In the last month of hockey, the Columbus Blue Jackets have played 16 games.
|TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING|
30-14-2 (62 points)
ROSTER / SCHEDULE
7:00 P.M. – THURSDAY, APRIL 22
TAMPA BAY, FL
BALLY SPORTS OHIO
They've won two of those 16, and as it so happens, both wins are against the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Tampa Bay Lightning.
Because of course that's how it would be.
As the two teams are set to begin their final two-game set of the season, neither finds themselves in the position they expected to be in at this point in the year.
The Blue Jackets have lost seven straight, have settled into last place in the Central Division, and are seeing big minutes from guys like Zac Dalpe, Kole Sherwood, Stefan Matteau, and Mikko Lehtonen. They've given up no less than four goals in all seven games, and frequently look lost in the game.
The Lightning, meanwhile, find themselves in a battle with the Florida Panthers and the Carolina Hurricanes in a battle for the division crown. The three teams are separated by just three points, and while whoever comes out on top in the race will find themselves in a playoff series against an inferior 4th place team (Nashville, Chicago, or Dallas), the other two teams will face off against each other in a grueling opening round matchup.
Thursday's game from Tampa Bay will be the first time that Columbus fans will see the Blue Jackets go up against former defenseman David Savard. Savard was dealt to the Lightning at the deadline in exchange for a first round draft pick.
Here's a look at tonight's projected (and subject to change) lines for Columbus:
Columbus Blue Jackets Projected Lines
|28||Oliver Bjorkstrand||26||Zac Dalpe||29||Patrik Laine|
|23||Stefan Matteau||96||Jack Roslovic||13||Cam Atkinson|
|50||Eric Robinson||42||Alexandre Texier||25||Mikhail Grigorenko|
|16||Max Domi||21||Josh Dunne||88||Kole Sherwood|
*lines are subject to change
|15||Michael Del Zotto||3||Seth Jones|
|44||Vladislav Gavrikov||4||Scott Harrington|
|7||Gavin Bayreuther||43||Mikko Lehtonen|
|90||Elvis Merzlikins||70||Joonas Korpisalo|
- WHAT'S UP, DAVID?: Seeing David Savard in a Tampa Bay Lightning sweater is a little odd, but it'll be a.. lot odd... to see the long-time Columbus defenseman skating against his former team. Savard was traded earlier in this month to shore up the Tampa Bay defense, with the Blue Jackets acquiring what will be a late first-round draft pick in return. Savard has been seeing big minutes in his first five games with the defending Stanley Cup winners; he's averaging 21:34 per game and has most often been skating with Victor Hedman as Tampa's top defensive pairing. The Lightning are just 2-3-0 since Savard's arrival, with splits against Florida and Carolina in key series for all teams involved.
- KEEP LEARNING: With nothing left to play for but draft positioning, the best thing that the players can do for themselves at this point is to find something they can take with them to help their game next season. "We're trying to win games and we're trying to learn at the same time," said center Jack Roslovic, who at 30 points on the season, trails just Oliver Bjorkstrand (by 5) and Cam Atkinson (by 1) for the team lead in points, despite having played eight less games than each of them. There are players up and down the lineup on both sides of the puck who will be fighting for a contract this offseason, so while these games aren't much fun for the fans, they are more important than ever for (at least some of) the players on the ice...
- JUST LOSE, BABY: ...but not quite from a wins and losses perspective. Players can learn and improve without the team winning, and that may be the possible outcome for the Columbus franchise over these last couple of weeks. The losses will only help the Blue Jackets draft positioning, and while there is no consensus top pick, there are a select few who will almost assuredly go in the top 3-5. With the expansion Seattle Kraken joining the league next season, the Blue Jackets currently have the 6th best odds to get the top overall pick. If they continue to lose at the rate they have been, that could go as high as 3rd. Getting a top three pick would be important for this team moving forward, and since the wins don't mean much at this point in the year...it's okay to root for your favorite team to lose close ones between now and the end of the season.
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