The Columbus Blue Jackets host the Tampa Bay Lightning on Saturday, hoping to win back-to-back games for the first time since November.
The Blue Jackets have been off for the All-Star break since a 1-0 victory over the St. Louis Blues on Jan. 30, which wrapped up a five-game road trip.
Columbus last won two consecutive games, Nov. 22 and 24, over the Chicago Blackhawks and New Jersey Devils.
“We’ve been improving,” Blue Jackets coach Pascal Vincent told 97.1 the Fan. “The last road trip, we were .500 against really good teams. Grade A chances — that’s something we focus on quite a bit ’cause this is a pretty good indicator of whether you should win or lose a game. We out-chanced the other teams (on the road trip) except for one game — Seattle — out of the five games.
“Our defensive game is getting better, but we want to push that a little bit.”
Columbus, in last place in the Metropolitan Division, enters Saturday’s contest with a 3-5-2 record over its last 10 games and a 9-13-4 record at home this season.
Kirill Marchenko leads the Blue Jackets this season with 15 goals in 48 games. Johnny Gaudreau has a team-leading 32 points in 50 games this season, and Yegor Chinakhov has three goals and five points in his last five games (14 total this season).
Blue Jackets captain Boone Jenner, the team’s lone representative at the NHL All-Star Game, is third in team goal-scoring with 13 tallies in 35 games this season.
Goaltender Elvis Merzlikins is 9-10-7 with a 3.22 goals-against average in 28 games.
The Lightning enter Saturday’s contest following a 6-2 loss to the New York Islanders on Thursday night.
Tampa Bay has lost back-to-back games against the Rangers and Islanders following the All-Star break. The Lightning were outscored 9-3 in the two losses.
“I’m disappointed in how we’ve come out of this break,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said. “I thought we have a little more in us to make sure we’re ready, but we’ve looked slow, we’ve looked out of shape — we look like we took 10 days off, and all the work we did to get ourselves in the spot we’re in, now we’re going to have to work our way back in by playing games, and that’s just not the way you can do it.
“I’m in complete agreement with the break; I’m just not sure we handled it well.”
Tampa Bay is 10-15-2 on the road this season and 8-3-0 over its last 11 games.
Nikita Kucherov extended his point streak to six games (five goals, seven assists) in Thursday’s loss. The Lightning forward leads the NHL in points (87) and ranks third in goals (33) through 51 games this season.
Brayden Point has 25 goals and 54 points in 52 games this season, while defenseman Victor Hedman has 51 points in 50 games.
Andrei Vasilevskiy is 16-11-0 this season with a 2.82 GAA and a .899 save percentage.
Columbus beat Tampa Bay 4-2 on Nov. 2 in the only other meeting between the two clubs this season. The Blue Jackets and Lightning wrap up the season series on April 9 at Tampa Bay.
–Field Level Media
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