BLUE JACKETS (2-3-0) vs. STARS (1-5-1)
Wednesday, 7 p.m., Nationwide Arena (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports app, 97.1 The Fan)
Must-win games don't happen in the NHL in October, but there's another reality as well the Blue Jackets were staring in the face when they headed to Carolina on Saturday night to take on the unbeaten Hurricanes.
You can't make the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the season's first month, but you can put yourself in a heck of a hole.
The reality is coming off the mat, as St. Louis did a year ago when it rallied from a 17-20-4 start to win the Cup, just doesn't happen a ton. Rough starts dig holes that are difficult to climb out of, and results always feel more important at the start of the season just because a four- or five-game slump to start the year is all you have on your resume to that point.
With that in mind, winning in Carolina to move to 2-3 on the season seems to have lifted a weight off the Blue Jackets, who had been staring a 1-4 start in the face after suffering a tough loss Friday night to Anaheim.
"You don't want to fall behind," forward Gustav Nyquist said. "In a two-point system, it's a tough league to make up points, so it was good for the team morale too. The way we felt like we had been playing for the most part in these five games, except maybe the Pittsburgh game, we do feel like we could have had a better record than 2-3, but being 2-3 instead of 1-4, that's a big difference for us."
The Blue Jackets will get a chance to keep the good vibes going this week, starting with Wednesday's game in Nationwide Arena vs. Dallas. It kicks off a stretch of three games in four days as well as four contests in six days, a busy stretch of hockey that it is nice to enter feeling good.
It helps, too, that handing Carolina its first loss also showed the Blue Jackets that they can go on the road and defeat a good team.
"I think it was a great test for us," assistant coach Brad Shaw said. "They're at the top of the heap. I know it's early, but it's always a great challenge to go into the other team's building and knock them off. I think certain elements in our game were fantastic.
"We have to create this identity of who we are and how we can win on a consistent basis, and that was a great step in the right direction. We have to follow it up. We have four in six nights coming, some really good opponents, so we have some great tests. We're going to continue to grow and find out who we are and hopefully we can keep putting points up while we do that."
Know the Foe
One week after facing teams that were a combined 10-1-0 at the time of puck drop, the Blue Jackets this week face three teams in Dallas, Chicago and the New York Islanders that enter play Wednesday at a combined 5-10-2.
At the bottom of that trio so far are the Stars, who have won just one of their seven games, though that means the Blue Jackets will likely encounter a desperate team at Nationwide Arena.
One year after advancing to the second round of the playoffs, losing to eventual Stanley Cup champion St. Louis, the Stars have stumbled out of the gate. Injuries have been a part of that, as Corey Perry and Stephen Johns are yet to play while Blake Comeau and Roman Polak were hurt in the season opener.
Perry is listed as a game-time decision to make his season debut Wednesday, while the team also called up 2015 first-round pick Denis Gurianov to add speed to the lineup against the Blue Jackets.
The hope for the Stars is the two can add scoring as well, as Dallas has averaged 1.86 goals per game and converted just 1 of 22 power plays. The team is led in scoring by 22-year-old Finnish forward Roope Hintz, who has a 4-1-5 line, but Tyler Seguin (two goals) is the only other player with more than one goal in the opening seven games. Mattias Janmark has a 1-3-4 line, but both Jamie Benn and Alexander Radulov have equal 1-1-2 lines and Joe Pavelski is yet to score a goal with just a single assist.
Defensively, standout Finnish blueliner Miro Heiskanen is off to a solid start with a 1-2-3 line and a plus-1 rating, but Norris Trophy contender John Klingberg is at 0-1-1 and minus-5. The team has given up 3.14 goals per game but averages just 27.3 shots allowed per game. In net, Ben Bishop is 1-3-1 with a 2.78 goals-against average and .895 save percentage.
3 Keys to the Game
Good mentality: To start, Columbus must be on its game from the beginning. While the Blue Jackets have had three days to enjoy Saturday's hard-fought win in Carolina, Dallas comes in as a desperate team. Columbus can't let the Stars get going early.
Keep the kill going: One way the Stars can grab momentum is with a power-play goal or two, but while their unit is struggling, the Blue Jackets' kill has blanked opponents in two straight games. It's time to keep that trend going.
Big players play big: Oliver Bjorkstrand and Pierre-Luc Dubois were on top of their games in Carolina, and those are the types of guys who are going to have to shoulder the offensive load this year. They need to keep it going while getting help from others.
Columbus will go for its eighth straight win against Dallas and its fifth in a row in Nationwide Arena. … Boone Jenner is one point away from 200 in his NHL and CBJ careers, while Oliver Bjorkstrand is two points from 100. … Nick Foligno is five games from playing his 500th contest in a Blue Jackets sweater, while David Savard is six away. … 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.
(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 (confirmed starter)
Scratches: Markus Hannikainen, Dean Kukan, Scott Harrington
Roster Report: Head coach John Tortorella confirmed Wednesday morning that the team will use the same lineup as the weekend's games. He also said Monday that he seems to have settled on a top six defensively for the time being, while Hannikainen was the extra skater at Monday and Tuesday practices.