BLUE JACKETS (3-3-1) vs. ISLANDERS (4-3-0)
Saturday, 7 p.m., Nationwide Arena (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports app, 97.1 The Fan)
In the opening game of the season, John Tortorella had rookie forward Alexandre Texier occupying a vacated spot on the first line with Pierre-Luc Dubois and Cam Atkinson.
It didn't take long for the Blue Jackets head coach to make a switch there, with free-agent signee Gustav Nyquist moving up to replace Texier.
Since then, it's been a good fit. A veteran who has averaged 50 points per 82 games in his NHL career -- and who also excels at puck protection and puck retrieval with a dash of creativity to his game -- Nyquist has fit in well on the top line as the Blue Jackets get ready to take on the New York Islanders on Saturday night in Nationwide Arena.
"I think they're developing," Tortorella said. "I like what's going on there."
INFORMATION ON CBJ FIRST RESPONDERS NIGHT
On the season, the three have combined for six goals and five assists. Dubois now has three goals in the last four games, while Nyquist has notched an assist in three in a row, and all three first line members got on the scoresheet with Dubois' goal Friday night in Chicago.
The Blue Jackets' team-wide battle to be more consistent when it comes to finishing chances has also hit the line at times, but by and large the trio feels that chemistry is building and chances to score goals are coming.
"I think in general we've been creating more and more chances," Nyquist said of the line. "I think we've had chances where probably all of us feel we could have put the puck in the net a couple more times, but as long as we keep creating here and building chemistry, I think that's going to come."
Blue Jackets fans have become quite familiar with the skills of Atkinson, whose lethal finishing allowed him to tie the team record with 41 goals a season ago, and Dubois, the powerful playmaker who on Friday night became the second fastest Blue Jacket to 50 career goals.
While Nyquist is a new addition, his skills are becoming more and more apparent. He has a great eye for passes and wins a lot of 50-50 battles for pucks, and when he does, he has the ability to keep the puck as well despite the best efforts of opposing players.
"He's very quick," Tortorella said. "There's a difference between quick and fast, and he's quick. He's good in small spaces. He's not afraid to hold on to the puck to make a play …. He's a real good player. I do think he's just getting his legs because he kind of got booted around with all that skating (in training camp), and I don't think he was used to it. As I said, that's a big deal for us. That's a really good signing by Jarmo."
Know The Foe
A year ago, the Islanders were the surprise team in the Eastern Conference, overcoming the loss of John Tavares thanks to a suffocating defensive style and going to the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Building on that success could be tough this year in Barry Trotz's second season, in part because one of the key cogs in the turnaround -- goaltender Robin Lehner -- left for Chicago this offseason.
The other reason is that offense remains hard to come by for the Isles, who are 4-3-0 this season despite scoring just 2.43 goals per game. That's even with a power play that's riding high with goals on 33.3 percent of its chances, while New York continues to play solid defensively with 2.57 goals allowed per game.
This year, Thomas Greiss -- who started all four games vs. Columbus last season -- is back and is again splitting games, this time with veteran signee Semyon Varlamov. Each has played in four games, with Varlamov 2-2-0 with a 2.55 goals-against average and .923 save percentage and Greiss at 2-1-0, 2.27 and .925.
Up front, Josh Bailey and Mathew Barzal are again leading the attack with matching 3-3-6 lines, while Brock Nelson also has three goals among his five points. Devon Toews also two goals and five assists, while Anthony Beauvillier and Anders Lee each have two tallies.
3 Keys to the Game
Battle of special teams: New York's power play has converted 4 of its 12 chances, but the Isles have ceded goals on 5 of 18 penalty kills, a success rate of just 72.2 percent. Winning the battle here should mean winning the game.
Convert chances: Columbus has been peppering opposing netminders with shots - the team is seventh in the NHL with 34.1 per game - but that hasn't always led to goals, as the Blue Jackets are 29th in the league with 2.29 per game. The goal now is to finish, and that was tough vs. the Islanders a season ago.
Patience: The Islanders want to wait you out and make you crack, but Columbus must stick with it and not get frustrated against a team that will limit scoring chances and protect its goalie.
Columbus has won five of the last six vs. the Islanders in Nationwide Arena and has points in eight of the last 10 meetings in the capital city. … The Islanders went 3-1-0 vs. Columbus last season, shutting out the Blue Jackets twice. … Atkinson has a 14-12-26 line in 25 career games vs. New York. … Boone Jenner is one point away from 200 in his NHL and CBJ careers (102-97-199), while Oliver Bjorkstrand remains one point away from 100 in his career (46-53-99) after having an assist taken away during Friday night's game. … Riley Nash is two assists away from 100 in his career. … Nick Foligno is three games from playing his 500th contest in a Blue Jackets sweater, while David Savard is four away. … Savard and Zach Werenski each have 40 career goals, one away from tying the CBJ's all-time record for goals among defensemen (Rostislav Klesla, 2001-11). Seth Jones is one back from his teammates with 39 goals.
(Subject to change)
Gustav Nyquist - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cam Atkinson
Nick Foligno - Alexander Wennberg - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Alexandre Texier - Boone Jenner - Emil Bemstrom
Jakob Lilja - Riley Nash - Sonny Milano
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Markus Nutivaara - Ryan Murray
Vladislav Gavrikov - David Savard
Scratches: Markus Hannikainen, Dean Kukan, Scott Harrington
Roster Report: Columbus has used the same roster for five consecutive games. Josh Anderson has missed those five games with an upper-body injury and has been practicing with the team but remains on injured reserve.