Lightning-Blue Jackets Preview
A week ago, the Tampa Bay Lightning were alone atop the Atlantic Division and amidst the longest winning streak in club history. Now, they're in danger of equaling their worst slide of the season while just trying to keep pace in a tight division race.
The Lightning can avoid a fourth consecutive defeat by sweeping the season series from the Columbus Blue Jackets in Sunday's opener of a four-game trip.
Since holding a two-point division advantage after a team-record ninth straight win last Saturday over Carolina, Tampa Bay (39-24-5) has gone 0-2-1 and fallen out of the Atlantic lead.
The Lightning, in a battle with Boston and Florida for first place, last dropped four straight to conclude October.
''We're playing like we're a comfortable team in the playoffs,'' coach Jon Cooper said after Friday's 3-1 loss to Philadelphia. ''And if we're going to play like that, we won't make it.''
Though missing the playoffs isn't an immediate concern, finding some offense is.
The Lightning averaged 3.7 goals during the winning streak but have totaled three in the last three contests. They hadn't been shut out since mid-November until Tuesday's 1-0 overtime loss to the Bruins, and they only avoided being blanked again Friday because of Brian Boyle's goal with 2:42 to play.
With 19 shots in that defeat and 18 in a 4-2 loss to the Flyers on Monday, the Lightning matched what had been their previous two lowest shot totals of the season.
"We have to look in the mirror here," goalie Ben Bishop told the Lightning's official website. "Obviously it's not a good enough effort to score one goal in two games. We have to be better."
The Lightning need to see improvement from a power-play unit that has not produced a goal in six games and is 4 for 52 in the last 17.
"We have to play more north-south and get those dirty goals," Bishop said. "I think we are trying to be a little too cute here, and hopefully we can watch the video and figure it out."
Steven Stamkos is in danger of going without a point in five straight games for the first time since March 2011. After being blanked in a 2-1 win at Columbus (28-32-6) on Dec. 14, he had two goals with an assist in a 5-2 home victory over the Blue Jackets 12 days later.
Though the Lightning's six-game road winning streak ended Monday, they could get back on track with the first two stops of this trip coming against last-place teams - Columbus and Toronto.
"We have a chance to get better," Boyle said.
Bishop has a 1.20 goals-against average during a five-game road winning streak. He's posted a 1.33 GAA to win three straight against the Blue Jackets, including both meetings this season.
Columbus had a four-game home winning streak snapped with a 3-2 loss to Pittsburgh on Friday.
"We'll learn from it and get ready for a big game on Sunday," captain Nick Foligno said.
Despite the outcome, the Blue Jackets were generally pleased with the 28-save performance from Sergei Bobrovsky in his return from missing 19 games with a groin injury.
''I felt good,'' Bobrovsky said. ''I felt better as the game went on.''
Bobrovsky has a 1.10 GAA during his three-game winning streak against the Lightning but last faced them in December 2014.
Cam Atkinson has scored five of his career-high 24 goals in the past five games. He doesn't have any in eight career contests against Tampa Bay.