GAME 14: BLUE JACKETS (9-4-0) AT LIGHTNING (10-2-2)
AMALIE ARNEA, 7:18 P.M., SATURDAY
TV: FOX SPORTS OHIO/FOX SPORTS GO
RADIO: CD102.5 FM & BLUEJACKETS.COM
TAMPA, Fla. - Tampa Bay Lightning coach Jon Cooper has a lot of respect for the Blue Jackets, who are looking to even the season series against the Lightning on Saturday.
The Lightning defeated Columbus 2-0 on Oct. 19 at Nationwide Arena, but that game didn't diminish the Blue Jackets in Cooper's mind. Just the opposite, in fact.
"It's always good when you've seen a team before, but I said this last time we played them ... I think this is one of the premier teams in the league," Cooper said Saturday, after Tampa Bay's morning skate. "And when I say, 'premier,' I'm saying top two."
He didn't reveal the other team in that assessment, but if it's the Lightning, that would make sense. Tampa Bay is atop the NHL standings with 22 points, and has only lost once in regulation on home ice (6-1-1). The Lightning are five points ahead of the next closest team in the Atlantic Division, the Ottawa Senators, and one point ahead of the Los Angeles Kings and St. Louis Blues for the overall top spot in the league standings.
"I'm anxious to see how we play [Saturday]," Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said Friday, a day after Columbus won 7-3 against the Florida Panthers to begin a three-game road trip. "That's certainly not being negative on Florida, but Tampa's a better team. It's a better back end. They defend better. We're going to have our hands full."
Cooper's team will too.
Columbus is second in the Metropolitan Division, and is tied in points (18) with the first-place New Jersey Devils and third-place Pittsburgh Penguins.
"They're just deep through all four lines," Cooper said. "They've got size, skill, speed, goaltending, structure, and I just like the way they play. I'm extremely pleased we won up there in Columbus, which is a hard place to win, but we're going to have to play better tonight to beat them, because they're a better team now than when we played them."
Prior to the game, the Lightning will honor Tortorella and several other members of Tampa Bay's 2004 Stanley Cup championship team, as part of the franchise's celebration of its 25th season in the NHL.
Afterward, Tortorella and the Blue Jackets will try to spoil the party.
"I think that's something that I would like to enjoy with some of those guys," Tortorella said after practice Friday. "We're going to get together for dinner [Friday night], and I don't want to miss that stuff. I think you can stop thinking about the game and enjoy some of that stuff."
Then, it's all business.
"We still have a home here," Tortorella said. "We come back for parts of the summer. We have a lot of good friends here. I just try to keep it as business, though. It gets a little confusing for me, quite honestly, when you come back, so I just focus on our team and what we're trying to do here."
Video: Torts talks about what he expects from the CBJ on SAT
The Blue Jackets, who have the most wins through the first 13 games of a season in franchise history, are trying to win their third game in a row. They're also looking to even the score in the season series with the Lightning.
In that game, Columbus became the first team to keep Tampa Bay's Nikita Kucherov from scoring a goal, ending an impressive goal streak at seven games to start the season.
Kucherov's line, however, still played a key role in the Lightning's win. Steven Stamkos, who centers it, assisted on both goals, scored by rookie defenseman Mikhail Sergachev. Kucherov had the primary assist on the second one.
Tampa Bay also got a 43-save shutout from Andrei Vasilevskiy, who's expected to start again Saturday, in the Blue Jackets' only regular-season visit to Tampa Bay this season.
Columbus outshot Tampa Bay 43-21 in that first game, and according to naturalstattrick.com, and took 59 percent of 5-on-5 shot attempts. The issue was the location many of their shots were taken from, with most originating from distance along the right-wing.
Video: Werenski talks about the team's preparation
"They had a lot of shots, but I think we did limit their Grade-A scoring chances," Lightning center Brayden Point said. "But they're obviously so talented and great at creating scoring plays, that they're going to get chances. I thought we did an OK job, but hopefully we'll do better here at home."
2017-18 Season: (0-1-0). This is the second of three games this season. The Blue Jackets will host the Lightning on Dec. 31.
All-time: 10-12-2 overall; 4-7-2 at Amalie Arena
"BY THE NUMBERS"
- 2: Number of times Columbus has been outshot in its first 13 games.
- 2.5: Shooting percentage of Blue Jackets forward Artemi Panarin, who leads the team with 11 points (1 goal, 10 assists). Panarin's career shooting percentage was 15.3 percent coming into this season
- 37: Percentage of face-offs won by the Blue Jackets in their 7-3 victory against the Florida Panthers on Thursday. Despite the low number, Columbus took 57.1 percent of all 5-on-5 shot attempts (60-45) in the game.
