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Preview: Jackets face difficult test against Lightning

Team looks to set franchise record for most points in first seven games of a season

by Brian Hedger JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

GAME 7: LIGHTNING (5-1-1) AT BLUE JACKETS (5-1-0)
NATIONWIDE ARENA, 7 P.M., THURSDAY
TV: FOX SPORTS OHIO/FOX SPORTS GO
RADIO: 97.1 FM & BLUEJACKETS.COM

They've won four straight games, but the Blue Jackets must now pass a difficult test if they want to push that number to five.

The Tampa Bay Lightning are coming off their own four-game winning streak, which ended in overtime Tuesday against the New Jersey Devils, and lead the Atlantic Division with 11 points. Columbus is tied with the Devils for the lead in the Metropolitan Division, so this early season matchup of division leaders will draw attention league wide.

Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella is keeping his focus on the 'wins' column, which got another addition for Columbus after a dominant 5-2 victory Tuesday in Winnipeg.

"I like the way we've won games in different ways," Tortorella said. "I thought [Tuesday] was probably our best game, most consistent game, and we get rewarded. Having said that, you move on. You don't get too excited about it. You keep it flat-line. We'll have a pregame skate vs. Tampa on Thursday and play against a really good team."

Leading the way for Tampa Bay is forward Nikita Kucherov, one of the hottest goal-scorers in the NHL right now. Kucherov has at least one goal in all seven games the Lightning have played, and has eight total.

He is one of just six players in the NHL's modern era (1943-44) to start a season with a goal in seven consecutive games. The only other person to do it in the past 30 years is Pittsburgh Penguins legend Mario Lemieux, who scored in 12 straight games to start the 1992-93 season.

The Blue Jackets are coming off their most complete effort since opening the season Oct. 6 at Nationwide Arena with a 5-0 win against the New York Islanders.

They effectively rolled all four lines Tuesday against the Jets, got the desired effect Tortorella was hoping to get from putting veteran Matt Calvert on the second line, and got a solid season-debut from defenseman Markus Nutivaara - who's helping fill in while Gabriel Carlsson (upper body) is on injured reserve.

 

SERIES RECORD

2017-18 Season: (0-0-0). The teams play twice more this season, Nov. 4 in Tampa Bay and Dec. 31 in Columbus.

All-time: 10-12-2; 6-5-1 at Nationwide Arena

 

"BY THE NUMBERS"

  • 11: Number of Blue Jackets who've contributed at least a point in each of the past two games.
  • 99: Number of assists for Blue Jackets center Alexander Wennberg in his NHL career.
  • 15: Number of consecutive power plays the Blue Jackets have gone without scoring a goal.
  • 7: Number of consecutive games the Lightning have scored a power-play goal, which is tied for the franchise record previously reached in the 2000-01 and 2002-03 seasons.
  • 35: Percentage of face-offs won by the Blue Jackets in their 5-2 victory against the Winnipeg Jets on Tuesday at Bell MTS Place. Despite the low success rate, Columbus dominated in puck possession and scoring chances.

 

EYES ON: THE LIGHTNING

  • Kucherov isn't the only Lightning forward off to a great start. The other two guys on his line are also sizzling. Stamkos has 12 points (two goals, 10 assists), and Namestnikov has seven points (three goals, four assists). Against the Devils, the trio combined for six points and each scored a goal to account for three of Tampa Bay's four goals.
  • Lightning coach Jon Cooper has deployed a lineup with 11 forwards and seven defensemen this season, which allows him to double shift forwards from his top line on the third unit with Tyler Johnson and Alex Killorn.
  • Andrei Vasilevskiy got a night off Tuesday in Tampa Bay's loss to New Jersey, and is expected to return to the net against the Blue Jackets. The last time he played at Nationwide Arena, Nov. 29, 2016 last season, Columbus defeated the Lightning 5-1. Vasilevskiy took the loss in that game after letting in five goals on 38 shots.
  • The Lightning's power play has mirrored Kucherov's start. The Lightning have scored a power-play goal in all seven games, which is tied for the franchise record to start a season. Tampa Bay's eight power-play goals, which is tied with four other teams for the NHL lead, were scored by seven different players. That's tied with the Devils for most players with at least one power-play goal.

