BLUE JACKETS (12-14-5) at SENATORS (13-17-2)
Saturday, 1 p.m. ET, Canadian Tire Centre, Kanata, Ontario (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports app, 97.1 The Fan)
The sun didn't really come up on a rainy day in Pittsburgh on Friday morning, but the light of day that did shine on the Blue Jackets' listless loss Thursday night to the Penguins showed just how ugly it was.
One day after the Jackets mustered just 17 shots on goal against a depleted Pens team in a 1-0 overtime loss, both head coach John Tortorella and captain Nick Foligno pulled no punches on the performance and effort level of the team when speaking after Friday afternoon's practice.
"Hopefully it's a wakeup call for everybody here because we're not going to go down that road of having games like that," Foligno said. "It's unacceptable, and we'll make sure it never happens again."
"It's the most embarrassed I've been for our organization, and this isn't just about players," Tortorella said. "This is about an organization. I'm embarrassed for the organization.
"I am not separating myself from the team. That game last night, I coached it. I prepared them. The coaches prepared them. We're in the same category as far as we should be embarrassed as far as how we want about our business. Coaches are not separate from the players, so the coaches need to look at themselves also and need to make adjustments about how we prepare for the next game."
Video: John Tortorella on preparing team after a loss
That next game comes in a Saturday matinee at Ottawa, a game that looks like a crucial contest. It will be 32nd of the season, leaving 50 to go afterwards, and the Blue Jackets enter it with a lot of ground to make up when it comes to a potential postseason bid for the fourth year in a row.
Columbus has six games remaining before the three-day Christmas break, and it's what Tortorella has termed a "dangerous time" for his club when it comes to the standings.
"These games here coming to Christmas before we break for a few days are very important as far as what we think we are and where we're going to go," the head coach said. "A lot of things come into play the next couple of weeks."
While the Blue Jackets have a 1-4-1 record in the past six games, perhaps most confounding is the inconsistency in effort. There will always be ups and downs in a season, and no team strings together 82 excellent showings in a row, but the past week-plus has seen the showings vary wildly.
Last Thursday at home vs. the New York Rangers, Columbus jumped all over the visitors in both the first and third periods and ended up with a 47-19 shot edge only to lose 3-2. Two nights later came a flat showing in Florida in another loss, but that was followed up by one of the best outings of the year as Columbus blitzed league-leading Washington in a 5-2 triumph on the road Monday.
Then came perhaps the worst outing of the season Thursday night in the Steel City. Tortorella said before the game he liked how his team had shown up for most of the season even if it wasn't getting results, only to watch his team put forth an effort that simply needs improved upon in Ottawa.
"We have the ability to play a certain style that gives us success, and when we do it, we beat the best team in the league," Foligno said. "When we don't do it, we look like the worst team in the league. There can't be that swing anymore."
Know the Foe
Since the Blue Jackets and Senators last played, a 1-0 affair won by Columbus on Nov. 25, things have gone downhill for Ottawa. That loss for the Sens kicked off a 2-6-1 stretch for Ottawa, though the team does have points in three of the last four games. As a result, Ottawa has dropped to seventh in the Atlantic Division.
While the Blue Jackets found out the Sens can play excellent defense in the first go-round, offense has been a problem all season as Ottawa scores 2.69 goals per game, good for 22nd in the league.
Jean-Gabriel Pageau continues to lead the squad with 16 goals and 23 points while sitting at plus-19, tied for second in the NHL. His goal mark is good for 12th in the NHL. Former Blue Jackets forward Anthony Duclair is also in the midst of an excellent campaign with 15 goals and 22 points.
Defenseman Thomas Chabot leads the way from the blue line, as the standout youngster has a 3-17-20 line. Brady Tkachuk is having a solid campaign at 20 years old with 11 goals and eight assists for 19 points.
Defensively, Ottawa sits tied for 19th in the NHL with 3.09 goals allowed per game. Veteran goalie Craig Anderson (5-8-0/3.01/.901) has been banged up with a lower-body injury, while Anders Nilsson is 8-8-2 with a 3.03 GAA and .912 save percentage. Marcus Hogberg also has been recalled from Belleville.
3 Keys to the Game
Stay patient: Ottawa clogged up the neutral zone in the first game vs. Columbus and made it difficult on the Jackets to break through, but the team stuck with it and got the winning goal in the third without opening up. That will be a blueprint for this one.
Energy: Columbus had it vs. Washington and didn't vs. Pittsburgh. It's often hard to get up for a matinee considering most players' routines are set up for night games, but it has to be done in this case.
Get to the middle: There just wasn't enough on the attack for the Jackets against Pittsburgh, and the team has to set to the middle of the ice to create against the Sens.
Seth Jones is due to play in his 500th NHL game, while Sonny Milano is expected to play in game No. 100 with the Blue Jackets. … In addition to Duclair, three other former Blue Jackets are on the active Sens roster. Forward Artem Anisimov has a 4-0-4 line in 18 games, while Ron Hainsey (1-5-6 in 32 games) and Cody Goloubef (0-0-0 in six games) are also on the roster. … Jonathan Davidsson, a sixth-round draft pick of the Blue Jackets in 2017, is also on the roster. The rookie from Sweden has no goals and an assist in five games. … Oliver Bjorkstrand scored the lone CBJ goal in the first meeting between the teams, while Joonas Korpisalo had a 25-save shutout. … Bjorkstrand has goals in three straight games vs. Ottawa, while Cam Atkinson has 10 in 18 career games. … Korpisalo has a .920 save percentage and 2.29 goals-against average in his last 14 games. … The Blue Jackets have won five straight vs. Ottawa.
(Subject to change)
Sonny Milano - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Nick Foligno - Boone Jenner - Josh Anderson
Gustav Nyquist - Alexandre Texier - Cam Atkinson
Alexander Wennberg - Riley Nash - Eric Robinson
Dean Kukan - Seth Jones
Ryan Murray - David Savard
Vladislav Gavrikov - Andrew Peeke
Elvis Merzlikins (confirmed starter)
Scratches: Emil Bemstrom (injury), Scott Harrington
Roster Report: Both injured forward Kole Sherwood (oblique) and defenseman Zach Werenski (shoulder) skated again Friday in Pittsburgh but it will not return to the lineup Saturday. The Blue Jackets will use the same lineup with Merzlikins going into the net.