Curtis McElhinney
Blue Jackets-Lightning Preview
Curtis McElhinney

Blue Jackets-Lightning Preview

Published Dec. 25, 2015 11:49 a.m. ET

The only coaches to lead the Tampa Bay Lightning to the Stanley Cup Final will be in Amalie Arena on Saturday night, and Jon Cooper and John Tortorella are both searching for offense.

The league-worst Columbus Blue Jackets, now coached by Tortorella, have lost six of their last seven games at Tampa heading into this matchup with Cooper's Lightning.

Cooper led Tampa Bay to the Eastern Conference title last season, with that feat only bettered in franchise history by Tortorella's Lightning capturing the 2004 Stanley Cup.

Offense is a concern for both coaches. Tampa Bay (17-15-3) is 23rd in goals per game at 2.5, with Columbus 24th at 2.4.


The Lightning totaled 13 goals in three games before Tuesday's 2-1 loss to Vancouver.

"It's kind of a microcosm of how our first 35 games have gone," Cooper said. "You've got to put the puck in the net."

Columbus (13-20-3) fell 5-2 at Pittsburgh in its last game Monday, getting outshot 35-24. The Blue Jackets were outscored 4-0 in a second period in which Boone Jenner and Brandon Dubinsky were whistled for fighting penalties.

"We have to get into an aggressive mind-set," Tortorella said. "We did not develop enough offense tonight."

Fittingly, the Lightning won 2-1 at Columbus on Dec. 14 in the only previous meeting this season. That marked the ninth game of a season-high 10-game goal drought for Steven Stamkos in which he kicked the puck into the net for a disallowed tally.

Stamkos broke out by totaling three goals in back-to-back games before coming up empty Tuesday. The Lightning continue to play without injured center Tyler Johnson, who had 29 goals last season.

Brian Boyle, whose head struck the glass after a first-period hit in Friday's 5-2 win over Ottawa, didn't play against the Canucks and is day to day. Boyle is third on the club with eight goals.

Jenner and Scott Hartnell each have 13 goals to lead Columbus, which has received abysmal production from Ryan Johansen and Nick Foligno, who have combined for 11. Foligno and Johansen totaled 57 goals a season ago.

Johansen's assist Monday marked his first point in five games. He hasn't scored in his last 10.

Tampa Bay went 1 for 10 on the power play Tuesday, ranking 24th in that department at 16.8 percent. The Lightning are 1-1-0 on a six-game homestand.

"Now we've got to make a push," Cooper said. "We've got four more games at home here that we can gain some ground in the standings and we have every thought that we are going to do that."

The Lightning figure to start Ben Bishop, who is third in the NHL with a 2.00 goals-against average. The Blue Jackets are starting a back-to-back set and will go with Curtis McElhinney or Joonas Korpisalo, who made his NHL debut in the first meeting against Tampa Bay.

Tampa Bay winger Nikita Kucherov has six points in a four-game streak.

The Blue Jackets are fifth in the NHL with an average of 27.3 hits with the Lightning sixth-worst at 19.5. Columbus held a 36-23 advantage in that category in the first meeting.


Curtis McElhinney
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