|The month of January has been nothing short of a rollercoaster for the Tampa Bay Lightning. After they closed out 2011 with a 5-2 home-ice win over the Carolina Hurricanes, they hit their worst losing skid of the season and it dropped them out of the playoff race in the Eastern Conference. Beginning with a 7-3 loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs on Jan. 3, the Lightning lost seven consecutive games and at one point occupied 15th place in the conference. |
A huge win over the Boston Bruins on Jan. 17 snapped the skid and opened a string of three-straight wins for the Lightning, and they will look to make it four straight victories tonight against the Blue Jackets. Tampa Bay has not played since a 4-3 win in Phoenix on Saturday night, while Columbus dropped a 4-1 decision to the Nashville Predators last night at Bridgestone Arena. And for two teams that don’t face each other often, the Lightning’s win at Nationwide Arena just before Christmas had the intensity of a divisional matchup and there’s likely to be more of that tonight.
One of the main reasons the Lightning have struggled is goaltending, and Dwayne Roloson’s sharp decline in production has put more pressure on backup Mathieu Garon, who earned a 3-2 victory vs. the Blue Jackets earlier this season. Garon has picked up wins in two of Tampa’s three consecutive victories and is the likely starter tonight.
The Blue Jackets – much like the Lightning – have been hampered by injuries but welcomed R.J. Umberger back to the lineup in Nashville. Tampa Bay is currently without Dana Tyrell, Tom Pyatt, Ryan Malone, Adam Hall and Ryan Shannon up front and defenseman Victor Hedman remains out of the lineup for coach Guy Boucher.
Despite injuries, Tampa Bay is getting scoring from its best players of late. Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis are each riding five-game point streaks and Steven Stamkos leads all NHL players with 32 goals.
| || || |
|Nash (17) ||Stamkos (32) |
|Prospal (21) ||St. Louis (30) |
|Nash (33) ||Stamkos (52) |
|Dorsett (111) ||Downie (111) |
|MacKenzie (+5) ||Bergeron (+8) |
|Sanford (8-10-4) |
|Garon (13-13-2) |
|Sanford (2.51) ||Garon (2.95) |
|Sanford (.914) ||Garon (.901) || |
|• Tonight's game is the second and final meeting between the Blue Jackets and Lightning this season. Columbus is 4-5-3 all-time against the Lightning, and dropped the only meeting between the two clubs last season at Tampa Bay Times Forum (3-2 shootout loss). |
• The Blue Jackets will want to avoid a special teams battle against the Lightning, especially with Tampa Bay's top scorers on point streaks. The Lightning's power play is clicking right around 20 percent on home ice, good for eighth overall in the NHL.
• Lecavalier's five-game point streak is his longest of the season. The Lightning captain has picked up two goals and eight points during the streak, and has a plus-four rating in that span.
• Columbus plays in 16 back-to-back sets this season. The Blue Jackets played one home/home set, two home/road sets (three remaining), three road/home sets (two remaining) and three back-to-back road/road sets (two remaining) including tonight. Columbus is 77-76-22 all-time in the first game of back-to-backs and is 58-93-24 all-time in the second game.