BLUE JACKETS (15-14-6) vs. DEVILS (11-18-5)
Saturday, 7 p.m. ET, Nationwide Arena (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports app, CD 102.5 FM)
BUY TICKETS (Winter hat giveaway courtesy of FOX Sports Ohio for first 10,000 fans)
The Blue Jackets have said they haven't spent much time talking about the rash of injuries to hit the team of late, but that doesn't mean they're not on the same page as to what it means.
To a man, the answer has been the same.
"We have some key guys out, and other guys have come up from the minors and guys that have been out of the lineup maybe have stepped in and done a great job," forward Gus Nyquist said. "I think everyone has really chipped in here lately with a lot of important pieces out. We have to keep plugging away here until those guys can get back."
"I think everyone wants to step up a little bit," added Zach Werenski, who himself returned this week from an injury. "Obviously we're a little banged up. It's not an excuse. Injuries happen in the NHL, and you have to find a way to get wins. That's what we've been doing lately."
It's been a consistent message from the players. Yes, they miss the guys who are out, but all it means is a chance for someone else to step up, whether it's getting more from the team's top guns or young players going into the lineup and getting their chance. And at the end of the day, the wins and losses still count, and they don't come with an asterisk as to whether players were in or out of the lineup with injuries.
Having said that, it does feel at some point that the rain on the Blue Jackets parade has to stop. It has been a fluky run of injuries, almost absurd in its scope, as the team went into Thursday's game vs. Los Angeles with seven players out.
Some of those have been long-term, as Brandon Dubinsky (wrist) hasn't been able to play in a game all year, while Markus Nutivaara (undisclosed) hasn't played since early November. Emil Bemstrom suffered a rib injury Dec. 7 and will be out for up to two months, as well, and he joined Werenski (shoulder) and Kole Sherwood (oblique) on the shelf.
Those two players were activated from injured reserve this week, but since Saturday's game vs. Ottawa, trainers Mike Vogt, Chris Strickland and Nates Goto have been getting as much ice time as Joonas Korpisalo.
Sonny Milano (head), Josh Anderson (shoulder) and Ryan Murray (lower body) all left the game vs. the Senators with injuries, and none have returned; the latter two were placed on injured reserve this week. Rookie defenseman Andrew Peeke was recalled to stem the tide of injuries on the back end, then he suffered a hand injury Tuesday and is gone for at least a month. Thursday, David Savard was unable to go because of illness, and Cam Atkinson suffered a lower-body injury that will keep him out through at least Christmas.
Yet through it all, Columbus has tied a season long with a six-game point streak highlighted by the comeback win over the Kings on Thursday night. Such names as Kevin Stenlund, Marko Dano and Gabriel Carlsson -- none of whom had skated for the Blue Jackets this year before Monday -- were key parts of the win, while Jakob Lilja and Ryan MacInnis will get their chance against New Jersey on Saturday.
"There's some great opportunities for lots of guys," assistant coach Brad Shaw said Friday. "It's great that some of these guys have stepped up. We've kind of patchworked it here, and it's really fun winning with these types of lineups because you know you need some breaks, but you also need some key performances. You need a real team mind-set, and that's certainly been there."
Captain Nick Foligno referred to the injuries as a "rallying cry" for the team, and the hope is the Blue Jackets can keep building despite the situation.
"That's just the way it is," Pierre-Luc Dubois said. "It's a physical sport, it's a dangerous sport, but when guys go down it's an opportunity for some guys to jump up and give you some energy, and it gives them a great opportunity."
Know the Foe
New Jersey won the offseason, taking Jack Hughes with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, acquiring PK Subban from Nashville and signing Wayne Simmonds to a free-agent contract. With Taylor Hall healthy, the Devils looked like a team that could bounce back from last year's eighth-place finish in the Metropolitan Division.
Instead, little has worked out. Simmonds and Subban haven't produced at the level the team would have hoped, Hughes has proved to need more seasoning before being a true impact player, and veteran goaltender Cory Schneider didn't hold up his end of the bargain. With the team struggling pretty much right out of the gate, the Devils made the choice this week to trade free agent-to-be Hall to Arizona for prospects and picks.
That's left a No. 1 scorer hole in the lineup, and the Devils are now simply playing out the string the rest of the way with the team sitting last in the Metro again and 30th in the overall NHL standings ahead of only Detroit.
Still, there's no walkovers in the NHL, and there are still players to be aware of. Kyle Palmieri leads remaining players with 14 goals and 22 points, while 2017 No. 1 overall pick Nico Hischier has a 6-12-18 line in 29 games and Blake Coleman has 10 goals a year after a career-high 22. Sami Vatanen adds five goals and 14 points from the blue line, but offseason acquisitions Nikita Gusev (5-12-17, minus-7), Simmonds (4-8-12, minus-10) and Subban (2-4-6, minus-12) have struggled.
In net, Schneider's seven-year run in the New Jersey net ended earlier this year when he was sent to the AHL, with MacKenzie Blackwood taking over as the starter. The second-year NHLer has a 10-10-4 record, 2.88 goals-against average and .906 save percentage. Gilles Senn is the backup and made his NHL debut Friday night in Washington in relief, though the numbers weren't pretty with one goal allowed on three shots.
3 Keys to the Game
Start strong: Columbus has given up the first goal in consecutive games and was able to rally back to win both, but given the Devils' struggles this year and the fact they're coming off a Friday night game, getting the lead early can be huge.
Don't make it easy on the goalies: No matter which goalie plays, he'll be short on NHL experience. There's no reason to let him settle in and gain confidence.
Big guns going: Such names as Dubois, Nyquist, Bjorkstrand, Jones and Werenski have been firing of late. Given the upheaval to the lineup, that needs to continue.
The Blue Jackets have won seven straight against the Devils and 14 of 17 overall. Columbus is also 9-3-0 in its last 12 vs. New Jersey in Nationwide Arena. … Korpisalo has a .921 save percentage in his last 18 appearances dating to the start of November. … Pierre-Luc Dubois is expected to play in his 200th career game with the Blue Jackets. … Oliver Bjorkstrand is in the midst of a three-game point streak (3-2-5) while Dubois and Gustav Nyquist each have two points in each of the past two games.
(Subject to change)
Alexandre Texier - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Eric Robinson
Gustav Nyquist - Boone Jenner - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Nick Foligno - Alexander Wennberg - Kevin Stenlund
Jakob Lilja - Riley Nash - Ryan MacInnis
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Vladislav Gavrikov - Gabriel Carlsson
Scott Harrington - Dean Kukan
Scratches: Sonny Milano (injury), Cam Atkinson (injury), David Savard (illness)
Roster Report: Savard will be out for a second straight game with illness, meaning Carlsson will remain in the lineup after making his season debut against the Kings. Atkinson and Milano will be out, meaning Lilja and MacInnis go in, with the latter making his NHL debut.