The Columbus Blue Jackets (22-14-3) host the Tampa Bay Lightning (27-8-2) at Nationwide Arena on Sunday evening in the final game before the calendar turns back over to January. The puck is scheduled to drop shortly after 6:00 PM ET.
For a team that’s lost just 10 games all year and only eight in regulation, it’s no surprise the Tampa Bay Lightning are strong on both ends of the ice.
The Lightning feature two forwards in the top-five in the National Hockey League in points with Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. Kucherov, who’s only been left off the score sheet six times all season, leads the NHL in points with 54 and is tied for the top spot in goals with 24. Stamkos, who’s perennially put up big offensive numbers in his career, isn’t far behind with 48 points on the year.
Tampa Bay center Tyler Johnson has been hot lately too as he enters Sunday’s matchup riding an 11-game point streak. Really, the list of impressive Lightning offensive statistics could go on and on. Perhaps most telling: They have six skaters with 25 or more points. The Blue Jackets have just one.
On the CBJ side, fellow Russian netminder Sergei Bobrovsky, who used to have similar rankings, has had a bit of a rough stretch recently. He’s only won two of his last seven starts and has allowed 30 goals during that span. With key injuries on offense, last year’s Vezina Trophy winner needs to get back on track.
If there’s one blemish for the Lightning it’s their penalty kill, which ranks 24th in the league. In their last seven games, that unit has allowed 11 power play goals. The Jackets could use all the help they can get on the man advantage.
Although they’ve scored power play goals in six of their last eight games, that unit still ranks dead last in the NHL. While the absence of Cam Atkinson and Alexander Wennberg certainly won’t help matters, it will give head coach John Tortorella a chance to play around with the lines he sends out on the man advantage.
After an up-and-down last couple weeks for the CBJ, there are a few reasons for optimism:
- Artemi Panarin seems to be living up to expectations as he has added to his team lead in points with six in his last four games.
- Zach Werenski, who sat out the previous four games with an injury, returned on Friday and scored a power play goal late in the contest.
- Pierre-Luc Dubois, who didn’t figure to be a big part of the team’s plans heading into the season, is doing his best to squash the calls from fans who claim the franchise needs to reach outside the organization to acquire a top-line center.
- Seth Jones, who is on pace to surpass his career high in points that he set last season (30), is currently on a six-game point streak and has eight points in his last eight games.
- The team’s battled injuries, inconsistent play from their goaltender, and an awful power play, yet still finds themselves within striking distance of first place in the Metropolitan Division.
We’ll all have a chance to reflect on 2017 after the year comes to a close on Sunday night. There’s no doubt the Jackets have work to do if they want to accomplish their ultimate goals, but with more than half of the season ahead of them, there’s plenty of time for improvement. Taking two points against the best team in the NHL on Sunday evening would definitely he a step in the right direction heading into 2018.