BLUE JACKETS (21-15-8) at SHARKS (19-22-4)
Thursday, 10:30 p.m. ET, SAP Center, San Jose (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports app, 97.1 The Fan)
Look up the word resilience in the dictionary and you might find a picture of the current Columbus Blue Jackets.
OK, that's a cheesy way to put it, but it is true that nothing seems to bother the Blue Jackets at the moment. One of the storylines of the season is how Columbus has put together a 10-1-4 run over the past month despite a spate of injuries that have put some of the team's top players on the shelf, and it is true that the Blue Jackets have just kept their heads down and kept fighting through all the off-ice situations.
On the ice, it's been the same thing going into tonight's game at San Jose. In the 10 wins of the hot streak, Columbus has given up the first goal in six of them, including three straight.
"I've been on some teams that have had a lot of resolve, but this one is up there," veteran forward Nathan Gerbe said. "The attention to detail is awesome, and guys are just playing for each other and that's the big difference."
Two examples of that have come so far on the current West Coast trip as the Blue Jackets fell into a 1-0 hole amid early struggles against both Los Angeles and Anaheim. In each game, the team was able to right itself and find its game as the contest went on during comeback wins.
Head coach John Tortorella said Columbus understood what it had to do to win each game. Instead of any "rambunctious" conversations, there were talks about how to get back to their game.
"You just try to ride the wave as best you can and keep on trying to find your way," Tortorella said. "But if you fall off, you just have to stay within yourself, and that's what's been good about this group. There hasn't been any type of panic within a game or after a game. It's just trying to play the right way."
That, combined with a head-down mentality, has pushed the team to one of the hottest runs in franchise history, not to mention a foothold back in the Eastern Conference playoff race.
"There's been no conversation about a streak," Tortorella said. "We're just trying to ride it and trying to play the right way. I think we have defined a little bit how you have to play as a team, and that's all we talk about is playing as a team and just trying to get points along the way here.
"The streak really doesn't matter. It's just trying to play the right way each and every night."
Know the Foe
The teams meet for the second time in a six-day span, as San Jose claimed a 3-2 win on Saturday in Columbus. It's the only loss of the Blue Jackets' last 15 games.
Despite that win, San Jose has struggled this year, leading to the midseason replacement of head coach Peter DeBoer by Bob Boughner. Nothing seems to have jogged the team out of its slump, though, with the Sharks going 4-10-3 in its last 17 games.
The Sharks have struggled at both ends of the ice, placing 27th with 2.64 goals per game and 28th in defense with 3.33 allowed. The power play has also had its issues, sitting in 25th place (16.5 percent), though the penalty kill leads the NHL at 88.6 percent.
It's a team that seems to have aged quickly, as San Jose made the Western Conference final last season, but with an average age of 29.5 years old, the squad is on average almost two years older than the average team.
At age 40, both Joe Thornton (1-17-18) and Patrick Marleau (7-8-15) aren't quite the impact players they once were, while 34-year-old Brent Burns (7-22-29) has seen a drop in production but is minus-21 as well.
Logan Couture leads the way in scoring with 14 goals and 22 assists for 36 points, but he suffered a leg injury Tuesday night in St. Louis and is out for the game. Tomas Hertl is just behind with 15 goals among his 33 points, while Evander Kane adds 18-14-32 including four goals in the last three games, and Eric Karlsson has five goals and 27 assists.
The team has struggled mightily in net, with Martin Jones dead last in the league at minus-15.14 goals saved above average. He's 13-15-2 with a 3.19 goals-against average and .890 save percentage, while Aaron Dell is 6-7-2/2.99/.903 and has been earning more starts of late including the win over the Blue Jackets on Saturday.
Former Blue Jackets defenseman Dalton Prout is on injured reserve (upper body) and has played in just two games this season for the Sharks.
3 Keys to the Game
Start better: Columbus has had a rough 10 minutes in particular in each of its two California games so far on the trip. The Blue Jackets can't keep putting themselves into 1-0 holes.
Better defensively: Strong defense has been the key to the Blue Jackets' turnaround, but the team has allowed too many chances from the net front in the last three games. Getting out of the zone has also been an issue.
Get to the inside: Columbus had trouble creating offense against the Sharks the first time around. Considering the numbers of the San Jose goalies, the Blue Jackets need to get pucks on net and create dangerous chances.
Elvis Merzlikins has stopped 158 of 168 shots (.940 save percentage) in the past five games. … Werenski has 12-10-22 in his last 21 games as well as nine goals in 11 games since returning from injury. He joins Paul Coffey and Bobby Orr as the only defensemen in the expansion era to score multiple goals in three of five games. … Pierre-Luc Dubois has a 4-11-15 line in his last 13 games and is plus-9, while Gus Nyquist has a 6-12-18 line in 21 road games this year. Columbus is in the midst of five straight games vs. Western Conference teams. The Blue Jackets are one win away from their second-ever sweep of a three-game California trip, joining November 2010. … Columbus is 6-0-3 in its last seven road games. … The Blue Jackets had won three straight against San Jose before the loss Saturday.
(Subject to change)
Gustav Nyquist - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Nathan Gerbe
Sonny Milano - Boone Jenner - Nick Foligno
Emil Bemstrom - Alexander Wennberg - Kevin Stenlund
Jakob Lilja - Riley Nash - Eric Robinson
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Vladislav Gavrikov - David Savard
Scott Harrington - Markus Nutivaara
Scratches: Ryan MacInnis, Gabriel Carlsson, Joonas Korpisalo (injury)
Roster Report: Any lineup changes will be confirmed by Tortorella at a morning presser.