BLUE JACKETS (3-2-3) at BLACKHAWKS (2-3-3)
Friday, 8 p.m. ET, United Center, Chicago
TV: FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports Go app, NHL Network
Radio: Blue Jackets radio network (97.1 The Fan flagship)
Even though Columbus boasts a six-game point streak, the last four games for the Blue Jackets have been missing one key thing that NHL coaches desire out of their teams -- consistency.
Columbus was outplayed eight days ago by Tampa Bay but still stole a point against the Lightning, then came back to Nationwide Arena two days later and played an impressive game in downing the defending champs by a 5-2 score.
It was a similar path against Florida this week, as Columbus snuck away with a point Tuesday with a shootout loss, then played a much better game last night while downing the Panthers in the skills competition.
"We were not being a consistent hockey club if we went down that road and how we played the last game against Florida," head coach John Tortorella said after Thursday night's victory. "We're trying to just stabilize ourself and not go up and down, one good game and a lousy game. Hopefully we'll get into Chicago and play another good game there and see if we can get a result."
As Tortorella acknowledged, there's not much time to waste before trying to change the theme. The Blue Jackets play their second back-to-back of the year tonight vs. the Blackhawks, following the consecutive contests Jan. 18-19 in Detroit.
In other words, another challenge will be there when it comes to playing with energy. The team has talked quite a bit this year about how tough it is to consistently bring the juice in empty buildings, and now travel from Columbus to Chicago will add another barrier to overcome as the Blackhawks were off on Thursday.
"I think as a group we wanted to create energy," said Max Domi, who scored his first CBJ goal Thursday. "It's obviously the elephant in the room. It's tough when there's no fans, you have to create that emotion and energy with the whole group. Sometimes, whatever it takes, you have to do it."
The hope is that the two points Thursday will provide a strong jumping off point tonight in the only NHL game on the docket.
"It was really important," goalie Elvis Merzlikins said. "I think even for us as a team, it was really important. We lost the game before this one so I think it was really important to win again in penalty shots. We are happy for that."
Know the Foe
Columbus heads to the Second City to take on a Blackhawks team that took as big an injury beating as anyone in the leadup to the season.
Captain Jonathan Toews? Out indefinitely with an undisclosed illness. Longtime defensive stalwart Brent Seabrook? On injured reserve with a back injury. Highly touted prospect Kirby Dach? A broken wrist suffered at the World Juniors might cost him the year. Young forward Alexander Nylander? Also potentially out for the year with a knee injury.
Add in forwards Alex DeBrincat and Lucas Wallmark as well as defenseman Adam Boqvist, who were listen Thursday on the COVID-related absences list, and it's a severely depleted Blackhawks team that has won just two of its first eight games.
For a team that was the greatest show on ice for many years during the Toews/Patrick Kane heyday, Chicago has struggled to score, posting 2.75 goals per game -- boosted by a power play that's clicking at 36.0 percent -- while allowing 3.38 per contest.
Kane has still been an offensive threat, posting a 4-3-7 line, while DeBrincat has two goals and six points in six games. Dominik Kubalik, a Calder Trophy finalist last year, has posted a 2-3-5 line, which has been matched by Dublin native Connor Murphy and Dylan Strome. Former Dallas forward Mattias Janmark and Swiss rookie Pius Suter each have three goals.
With longtime goalie Corey Crawford off to New Jersey and then retired, it's been a grab bag in net. Finnish netminder Kevin Lankinen has started four games and is 2-0-2 with a 2.18 GAA and .931 save percentage, while Malcolm Subban (0-1-1/3.95/.889) and Colin Delia (0-2-0/5.00/.863) have each started two games.
3 Keys to the Game
Stay out of the box: Chicago has scored nine of its 22 goals thus far on the power play, showing the importance of discipline for the Jackets.
More contributions: Getting guys like Domi and Mikko Koivu on the board -- and Cam Atkinson in the game before that -- is nice, but consistency from the team's big offensive guns is the next goal. It could come against a Blackhawks team struggling defensively.
Play with energy: We talked about it above but finding a consistent effort has been a quest for the Blue Jackets this year. It will be Tortorella's biggest focus going into this one.
Tortorella will coach in his 400th game behind the CBJ bench tonight. His 212 wins with the team are the most in franchise history. ... Blue Jackets forward Oliver Bjorkstrand has a 2-4-6 line in the past six games while Alexandre Texier has scored in four of the last seven with a shootout winner. … Atkinson is one goal from 200 in his CBJ and NHL careers. He would be the second Blue Jackets to reach the milestone after Rick Nash. … Nick Foligno is one goal from 200 in his NHL career (138 with Columbus, 61 with Ottawa). … ;Seth Jones has 196 points in his Blue Jackets career and also has 199 career assists in his time with Columbus and Nashville. … Chicago swept the season series a year ago, winning 3-2 in overtime at the United Center on Oct. 18 before beating Columbus by a 3-2 score in a shootout Dec. 29 in Nationwide Arena. … Columbus is just 2-8-2 in its last 12 trips to the United Center.
(Subject to change)
Nick Foligno - Alexandre Texier - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Mikhail Grigorenko - Max Domi - Liam Foudy
Boone Jenner - Jack Roslovic - Cam Atkinson
Eric Robinson - Mikko Koivu - Riley Nash
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Vladislav Gavrikov - David Savard
Michael Del Zotto - Dean Kukan
Joonas Korpisalo (confirmed starter)
Scratches: Kevin Stenlund, Scott Harrington, Gabriel Carlsson
Injured reserve: Patrik Laine, Gus Nyquist, Brandon Dubinsky (LTIR)
Roster Report: Tortorella said the team will stick with its goaltender rotation for the foreseeable future, so Korpisalo will go in the net. No other lineup changes are expected.