Surprising Blue Jackets will test depth of Lightning
TAMPA, Fla. — The banged up Tampa Bay Lightning look to continue their winning ways while the Columbus Blue Jackets hope to get back on the winning track.
The Lightning host the Blue Jackets at Amalie Arena on Friday having won five of the previous six games despite the loss of key personnel.
Tampa Bay is without captain Steven Stamkos for up to four months following knee surgery to repair a partially torn meniscus in his right knee that was performed on Nov. 16. Top defenseman Anton Stralman has been out since suffering an upper body injury on Nov. 12, and has missed six games.
Along the way Tampa Bay has also been without Jonathan Drouin, Brian Boyle, Nikita Kucherov, Valtteri Filppula and now J.T. Brown for various bumps and bruises that have kept them out of games.
“It's tough, but that's why you have to have depth,” Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. “This happens every year, so you just have to weather the storm and move on. But it's a tough time for it because we have a lot of games in a short period of time. We need guys to step in with little practice time and keep going here.”
Tampa Bay used Erik Condra and Luke Witkowski in Wednesday's game against Philadelphia, both callups from the American Hockey League, while Cory Conacher was called up earlier in the season.
The Blue Jackets, meanwhile, jumped out to the best start in franchise history with a 10-4-2 record through 16 games. But coming off a 2-0 loss to the Calgary Flames at home, the first loss at Nationwide Arena since Oct. 15, the team was not pleased with their effort in getting shut out for the first time on the season.
“It seemed like we were a little off all night,” Blue Jackets left wing Brandon Saad told the Columbus Dispatch. “We did have chances, and if we made tape-to-tape passes we would have had goals there, but there were a couple miscues there. We've got to get back to our identity.”
Part of that comes from head coach John Tortorella, who is in his first full season behind the bench since taking over in October of last season, replacing Todd Richards, who is now an assistant coach with the Lightning.
“If you get back to the grassroots of what makes you good, it's our penetration, when we're getting underneath teams,” Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno told the Columbus Dispatch. “It's getting behind the net and in front of the net, and we just didn't do enough of that.”
One subpar game does not take away from all the work Columbus has done in the early parts of the season, said Tortorella, who won a Stanley Cup while coaching the Lightning in 2004.
“We know we are a good team, we know we have put some good minutes in during this first quarter of the season,” Tortorella said. “We've just got to try to get back to our game and see if we can get some momentum bacSk.”