 

EYES ON: THE BLUE JACKETS

  • The Blue Jackets' 10 points through their first six games is tied for the most in franchise history, which was set in 2009-10. Should they gain a point against the Lightning, it will be the most points they've ever had through the first seven games of a season.
  • Sergei Bobrovsky is expected to get back in net, after backup Joonas Korpisalo had a solid 24-save performance on Tuesday against the Jets. Bobrovsky, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, wasn't sharp in his last start. He allowed four goals in the Jackets' 5-4 overtime win against the Minnesota Wild on Saturday at Xcel Energy Center.
  • Each of the Jackets' four lines created a goal in the win against Winnipeg, including the fourth line's goal to effectively put the game away late in the second period. Center Lukas Sedlak scored off a bad-angle shot to make it 4-1 less than two minutes before the end of the period, which was the culmination of a strong effort by that group. Sedlak's line, which includes rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois at left wing and Zach Dalpe on the right, will have a challenging matchup against Tampa Bay's fourth line - which includes Chris Kunitz and Cedric Paquette.
  • Panarin has points in four of the Lightning's first six games, including the past three in a row. The Jackets' top line of Panarin, Alexander Wennberg and Cam Atkinson have combined for 11 points (four goals, seven assists) in the past three games.

 

FUN FACT

Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella will face a former team for the second time in four games. Tortorella coached the Lighting from 2000 to 2008 (535 games) and steered them to the Stanley Cup in 2004. The first former team he faced in this stretch was the New York Rangers, whom the Blue Jackets defeated 3-1 last Friday at Nationwide Arena. Tortorella coached the Rangers for parts of five seasons (319 games), going 171-118-29.

 

QUOTABLES

"I don't think we had great goaltending [Saturday] night from 'Bob,' and I thought we saved him in finding a way to win, and I think 'Bob' has saved us a couple of times early in the year. That's how you end up with the points you need to be where you want to be at the end of this marathon of a season."." - Tortorella on Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky

"We did some video the other day, and it looked like they made a deal, like the kids didn't want to play low at all in the offensive zone. They were waiting for [Nick Foligno]. I said, 'We're not making that deal.' Everybody has to do their work, as far as low coverage. It kind of put double duty on [Foligno], but we got rid of that transaction for sure." - Tortorella on replacing rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois with veteran forward Matt Calvert at left wing on the second line centered by Foligno.

 

PROJECTED LINEUPS

LIGHTNING

Vladislav Namestnikov - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov

Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Yanni Gourde

Alex Killorn - Tyler Johnson - Andrej Sustr

Chris Kunitz - Cedric Paquette - Ryan Callahan

 

Victor Hedman - Jake Dotchin

Mikhail Sergachev - Anton Stralman

Braydon Coburn - Dan Girardi

 

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Peter Budaj

 

Out: J.T. Brown, Slater Koekoek, Gabriel Dumont

Injured reserve: None

 

BLUE JACKETS

Artemi Panarin - Alexander Wennberg - Cam Atkinson

Matt Calvert - Nick Foligno - Oliver Bjorkstrand 

Sonny Milano - Brandon Dubinsky - Josh Anderson

Pierre-Luc Dubois - Lukas Sedlak - Zac Dalpe

 

Zach Werenski - Seth Jones

Jack Johnson - David Savard

Ryan Murray - Markus Nutivaara

 

Sergei Bobrovsky

Joonas Korpisalo

 

Out: Markus Hannikainen, Scott Harrington, Jordan Schroeder (conditioning assignment)

Injured reserve: Boone Jenner (middle body), Sam Vigneault (hand), Gabriel Carlsson (upper body)

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