BLUE JACKETS (9-10-5) at STARS (6-7-4)
Thursday, 8:30 p.m. ET, American Airlines Center, Dallas
TV: FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports Go app
Radio: Blue Jackets radio network (97.1 The Fan flagship)
It might be a stretch to say everything is now all good in CBJ land after Tuesday's feel-good night in Nationwide Arena, as the 5th Line was welcomed back to the barn and got to see one of the Jackets' best performances of the year.
But it is also true that sometimes all it takes is something good to happen -- a win or a night like that, for example -- to turn things around in sports, and if anything, the Blue Jackets should be heading to Dallas for a two-game series that starts tonight with a little momentum in their pockets.
Sure, the Wings are in the midst of a full-on rebuild mode and were missing some of their top players. But a win is a win, and the Blue Jackets desperately needed one after a five-game losing skid prompted a state-of-the-team press conference Tuesday morning.
Now, they have the opportunity to keep building taking on a similarly struggling Stars team.
"I just thought our team was more poised with the puck; they weren't afraid to make a play," head coach John Tortorella said of the 4-1 victory over the Wings. "You get a lead, too, you score a couple of quick ones to go up 3-1, we were freer. I think there was a lot more ice … but it was a game that everybody contributed, everybody got on the ice, and I thought there was some flow to it -- offensively, anyway."
The performance came after both Tortorella and general manager Jarmo Kekalainen discussed what led to the losing skid, in particular a lack of confidence on the puck that was keeping the team from making plays. As the head coach said, that swagger was much more evident Tuesday, as by the time the Blue Jackets took a three-goal lead in the second period, they were flying all over the ice and making plays in the offensive zone.
"I think that was one of the focuses yesterday was just taking a deep breath," said forward Riley Nash, who scored the game-winning goal in the second period. "It seemed like in a lot of the games that we've been playing, we've been working our butts off but just not working as smart as we could, really not enjoying the game as much as we should."
That was one of the key themes of Tuesday's press conference, that the Blue Jackets needed to rediscover some joy in their game. Tortorella even quipped that he wished his team could go out and play pond hockey with one another just to get that feeling back of playing for the love of it, and there were signs some of that returned Tuesday night.
It was also part of Wednesday's short practice, as after going through a handful of drills, the Blue Jackets split into teams and played a small-ice game against one another. It ended in a shootout won by Vladislav Gavrikov, who then went to the scorers table between penalty boxes and grabbed an actual phone for his usual post-goal celebration while the losing team had to do pushups.
"It's just getting back to why we play this game, having that love for it, enjoying it, being around one another," Nash said. "It's hard this year when we don't get to spend as much time with one another, so one of the things we talked about was trying to have as much fun with each other around the rink and getting to know each other that way. I think that helps a group band together and start to play for one another."
Know the Foe
One season removed from coming within two wins of hoisting the Stanley Cup, Dallas has found the road a lot tougher this time around with the Stars holding a 6-7-4 record through 17 games.
It's been a trying season, though, with Dallas getting off to a late start because of a COVID-19 outbreak that delayed their campaign. The Stars also had a number of games pushed back because of the winter storm that stressed the city's power grid in mid-February.
As a result, the Stars are in last place in the Central Division with just 17 points, but they do have at least three games in hand on every division foe and seven in hand on the Blue Jackets. But the Stars certainly will have to step up their game, as a after a four-game win streak to start the year, the team is just 2-7-4 in its last 13 games and sits in sixth in the division in points percentage.
Goal-scoring has been the primary culprit, as after scoring six-plus goals in three of their first seven games, the Stars have just 17 tallies in the last 10 games and are coming off being shut out in back-to-back contests vs. Tampa Bay. One of the big issues is that forward Alexander Radulov, who has a 3-8-11 line in eight games, has been out for the past nine games with a lower-body injury, joining star forward Tyler Seguin and goalie Ben Bishop on injured reserve.
The squad has sunk to 21st in the NHL in scoring (2.71 goals per game), and a once-powerful power play remains seventh in the league at 26.6 percent but is just 3 for its last 29 (10.3 percent). The team remains solid defensively, though, placing ninth in the league with 2.65 goals allowed per game.
Jackets fans might remember the red-hot start 36-year-old forward Joe Pavelski got off to, which included a 2-3-5 line in two games vs. Columbus earlier this year, and while he's tailed off some (3-2-5 in the last nine games) he still leads the team with a 10-10-20 line. Defenseman John Klingberg follows with a 3-11-14 line, while Denis Gurianov (4-7-11) and Roope Hintz (4-6-10) are in double digits in scoring as well.
In net, Anton Khudobin has started 11 games and is 4-6-1 with a 2.55 GAA and .917 save percentage. Rookie Jake Oettinger is 2-1-3 in eight games (six starts) with a 2.31 GAA and .913 save percentage.
3 Keys to the Game
Jump on the wounded: The Stars are banged up and in a rough patch, while Columbus is coming off what could be a momentum-building home win. Scoring early and keeping the lead could be crucial.
Get the PK going: Dallas was a combined 3-for-6 on the power play earlier this year while splitting with Columbus, but the Stars man advantage is struggling. It's a chance for the Jackets to build momentum on the kill.
Keep building confidence: The Jackets were a better team Tuesday night, against a weakened opponent, but there should be some belief built by a crucial win. We'll see if the team can build on a win like that where it hasn't in some other similar spots earlier this year.
Cam Atkinson has eight goals in the last 11 games, not to mention a 9-6-15 line in the last 13 contests. His eight goals in February tied for fourth in the NHL, and his four shorthanded goals lead the NHL this season. … His 10 goals and 19 points also lead the Jackets … Jack Roslovic has a 5-9-14 line in the last 15 games. He is three games away from playing in his 200th career NHL game. … Max Domi is expected to play in the 400th game of his NHL career, and his 292 consecutive games played streak is the seventh-longest active streak in the league … Seth Jones has collected assists in two straight games and is tied for the NHL lead among blueliners in assists and tied for second in points since Feb. 1 with 1-11-12 in 14 games. … Columbus has scored first in an NHL-best 17 of 24 games and outscored teams 26-16 in first period. But the Jackets are just 7-6-4 when taking a 1-0 lead. … Columbus has won six of its last seven games in Dallas and is 9-1-0 in the last 10 games of the overall series.
(Subject to change)
Patrik Laine - Jack Roslovic - Cam Atkinson
Emil Bemstrom - Riley Nash - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Eric Robinson - Boone Jenner - Nick Foligno
Max Domi - Alexandre Texier - Kevin Stenlund
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Gabriel Carlsson - David Savard
Vladislav Gavrikov - Michael Del Zotto
Scratches: Mikhail Grigorenko, Scott Harrington, Dean Kukan
Taxi squad: Zac Dalpe, Ryan MacInnis, Stefan Matteau, Cam Johnson
Injured reserve: Elvis Merzlikins (upper body), Gus Nyquist (shoulder, out 5-6 months as of November), Brandon Dubinsky (wrist, LTIR)
Roster report: No changes are expected, so the Jackets will use the same lineup Thursday as in Tuesday night's win over Detroit. Both Merzlikins and Nyquist practiced Wednesday but are still rehabbing before they return to the ice.