Thu, 25 Feb 2021

Distracted Jackets host Lightning in home opener

Field Level Media
21 Jan 2021, 05:19 GMT+10

The Pierre-Luc Dubois situation has dominated the conversation with the Columbus Blue Jackets through four tough games to start the season.

The Blue Jackets will try to set that distraction aside when they host the Tampa Bay Lightning -- the team that knocked them out of the playoffs five monthsago -- in Thursday night's home opener, the start of a four-game homestand in the Ohio capital.

Dubois, who signed a two-year, $10 million contract on Dec. 31, has said he wants out of Columbus.

Not many 22-year-olds who have played just three NHL seasons -- three good ones -- have the clout to demand a trade. But the 6-foot-3, 218-pound star center, who has tallied 159 points (66 goals, 93 assists) in 238 games, has made his displeasure known despite the new deal.

"It's a situation, it is," coach John Tortorella said during a weekly radio appearance. "It's a situation and we'll go through it day by day."

Dubois scored his first goal Monday late in Detroit, but that came after he was apparently benched in the second period, playing just one shift in the final seven minutes of the frame.

"Slow down, boys. You'll know when I bench someone," said Tortorella after his team's first win. "I have to make decisions when the game is being played, when I think someone is going at certain times."

On Tuesday, Columbus lost 3-2 to Detroit -- projected to be near the bottom of the Central Division -- when the game-winner caromed in off Tyler Bertuzzi just 15 seconds into overtime.

For the Lightning, team captain Steven Stamkos has been a rock-solid replacement for sidelined top scorer Nikita Kucherov.

Stamkos produced two goals and three assists in the pair of home victories over Chicago -- showing signs that the six-time All-Star and two-time Rocket Richard Trophy winner is healthy again.

On defense, goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy -- with 57 saves of 60 shots (.950 save percentage) against the Blackhawks -- has picked up where he left off last September against Dallas when he blanked the Stars 2-0 as his team clinched its second Stanley Cup championship.

Also, Tampa Bay's front office has shown its skill at working the salary cap and keeping its core players together.

Coach Jon Cooper said general manager Julien BriseBois has done his job in juggling the salary cap and retaining key players, especially with the high-scoring Kucherov on long-term injured reserve.

"I think you need that, right? You need your players to perform, you need your coaches to perform and you need your management to perform," Cooper said. "They've done a great job to keep our core together.

"Is it ideal that Kucherov is out for the regular season? Definitely not. But to be able to keep a group together that had some success last year, obviously ... that took some work. You have to be prepared for every scenario that comes at us, and he was."

The long-term IR designation on Kucherov clears his $9.5 million salary off the cap.

"In a season where it's a sprint to the finish, we need everybody clicking early, and so far, so good," Cooper added. "A big part of that is what Julien was able to do."

Tampa Bay placed forward Blake Coleman and backup goalie Curtis McElhinney on the league's COVID-19 protocol list on Monday.

--Field Level Media

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