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Two of NHL's best power-play units set to square off

The Lightning and Blue Jackets enter tonight's game among the league's top three on the man-advantage.

by Bryan Burns /

Tonight's game between the Tampa Bay Lightning and Columbus Blue Jackets at AMALIE Arena will feature two of the higher scoring teams in the NHL as well as two of the top power-play units in the league.

The Lightning are scoring 3.10 goals per game, tied for third in the league. Columbus is slightly ahead of the Bolts' pace, netting 3.11 a game, second best in the league.

Columbus also owns the NHL's best power play. The Blue Jackets are converting 28.6 percent of their opportunities, but they've only had 49 power plays, the least in the league.

The Lightning, meanwhile are 20-for-82 on the power play - tied with Dallas for the most power-play opportunities -- and third in the league at 24.4 percent.

The Bolts have performed well against top power-play units of late having stymied Philadelphia, owners of the NHL's second-best power play, during the Flyers' nine opportunities in two meetings over the last week.

"We got a good test by (Philly), and we'll get another good test from Columbus," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "They've come out of the gate really strong. They're six defensemen deep, four lines deep and their goalie's playing outstanding, so tough team to match up against because you don't really have the one big line, they're all good lines. And then when your special teams are rocking like theirs have been, there's not one point of the game where you're sitting there saying they have a hole. So this will be a really good test for us, and I guess we play these guys a couple times in the next couple days and see where we're at."

The Lightning and the Blue Jackets will face each other twice in five days with the Bolts traveling to Columbus on November 29.

Tampa Bay center Brian Boyle said it will be important for the Lightning to stay out of the penalty box against the Blue Jackets and not give them any opportunities to get their power play revved up. Lightning players said the same thing before facing Philadelphia but still gave up nine power-play opportunities over two games. Only through an attacking, disrupting penalty killl backed by solid goalkeeping were the Lightning able to avoid damage on those multiple power plays.

"You can't give (Columbus) four, five, six, seven penalties," Boyle said. "You've got to keep it at a minimum. You've got to play them hard. But we've got to make sure we're focused on our game. If we're doing the right things early, especially skating, we'll have the puck some more, hopefully stay out of the box."

COACHING CAROUSEL: A pair of coaches will reunite with former teams when the Lightning host the Blue Jackets tonight.

Columbus head coach John Tortorella returns to AMALIE Arena, where he won a Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay in 2004. Tortorella compiled a record of 239-222-38 with 36 ties during his seven seasons with the Lightning.

Former Columbus head coach Todd Richards faces his old team for the first time since joining the Lightning during the offseason as an assistant. Richards was 127-112-21 in five seasons behind the Blue Jackets' bench before being replaced by Tortorella seven games into the 2015-16 season.

Cooper, for one, is happy to have Richards on his side of the bench now. The Bolts' power play has improved dramatically under Richards' tutelage, and he's provided a veteran voice in the coaches' room.

"I'm a big believer in surrounding yourself with good people, and he is truly good people," Cooper said of Richards. "But his experience, being a head coach in the league and he's worked all different situations. When you're debating about certain things, he's an easy guy to go to because more often than not, he's got the right answer. He's a good guy to have."

INJURY UPDATES: Brian Boyle missed Wednesday's 4-2 victory over Philadelphia with an upper-body injury, his second missed game in his last three, but was on the ice for Friday's morning skate and could return to action tonight.
"We'll have 21 for warmup, and we'll make a decision then," Cooper said when asked if Boyle would play tonight.

Boyle said he's feeling better after skating during Thursday's optional practice and today's skate.

"It's frustrating, but it happens, especially this year," Boyle said. "The schedule's a little funky."

J.T. Brown also skated in a regular jersey Friday but did not take part in line rushes and likely won't be ready tonight versus Columbus.

Brown sat out the Philly victory, also with an upper-body injury.
"He's probably out one more," Cooper said.

Meanwhile, Anton Stralman continues to skate in a red, no-contact jersey, signifying he's still not ready to play but is getting closer. Stralman has missed six games with an upper-body injury.

ODDS AND ENDS: Ben Bishop was the first goalie off the ice for the Lightning and will start against Columbus. Bishop went 3-0-0 with a shutout and allowed only three goals on 95 shots last season against the Blue Jackets…The Lightning own the third-best goal differential (+15) in the league behind the Rangers (+29) and Montreal (+18)…Tyler Johnson is on a Bolts season long five-game point streak after registering an assist in Wednesday'swin over Philly. Johnson has two goals and three assists over that five-game stretch…Nikita Kucherov is second in the NHL for scoring (10-14-24) and trails Edmonton's Connor McDavid (9-18-27) by three points.

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