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PREVIEW: Blue Jackets get right back at it vs. Colorado

Columbus' only home Friday-Saturday back-to-back concludes vs. Avs

by Jeffrey Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com
BLUE JACKETS (30-16-9) vs. AVALANCHE (30-16-6)  

Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, Nationwide Arena (FOX Sports OhioCBJ appFOX Sports app97.1 The Fan

BUY TICKETS (Science Takeover Night presented by COSI)

The Columbus Blue Jackets have won 19 of the last 26 games and have points in 24 of those contests. They have been even better of late, posting a 9-0-1 record in the last 10 games, giving the team two double-digit point streaks for the first time in franchise history.  

They might be the hottest team in the NHL, but two teams who can also contend for that crown are headed to Nationwide Arena. 

A two-game test against some of the best of the best -- Saturday night's foe, Colorado, is a legitimate contender to win the Western Conference, while the Blue Jackets face a Tampa Bay team on Monday night that is 20-5-2 since Columbus began its hot streak -- is on tap. 

The Blue Jackets often talk about taking things one game at a time, but this little stretch does, in fact, catch the eyeballs.  

"It should be fun," defenseman Zach Werenski said of Saturday night's contest against Colorado. "The building should be rocking. It's a good team we're playing. It's a fast team. We're going to enjoy this one a little bit and get ready for tomorrow. It's going to be a battle here. We're excited." 

It's far too early to declare the two games a referendum on the Blue Jackets' postseason hopes -- after all, Columbus has beaten such good teams as Washington and Boston multiple times on its current streak -- but the two teams do possess tremendous challenges for Columbus. To start, both boast impressive offenses, as both are in the top three in the league when it comes to goal scoring on the season. 

On the other side of the ice, Columbus has moved into second place in the NHL in goals allowed per game, ceding just 2.42. Over the last 26 games, the Blue Jackets have allowed just 1.65 goals per contest. 

To CBJ captain Nick Foligno, that means Columbus has to just play its game to be successful in the next two contests -- the last two the Blue Jackets will play against teams currently in playoff spots for the rest of the month.  

"We're excited about the challenge this is going to present to face teams like that where their record speaks for itself," Foligno said. "It's going to be a battle, and we're looking forward to testing our mettle against the and continuing to be the team that we are, not changing anything, not trying to be something different because we're playing somebody else that is higher in the standings. It's just be who we are and go from there." 

Know the Foe 

This will be a heavyweight matchup as Colorado is a legitimate Stanley Cup contender that sits second in the Central Division behind defending champion St. Louis and has won five of six. Even more impressive is the Avs, now healthy, have been beset by injuries this year as standouts Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog have missed time. 

The squad -- which Columbus will face next year in Finland -- leads the NHL with 3.69 goals per game thanks to an elite top line as well as a scoring depth that has 17 players in double digits in points. The Avs have been a powerhouse at 5-on-5, outscoring foes 134-89. 

Nathan MacKinnon, who is in the conversation among the best players in the NHL in his age 24 season, leads the way with 30 goals and 74 points, which are tied for fifth and fourth in the league, respectively.  

When all are healthy, the trio of MacKinnon, Rantanen and Landeskog are one of the top lines in the league. Rantanen has been a point-per-game player this year with a 17-20-37 line in 36 games while Landeskog has 13 goals and 23 points in 36 games. 

There's plenty of scoring depth to go around, though. Andre Burakovsky has been an excellent addition from Washington, totaling 17 goals and 40 points, while rookie defenseman Cale Makar is a leading contender for the Calder Trophy with a 12-28-40 line. Nazem Kadri has 19 goals while Joonas Donskoi adds 14, and former Blue Jacket Matt Calvert has 12 tallies among 24 points.  

Phillip Grubauer has been the No. 1 in net and is 16-11-4 this season with a 2.78 goals-against average and .910 save percentage, while Pavel Francouz has been impressive in 20 games with a goals saved above average mark of 9.14. Francouz is 12-4-2 with a 2.45 GAA and .924 save percentage.  

3 Keys to the Game   

No breakdowns: Columbus lost its first matchup with the Avs in Colorado last year in part because of a couple of breakdowns that led to transition goals. The Blue Jackets have largely cleaned up such issues but it's key against a powerful offense like Colorado's not to give up odd-man chances. 

Special teams: For all of the Avs' firepower, the team is 16th in the NHL in power-play percentage (19.3) and 19th in PK (79.6). Columbus could steal a goal or two here. 

Complete the weekend: The Blue Jackets are 10-1-1 in their last 12 home games and are expecting another big crowd. Using that energy against a very good team will be important.

Of Note

Oliver Bjorkstrand has 10 goals during his last 10 games (10-3-13) including four two-goal games. … Pierre-Luc Dubois has a 7-17-24 line in his last 24 games and is plus-17. He has eight points in his last six games. … Elvis Merzlikins has won eight straight starts with five shutouts. He has allowed eight goals in that span with a .967 save percentage. … Zach Werenski's 17 goals lead the NHL for defensemen and are a new CBJ record for blueliners. ... Cam Atkinson is two goals from the 200 mark, while Seth Jones and Gus Nyquist are two assists from 200 in their careers. … Colorado won the first game of the season series between the teams, capturing a 4-2 victory Nov. 9. Emil Bemstrom and Zach Werenski scored for Columbus. ... The Blue Jackets are 3-0-1 in the last four home games vs. the Avalanche.

Projected Lineup 

(Subject to change) 

Nick Foligno - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Oliver Bjorkstrand 

Gus Nyquist - Boone Jenner - Cam Atkinson 

Sonny Milano - Riley Nash - Emil Bemstrom 

Nathan Gerbe - Ryan MacInnis - Eric Robinson

Zach Werenski - Seth Jones     

Vladislav Gavrikov - David Savard      

Scott Harrington - Markus Nutivaara    

Elvis Merzlikins  

Matiss Kivlenieks 

Scratches: Kevin Stenlund, Andrew Peeke, Joonas Korpisalo (injury)  

Roster Report: The Blue Jackets used the same 18 skaters Friday as on Tuesday even though Eric Robinson missed two days of practice after blocking a shot with his lower leg against Florida. Any lineup changes will be known pregame when John Tortorella addresses the media.

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