BLUE JACKETS (20-15-8) at DUCKS (17-20-5)
Tuesday, 10 p.m. ET, Honda Center, Anaheim (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports app, CD 102.5 FM)
The good news for the Blue Jackets is that the injury bug might be abating a bit.
Cross your fingers on that one, but there has been some good news on the injury front in recent games. Forwards Sonny Milano and Emil Bemstrom as well as defenseman Markus Nutivaara all have returned from layoffs over the past week, finally adding some depth to a Columbus team that looked cut to the bone by injuries around the holidays. In even more good news, forward Cam Atkinson could return soon as well, while a number of other players have begun skating again in efforts to get back on the ice.
But as those players return, there is a key to the way they have to play, head coach John Tortorella said. The team aspect that has pushed Columbus to a 9-1-4 stretch in the last 14 games has to remain if the team is going to continue its assault on a playoff spot.
"That's a discussion I've had with a number of the players that are out," Tortorella said Sunday. "One came back in Sonny, and I had a quick discussion with him about that. The guys that are going to come back, and I think they can see it -- they have been watching but they hear it, they've been in the meetings, the video and all that -- so I think they understand.
"It's something to remind you -- even as a coach, you have to get reminded sometimes how important a belief and playing as a team is so important to our game as far as trying to find your way. We've lived through that."
Through the team's 12-game point streak that ended Saturday in San Jose, that belief built and built. One of the main reasons was that the Blue Jackets had all players pulling on the same rope as the success continued, with each member of the lineup doing exactly what was asked of him to make sure the job got done.
It's a message the players coming back say they've taken to heart.
"I think the team effort (stands out), how they play together every game and no one is doing their own thing," Bemstrom said.
As more and more players come back, they do so with the knowledge the Blue Jackets saved their season while those skaters were out. With the win in Los Angeles on Monday night, Columbus pulled itself within one point of a playoff spot, though the two teams tied in front of them for eighth in the Eastern Conference -- Philadelphia and Florida -- each also have a game in hand.
"It sucks watching, but it's been great to see us climbing the standings and everyone playing with confidence," Atkinson said. "That's what you want within an organization, guys to step up when guys are down."
Know the Foe
A lack of scoring is the culprit behind Anaheim's struggles this season, as the Ducks are 30th of the 31 NHL teams with 2.52 goals per game. The team actually ranks 12th in the NHL in scoring defense with 3.12 goals allowed per game, but they simply haven't scored enough to win games.
No player has 30 points on the year and just five have at least 20 points, as their scoring issues are similar to the ones the Blue Jackets have gone through during the season.
The leading scorers with 28 points apiece are Jakob Silfverberg, who is tops on the squad with 15 goals, and Ryan Getzlaf, who has a team-best 18 assists. Richard Rakell is next with a 10-15-25 line but is injured at the moment, while Adam Henrique has 14 goals among his 24 points. The last player above 20 points is defenseman Cam Fowler, who has a 9-14-23 line and four goals in his last two games vs. Columbus.
Both goaltenders, John Gibson and Ryan Miller, have had spectacular seasons in the past but are closer to average this year statistically. Gibson is the No. 1 and has a 13-16-3 record, 2.95 goals-against average and .906 save percentage, while the 39-year-old Miller is at 4-4-2/3.21/.901.
The special teams have struggled all around, with the power play at 27th in the league (15.5 percent) and the penalty kill at 21st (79.0).
New Albany native Kiefer Sherwood, who made his debut a year ago with the Ducks, was recently called up but is yet to play in a game this year with Anaheim. He had a 7-7-14 line in 18 games with AHL San Diego.
3 Keys to the Game
Manufacture goals: Just like Los Angeles, the Ducks are hard to create against, as the Blue Jackets found in a 2-1 loss to Anaheim on Oct. 11. Columbus has to get inside the defenders and get to the blue.
Above the puck: It's been the key all season, but Anaheim doesn't create much. The Blue Jackets can't make mistakes and give up odd-man rushes.
Battle back: A back-to-back just days after a cross-country flight won't be easy, but Columbus has to gut through to keep the hot streak going.
Elvis Merzlikins has stopped 121 of 128 shots (.945 save percentage) in the past four games. … Werenski has 10-10-20 in his last 20 games as well as seven goals in 10 games since returning from injury. Last week, he became just the third NHL defenseman in the last decade to score at least five goals in three games. ... Pierre-Luc Dubois has 12 points (4-8-12) in his last 12 games while Sonny Milano is on a three-game point streak. … Columbus is in the midst of five straight games vs. Western Conference teams. … Columbus is 5-0-3 in its last seven road games. …
(Subject to change)
Gustav Nyquist - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Nathan Gerbe
Sonny Milano - Boone Jenner - Nick Foligno
Emil Bemstrom - Alexander Wennberg - Kevin Stenlund
Jakob Lilja - Riley Nash - Eric Robinson
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Vladislav Gavrikov - David Savard
Scott Harrington - Markus Nutivaara
Scratches: Ryan MacInnis, Gabriel Carlsson, Joonas Korpisalo (injury)
Roster Report: It remains to be seen if Atkinson will be able to return; a roster move will have to be made to get him back on the active roster. Any lineup changes will be confirmed by Tortorella at a pregame presser.