NEWARK, N.J. -- Columbus Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel points to his team's ability to battle away from the puck that has made a world of difference over the last week.
The coach spoke to the media following his team's brisk workout at Prudential Center on Wednesday in preparation for the New Jersey Devils (7 p.m. ET).
"Our work away from the puck has gotten so much better," Arniel said. "A majority of the game is played between the two dots, from one end of the rink to the other, and the teams that work the hardest through those areas, whether you have the puck or don't have the puck, are the ones who have success. Our play without the puck through those areas has been so much better the last four games. It has allowed us to create turnovers, eliminate odd-man rushes and eliminate second and third chances off shots coming wide."
The Blue Jackets enter Wednesday's game riding a season-high two game winning streak and they're just hoping to keep it going against Devils goalie Martin Brodeur, who sports a 6-2-2 record with a 2.17 goals-against average and .907 save percentage in 10 career games against Columbus.
"During our slump, we had some practices where we went back to the basics and did a lot of drills without the puck, focusing on where we needed to be on the ice and setting ourselves up for offense," Blue Jackets forward Ryan Johansen told NHL.com. "He's been emphasizing that and we've been executing that on the ice. It just goes to show that if you're good without the puck, it creates a lot more offensive chances for you."
While the rookie Johansen hasn't scored in four games, his work ethic as the team's second-line wing hasn't gone unnoticed.
"It's tough for young guys to jump into this League and play against full grown men right out of junior," Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash told NHL.com. "Ryan got off to a slow start … I think it was an eye opener as to how fast it was. Lately, he's been one of our more dominant players. He's got all the tools, the size, speed and skill, and he's really come on these last couple of weeks and that's positive to see."
For Nash, who has 1 goal and 3 points in back-to-back victories, the season has certainly been tough. But he's optimistic that the team is beginning to turn the corner.
"I think there have already been two halves to our season," he said. "The first half, we couldn't squeak out wins, couldn't find ways to win. Now we're in the half where, over the last five games, we've been really good … guys have been on the same page. I really think we're turning the corner. We have a lot of healthy bodies now and that's made a difference."
Nash agreed that the team's play away from the puck has also led to success.
"When you watch video of Boston and San Jose, their work away from the puck is great," Nash said. "They always come back hard and stop in their zone; earlier in the season, we were getting away from that and trying to get a bit too offensive, but last five games we've been pretty solid."
Goalie Curtis Sanford will make his fourth straight start in net. In four games this season, the 32-year-old Sanford is 2-0-1 with a 1.46 GAA and .943 save percentage. In two career appearances against the Devils, he is 0-1-0 with a 3.57 GAA.
"Right now, I'm feeling good about my game," Sanford told NHL.com. "Guys are playing well in front of me. It's important for me to stay square and be aggressive on my shot."
Here are the probable lines for the Blue Jackets against the Devils:
Vinny Prospal - Jeff Carter - Rick Nash
RJ Umberger - Mark Letestu - Ryan Johansen
Samuel Pahlsson - Antoine Vermette - Derek Dorsett
Cody Bass - Derek MacKenzie - Jared Boll
Fedor Tyutin - Nikita Nikitin
Marc Methot - James Wisniewski
John Moore - Grant Clitsome
Goalie Curtis Sanford earns the start and Allen York will serve as backup.