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PREVIEW: Columbus hits the road to take on division rival Carolina

Blue Jackets look to bounce back from Friday's loss in latter half of back-to-back

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

BLUE JACKETS (1-3-0) at HURRICANES (5-0-0) 

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

If you like weekend hockey, the Blue Jackets have a schedule for you. 

Over the first five weekends of the season, Columbus has games on nine of the 10 Friday or Saturday evenings. That's four back-to-backs out of five weekends for the Blue Jackets to begin the season. 

On the other side of it, over the first four-plus weeks of the season, Columbus has games on just five of the 22 Sunday through Thursday dates.  

In other words, it's the ultimate hurry up and wait schedule. For example, after Monday's game vs. Buffalo -- the Blue Jackets' third contest in four days to start the season -- Columbus had a full three days off before last night's game vs. Anaheim. With this evening's matchup vs. Carolina, the Blue Jackets have games on back-to-back days, then there are three more off days before Wednesday's home game vs. Dallas. 

The benefit? It gives the team some time off to work on some things early in the season. The downside? Not a lot of time to adjust between games, plus it can make finding the right workload for a goalie a little difficult to pin down. 

"It is what it is," center Alexander Wennberg said. "It's the schedule; we just follow it. Right now, (we've had) a couple of days here to think about and improve a couple of things. That's how the season goes. And right now, you are just happy to play hockey again." 

For head coach John Tortorella, the schedule allowed him to focus on a couple of different things this week. First, he watched film Tuesday -- in between spending time with his dogs and horses, including working to create another stall for a soon-to-be-adopted equine - then put the team through practices on Wednesday and Thursday. 

In the first of those practices, the Blue Jackets worked mostly on their play away from the puck -- which Tortorella has highlighted as perhaps the most important key to how the team will play this season -- then focused on breakouts and special teams on Thursday. 

"The schedule at the beginning of the year is usually spread out that first six weeks or so, so we have our thoughts already before we get into the season," Tortorella said. "We look at it as far as where we can have mini-sessions as far as working on things. It's welcomed by us. Even if we were winning all the games, it would be welcome because you're still working on your concept. 

"To get a couple of good days of practice, it was important for us." 

Things will change a bit on the schedule front going forward, as after having four of their 16 back-to-backs in the first five weeks of the season, Columbus will have just one more in November (Nov. 29-30) and one in December (Dec. 16-17).  

Meanwhile, there will be just one three-day gap between games in November and one in December, which will be the Christmas break.  

That'll be much more like the slate the team will face for the rest of the season. For now, the days between games are to be enjoyed, even if it takes a small adjustment to the usual schedule. 

"If you have a day off, it's always good to refresh," defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov said. "If you have back-to-back games, it doesn't matter. We just change it up a little bit, our training and stuff." 

Know the Foe 

Since the midpoint of last season, Carolina has played like a house afire. Rod Brind'Amour's team went 31-12-2 to close last season, made it to the Eastern Conference final and now is off to a perfect 5-0-0 start this season, making them one of four teams in the NHL to earn the full complement of points thus far. 

For a couple of years now, the Canes have carried possession throughout their fames and the team finally started getting the reward last season as the calendar flipped to 2019. In fact, this year's start is the best in franchise history.

A large part of that is because of a young, excellent, mobile defense that continues to be that way even after the trade of Justin Faulk to St. Louis for a package that includes Joel Edmundson. The unit is led by offensive flavor Dougie Hamilton (3-4-7), two-way standout Jaccob Slavin (2-2-4) and such other names as Brett Pesce and Maple Leafs import Jake Gardiner. 

Up front, Sebastian Aho hasn't gotten rolling yet with a goal and no assists, but Teuvo Teravainen has been on fire with a 2-4-6 line. Russian Andrei Svechnikov, who was chosen second overall in the 2018 draft, has a team-best eight points, seven of them assists, while former CBJ forward Ryan Dzingel has a 2-2-4 line.  

Fellow former Blue Jacket Curtis McElhinney isn't back in net, but Petr Mrazek (three starts, 2.57 GAA, .882 save percentage) and James Reimer (two starts, 2.42 GAA, .940 save percentage) have filled the net admirably. 

3 Keys to the Game 

Handle the pace: Carolina averages 38.0 shots on goal per game, second in the NHL. It's a team that plays an exciting pace, but getting sucked in can be an issue, one reason the Canes average 4.2 goals per game. 

Limit penalties: A theme in any game, it takes on importance with the Canes clicking at 29.4 percent (5-17) on the power play so far this season. Columbus did a great job of that vs. Anaheim, taking a single minor. 

Gotta score: The reality is eight goals in four games - an average of 2.0 -- isn't enough to consistently win games. Every team goes through scoring slumps, and the Jackets were a post or crossbar away from generating more vs. Anaheim. But at some point, the dam must burst.  

Of Note 

Boone Jenner is one point away from 200 in his NHL and CBJ careers, while Oliver Bjorkstrand is two points from 100. … Cam Atkinson led the Blue Jackets with three goals in last year's four-game series vs. Carolina, which was split between the teams. … Carolina outshot Columbus 143-100 in the four games, including 46-20 in a March 15 game that the Blue Jackets won 3-0. … The teams have been nearly even of late in the series, with each team winning five of the last 10 games. … 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 

Markus Nutivaara - Ryan Murray 

Vladislav Gavrikov - David Savard 

Joonas Korpisalo  

Elvis Merzlikins 

Scratches: Markus Hannikainen, Dean Kukan, Scott Harrington 

Roster Report: The Blue Jackets used the same lineup vs. Anaheim on Friday night as they did in Monday's win vs. Buffalo. Hannikainen was recalled from AHL Cleveland on Friday as Josh Anderson (upper-body injury, day-to-day) was placed on injured reserve. The team will not have a media availability until pregame, so any final lineup decisions will not be known until late afternoon. 

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