Blue Jackets-Lightning Preview
The Tampa Bay Lightning are pleased with their improved play, but the All-Star break couldn't have come at a better time for the banged-up club.
It's never a bad time to face the league-worst Columbus Blue Jackets.
Tampa Bay goes for a season-high fourth consecutive victory Tuesday night when it opens a five-game stretch on home ice.
The Lightning (20-23-4) are undefeated since opening January with seven losses, but their injury list is becoming a major concern. Ryan Malone suffered an upper-body injury in Saturdays' 4-3 victory at Phoenix and Dana Tyrell left Monday's practice with a possible knee injury.
Neither will play on Tuesday, nor will center Tom Pyatt (leg), as the Lightning are still awaiting the return of Ryan Shannon (knee) and defenseman Victor Hedman (concussion).
The team has called up Evan Oberg and Mike Angelidis, who will likely make his NHL debut, from AHL Norfolk.
"It's the most injuries we've had since I've been here, by far," coach Guy Boucher said following Monday's practice. "It's extremely taxing, but what's good is that the break is coming so we've got one more game where we can just give everything we've got."
Several Lightning players have stepped up during the winning streak to offset the growing number of injuries. Martin St. Louis leads the club with five points during this stretch, Steve Downie and captain Vincent Lecavalier each have four and Dominic Moore and Teddy Purcell both have three.
All-Star center Steven Stamkos looks to add to his league-leading goal total after netting his 32nd on Saturday. He found the back of the net and set up Eric Brewer's goal in a 3-2 victory at Columbus on Dec. 17.
The Lightning, who return to action Jan. 31 versus Washington, are going for their first four-game winning streak since a 5-0-0 run from March 26-April 3.
Tampa Bay improved to 5-1-0 at home in this series with a 3-2 shootout victory on Jan. 18, 2011.
The Blue Jackets (13-29-6) arrive in Tampa for the only time this season following Monday's 4-1 loss at Nashville. Interim coach Todd Richards needs to see a better start after his club was outshot 12-3 and trailed 1-0 at the first intermission.
"It wasn't a fun period to watch,'' he said.
Columbus is 3-20-3 when giving up the first goal.
It's uncertain if Richards will give the nod to Steve Mason for a second straight night as the Blue Jackets try to end a four-game road losing streak. Mason, who turned aside 25 shots Monday, made the same number of saves last month against Tampa Bay.
Curtis Sanford has never faced the Lightning.
Boucher could give veteran Dwayne Roloson a second consecutive start after he made 33 saves on Saturday for his first victory since Nov. 17.
Roloson is 5-1-0 with a 1.93 GAA in last six starts against Columbus after stopping 28 shots through overtime the last time the Blue Jackets were in town.
Mathieu Garon, who made 20 saves in that contest for Columbus, turned aside 26 shots on Dec. 17 in his first start against the Blue Jackets since signing a two-year deal with the Lightning in the offseason.
Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash, who netted his team-leading 17th goal on Monday, scored on Dec. 17.
So did R.J. Umberger, who logged 14:42 of ice time against Nashville after missing the previous five games due to a hit to the head.