BLUE JACKETS (5-6-3) vs. GOLDEN KNIGHTS (8-5-2)
Tuesday, 7 p.m., Nationwide Arena (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports app, 97.1 The Fan)
The numbers are stark.
Through Monday's games, 116 players in the NHL had posted at least 10 points on the season, and just one of them played for the Columbus Blue Jackets. That player, Pierre-Luc Dubois, had exactly 10 points, tying him for the lowest point total among team leaders across the league along with Minnesota's Eric Staal.
The Blue Jackets knew they'd have to score by committee this year, but the committee is struggling. The good news is 15 players have scored through 14 games, and 10 have multiple goals. But with Dubois leading the way with six tallies, that means a number of the team's consistent goal scorers from years past are falling short of their career norms.
"Look at everyone's stats," said Cam Atkinson, who has three goals, well behind the 41-goal pace a season ago that tied the franchise record. "Obviously the most consistent player so far has been Luc. He has six goals. I can have three goals tomorrow and have six goals. It's one of those things where everyone is in it."
Video: Torts comments on the team remedying early struggles.
A year ago, Atkinson had 0.51 goals per game; this year he's at 0.21. Coming off a career-best 27-goal season, Josh Anderson has battled injury and watched his production fall from 0.33 goals per game last year to 0.13. Such names as Oliver Bjorkstrand, Gustav Nyquist and Seth Jones also have seen dips on the state sheet.
In all, Columbus has averaged 2.43 goals per game, 26th in the NHL, and is coming off a particular tough week. In three games in which the team went 0-2-1, the Blue Jackets totaled just four goals and were shut out for the first time Saturday vs. Calgary.
Head coach John Tortorella says for the team to get going again, it falls on the team's best players to do the heavy lifting. He also thinks they will.
"I'll put it to you this way -- for us to get out of this little funk, our top players have to lead the way," Tortorella said. "It does not take any responsibility off of anybody else on this team, but our top players need to lead the way, and a number of them are struggling. They know it, I know it, you know it. It is what it is. It happens, but they're going to have to lead the way."
The biggest problem in the 3-0 setback vs. the Flames wasn't getting shots off, as Columbus put 43 on net against goalie David Rittich, the second highest total of the season. The issue was shot quality, as many were low-percentage shots thrown on net. Tortorella said the team generated 11 scoring chances, not a particularly high number given the number of actual shots.
"We had the puck a lot, but we did not develop enough offense," Tortorella said. "Everybody says, 'You're not getting to the blue, you aren't getting inside.' I just think we have execution problems as far as just passing.
"I do believe that our offense is going to come. We have some real good players here, and I do believe eventually that it's going to come."
Tortorella sees his top players putting in the work, but there's also a sense that the team can't afford to panic. On the contrary, team members had a short meeting before Monday morning's practice with the message clear -- while going through the slump, players must support one another and try not to let it grind them down.
"It's one of those things where I know I'll get out of it," Atkinson said. "It sucks going through it, but it is what it is. You can't be down because kicking yourself when you're down is only going to make it worse. It's just coming to the rink, having fun and bringing energy and trying to score goals in practice."
Know the Foe
If it weren't for special teams, Vegas might be in some trouble through 15 games heading into its lone trip to Columbus this year.
The team's power play has been fantastic, clicking at 25.0 percent (13-52), fifth in the league. The penalty kill has been even better, placing second in the NHL with a success rate of 89.1 percent (49-55). But at 5-on-5, the Golden Knights have struggled, outscored by a margin of 35-26 that's one of the worst ratios in the league.
Mark Stone has proved to be a fantastic acquisition thus far, as the former Ottawa Senator who came in at the trade deadline has a an 8-10-18 line that places him tied for eighth in the NHL in scoring. Former Blue Jacket William Karlsson is also off to a solid start with four goals, 10 assists, 14 points and a plus-5 rating.
Max Pacioretty also has 13 points (3-10-13) while Reilly Smith has seven goals and Jonathan Marchessault, another former CBJ, has a 3-6-9 line. There isn't much scoring from the blue line, however, as Vegas defenders have a combined 5-14-19 line, the second worst output in the NHL.
In net, Marc-Andre Fleury leads the league with eight wins but has been Marc-Andre flu-ry of late, missing Friday's game and Saturday's practice with illness but returning to the ice Monday in Columbus. He's 8-3-1 in his 13 games (12 starts) with a 2.51 goals-against average and .920 save percentage. Malcolm Subban, Oscar Dansk and Garret Sparks have all served as backups at some point this year, with Fleury and Subban the goalies who made the trip to Columbus.
The team also is without forward Alex Tuch, who has 35 goals the past two seasons but has played in just two games this year with an upper-body injury.
3 Keys to the Game
Start fast: The team termed its opening 10 minutes vs. Calgary to be "unacceptable," and the talk since has been about how to improve out of the gates. It's especially important with the team at 5-0-0 this year when scoring the first goal but 0-6-3 when ceding it.
Special teams: It's always important but it takes on an added focus against a team that has won its games thanks to its power play and penalty kill. Staying out of the box and then converting on the power play will be key.
Hit somebody: It will be interesting to see the interaction between someone like Kole Sherwood and the Knights. Vegas leads the NHL with 428 hits as a team -- Ryan Reaves leads the NHL with 69 -- while Sherwood has thrown his body around. Managing the emotions of that part of the game will take focus.
Riley Nash is one assist away from 100 in his career, while Boone Jenner needs two helpers to reach that mark. … Zach Werenski has 41 career goals for the Blue Jackets, tying Rostislav Klesla (2001-11) for most all-time. Seth Jones and David Savard are each at 40 tallies. … Columbus swept the season series a year ago and is 2-0 all-time in Nationwide vs. the Golden Knights. Atkinson (2-0-2), Anderson (1-1-2) and Jones (0-2-2) each had a point per game. … The game is the first of 12 Tuesday contests this year for the Blue Jackets, who will also be wearing third jerseys for the second of 12 games this year.
(Subject to change)
Gustav Nyquist - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Nick Foligno - Boone Jenner - Josh Anderson
Sonny Milano - Alexander Wennberg - Cam Atkinson
Emil Bemstrom - Riley Nash - Kole Sherwood
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Vladislav Gavrikov - David Savard
Dean Kukan - Markus Nutivaara
Joonas Korpisalo (confirmed starter)
Scratches: Scott Harrington, Markus Hannikainen
Roster Report: The forward lines were shaken up a bit during Monday's practice with Bjorkstrand skating to the right of Dubois rather than Atkinson. Tortorella said Tuesday morning that Korpisalo will start while Nutivaara will return to the lineup in place of Harrington.