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PREVIEW: Blue Jackets back at it Saturday night in Dallas

Columbus looks to get back to winning ways against the Stars

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com
BLUE JACKETS (15-21-9) at STARS (16-14-12) 

Saturday, 8 p.m. ET, American Airlines Center, Dallas 

TV: Bally Sports OhioCBJ app 

Radio: Eldorado Scioto Downs Blue Jackets radio network (97.1 The Fan flagship) 

The reality for the Blue Jackets is that, as head coach John Tortorella said Thursday night, "We're not going to play in the playoffs." 

It's a new spot for many members of the Columbus team, who had experienced four straight playoff seasons coming into the campaign.  

So while the team is finishing up the season with 11 games to go as of tonight in Dallas, the remaining games are about a number of things. There's playing the right way no matter the frustration of the situation, there's evaluation of young players, and there's the hope that a strong finish can serve as a jumping off point for next season. 

As such, as center Jack Roslovic said after Thursday night's loss, the Blue Jackets should be harnessing their energy to finish on a high note. 

"We should be full of energy," the 24-year-old forward said. "New guys, new faces, guys that don't have a lot of games under their belts. They should be flying every night, and I think they've been doing a good job of that. I think they brought energy, and that's what you need as a young guy, especially coming into the league. I'm still trying to do the same thing, bring that energy every night." 

Columbus had it for the first period Thursday, taking a 1-0 lead and outplaying the Stars through 20 minutes. But with Dallas looking to mount a charge into the playoffs and in need of points, the Stars came out on the front foot in the second period, scoring twice late in the frame, and pulled away from there. 

The result was pretty much a summation of the CBJ season so far - there were inconsistencies in the team's game from one period to the next, critical mistakes at critical times, and an inability to generate enough offense to overcome the defensive miscues being made. Add in a bad-luck goal off the shin pads of defenseman Michael Del Zotto and it was basically a bingo card of Murphy's Law. 

"It's just so frustrating to me that we cannot grasp situational play," Tortorella was left to lament after the game. "I think our guys need to watch the game and see where the momentum has changed in the second period and act accordingly. 

"We're certainly trying to win hockey games. We just can't sustain our checking, we certainly can't sustain our offensive play, and this is why we struggle." 

With just two wins in the last 13 games, the frustration is there, but the only way to attack it is to be ready to play 60 minutes tonight. 

"It sucks to lose," Roslovic said. "I'm getting sick and tired of it. We have to work harder and we have to play better." 

Know the Foe  

It's been a year of trials and tribulations for the Stars, who have been beset by injuries (Ben Bishop and Alexander Radulov are out for the year, while Tyler Seguin is yet to play), an early-season Covid-19 pause and even some postponed games because of a winter storm. 

With everything that has happened, the Stars have battled through the adversity and are still in the playoff race, though they enter the game in sixth place in the Central Division, five points behind Nashville but with three games in hand. Thursday was a big night for Dallas, as the Stars' win combined with Nashville's loss gave the team a two-point jump in the standings. 

One of the biggest struggles for the Stars has been in overtime, as Dallas' 12 overtime losses are the most in the NHL, and in fact the Stars are the only team in the league with double digits in that category. Dallas is 5-2-2 in its last nine games as it tries to battle back into the mix in the Central and catch the red-hot Predators. 

With Seguin out, Radulov limited to just 11 games and Roope Hintz also limited throughout the year, scoring has been an issue for the Stars, who are 17th in the league with 2.76 goals per game. Joe Pavelski has led the way all season and has 17 goals among his 39 points, including an NHL-best 11 power-play goals. Hintz (13-20-33 in 30 games) has been a point-per-game player when healthy, while 21-year-old Jason Robertson has been a breakout player with 12 goals and 30 points in 37 games, placing second in the NHL among rookies in goals and points. 

Defensemen John Klingberg (6-22-28) and Miro Heiskanen (7-15-22, including three goals vs. Columbus) also add offense, while captain Jamie Benn has eight goals and 23 points in 38 games. 

Defensively, the Stars have fared well, placing fifth in the league with 2.43 goals allowed per game. Goalies Anton Khudobin and Jake Oettinger have split time, with Khudobin 9-9-6 with a 2.34 GAA and .913 save percentage in 24 games, while the rookie Oettinger is 7-5-6 with a 2.22 GAA and .917 save percentage in 21 contests, including 4-0-1 against Columbus. 

3 Keys to the Game  

Finally stop Pavelski: The ageless wonder has been a CBJ killer this season, scoring five goals and adding four helpers in six games. Keeping the sixth-ranked Stars power play (24.4 percent) off the ice, where Pavelski has been impressive, is key.  

Generate more offense: Columbus had just 11 shots on goal over the last two periods and just 39 shot attempts at 5-on-5 for the entire game, compared to 61 for Dallas. The Jackets have to make it harder on the Dallas goalies. 

Get Laine going: The forward has 19 goals in 24 career games against Dallas but hasn't tallied in the last five contests against the Stars. With three goals in the last three games, he's a key part of the offense. 

Of Note 

Del Zotto, who has a 2-1-3 line and is plus-5 in the last four games, will play in his 700th career NHL game if he skates tonight. … Oliver Bjorkstrand leads the team with a 14-18-32 line this year. Cam Atkinson matched him on the goal-scoring front with his 14th goal Saturday, while Jack Roslovic became the first player on the team to reach 20 assists in the loss. … Atkinson is four points from 400 in his NHL career (212-184-396). ... Roslovic also has seven points (3-4-7) in the last five games. ... Tortorella has 670 career wins, two behind Mike Keenan for 12th place in NHL history. … Columbus has stopped 32 of 36 power-play chances (88.68percent) in the last 13 games. … Columbus is 3-3-1 in the season series after the Jackets had won all seven games between the teams in the last four seasons.  

Projected Lineup 

(Subject to change) 

Oliver Bjorkstrand - Jack Roslovic - Cam Atkinson

Mikhail Grigorenko - Max Domi - Patrik Laine

Eric Robinson - Alexandre Texier - Zac Dalpe

Stefan Matteau - Josh Dunne - Ryan MacInnis

Mikko Lehtonen - Seth Jones

Vladislav Gavrikov - Michael Del Zotto

Scott Harrington - Andrew Peeke

Joonas Korpisalo (confirmed starter)

Elvis Merzlikins

Scratches: Kevin Stenlund, Kole Sherwood, Dean Kukan, Gabriel Carlsson

Taxi squad: Nathan Gerbe, Gavin Bayreuther, Adam Clendening, Cam Johnson

Injured reserve: Gus Nyquist (shoulder, out 5-6 months as of November), Zach Werenski (sports hernia, out for the season), Emil Bemstrom (lower body, rehabbing with a timetable TBD), Boone Jenner (broken finger, out six weeks as of April 7), Brandon Dubinsky (wrist, LTIR). 

Roster report: Columbus will make two changes to the lineup, with Lehtonen going in to play with Jones and MacInnis replacing Sherwood.

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