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PREVIEW: Blue Jackets conclude season series vs. Arizona

Columbus looking for enough offense to sweep Coyotes on season

by Jeffrey Svoboda @JacketsInsider /
BLUE JACKETS (11-11-4) vs. COYOTES (15-9-4)    

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


Coming off being shut out by the fourth stingiest defense in the NHL, the good news is the Blue Jackets return to Nationwide Arena on Tuesday night. 

The bad news the visiting Arizona Coyotes bring the second-best defense in the league to Columbus. 

Who drew up this schedule? 

For an offense that is yet to consistently find its groove, it's certainly a tough row to hoe. But head coach John Tortorella looked at the film from the blanking by the Islanders and came to a conclusion similar to one he's had a handful of times this year. 

It's not that the Blue Jackets aren't creating chances. It's just that they need to finish them. 

"That's a tough team to play against, but the chances were 18-11," Tortorella said. "We developed 18 scoring chances. To come away with nothing, it's disappointing. I think we tried. I thought we had some good zone time. 

"I have to watch the game and not just look at the goose egg at the end of the night. I thought we developed quite a bit of offense and had some chances to score, we just didn't." 

But as Tortorella has said all year, getting chances beats the alternative, but at some point, players want to score and have to score. While such players as Nick Foligno, Oliver Bjorkstrand and Gus Nyquist have picked up the production of late, the Blue Jackets are still struggling to get goals from some of the top veterans on the team. A year ago, Cam Atkinson and Josh Anderson combined for 68 goals; this year, they have four, and each has seen ice time cut of late at times due to mistakes.  

The quest for consistent offense takes on some urgency as well with the news that Zach Werenski will miss around a month with a shoulder injury. If it ups the pressure on some up front to chip in with the team's third-leading goal and point scorer out, Tortorella is fine with that. 

"Maybe they need that," he said. "Maybe they need, just try to get themselves mentally to another level as far as trying to manufacture - I think to me, when top forwards are struggling, you have to try to change your game a little bit and manufacture some goals and get some tip-ins, some rebound goals. 

"You have to get away from the hoping and, 'I'm getting chances,' to, 'I have to figure out something to score a goal.' Maybe now they see a big offensive cog of our team out, maybe that will change some thoughts in some players." 

Coming off the shutout, the team's second blanking of the year, leading goal scorer Pierre-Luc Dubois said team members have a variety of ways to try to make sure Tuesday night isn't like Saturday. 

"I think everybody is different," Dubois said. "For me, just minor things that I regret, you can try a pass or try a shot or try a move of stuff like that. Stuff like that sticks in your head before you go to bed at night. You come back to practice and maybe you try them out, maybe you take a couple of extra shots, just stuff like that. It's frustrating. 

"It's a long season. You can't just put a band-aid on it. You have to put time and effort into improving it so it can last and it's not just a one-game fix kind of thing." 

Know the Foe  

Expect a tight-checking game as two of the NHL's best when it comes to defense meet in Nationwide Arena on Tuesday night. 

Arizona comes calling second in the NHL in defense, having allowed just 2.32 goals per game. The Coyotes are allowing just 1.46 goals per game at 5-on-5, best in the entire league, while Darcy Kuemper's 1.97 goals-against average and .935 save percentage are best in the NHL among goalies with at least 10 starts. He's 10-6-2 and is second in the NHL in goals saved above average behind Winnipeg's Connor Hellebuyck. 

The team has allowed 3.00 goals per game in its last six, though, and is 2-2-2 in that span. 

Up front, the Coyotes have not been a goal-scoring juggernaut, placing 24th in the NHL with 2.64 goals per game. Just one player has reached double digits in goals so far, as Conor Garland has 10 to go with five assists, while Nick Schmaltz leads the team in overall scoring with a 5-15-20 line. Christian Dvorak has 8-8-16 while Clayton Keller ties him in points with four goals and 12 helpers. Alex Goligoski is the highest-scoring blueliner with 2-14-16. So far, Phil Kessel has four goals and 10 assists in 28 games.  

3 Keys to the Game  

Score on the power play: The Jackets did just that in the earlier win at Arizona, and that can be key in a close, low-scoring game (just ask Columbus about Saturday's game, when the team had just one power-play chance). The Coyotes are 16th in the league in PK at 81.3 percent.  

Score first: The Blue Jackets are 11-3-1 when scoring first and 0-8-3 when giving up the first goal, and chasing the game for a second straight time against a defensively sound foe seems like a bad idea.  

Defend home: Columbus has won five of six in Nationwide Arena and has had historic success at home vs. the Coyotes franchise.  

Of Note

Columbus is 8-2-0 in the last 10 games of the series and the last 10 games in Nationwide Arena. … Gustav Nyquist, Emil Bemstrom and Oliver Bjorkstrand scored in a 3-2 win over Arizona on Nov. 7. … Joonas Korpisalo has a .919 save percentage in his last 10 starts. ... With 553 games played, Cam Atkinson will pass Fedor Tyutin for second in career games for the CBJ if he suits up vs. the Coyotes, while David Savard (515 games) will break a tie for sixth with Rostislav Klesla and Boone Jenner (445 games) will break a tie for ninth with RJ Umberger. ... Columbus has played in 17 one-goal games, most in the NHL, going 9-4-4 in such games. 

Projected Lineup 

(Subject to change)    

Gustav Nyquist - Boone Jenner - Oliver Bjorkstrand  

Sonny Milano - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Josh Anderson 

Nick Foligno - Alexandre Texier - Cam Atkinson 

Alexander Wennberg - Riley Nash - Eric Robinson

Ryan Murray - Seth Jones    

Vladislav Gavrikov - David Savard  

Scott Harrington - Dean Kukan  

Joonas Korpisalo 

Elvis Merzlikins 

Scratches: Emil Bemstrom, Andrew Peeke, Zach Werenski (injured) 

Roster Report: Harrington will enter the lineup after the injury to Werenski, even after Monday evening's recall of Peeke. Korpisalo will man the net, while Robinson goes in for Bemstrom. 





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