BLUE JACKETS (17-14-7) vs. BLACKHAWKS (16-17-6)
Sunday, 5 p.m. ET, Nationwide Arena (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports app, 97.1 The Fan)
BUY TICKETS (Third jersey game; Upper Deck trading card giveaway for all fans)
It was no surprise when Nick Foligno dropped the gloves late in the second period of Friday night's Blue Jackets game at Washington.
Foligno may joke about dropping the gloves in his Papa John's commercials, but it is certainly something he's not afraid to do when he thinks it needs done. And that was a time to do it, one shift after Tom Wilson laid out Jakob Lilja with a thundering hit. As soon as Caps defenseman Jonas Siegenthaler and Foligno got mixed up in a battle along the wall and the cross checks started being exchanged, it was a matter of time until the gloves hit the ice.
It was the fourth time a Blue Jackets player has done so in the past four games, and the third time during the team's nine-game point streak when a Columbus player stuck up for his teammate by having a go.
For CBJ head coach John Tortorella, it's a trend he's in favor of. He's an old-school guy in a lot of ways, of course, and Tortorella has made no bones about the fact he misses some of the physical play that's disappeared as the game has become younger and faster.
He doesn't miss the days of head hunting or gratuitous violence, but Tortorella does believe in sticking up for teammates and taking the body when necessary. And he believes his team's refusal to shy away from a physical challenge is one reason the results have turned around a bit for the Blue Jackets.
"I think this group here, Nick has had a couple of big fights," Tortorella said Saturday after practice. (Josh Anderson) has a fight when he was in when he felt he needed to. I think it brings a tightness to the group, and I think it's the proper way to play."
It echoed a message Tortorella had after the team's 2-1 overtime loss to Washington.
"We have some juice from the kids coming up from Cleveland, a bunch of them, and I think they just play as a team," the head coach said. "I think they try to back one another up. I just feel there's a nice chemistry of belief in there as far as trying to find our way to slog through games."
The slog part of it comes from just how shorthanded the Blue Jackets are, with a full eight players on injured reserve comprising more than $25 million in salary. But in a way, Tortorella says, the injuries have helped solidify the team, with the players coming up from AHL Cleveland fitting in and jelling quickly.
"It's a team that's a team," Tortorella said. "I think that's the only way you can survive all the things that have gone on with our personnel. It's kind of fun to be around."
It's something captain Nick Foligno noticed as well, and it's something he hopes that keeps going as the Blue Jackets return home to take on Chicago on Sunday night.
"We did so many good things to win that hockey game (vs. Washington) and worked for each other, and it's a big part of our success right now," Foligno said. "We're working for each other, we're working hard and guys are pitching in."
Know the Foe
The matchup between the Blackhawks and Blue Jackets will truly be a black-and-blue affair; while Columbus is dealing with a laundry list of injuries, Chicago has five regulars (Brent Seabrook, Brandon Saad, Andrew Shaw, Calvin de Haan and Drake Caggiula) on injured reserve as well.
The Hawks have been unable to get rolling this year and are as banged up in the standings as they are on the ice, with Chicago sitting in last place in the seven-team Central Division with 38 points. The team has won four of six, though, including a Friday win over the New York Islanders.
Chicago has been lackluster in pretty much all areas, sitting 21st in the NHL in goal scoring (2.79 per game), 21st in goals allowed (3.15 per game), and 27th in power play (14.9 percent) but 12th in penalty kill (81.7 percent).
Patrick Kane continues to be one of the top scorers in the league, with his 20-27-47 line placing him 11th in goals, tied for 11th in assists and 10th in points in the NHL. But while Kane is still an elite point man in the NHL, his running mates have tailed off from being some of the best in the NHL to merely average.
Longtime captain Jonathan Toews sits second on the team with nine goals and 28 points, while Alex DeBrincat hasn't repeated his 41-goal campaign from a year ago with a 9-17-26 line. Dylan Strome also has 26 points with seven goals and 19 assists, but that's the entire list of Blackhawks with at least 20 points.
Chicago has split the starts in net, with Robin Lehner having been fantastic and Corey Crawford not so much. Lehner is 10-6-4 with a 2.82 goals-against average and .925 save percentage. Crawford is 6-11-2 with a 3.20 GAA and .925 save percentage.
3 Keys to the Game
Keep slogging: Tortorella has said the team has to slog through right now with all the injuries, and it might be a lot expecting an offensive explosion. The Jackets have to limit the Blackhawks' chances, as they have been doing.
Keep an eye on Kane: The way things have developed for the Blackhawks, Kane has become the man on the offensive side. He fired nine shots on goal at the Jackets in the first meeting this year.
Stay out of the box: A late power play allowed Chicago to tie the game in the first meeting between these teams; while the Hawks has struggled with the man advantage, there's till enough talent there for a moment of brilliance.
Columbus has gone 16-2-2 in its last 20 contests played with a start time of 5 p.m. or earlier. … The teams skated to a 3-2 Blackhawks win in overtime on Oct. 12. … Pierre-Luc Dubois and Markus Nutivaara scored in that meeting for Columbus, while Chicago got goals from DeBrincat, Toews and Cagguila. … Vladislav Gavrikov is plus-11 in his last 11 games. … The two teams have split the season series each of the past four seasons.
(Subject to change)
Alexandre Texier - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Eric Robinson
Gustav Nyquist - Boone Jenner - Kevin Stenlund
Nick Foligno - Alexander Wennberg - Nathan Gerbe
Jakob Lilja - Riley Nash - Ryan MacInnis
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Vladislav Gavrikov - David Savard
Gabriel Carlsson - Dean Kukan
Scratches: Sonny Milano (injury), Scott Harrington (illness)
Roster Report: Milano did not practice with the team Saturday and seems unlikely to return to action, while Harrington did return to action and said he's feeling better. In addition, Merzlikins could be tabbed to start, as he allowed three goals and played well in an overtime loss to the Blackhawks earlier this season.