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PREVIEW: Blue Jackets return home to take on the Rangers

Columbus faces division rival New York in second half of back-to-back

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com
BLUE JACKETS (30-17-11) vs. RANGERS (29-23-4)  

Friday, 7 p.m. ET, Nationwide Arena (FOX Sports OhioCBJ appFOX Sports app97.1 The Fan

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After the Blue Jackets 4-3 overtime loss to Buffalo on Thursday night, head coach John Tortorella had one particular gripe about his team's play against the Sabres. 

"The thing that bothered me a little bit tonight is just, we had a little bit of me, me, me (in our game) instead of we, we, we," Tortorella said. "And if we don't play as a we, we're into some (crap), I'll tell you right now. I hope we can curb that as we get ready for our Ranger game." 

It was characteristic bluntness out of a coach known for it, but there were a few plays that irked Tortorella in the team's overtime loss to the Sabres. 

The biggest was how the team was unable to hold its 2-0 lead late in the second period, as Buffalo's Jack Eichel tallied with less than two minutes to play in the period. On the play, the team's top line of Nick Foligno, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Oliver rkstrand was on the ice, but Dubois got caught in deep and the Sabres were able to create a 3-on-2 before Eichel buried a shot past goalie Matiss Kivlenieks in transition.  

"The hard part for me was the end of the second period, giving up that goal," Tortorella said. "In that situation being up 2-0, we need to end that period being up 2-0. Three of our veteran forwards get caught, give up a 3-on-2 from their goal line, back of the net." 

It's small mistakes such as those that are becoming a bit of a big problem for Columbus, which has lost three games in a row for the first time since December. While the Blue Jackets have carried edges in scoring chances and expected goal share in each of those three games, they've made just enough mistakes and failed to finish enough chances to end up on the losing end, though the team has claimed points in two of those games.  

After the game against the Sabres, veteran Nathan Gerbe was disappointed that the Blue Jackets couldn't hold a 2-0 lead.  

"I thought we stopped putting on the gas there," Gerbe said. "I thought we sat back a little too much and gave them a little space and didn't control the puck the way we wanted to. A big goal at the end to tie it up, but unfortunately it's a tough loss." 

The good news for the Blue Jackets, then, is they get a chance to go right back at it Friday night at home against the Rangers.  

"Now it's just getting ready for tomorrow and learning from our mistakes today," Gerbe said. 

Know the Foe 

The Rangers' rebuild might not be a long one -- they have a young No. 1 goalie, some excellent young talent at forward and defense, and a gamebreaker locked up long term in Artemi Panarin -- but the team is still in the middle of it, as a playoff bid in the ultracompetitive Metropolitan Division seems unlikely this year with New York nine points adrift from the last wild card spot. 

But New York does have a solid squad, one that is seventh in the NHL in scoring with 3.29 goals per game but is just 22nd in scoring defense allowing 3.13 goals per game. The power play also checks in at 23.7 percent, good for sixth in the league.  

Offense at the moment is still the calling card, and it helps when you have a player the level of Panarin to deliver it. The former Blue Jacket is fifth in the NHL with 76 points, including a ninth-place standing with 29 goals and a sixth-place mark of 47 assists. Ryan Strome has been the top beneficiary of being on the ice with the standout offensive dynamo, as he is in the midst of a career year with a 13-35-48 line. 

Mika Zibanejad also has been excellent with 24 goals and 50 points, while 24-year-old defenseman Anthony DeAngelo has become one of the top scoring defensemen in the NHL with a 13-30-43 line that places him sixth in points among blueliners. Potential trade target Chris Kreider is also having another good year putting the puck in the net with 22 tallies.  

In net, head coach David Quinn recently anointed Russian rookie Igor Shesterkin as the team's No. 1, and though he did not play Thursday night with an ankle injury, he could get the nod in Columbus. In seven games, Shesterkin is 6-1-0 - his only loss came vs. Columbus on Jan. 19 - with a 2.18 goals-against average and .914 save percentage. Alexandar Georgiev (13-11-1, 3.10, .908) has started 24 games and Henrik Lundqvist (10-11-3, 3.12, .907) has 25 as well, but just four of Lundqvist's starts have come in 2020.  

3 Keys to the Game   

Contain Panarin: It's obviously easier said than done, but the Blue Jackets were able to limit his impact in the teams' last game in January. He has points in all but 13 games this season. 

Stay out of the box: Columbus has had to kill just 25 penalties over the last 13 games, a key factor considering how many key players to the team's penalty kill -- Cam Atkinson, Josh Anderson, Alexander Wennberg and Seth Jones among them -- are out. This is especially big against a New York team that is dangerous on the man advantage. 

Big guns back: The Blue Jackets got secondary scoring on Thursday at Buffalo but need their top offensive players to be weapons to succeed consistently.  

Of Note   

The Blue Jackets have points in 20 consecutive games vs. Eastern Conference foes (14-0-6). … Elvis Merzlikins has an 8-1-1 record in his last 10 starts with just 12 goals allowed and a .959 save percentage. He leads the league with five shutouts, all in the last 10 games. … Oliver Bjorkstrand has 11-4-15 in his last 13 games. … Gus Nyquist is two assists from 200 in his career. … Zach Werenski leads all NHL defensemen with a CBJ-record 17 goals this season. ... The Blue Jackets' penalty kill is 23-for-25 over the last 13 games. … Columbus is 6-1-1 in its last eight games vs. the Rangers and 3-1-1 in the last five in Nationwide Arena. New York won a 3-2 decision Dec. 5 in Columbus before the Blue Jackets' 2-1 victory Jan. 19 in Madison Square Garden. 

Projected Lineup 

(Subject to change) 

Nick Foligno - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Oliver Bjorkstrand 

Gus Nyquist - Boone Jenner - Sonny Milano

Nathan Gerbe - Riley Nash - Eric Robinson 

Jakob Lilja - Kevin Stenlund - Emil Bemstrom 

Zach Werenski - Markus Nutivaara 

Vladislav Gavrikov - David Savard  

Scott Harrington - Andrew Peeke 

Elvis Merzlikins  

Matiss Kivlenieks 

Scratches: Cam Atkinson (injury), Gabriel Carlsson, Joonas Korpisalo (injury)  

Roster Report: Liam Foudy must return to the London Knights on Friday, so the team recalled Lilja, who will go into the lineup.  

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