BLUE JACKETS (14-14-6) vs. KINGS (15-18-3)
Thursday, 7 p.m. ET, Nationwide Arena (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports app, 97.1 The Fan)
BUY TICKETS (Third jersey night; Ohio Lottery Lucky Night)
Perhaps three weeks ago, the Blue Jackets might have lost Tuesday's night's game at Detroit.
Despite dominating the first two periods -- the Blue Jackets had a 27-10 edge in shots on goal; the Red Wings took only 15 shot attempts in the first two periods -- it was a 3-3 game. The Blue Jackets had already had a handful of games on the season they had carried play but lost when they couldn't find enough goals, and in a league where a deflection or bounce can change a game, Columbus was in a tenuous position.
It felt like the Blue Jackets had somehow lost those games earlier in the season, but this time around, the margins went the right way. Pierre-Luc Dubois scored early in the period, the Red Wings hit two goalposts in the final minutes, and the Blue Jackets left with a 5-3 win.
Was it a sign that things are starting to turn around for Columbus? For about a month, about everything that could go wrong on the results front did so, as the Blue Jackets went through a stretch from Oct. 27-Dec. 7 in which they played 19 games and won just six.
Since then, the team has points in five straight games, the kind of streak Dubois says the team needs to get back into the hunt.
"Maybe a little bit," he said when asked if it felt like the win over the Red Wings showed things are turning around, "but I haven't checked the standings much lately. I know we're not in the playoffs right now, so I mean, you want to stay positive, but you also know you have to get wins in a row. You have to win four or five, lost one, then win five or six. You can't be a 50-50 team. So (the win) feels good. Two huge wins for us (in the back-to-back)."
And if there's one facet of the team's game that has to be encouraging, it's the way the team has scored goals in the recent streak. In four of the five games, Columbus has tallied at least three goals, and the players who are expected to carry the offensive burden are doing so.
Dubois, Cam Atkinson, Gus Nyquist and Oliver Bjorkstrand each had a goal and an assist, continuing strong play from each. Dubois broke an 11-game scoreless streak, but the outing gave him four points in three games, while Bjorkstrand tallied his third goal in two games to join Dubois in double digits this year. Atkinson, meanwhile, tallied his fifth goal in the last seven games, while Nyquist now holds the team lead in points.
Perhaps head coach John Tortorella was prophetic when he noted before the Washington game on Monday that the team's results would turn if the puck starts going in the net.
"We've got some good (offensive) numbers in a lot of different areas," he said. "We just need to get the end result with our offense, and maybe that will give us more end results as far as wins and losses."
Monday and Tuesday, it did just that.
Know the Foe
It will be a battle of teams each riding five-game point streaks when the Kings invade Nationwide Arena on Thursday night.
Todd McLellan's team is in the midst of a 4-0-1 streak including a 4-3 overtime win Tuesday at Boston. This will be the fifth game of a six-game road swing for Los Angeles, the last five of which are in the Eastern time zone.
While scoring has been an issue all season for the Kings - overall, the squad is 25th in the NHL with 2.61 goals per game - they have tallied four goals in three straight games to key the point streak. In fact, the advanced stats - particularly expected goals - show a team that is above average both offensively and defensively despite the below .500 record and seventh-place standing in the Pacific Division.
On the year, Anze Kopitar again leads the way, as the 32-year-old is having another fantastic season with team highs in all three major scoring categories (14-18-32). It's a veteran crew leading the way, as four of the top five scorers are 30 or older - defenseman Drew Doughty is second in points with a 6-17-23 line, while 35-year-old Dustin Brown (7-11-18) and 34-year-old Jeff Carter (10-6-16) are fourth and fifth, respectively. In the middle, Tyler Toffoli has nine goals and 21 points, including a 3-5-8 line in his last five games.
Two areas have really combined to hurt the Kings, and that's goaltending and special teams. The squad save percentage of .889 is 28th in the NHL, with Jonathan Quick and Jack Campbell both strongly in the negative at goals saved above average. Quick is 10-12-2 with a 3.05 goals-against average and .893 save percentage while Campbell is 5-6-1/2.91/.893.
In addition, the team's power play checks in 29th in the NHL in power play (13.2 percent) and penalty kill (73.9 percent).
3 Keys to the Game
Control special teams: Looking at the numbers above, you can't let the Kings win the battle of the special teams. An important part of the game becomes even more so in this one.
Keep scoring: The recent uptick in tallies is a good sign for Columbus, and that could continue against a team that has struggled mightily in net.
Defend home ice: The Blue Jackets have started to play better hockey (6-3-0) at Nationwide Arena of late, including Monday's win over Washington. The two home games heading into Christmas are crucial to keep momentum going.
The Blue Jackets have points in four of the last six at home vs. Los Angeles. … Each team won a 4-1 result on home ice a season ago. … Korpisalo has a .921 save percentage in his last 17 appearances dating to the start of November. … The game in Detroit will close the sixth of 16 back-to-backs this season. … Pierre-Luc Dubois is also two games from 200 in his NHL career. … Bjorkstrand has posted back-to-back multipoint outings and a team-high seven this season. … Alexandre Texier has points in three straight games (2-2-4).
(Subject to change)
Alexandre Texier - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Eric Robinson
Gustav Nyquist - Boone Jenner - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Nick Foligno - Alexander Wennberg - Cam Atkinson
Kevin Stenlund - Riley Nash - Marko Dano
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Vladislav Gavrikov - David Savard
Scott Harrington - Dean Kukan
Scratches: Sonny Milano (injury), Ryan Murray (injury), Gabriel Carlsson
Roster Report: Another game, another injury to respond to. This one is rookie defenseman Peeke's injury, which is a broken hand suffered Tuesday at Detroit. Scott Harrington will slot into the lineup with Peeke out, while Gabriel Carlsson was added when Peeke was placed on IR Thursday.