The Blue Jackets return home to face the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday night. The Lightning have won four in a row, seven of their last 10, and sit atop the Atlantic Division.
The Lightning have been an offensive powerhouse to start the season, with their 47 goals scored ranked second in the NHL and their +13 goal differential also ranked second. That’s not surprising when your team dresses Steven Stamkos every night, one of the game's top players and a two-time winner of the Maurice Richard Trophy. His eight goals rank fifth in the NHL.
But Stamkos isn’t the only offensive weapon in Tampa. Last year’s top rookie duo of Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat are both right back to work, with Johnson’s 13 assists and 15 points both leading the team. Nikita Kucherov is also out to a nice start with 12 points in 13 games this season, after scoring 18 points in 52 games last season.
Victor Hedman was one of the NHL's top defenseman through the season's first two weeks, but he remains sidelined due to a fractured finger.
The Blue Jackets and Bolts met late last season in Tampa Bay, the second-to-last game of the season for both teams on Apr.11 at Amalie Arena. The Lightning defeated the Blue Jackets 3-2 behind two goals from defenseman Eric Brewer. Boone Jenner and David Savard scored goals for Columbus.
It was the first NHL start for Lightning goaltender Kristers Gudlevskis. Gudlevskis won world notoriety as goaltender for the Latvian national team at the 2014 Olympics, notably a 55-save performance in a 2-1 loss to the eventual gold medal winners from Canada. He needed only to make 36 saves to earn his first NHL win against the Jackets. Gudlevskis is currently playing at AHL Syracuse.
Tyler Johnson leads the Lightning in assists with 13, but the man cashing in on those helpers has been Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov has five goals and seven points in five games, including a hat trick against the Arizona Coyotes and another multi-point game against the Washington Capitals. Johnson has eight points over that same stretch (1-7-8) and scored his second goal of the season in the Lightning’s last game against Calgary. Johnson and Kucherov only have two power play points on the season combined, which only proves that the two of them are doing serious damage at 5-on-5 on the ice together. Lately, Kucherov has been the finisher.
Former Blue Jacket Anton Stralman never quite found his stride in Columbus, but last spring, appeared to have finally come into his own with Alain Vigneault and the New York Rangers, becoming one of their top defensemen during the playoffs. So far this season, he’s looking like a wise investment for Lightning GM Steve Yzerman. Stralman has nine points on the season, four in his last five games, and boasts a league best +15 rating while playing 22 minutes per night to lead the team. His 56.7 CF% is the best among Lightning defenseman. Stralman has become a legitimate top-pairing defenseman in the NHL, and has fixed the defensive deficiencies that plagued him when he used to call Nationwide Arena home.
Ryan Johansen vs. Steven Stamkos
Tampa Bay’s power play is fifth in the NHL, while the Blue Jackets rank 13th. Each team’s No. 1 center is also a huge part of their respective power play; Stamkos has scored three power play goals this season and has added three power play assists as well. Johansen has two power play goals of his own and five assists. The Blue Jackets have struggled defensively of late, while the Lightning boast a high-powered offense that can take over a game. If the game becomes a run-and-gun track meet like the Lightning would prefer, it definitely favors the visitors.