're involved in (the game) at 2-1," head coach John Tortorella said. "The turnovers, the self-inflicted ones, we just won't recover with our hockey club right now. We won't recover from those. We're just not developing enough offense to recover from those. Those are the things that are hard, we just have to get better at.
"We have to stay with it. We have to keep our patience with it and we can't turn one over at the blue line (to make it 3-1). We can't. It's something that we are always talking about as far as playing within ourselves. Turnovers are killing us as we continue to learn, I guess."
With Columbus nearing elimination from the playoff race - the Jackets are 13 points out with eight to play - and riding a seven-game losing skid (0-6-1), what Tortorella wants to see are steps that prove the team is making progress despite the rough go of things.
To see the same mistakes keep popping up has been the biggest source of frustration, but the hope is the team will be able to make some things happen down the stretch, starting against a Tampa Bay team the Jackets have had success against at times.
"We are trying to win games, but we're trying to learn at the same time, and it doesn't seem like either is going our way right now," center Jack Roslovic said. "I think we need to just keep working at it, keep on playing hard and focusing on becoming a better group, a more tightknit group, and start to learn on each other and learn from it."
Know the Foe
Tampa Bay finds itself in a bit of an odd place as the defending Stanley Cup champs -- in third in the Central Division as the stretch run beckons.
The Lightning is behind both Carolina and Florida as the games tick down, a testament to how top-heavy the division is as the teams battle one another. The Bolts are three points behind both the Panthers and the Hurricanes, though Tampa does at least have a game in hand on Florida at this point.
While the division race has become a battle, Tampa Bay does continue to show its one of the best teams in the league with 30 wins in 46 games played. The Lightning are also placing in the top 10 in scoring (3.30 goals per game, fifth in the league) and team defense (2.61 goals per game, seventh in the NHL).
Victor Hedman is one of the rare point-per-game players from the blue line with 42 points in 46 games (eight goals, 34 assists), while Jackets killer Brayden Point is right behind with a 20-19-39 line. Ondrej Palat is right behind with a 12-26-38 line, while the injured Steven Stamkos has 17-17-34. Yanni Gourde adds 16-15-31, while Alex Killorn has 12 goals and Mathieu Joseph has 11.
Andrei Vasilevskiy is in the Vezina race yet again with an impressive resume in 36 starts. The 2019 winner of the trophy that goes to the top goalie in the league is 27-8-1 with a 2.08 goals-against average and .930 save percentage, while backup Curtis McElhinney is at 3-5-1/3.48/.862 in nine games.
Playing in his first game against his former team, defenseman David Savard has posted no points and a minus-4 rating in his first five games with the Lightning.
3 Keys to the Game
Get to Vasy: While Vasilevskiy is one of the top goalies in the league, he's struggled some vs. Columbus, posting a .903 save percentage against the Jackets. It's by far his worst number against any opponent this season
Dictate play: One of the reasons for Columbus' relative success against Tampia in recent years has been the team's ability to bend the game to its style of play.
Prize the puck: Things like turnovers have killed the Blue Jackets in recent games; Columbus must cut down on its mistakes to have a chance in this one.
Oliver Bjorkstrand leads the team in goals and points this year with a 15-20-35 line, while Jack Roslovic is tied for the team lead in assists. … Roslovic, who has a career-high 35 points, has eight points (4-4-8) in the last eight games. … Cam Atkinson is one point from 400 in his career (212-187-399). … Tortorella has 670 career wins, two behind Mike Keenan for 12th place in NHL history. … Columbus has stopped 39 of 43 power-play chances against (90.7 percent) in the last 167 games. … The Blue Jackets have tallied first in 28 of 48 games. … Columbus is 3-2-1 this year vs. the Lightning, a .583 points percentage that is the club's best this season against any opponent. ... The Jackets are 2-12-2 in the last 16 games but both wins are against Tampa Bay.
Projected Lineup presented by Blue Technologies
(Subject to change)
Oliver Bjorkstrand - Jack Roslovic - Cam Atkinson
Stefan Matteau - Alexandre Texier - Patrik Laine
Eric Robinson - Max Domi - Nathan Gerbe
Ryan MacInnis - Josh Dunne - Kole Sherwood
Michael Del Zotto - Seth Jones
Vladislav Gavrikov - Mikko Lehtonen
Gavin Bayreuther - Dean Kukan
Elvis Merzlikins (confirmed starter)
Scratches: Zac Dalpe, Mikhail Grigorenko, Kevin Stenlund, Gabriel Carlsson, Scott Harrington, Andrew Peeke
Taxi squad: Cliff Pu, Adam Clendening, Cam Johnson, Matiss Kivlenieks
Injured reserve: Gus Nyquist (shoulder, out 5-6 months as of November), Zach Werenski (sports hernia, out for the season), Emil Bemstrom (lower body, rehabbing with a timetable TBD), Boone Jenner (broken finger, out six weeks as of April 7), Brandon Dubinsky (wrist, LTIR).
Roster report: Tortorella said Domi and Gerbe will go into the lineup in place of Dalpe, who returned to Cleveland for the birth of his third son, and Stenlund, while the defensive corps remains the same. Merzlikins will get the nod in net.