BLUE JACKETS (19-14-8) vs. SHARKS (18-21-3)
Saturday, 1 p.m. ET, Nationwide Arena (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports app, 97.1 The Fan)
BUY TICKETS (Kids Takeover presented by Bob Evans; Goalie mask piggy bank giveaway for all kids 14 and under)
For a couple of weeks now, the narrative has been the Blue Jackets are winning games despite a lengthy injury list that includes almost $30 million in talent on the shelf.
But maybe it's time to consider that Columbus is winning games because of the new blood on the roster rather than in spite of the injury bug.
As the injuries have mounted and players have been recalled from AHL Cleveland to fill spots, the Blue Jackets have been forced to play more and more of a team game. That reached its apex Thursday night in Boston, when Columbus was on its game for the entire 60-plus minutes of a 2-1 overtime victory against one of the best teams in the NHL to run their point streak to 12 games.
"It's a belief," head coach John Tortorella said postgame. "When you get young guys coming in, champing at the bit to stay and try to impress, there's a different concentration level as far as the structure of it. Yeah, you end up getting the results and winning some games and I think it gets tighter and tighter and deeper and deeper as far as the belief, as far as playing as a team.
"That's the key thing, as a team. We're gonna structure eventually along the way here; that's when you find out what you really are. But I just like the way everybody has hung in there together."
All 18 skaters plus goaltender Elvis Merzlikins did their part in the win over the Bruins, all the way down to the fourth line, which Tortorella trusted to put on the ice for multiple shifts in the final minutes of regulation.
Considering that line includes Jakob Lilja, who had never played an NHL minute before this season and has spent half the year in Cleveland, and Ryan MacInnis, a 23-year-old who had never played in the NHL before this past month, it shows just how deep the commitment runs.
The game-tying goal in the third period also was a product of a number of players who have taken circuitous routes to the Blue Jackets. Sonny Milano, who spent most of last year at the AHL level and would have had to have been put on waivers had he not made the team out of training camp, scored it while centering a pass to Nathan Gerbe, who had played just two NHL games over the past three-plus seasons before being summoned amid the injury rash.
"It's been next man up for us," Jones said. "It's kind of a cliché thing to say, but it really has. Guys have come in seamlessly and integrated into our lineup and done a great job. They've worked their butts off and done a great job. That's what we ask for from them every night.
"Sonny comes in and gets a goal. Gerbs has been great for us since he's been in. A lot of guys chipped in."
Know the Foe
The early December firing of head coach Peter DeBoer hasn't saved the Sharks, who are 3-9-2 in their last 14 games, though San Jose has won two of three and is coming off a win at Pittsburgh on Thursday night.
The Sharks have struggled at both ends of the ice, placing 26th with 2.62 goals per game and 27th in defense with 3.33 allowed. The power play has also been abysmal in 27th place (14.9 percent), though the penalty kill leads the NHL at 88.0 percent.
It's a team that seems to have aged quickly, as San Jose made the Western Conference final last season, but with an average age of 29.5 years old, the squad is on average almost two years older than the average team.
At age 40, both Joe Thornton (1-15-16) and Patrick Marleau (7-8-15) aren't quite the impact players they once were, while 34-year-old Brett Burns (7-21-28) has seen a drop in production but is minus-21 as well.
Logan Couture leads the way in scoring for Bob Boughner's team with 13 goals and 21 assists for 34 points, while Tomas Hertl is just behind with a team-best 15 goals among his 31 points. Evander Kane adds 14-14-28, while Eric Karlsson has four goals and 24 assists.
The team has struggled mightily in net, with Martin Jones dead last in the league at minus-13.05 goals saved above average. He's 13-15-1 with a 3.13 goals-against average and .893 save percentage, while Aaron Dell is 5-6-2/3.06/.904.
Former Blue Jackets defenseman Dalton Prout is on injured reserve (upper body) and has played in just two games this season for the Sharks.
3 Keys to the Game
Stack the wins: Columbus was excellent in Boston against one of the NHL's best teams, but San Jose is on the opposite end of the spectrum. The same effort is required, though.
Jump on them early: The Sharks are in the midst of a five-game East Coast swing, and this one will start at 10 a.m., San Jose time. Columbus could have an advantage there.
Another good start in net: Merzlikins struggled in his one afternoon start this year, being pulled in Ottawa after one period. He'll need a more consistent game even as his gameday routine is disrupted Saturday with the early puck drop.
The 12-game point streak (8-0-4) is tied for the third longest in franchise history. ... Vladislav Gavrikov is plus-13 in his last 14 games. … Merzlikins has stopped 61 of 63 shots in the past two games and has a 2.47 GAA and .917 save percentage in his last 11 outings. … Pierre-Luc Dubois has a 3-7-10 line in his last 10 contests, while Werenski has 8-9-17 in his last 18 games. Werenski also has five goals in eight games since returning from injury. … Alexander Wennberg is two games from 400 in his CBJ/NHL career. … Columbus has won three straight vs. San Jose. The Blue Jackets swept the season series a year ago with a 4-1 win in California on Nov. 1, then beat the Sharks by a 4-0 score at home Feb. 23.
(Subject to change)
Gustav Nyquist - Boone Jenner - Nick Foligno
Eric Robinson - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Kevin Stenlund
Sonny Milano - Alexander Wennberg - Nathan Gerbe
Ryan MacInnis - Riley Nash - Jakob Lilja
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Vladislav Gavrikov - David Savard
Scott Harrington - Gabriel Carlsson
Scratches: Emil Bemstrom, Joonas Korpisalo (injury)
Roster Report: The Blue Jackets returned Justin Scott to Cleveland on Friday after Milano's return in Boston. Bemstrom was activated off injured reserve before the game, while defenseman Dean Kukan is out after being placed in IR on Friday.