BLUE JACKETS (30-19-14) vs. SENATORS (21-30-11)
Monday, 7 p.m. ET, Nationwide Arena (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports app, 97.1 The Fan)
As the Blue Jackets have scratched out points of late but also found wins to be elusive, a big question has become how the team keeps its confidence up.
But John Tortorella has tried to keep the ship on an even keel, and the head coach had a quick answer on how the team keeps battling but falling short of the reward of being in the win column.
"We'll get (the reward)," he said after Saturday's shootout loss at Nashville. "We'll get it. That's one thing about the group, it's gone on for a little bit here in the last couple of weeks in playing hard, finding ways. We just can't get it done in overtime and the shootout, but like I said, I don't doubt our mind-set as far as being ready to play each and every game."
It's become a bit of a broken record of late -- something Tortorella reminded the media of pregame on Saturday night -- but the reality is the narrative has been the same for the Blue Jackets over the last eight games.
Columbus is 0-3-5 in that span, a season-long eight-game losing streak, and now finds itself tied with Carolina for the final wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. Through it all, injuries have been the common theme, as the Blue Jackets currently have nine players out representing more than $33 million in salary, though at least goaltender Joonas Korpisalo has been activated for Monday night's game vs. Ottawa after missing 24 contests with a knee injury.
So Tortorella has hit the same messages recently. The team isn't worried about the injuries, as all it can do is put the best lineup on the ice that it can and go from there. And if the Blue Jackets keep playing good minutes -- which by and large they have even through the injuries in the last eight games, with the team earning 55.6 percent of scoring chances and 55.8 percent of expected goals at 5-on-5, according to Natural Stat Trick -- wins will come.
It's a message also believed by his players, who see plenty of reason with 19 games left that the Blue Jackets will find the wins they need.
"We're right there, so I don't know what the doom and gloom is," captain Nick Foligno said. "Yeah, it sucks to lose those guys (to injury), but we're a really confident group in here and have a belief. We've talked about that it can't just be part-time or when things are going well. It has to be when you're in the trenches a little bit, and right now we are and that's how you have to fight your way out of it.
"I think we're a little goal-starved and in a lot of games we've beat ourselves. That's the unfortunate part. … There's still a lot of good minutes, a lot of good things happening. You can choose to be focused on all the bad things, or you can say, 'OK, we shore up some things we can control and we're going to be right back in the win column.'"
Know the Foe
After bringing up the rear in points a season ago in the NHL, Ottawa wasn't expected to be a playoff contender this year, but the team did surprise some with a solid start out of the gate. But since opening 11-11-1, the team has crashed back to reality a bit, going 10-19-10 since then and occupying the second-to-last spot in the Atlantic Division while knowing postseason hockey just isn't in the cards yet again.
In fact, the Senators have won just five games in 2020, and both offense and defense are the blame. The team sits 26th in scoring with 2.65 per game while giving up 3.34, 28th in the NHL.
And scoring could be an issue tonight after three trade deadline deals were made Monday morning costing the team three of its top eight scorers. The team's leading scorer, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, was dealt to the Islanders after posting team-high totals of 24 goals, 40 points and a plus-10 rating this season. Forwards Tyler Ennis (14-19-33) and Vladislav Namestnikov (13-12-25) also went to Edmonton and Colorado today, respectively, while defenseman Dylan DeMelo was sent to Winnipeg recently.
Among those who will play tonight, the Sens have a key building block piece in place in Brady Tkachuk, as the 20-year-old is in the midst of a solid season with 18 goals and 38 points and is the top remaining scorer on the team. Former Blue Jackets forward and NHL All-Star Anthony Duclair has cooled off some but has a 22-15-37 line, while Connor Brown adds 11-25-36. Thomas Chabot is thought of as one of the top young defensemen in the league and has a 5-28-33 line, but he left the team's last game with injury and is questionable to take on the Blue Jackets.
In net, the Sens have three goalies who have made at least 17 starts, including Anders Nilsson, who is on injured reserve after going 9-9-2 in 19 starts. Craig Anderson has made 26 starts and is 9-14-2 with a 3.21 goals-against average and .901 save percentage, while Marcus Hogberg is 3-7-7 in 20 games with a 3.07 GAA and .908 save percentage.
3 Keys to the Game
Control Duclair: The former CBJ forward always seems to have a pep in his step when he takes on the Blue Jackets, including a hat trick in the Dec. 14 meeting.
Finish it in regulation: With Columbus having lost five straight in overtime, two points assured in regulation would be huge.
Welcome back, Korpi: Whether Korpisalo or Merzlikins goes in net won't be known until Tortorella's pregame media scrum, but it will be nice to have the All-Star goalie back from injury and on the active roster.
Columbus has points in 29 of 34 games (19-5-10). … The team's 14 overtime losses lead the NHL. … Elvis Merzlikins owns the NHL lead with five shutouts.. … Markus Nutivaara has as 1-4-5 line in the past six contests while playing on the top pair with Zach Werenski. … Werenski leads all NHL defensemen with a CBJ-record 18 goals from the blue line this season. … Stefan Matteau has a goal and an assist in two games since his callup from AHL Cleveland. ... The Blue Jackets have played in one-goal contests (excluding empty-net goals) in 13 of the last 14 games and 39 overall this season. … Columbus has not taken a penalty in six of 62 games this year. … The Blue Jackets have lost 355 man games to injury, already the third most in franchise history. ... Columbus is 7-0-1 on Mondays this season. … The Blue Jackets won a 1-0 game in Columbus between the teams earlier this year before Ottawa captured a 4-3 win in overtime in the second meeting.
(Subject to change)
Gustav Nyquist - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Nick Foligno
Stefan Matteau - Boone Jenner - Nathan Gerbe
Calvin Thurkauf - Kevin Stenlund - Emil Bemstrom
Eric Robinson - Riley Nash - Jakob Lilja
Zach Werenski - Markus Nutivaara
Vladislav Gavrikov - David Savard
Scott Harrington - Andrew Peeke
Scratches: Oliver Bjorkstrand (injury), Gabriel Carlsson
Roster Report: A late afternoon recall of Thurkauf and the trade of Milano means the Blue Jackets will have 12 forwards. Tortorella is not expected to make address the media until pregame, so the goalie will not be known for sure until around 5:40.