BLUE JACKETS (33-21-3) vs. LIGHTNING (44-11-4)
Monday, 7:30 p.m., Nationwide Arena (NBC Sports Network, CBJ app, CD 102.5 FM)
If you're a Blue Jackets fan wondering why it seems the team doesn't play as well at home as on the road, well, you can be heartened of the fact the team feels your pain.
While Columbus is on a team-record-setting pace on the road, winning 18 of its first 28 games on the road including four in a row, the home record isn't quite as strong.
The Blue Jackets enter Monday night's game against Tampa Bay with a 15-12-2 record at Nationwide Arena. Not bad, of course, but not quite the Jackets' sterling 18-9-1 road record. Included at home are some big wins -- including Tuesday's thumping of defending Stanley Cup champion Washington -- but losses like last Thursday's 3-0 setback against the Metropolitan Division-leading New York Islanders.
So what better time is there for the Blue Jackets to notch another huge home victory than against the Lightning, who enter the game with the NHL's best record going away?
"If we're going to get any sniff at all, we have to figure out our home play," head coach John Tortorella said. "We can't pinpoint it. It's easy to say you play simple on the road. Everybody always says that. It's the easy hockey adage. I don't think it's that.
"We have not figured out playing the right way to play at home and find a way to get results. If we want any chance at all at the end of the year, we have to be more consistent here in the last quarter."
Columbus is in the throes of one of the most successful stretches in team history, with a potential third straight Stanley Cup playoffs appearance on tap this season.
As the Blue Jackets have gotten better, more consistent crowds have shown up to Nationwide Arena, but the past two seasons, they haven't left some of the biggest games with smiles on their face.
The past two seasons, Columbus is just 1-4 at Nationwide in home playoff games, including an 0-3 record a season ago when losing in six games to the Capitals in the first round.
When it comes to the fans, Tortorella admitted the Jackets have "broken their hearts" at times over the past few years, including the playoffs a season ago, and goes on to acknowledge "some stinkers at home" this season.
"I think we're making strides, but understanding how important it is to play the way you need to play at home," Tortorella said. "It's such a great building. It could be a great place to play. I think it is a really good place to play. I think we can knock it out of the park if we get more consistent at home."
Columbus has 14 home games remaining, and in some ways, none will be bigger than Monday night's game against the NHL's best team with a national television audience watching.
The Blue Jackets, who have won four of five, have taken two shots already at Tampa Bay and lost both on the road. An 8-2 loss at the beginning of the season was aided by four power-play goals allowed and a third-period struggle, while in January, the team's 4-0 loss included some moments of excellent play including outshooting the Lightning by a 17-3 margin in the second period.
But in the end, each time, the Lightning was able to pull away to the win. Can things change when Tampa Bay comes to Columbus?
If so, it will go a long way toward helping the Blue Jackets make Nationwide Arena one of the toughest places to play in the NHL.
"We want this to be a hockey town," Cam Atkinson said. "It's definitely on the verge of exploding. We just have to do our part and continue to get better and win more games."
Know The Foe
The Tampa Bay Lightning express has shown no signs of slowing down, with the Lightning coming to the capital city having won five straight games, including back-to-back shutouts of Dallas (6-0) and Montreal (3-0). In fact, the Lightning have earned points in every game in February, a month much like December when Tampa went 13-0-1.
How good are the Lightning? Tampa Bay is now 15 points clear of anyone else in the NHL, and the 1995-96 Detroit Red Wings' record of 62 wins in a season is in reach if Tampa Bay wins 18 of its last 23 games starting with Monday night.
Offensively, the team's output of 3.86 goals per game leads the NHL. Three of the league's top nine scorers are on the squad, including points leader Nikita Kucherov (27-67-94), Brayden Point (sixth, 33-42-75) and Steven Stamkos (ninth, 32-39-71). Tyler Johnson adds 21 goals while eight players have at least 30 points.
Defensively, the Lightning is no slouch either, with the 2.68 goals per game allowed placing fifth in the NHL. Victor Hedman (7-30-37, +13) is one of the best two-way defensemen in the league and won the Norris Trophy a season ago, while Ryan McDonough's plus-26 mark is tied for third in the NHL. And in net, Andrei Vasilevskiy is 25-7-4 with a 2.32 goals-against average and .928 save percentage.
Special teams: Tampa enters leading the NHL in power-play percentage (29.7) and is second in penalty kill (84.6 percent). Shying away from taking penalties will be key, and the Jackets are second in the NHL when it comes to avoiding calls.
Control momentum: In each of the first two matchups between the teams this year, Tampa has been able to score in bunches. Columbus kept Chicago from building momentum after it scored, and the Jackets must do the same vs. Tampa Bay.
Play from ahead: OK, there's not many game situations in which Tampa has a losing record. Heck, the Lightning is even 17-8-1 when giving up the first goal, and 9-1-2 when tied after two periods. But Tampa Bay is 10-7-1 when trailing after one period and 6-8-0 when down after two. The teams that have beaten the Lightning have played full games.
The game begins the 10th of 16 back-to-backs for the Blue Jackets this year. … The Blue Jackets rank fourth in the NHL in penalty kill percentage overall (83.9 percent) and first since Nov. 1 (101-of-115; 87.8 percent) but had a special teams off night vs. Chicago, giving up a power-play goal and going 0-1 on the power play. … Columbus has gone three straight games without a power-play goal (0-for-6).
Blue Jackets Projected Lineup
Artemi Panarin - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cam Atkinson
Nick Foligno - Bonne Jenner - Josh Anderson
Eric Robinson - Alexander Wennberg - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Kole Sherwood - Riley Nash - Lukas Sedlak
Seth Jones - Ryan Murray
Zach Werenski - David Savard
Scott Harrington - Markus Nutivaara
Joonas Korpisalo (confirmed starter)
Scratched: Markus Hannikainen (illness), Anthony Duclair, Dean Kukan
Roster Notes: Columbus forwards Boone Jenner (lower body injury) and Markus Hannikainen (illness) missed Saturday's game, but Jenner will return in place of Anthony Duclair vs. Tampa Bay. Brandon Dubinsky continues to be on injured reserve.