Last 10: Columbus 2-7-1; Anaheim 7-2-1
Season Series: The Jackets and Ducks have split two meetings so far this season, with Anaheim taking the last one 7-4 on Jan. 8 at Honda Center.
Big Story: As Columbus tries to bounce back from yet another difficult loss in the finale of its six-game road trip, Anaheim is looking to do some bouncing back of its own in hopes of making an unlikely run at the West's top eight.
Blue Jackets: Few seasons on record have been as frustrating as what has transpired in central Ohio this season. The Blue Jackets currently have the worst record in the League, but their meager point total does little to show the true measure of misfortune for Columbus. The team has been beset on all sides by numerous injuries, bad breaks and a coaching change, which has left the Jackets out of the playoff discussion and the center of a number of swirling rumors regarding this month's trade deadline.
Columbus is coming off another frustrating loss Wednesday night, in which the team lost on a buzzer-beating goal by L.A.'s Drew Doughty with 0.4 seconds left. Referee Steven Walkom originally waved off the goal, but video replay showed the puck crossed the goal line with less than a second to play -- though television replays indicated that the game clock stopped briefly with 1.8 seconds remaining before starting again. While the NHL said in a statement Thursday that "the League has begun a thorough review into the matter," the loss still stings for the Jackets, who wrap up a six-game road swing in Anaheim. Even more frustrating is another loss Friday will leave them flying back home with no victories on the entire trip.
Ducks: As frustrating as Columbus' season has been, Anaheim was in the same boat for much of the first half, suffering tough losses and enduring inexplicable troubles on offense. After a coaching change of their own, however, the Ducks appear to have turned things around. Despite a rough 6-2 loss to Dallas on Wednesday night, the Ducks are 9-2-1 in their last 12 games. While they are still double digit points out of the West's final playoff spot, and a berth is unlikely, the change in play has started to get the attention of the rest of the conference, which would be wise to fear a team with so many potent weapons.
Those weapons will need to get back in gear if that unlikely playoff run is to come to fruition, however. Reigning NHL MVP Corey Perry is scoreless in his last four games while Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan haven't made the score sheet in three games. Of course, with talent like that in their top six, it's only a matter of time before the Ducks start scoring again. The question is when they do, how much time will be left?
Who's Hot: While the Ducks top guns are struggling, Matt Beleskey has picked up some of the slack, tallying 2 goals and 1 assist in the last three games. … Jackets defenseman Nikita Nikitin has 4 points in his last five games.
Injury Report: Anaheim is still missing backup goalie Dan Ellis, who went on IR in early January with a torn groin. Jason Blake is on IR with a foot injury. … Columbus continues to be slammed with the injury bug as Jeff Carter (separated shoulder), Kristian Huselius (groin), James Wisniewski (broken ankle) and Mark Letestu (hand surgery) all remain out.
Stat Pack: To get a real indication of how much Columbus has struggled this season, look no further than its goal differential, which at minus-55 is not just worst in the League, it's a full 23 goals behind the next worst mark in the NHL, Carolina's minus-32.
Puck drop: If the Ducks are going to make a miracle run to the postseason -- and their recent play has indicated that they are capable of at least making it interesting -- they'll need to take advantage of struggling opponents like Columbus. And as the schedule shows, they'll need to do it quickly. Things could get tough soon for Anaheim, which is in the midst of a four-game homestand. When the stay in southern California ends the Ducks will head out on a massive eight-game road trip.