Lightning look to tighten up against Blue Jackets
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TAMPA, Fla. -- After putting together a record-breaking opening month of the season, the Tampa Bay Lightning want to rekindle some of that early-season success while hosting the Columbus Blue Jackets, a team steadily building toward a consistent level of play.
The Lightning sit atop the league standings with 22 points after sprinting out to a 10-2-1 mark in October behind the strong play of Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov, who were named the No. 1 and No. 2 Stars of the Month, respectively, along with goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy.
But Tampa Bay is 1-1-1 in the past three games and coming off an uncharacteristic performance in an overtime loss to the New York Rangers on Thursday, giving up a handful of odd-man breakaways and committing turnovers.
"They (Rangers) had a game plan in place and we played loose," Lightning head coach Jon Cooper said. "We let them skate by us on a lot of occasions. We can't think it's going to be a track meet every night and that we will skill our way out."
As the Lightning have shot up the standings in the early part of the season, the league has taken notice. Teams know when they face Tampa Bay that if they don't play a tight game, the Lightning will make them pay for it as the highest scoring team in the league, a team that put up eight goals on Florida earlier this week and scored seven against Pittsburgh last month.
It's up to Tampa Bay to find a way to tweak its game plan knowing opposing teams are going to want to slow the game down.
"You are going get your opponent's best game every night," Lightning assistant coach Todd Richards said. "You are going to put a target on your back and you are the measuring stick that everybody comes in as says 'Where do we stand in this league, where do we fit? If these guys are the best, how do we stand up to them?' So you are going to get a team's best focus and their best game every night."
Columbus is coming off one its best games on Thursday night, knocking off Florida 7-3.
"Right now, we are still a team trying to find out how we are going to play, how we should play," Blue Jackets head coach John Tortorella said. "I thought we played a game (Thursday) closer to where I think we should be as far as playing fast and playing with some grind underneath the hashmarks."
But Tortorella knows his team is going to have to take another step forward on Saturday facing a Lightning team that has already beat them once this season.
"I think we are going to have a team (Saturday) that is going to defend a helluva lot harder (than Florida)," Tortorella said. "I'm anxious to see how we play and that's not being negative on Florida, but Tampa is a better team, they have a better backend and they defend better and we are going to have our hands full."
Updated November 3, 2017