- 49.7: Tampa Bay's Corsi (shot-attempts percentage) in their first 14 games, which ranks 16th in the league. Columbus is fourth (53.9%)
- 58.9: Percentage of 5-on-5 goals scored by the Blue Jackets in their first 13 games, which ranks third in the NHL behind the St. Louis Blues (63.8%) and Los Angeles Kings (61.2%)
EYES ON: THE LIGHTNING
- Vasilevskiy is off to a great start in net. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, he matched the single-season NHL record for wins in the month of October, going 10-1-0 to tie Manny Legace (2005-06, Detroit Red Wings) and Craig Anderson (2009-10, Colorado Avalanche)
- Despite losing 2-1 in overtime to the New York Rangers on Thursday at Amalie Arena, the Lightning are leading the Atlantic Division, and are off to their best start in team history. Their 10 wins, 21 points and 56 goals were all franchise highs for the month of October.
- Stamkos leads the NHL with 24 points (6 goals, 18 assists), and has registered at least one point in 12 of Tampa's 14 games. Kucherov leads the NHL with 13 goals.
- Stamkos, Alex Killorn and New York Rangers forward Kevin Hayes were each fined $5,000 by the NHL Department of Player Safety for unsportsmanlike conduct during the Rangers' 2-1 overtime win Thursday at Amalie Arena. The suspensions stemmed from Hayes and Stamkos squirting water on players from the bench onto opposing players. Killorn was fined for jabbing Hayes, who was on the bench, with his stick after Hayes squired water on him.
Video: Dubois talks about how he felt playing center
EYES ON: THE BLUE JACKETS
- Columbus held practice Friday in Tampa and had full participation. The forward lines remained the same as they were Thursday against the Florida Panthers, which means rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois was still centering the fourth line.
- Defenseman Gabriel Carlsson (upper body) went through another full practice, but it's unclear when he will come off injured reserve. Tortorella said that even if Carlsson is activated soon, he will not bump Markus Nutivaara from the third defense pairing to make room for Carlsson - who'd been skating in that role prior to his injury Oct. 13 against the Rangers.
- Sergei Bobrovsky is expected to start for the Blue Jackets, which would be his third straight game in net.
- Tortorella said forward Cam Atkinson (lower body) will not join the Blue Jackets before the trip concludes Monday in New York against the Rangers. Atkinson has missed two games, and hasn't been ruled out for a return Tuesday at home against the Nashville Predators.
- Matt Calvert was struck in the mouth by the puck in the first period of the Jackets' game Thursday against the Panthers, after it came off teammate John Anderson's stick and hit him while seated on the bench. Calvert's two front upper teeth were pushed back, but not broken. Calvert saw a dentist in Tampa on Friday and practiced.
- Brandon Dubinsky practiced a day after missing the third period against Florida with blurry vision, which he said stemmed from an "eye gouge" by Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle during a second-period scrum. Dubinsky said he's fine and will play.
"I think the first thing is, we're all healthy and getting guys like [Steven Stamkos] back is huge for our team. He's our first-line center and a big power-play guy for us, so getting a guy like that back is huge, but the disappointment of last year has fueled our fire this year." - Lightning center Brayden Point.
"Yeah, I mean, it's just a dirty move. You get face-washes, and if you just want to drop the gloves and get it overwith, that's fine too. It was a gutless move by him." - Blue Jackets center Brandon Dubinsky, who said Panthers defenseman Keith Yandle 'eye-gouged' him in the second period Thursday.
"We just can get you different ways. We've got the guys that will bang around and hold you accountable, we've got some skill guys and we've got everything in between. The one thing that hurts us is when we're not engaged and we're not skating, we're an easy team to play against. When we're doing the opposite of that, and we're obviously skating and taking command of a game, we can be a tough out." - Lightning coach Jon Cooper
"It's nice to see some of the, I guess, secondary scoring continue to help this team propel itself a little bit here early in the year. Not only 'Bread' [Panarin], but a number of our guys, our keys guys, have not fully untracked themselves. So, as long as we find a way to win, I know our top guys will get going." - Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella
Artemi Panarin - Nick Foligno - Josh Anderson
Boone Jenner - Brandon Dubinsky - Tyler Motte
Matt Calvert - Alexander Wennberg - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Sonny Milano - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Markus Hannikainen
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Jack Johnson - David Savard
Ryan Murray - Markus Nutivaara
Out: Cam Atkinson (lower body), Zac Dalpe, Scott Harrington
Injured reserve: Gabriel Carlsson (undisclosed), Lukas Sedlak (ankle)
Vladislav Namestnikov - Steven Stamkos - Nikita Kucherov
Ondrej Palat - Brayden Point - Yanni Gourde
Alex Killorn - Gabriel Dumont - J.T. Brown
Chris Kunitz - Tyler Johnson - Ryan Callahan
Victor Hedman - Jake Dotchin
Mikhail Sergachev - Anton Stralman
Braydon Coburn - Dan Girardi
Out: Slater Koekkoek, Andrej Sustr, Cedrick Paquette (upper body)
Injured reserve: Erik Condra (back)
NOTE: In the first game, Cooper went with seven defensemen and 11 forwards. Based on the Lightning's morning skate, it looks like that might be the case again. If so, look for either Koekkoek or Sustr to dress instead of a forward.