Sergachev, Lightning zap Jackets
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Mikhail Sergachev certainly made a strong case Thursday night that he belongs in the NHL.
The rookie defenseman scored the first two goals of his career and helped the Tampa Bay Lightning continue their torrid start with a 2-0 victory over the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena.
“I didn’t know what I was supposed to do,” Sergachev said. “I did a good cele(bration) and the boys just congratulated me.”
In an early season battle of Eastern Conference front-runners, Lightning goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy withstood 43 Blue Jackets shots to post his first shutout of the season.
“We just couldn’t solve their goalie,” Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella said.
Tampa Bay (6-1-1), which moved into first place in the Atlantic Division, is off to its best start since going 7-0-1 out of the gate in its Stanley Cup championship season of 2003-04. The Lightning head home from a three-game road trip with two wins and an overtime loss.
“It’s a tough league to win in regardless, and to come on the road and get five of six points, I’m extremely pleased,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said.
“But what I really liked tonight was the defensive effort. You look at the stat sheet and see we gave up 40 shots, but most of them were harmless. The bottom line is we dug in deep in our own zone and we got two points out of it.”
Columbus (5-2-0), which came in tied for the lead in the Metropolitan Division after the best start in franchise history, had a four-game winning streak ended at the start of a four-game homestand.
“We didn’t put our best foot forward,” Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno said. “We didn’t skate in the first period and allowed them to dictate their game. Our second period was really good, but too little too late against a good team. You have to have a good start against a team like that.”
Sergachev, who was the No. 9 overall pick by Montreal in the 2016 draft, is making an immediate impact with the Lightning after they acquired him in June. His two goals — one in each of the first two periods — followed his first career multi-point game two nights earlier against the New Jersey Devils.
“He’s actually made great strides as a player in his first eight games in the league, especially the last couple of games,” Cooper said. “He’s earning his ice time now.”
Lightning sharpshooter Nikita Kucherov finished with assists on both of Sergachev’s goals but failed to score one himself for the first time this season, ending his seven-game streak matched by only six players in the NHL modern era.
Steven Stamkos, who entered the game tied with Kucherov for the NHL lead with 12 points, added an assist. He has an eight-game point streak to open the season.
“When you get open, they’ll get the puck to you,” Sergachev said. “All you have to do is shoot the puck and that’s what we did.”
Sergachev broke through against Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky with his first goal at 17:48 of the opening period. Kucherov found the rookie defenseman just inside the blue line and he fired a slap shot that eluded the Blue Jackets goalie.
In the second period, Sergachev beat Bobrovsky again, this time when he skated in unimpeded and whistled a shot past last season’s Vezina Trophy winner, who had 19 saves.
“One thing is the slap shot, but to come right down Broadway and pick a corner like that, that just shows the skill set he has,” Cooper said.
The power-play struggles continued for the Blue Jackets, who have just one goal with the man advantage this season and were 0 of 3 against the Lightning.
Columbus managed only one shot on goal during a two-minute opportunity to start the second period and did not get a shot off on another power play later in the second.
“Our power play has to give us a goal somewhere along the way to spark us,” Tortorella said. “We’ve got some things to do. We’ve just to keep working at it and something good will happen.”
The Lightning were shut out on the power play for the first time in eight games. They had tied a franchise record set in 2001-02 and matched in 2002-03 with man-advantage goals in each of their first seven games.
But there were no complaints from the Lightning after an important road victory and the added bonus of a night like that from Sergachev.
“I’m trying to just build my confidence and play better D, and the goals just came with it,” he said. “Just trying to learn.”
NOTES: The Blue Jackets held a rare game-day morning skate at Nationwide Arena. The team waited until Wednesday morning to return to Columbus after Tuesday night’s game in Winnipeg. ... Lightning RW J.T. Brown announced that he will no longer raise a fist during the national anthem. The 27-year-old pledged to work in the community to raise awareness about what he believes are racial inequality and policy brutality in America. He was the first NHL player to protest in such a fashion during an Oct. 7 game against Florida. Brown hasn’t played since and was a healthy scratch against Columbus. ... Kucherov is playing a career-high 20-plus minutes per game this season. ... Blue Jackets G Sergei Bobrovsky and Lightning G Andrei Vasilevskiy both had the night off in their teams’ previous game.