BLUE JACKETS (5-5-3) vs. FLAMES (7-6-2)
Saturday, 7 p.m., Nationwide Arena (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports app, 97.1 The Fan)
Could, slowly but surely, the power-play tide be beginning to turn for the Blue Jackets?
It's a small sample size, of course, but Columbus went a combined 2 for 6 over the past two games with the man advantage, giving the Blue Jackets a power-play goal in consecutive games for the first time this season.
More importantly, there were excellent buildups to the two goals the Blue Jackets have scored as well. On Zach Werenski's tally in Wednesday's game vs. Edmonton, Columbus had the puck in the offensive zone for a long stretch before winning a battle for the loose puck and setting up the defenseman for the score.
In Friday night's game at St. Louis, the power play that scored was all over the Blues, with a good combination of one-timers, shots on net with screens, short passing plays that led to open men, and even a couple of retrievals as well to set up Oliver Bjorkstrand for his goal.
"I felt like we were moving the puck, Zach was moving the puck well on the blue line, Wenny shot the puck, I got a few shots," Bjorkstrand said. "All the things we did on the power play, we just need to keep doing that, and that's moving the puck and being ready."
Not everything is perfect, of course -- the Wednesday game vs. the Oilers included a 5-on-3 for 1:47 that was ultimately fruitless -- but the two games did at least seem to show progress when it comes to the fundamentals of the man advantage.
Columbus has added nearly three percent to its power-play percentage over the last two games, boosting it to 14.6 on the season.
The key now is to keep the momentum going, Bjorkstrand said.
"We have to keep doing that in the next few games, especially tomorrow," Bjorkstrand said. "We have to build on it and not take steps back, take steps forward."
The power play has certainly been a topic of discussion throughout the early going, with it reaching its nadir when the Blue Jackets gave up two shorthanded breakaways including the game-winning goal during Saturday night's loss at Philadelphia. Columbus went 0-for-5 on the power play in that game, extending a stretch of struggles to 1-for-26 over an eight-game span.
The Blue Jackets toyed with some changes during the week when it came to personnel units, but against the Blues, the team returned Nick Foligno and Josh Anderson to the power plays. Foligno joined Bjorkstrand, Werenski, Alexander Wennberg and Pierre-Luc Dubois on the top unit while Anderson was on the second with Gustav Nyquist, Boone Jenner, Seth Jones and Cam Atkinson.
The team knows the early-season struggles have become a focal point for the fan base, but Nyquist says he thinks the Blue Jackets can keep making improvements.
"I think a power play is a funny thing sometimes," he said before the game in St. Louis. "You get a couple and all of a sudden you start feeling good. You probably start seeing more things out there instead of being worried about making a mistake or not doing the right thing, you're just playing to make the play. I can agree we've probably been a little tight and maybe holding the stick a little tighter than we should. Just play the game and see what's available out there and take it.
"We have very good players on both units, so there's no reason we shouldn't be able to be way better than we have."
Know the Foe
A year after the Flames rode an explosive offense to becoming one of the best teams in the NHL -- they were one of just two teams to win 50 games at 50-25-7 -- things are a bit different this year.
Scoring has been an issue so far, with Calgary going from scoring 3.52 goals per game a season ago to 2.73 this season, though the team is coming off a 6-5 overtime win at Nashville. The team's goals allowed per game also has gone up from 2.72 per game to 3.07.
Scoring depth has been an issue, as five Flames have at least 10 points thus far but just two others have more than five. Johnny Gaudreau (3-10-13) and Matthew Tkachuk (6-7-13) are tied for the team lead, with Tkachuk's between the legs goal earning notice in Thursday night's game, while Elias Lindholm is tied for sixth in the NHL with nine goals among his 12 points. Sean Monahan has a 2-9-11 line while reigning Norris Trophy winner Mark Giordano has three goals and seven assists.
David Rittich has cemented himself as the starter having played in 12 games with a 6-4-2 record, 3.02 goals-against average and .906 save percentage. Cam Talbot has started just three games and is 1-2-0 with a 2.46 GAA and .908 save percentage.
The team's penalty kill is third in the league at 87.5 percent, but the team has struggled on the power play at 16.7 percent.
3 Keys to the Game
Tighten up: Over their last four games, Calgary has scored six goals twice and one goal in the other two games. It's a streaky team but one that can be held at bay.
Keep going: The Blue Jackets have steadied themselves from the struggles of the Philadelphia and Edmonton games. This is another chance for an even better result.
Focus on stars: The Flames have been a team that relies strongly on its big guns. Being able to frustrate the top players should lead to good things for the Blue Jackets.
Riley Nash is one assist away from 100 in his career, while Boone Jenner needs two helpers to reach that mark. … Zach Werenski has 41 career goals for the Blue Jackets, tying Rostislav Klesla (2001-11) for most all-time. Seth Jones and David Savard are each at 40 tallies. … The Flames swept last year's season series, outscoring Columbus 13-8, to snap what had been a three-game CBJ win streak against Calgary. Cam Atkinson had a hat trick in the game in Columbus, while Zach Werenski also had a 2-1-3 line in the two games.
(Subject to change)
Gustav Nyquist - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cam Atkinson
Nick Foligno - Boone Jenner - Josh Anderson
Sonny Milano - Alexander Wennberg - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Kole Sherwood - Riley Nash - Emil Bemstrom
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Scott Harrington - David Savard
Vladislav Gavrikov - Dean Kukan
Scratches: Markus Nutivaara, Markus Hannikainen
Roster Report: Any lineup changes won't be known until pregame, but the two Finnish Markuses were healthy scratches against St. Louis on Friday. In addition, forward Kole Sherwood, a native of New Albany, was recalled Saturday morning while Jakob Lilja was sent to AHL Cleveland.