BLUE JACKETS (11-10-4) at ISLANDERS (14-7-4)
Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, Barclays Center, Brooklyn (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports app, 97.1 The Fan)
The Blue Jackets' 5-2 win over Pittsburgh -- perhaps the team's most comprehensive and emotionally satisfying victory of the year -- was over for about 10 minutes when Gus Nyquist laid out the reality facing the team.
"This win is big," he said, "but we gotta win tomorrow. If we don't win tomorrow, we're a .500 team again. We have a big game tomorrow."
That's the reality in a turn-the-page league like the NHL. About an hour after the final horn against the Penguins, the 22 members of the Blue Jackets active roster were on a plane at John Glenn International Airport, ready to alight for New York, where the team will take on the Islanders on Saturday night.
In other words, there wasn't much time for celebrating, but that's how life goes. In addition, the win over the Penguins was the kind of win where you feel like the momentum can build.
Not only did the Blue Jackets slay a fellow Metropolitan Division foe -- and did it with a dominant first half of the game before a sound finish -- but there were a fair number of encouraging signs.
There was emotion and energy, which came out in the swagger and tenacity with which the Blue Jackets played. Veterans Nyquist and captain Nick Foligno combined to score five goals, adding an offensive component that has been inconsistent. Oliver Bjorkstrand and Josh Anderson were all over the place in the offensive zone, with the former youngster continuing what has been great play of late while the latter seems close to finding his game.
The result was a game where the Blue Jackets simply had the puck, and they weren't shy about doing something with it.
"I think the biggest improvement we made as a team tonight is we made some plays," head coach John Tortorella said. "We didn't ice pucks. We weren't flipping pucks all night long. We were in motion for our D to make more plays, and that was a major weakness in our last game."
And it's also worth mentioning the defense was a rock, with Joonas Korpisalo playing a great game behind a unit that kept Pittsburgh from the middle of the ice and other high-danger areas.
Add it all up and it felt like the kind of win you can build around, and it came two nights after a frustrating effort in which the Blue Jackets felt they just didn't give themselves a chance to win vs. Philadelphia.
"This was the only response," Foligno said. "Understanding when we play to our identity, this is what the result is usually. Even when it's not, you can hang your hat on, 'OK, we gave everything we had.' The other night, it was just so disappointing because it wasn't that feeling.
"We lose the (Flyers) game because of us, and I'm proud of the guys for all looking at themselves and saying, 'OK, what can I do to make our team better?' and bringing it into the next game. You could see it tonight. Every guy made a difference."
Know the Foe
The Barry Trotz rebuilding of the Islanders has continued unabated this year, as anyone who thought his defensive remodel would run out of steam this year has been rebuked by another strong start out of the gate.
The Islanders sit second in the Metropolitan Division and made franchise history earlier this year with a 17-game point streak that included 15 wins and two extra-time losses from Oct. 12 to Nov. 23. But New York has dropped two in a row since the streak ended with an OT loss at San Jose, and the team went 0-2-1 and was outscored 9-2 in its recently completed West Coast swing.
Defense has again been the calling card as it was a year ago as the Isles are fourth in the NHL with 2.52 goals allowed per game as well as just 37 goals allowed at 5-on-5, best in the league. The team averages 2.91, and both special teams units have been around league average (PP is 19th, PK 12th).
Up front, Mathew Barzel (nine goals) and Brock Nelson (eight goals) each are tied for the team lead with 20 points, while former Blue Jackets center Derick Brassard has had a bounce-back year with a 7-10-17 line. Anthony Beauvillier adds an 8-8-16 line, while Devon Toews leads the way from the blue line with two goals, 11 points and a plus-7 rating.
In net, it's been a nearly 50-50 split in starts. Thomas Greiss is off to another great start with a 9-2-0 record in 12 games (11 starts) as well as a 2.15 goals-against average and .930 save percentage, fifth in the NHL among those with at least 10 starts. Semyon Varlamov is 7-3-2 in 12 starts with a 2.66 GAA and .911 save percentage.
3 Keys to the Game
Get it to the net: The Islanders aren't afraid to stack in front of the net and block shots from ever getting through -- just 50.9 percent of 5-on-5 shot attempts vs. NY are on goal, second best in the NHL -- so getting the puck through the traffic will be key.
Bring the energy: The Blue Jackets had an ideal start vs. the Pens and ran their streak of scoring first to 10 games, tying a franchise record. Keeping that going will be huge against an Islanders team that can be tough to come back on.
Get 90 the win: Elvis Merzlikins will be deputized in net with Joonas Korpisalo having started three games in five days. It's time for the Latvian rookie to get NHL win No. 1, isn't it?
The Islanders have turned around the series of late, winning four of the last five including an overtime victory vs. Columbus in Nationwide Arena on Oct. 19. … Oliver Bjorkstrand has a 2-7-9 line in the last six games while matching a career-long point streak. … Joonas Korpisalo has a .919 save percentage in his last 10 starts. ... With 552 games played, Cam Atkinson will tie Fedor Tyutin for second in career games for the CBJ if he suits up vs. the Islanders. ... Columbus has played in 17 one-goal games, most in the NHL, going 9-4-4 in such games. … The Blue Jackets are 11-3-1 when scoring first and 0-7-3 when giving up the first goal, and Columbus has scored first in nine straight games.
(Subject to change)
Gustav Nyquist - Boone Jenner - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Sonny Milano - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Josh Anderson
Nick Foligno - Alexander Wennberg - Cam Atkinson
Alexandre Texier - Riley Nash - Emil Bemstrom
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Ryan Murray - David Savard
Vladislav Gavrikov - Dean Kukan
Scratches: Eric Robinson, Scott Harrington
Roster Report: Merzlikins goes in for Korpisalo after the latter has started three games over the past five days, and the Latvian rookie is coming off his first North American win Tuesday with AHL Cleveland. Tortorella said no other changes are on tap to the lineup.