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PREVIEW: Blue Jackets host Anaheim for Friday night hockey

Columbus looks to even its early-season record vs. Ducks

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

BLUE JACKETS (1-2-0) vs. DUCKS (3-1-0) 

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


Head coach John Tortorella foresaw growing pains for his Blue Jackets team going into the season. 

With some veterans off in free agency and five NHL rookies -- three forwards, a defenseman and a goaltender -- on his opening roster, which is again the youngest by average age in the NHL, Tortorella entered the season knowing he'd have some teachable moments. 

He also knew that for his team to be successful, it would have to keep the air of confidence it built at the end of last season when it won seven of its last eight games to clinch a playoff berth, swept Tampa Bay in the opening round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs and then went toe-to-toe with Boston in the second round.

PHOTO GALLERY: Morning Skate

"I think the most important thing for us as we start the season and even if we have a bump or two along the way early in the season, we cannot lose our arrogance," he said before the puck dropped to begin the campaign. "I think we have developed a really good arrogance/swagger as we climbed into it again at the end of last season.  

"Especially when there's going to be some pitfalls and then people are going to jump on us … that's when the guys have to stand stiff and just try to be better each and every day." 

It sounds as though Tortorella, then, saw the start coming that the Blue Jackets actually had. Columbus dropped its first two games, falling 4-1 at home last Friday in the home opener against Toronto before a 7-2 setback at Pittsburgh a night later. 

Two games in, two losses and staring at the wrong end of an 11-3 scoring margin, the Blue Jackets were staring right at the adversity that their head coach had predicted. How would Columbus answer? 

"We're not hitting the panic button in here," Seth Jones said. 

Columbus then went out and proved it Monday in a 4-3 overtime victory against Buffalo. The Blue Jackets largely shut down a Sabres offense that had been rampant through the first two games while also putting 44 shots on goal, the team's most since March 2018.  

"It was one of the things we brought up in our meeting tonight is you can't play the game without your swagger, without that confidence," Tortorella said after the win. "That's a very important part of what we have to be. … To win it this way I think gives you some juice." 

The true test of that juice will come Friday night, as the Blue Jackets get back at it against Anaheim. It's the first game of a back-to-back against two teams in the midst of strong starts, as Saturday features a trip to Metro Division rival Carolina, and Tortorella wants to see how his team performs. 

"The next area is, 'Can you do it again?'" he said. "It turns into who you are. As I said prior to camp, we went through these little mental adjustments (as far as how we play) prior to playoffs, so it worked really well for us presenting it at the start of the season. 

"We had a hiccup in Pittsburgh and it gave us a chance to teach. I thought they bought in, and it's nice to get a little success for it because then they start believing in it. I think that's the biggest thing is belief in how we have to play. That's the next step is consistently believing in how we have to go about our business." 

Know the Foe 

Anaheim was unbeaten under new head coach Dallas Eakins going into Thursday night's game at Pittsburgh thanks largely to a strong defense that had allowed just three goals in three games -- and just two at 5-on-5. The defense did its part in the Steel City but the Ducks just couldn't get the offense going, dropping a 2-1 decision to suffer their first loss of the season. 

Much of the strong start is thanks to the sterling work of goaltender John Gibson, who continues to prove he's one of the best in the NHL. The one-time Ohio State commit has been double-digits above average in GSAA the past three seasons and leads the NHL in the stat while posting a 26 goals-against average and .961 save percentage with five goals allowed on 129 shots. Backup Ryan Miller, 39, is yet to play but could see his first action in Columbus.

When it comes to special teams, it's been a tale of two states. Anaheim is 0-for-9 on the power play but has killed 12 of 13 opposing man-up chances. 

Offensively, nine different scores have tallied the team's nine goals -- all at 5-on-5 -- through the first four games. Ondrej Kase (1-2-3) and Hampus Lindholm (0-3-3) lead in overall scoring, while Jakob Silfverberg, Derek Grant, Nick Ritchie and Ryan Getzlaf all have a 1-1-2 line.  

New Albany native and AAA Blue Jackets alum Kiefer Sherwood has not begun the season with the team and is with AHL San Diego after playing in 50 games with the Ducks a season ago. 

3 Keys to the Game 

Puck pressure: Supporting the puck is a key in any game but especially against an Anaheim team that will be playing its second game in as many nights three time zones from home. The Blue Jackets were solid in this area vs. Buffalo, rarely letting the Sabres get going with speed on the way to the win. 

Work on the kill: It's the old resistable force vs. movable object battle when it comes to Anaheim's power play vs. Columbus' PK thus far. Anaheim doesn't have a power-play goal, while Columbus has ceded five goals on the kill. Someone has to win this matchup; it might as well be the Blue Jackets.  

Youth is served: Three of the Blue Jackets rookies -- Alexandre Texier, Emil Bemstrom and Vladislav Gavrikov -- played their best games of the season in the win over the Sabres. The next piece of the puzzle for youngsters is always consistency; can they stack good games on top of one another? Here's a chance. 

Of Note 

Boone Jenner is one point away from 200 in his NHL and CBJ careers, while Oliver Bjorkstrand is two points from 100. … The Blue Jackets are 4-0-1 in the last four games vs. Anaheim in Nationwide Arena. … Pierre-Luc Dubois had two goals in two games last year vs. the Ducks. … David Savard (40 career goals) is one tally away from tying the CBJ's all-time record for goals among defensemen (Rostislav Klesla, 2001-11). Seth Jones and Zach Werenski are each two away with 39 goals apiece.  

Projected Lineup 

(Subject to change) 

Gustav Nyquist - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cam Atkinson 

Alexandre Texier - Alexander Wennberg - Oliver Bjorkstrand  

Nick Foligno - Boone Jenner - Emil Bemstrom 

Jakob Lilja - Riley Nash - Sonny Milano 

Zach Werenski - Seth Jones 

Ryan Murray - Markus Nutivaara 

Vladislav Gavrikov - David Savard 

Joonas Korpisalo (confirmed starter)

Elvis Merzlikins 

Scratches: Josh Anderson (upper-body injury, day-to-day), Scott Harrington, Dean Kukan 

Roster Report: Tortorella said he still has not settled on the bottom of the defensive lineup, with eight players who deserve to be among the six who dress each night, but Gavrikov and Savard comprised the third pair in practice this week. Anderson missed Monday's game with the injury and will not play vs. the Ducks, Tortorella said. 





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