BLUE JACKETS (13-14-6) at RED WINGS (9-23-3)
Tuesday, 7:30 p.m. ET, Nationwide Arena (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports app, CD 102.5 FM)
Chestnuts might be roasting on an open fire. Santa Claus is getting ready to go right down Santa Claus Lane. Rudolph is shining up his red nose to lead the way on his yearly journey a week from tonight.
But for the Blue Jackets, it's way too early to start thinking about those visions of sugar plum fairies. There's still hockey to play.
Monday night's game vs. Washington kicked off a sprint to the finish ahead of the NHL's league-mandated three-day break that runs from Christmas Eve to Boxing Day. Counting the game against the Caps, Columbus will play five times in eight days heading into that break, and those games could very well chart the course of the rest of the season for the Blue Jackets.
Columbus entered the stretch with just 12 wins in the first 32 games. By the time Christmas hits, the team will be 37 games into its season, with the halfway point certainly in sight. A strong finish will keep alive playoff hopes; a disappointing one will cause a lot of soul searching as the presents are opened.
"The games coming into Christmas before we break for a few days are very important as far as what we think we are and where we're trying to go," head coach John Tortorella acknowledged. "I'm not going to pin it on any one game, but this little bubble before Christmas is very important as far as where do you go as a coach with the team? How do you end up coaching it? Where do we think we are and where do we want to get to?
"A lot of things come into play the next couple of weeks."
The good news is the Blue Jackets might be rounding into form as the crucial stretch hits. The 3-0 win over the league-leading Caps on Monday night extended the team's point streak to four in a row, and for a team that has struggled to build on good performances, it has led to a little bit of a light at the end of the tunnel.
Columbus will need to stack some streaks together to get back into the race, but the good news is that Monday's game might have been a bit of a page-turner. After dominating the third period against Ottawa on Saturday to earn a point in a game that almost appeared to be a lost cause, the Blue Jackets kept that momentum going against the Caps, parlaying a strong start into a crucial win.
"I think we built off of (the Ottawa game) just with the way we forechecked and reloaded," said Eric Robinson, the rookie who has three points in his last four periods of play. "It really hems teams in, and that's why we were successful in the third (against the Senators). It carried over into tonight.
"You have to be able to not just do it once but do it over and over again. That's where we're going to try to come out tomorrow and have the same effort, just playing smart, playing the right way, and then when we have the puck making those plays."
The stretch of five games in eight days ends with a Dec. 23 game at the Islanders, but Columbus doesn't feel it needs a Festivus miracle to finish this stretch strong. The Blue Jackets just need to keep playing the kind of hockey they've been showing of late.
"It's huge," goalie Joonas Korpisalo said of the point streak. "Especially (the Washington) game, we can build on this. Just points, that's all that matters, getting points, and I hope we get on a roll here."
Know the Foe
While Columbus played the top team in the NHL on Monday night, the Blue Jackets will get their second crack this year on Tuesday night at the league's worst entity. With just 21 points, the Red Wings are four points behind New Jersey and 10 behind everyone else, and while the Caps had won eight of nine entering Nationwide Arena on Monday, Detroit has lost 13 of 15 ahead of Tuesday's game.
The Wings are in what could be described as a streak at the moment, though, having won two of three coming in. Improved defense has been the key, as the Wings have allowed just seven goals over the last three after ceding 4.3 per game in a 12-game losing skid from Nov. 14-Dec. 10. As a result, the team sits last in the league in defense having given up 3.86 goals per game.
The bad news is Detroit is also last in the league in scoring with 2.17 goals per game, and a lack of scoring depth is the main culprit. The team has a solid trio up front in leading scorer Tyler Bertuzzi (11-16-27), top goal scorer Anthony Mantha (12-12-24) and Dylan Larkin (8-13-21), but the scoring falls off from there. Filip Hronek leads the blue line with seven goals and 18 points, while Andreas Athanasiou has 16 points but is minus-35. Rookie Filip Zadina has a 2-5-7 line in 10 games.
In net, Jonathan Bernier and Jimmy Howard haven't had much help, though Howard is on injured reserve and has been replaced by Eric Comrie. Bernier has a 7-9-2 record with a 3.22 goals-against average and .897 save percentage, while Comrie is at 0-2-0/4.28/.864.
3 Keys to the Game
Keep the energy: The Blue Jackets have started to stack results on top of one another, and with the NHL's last-place team on the docket, there's no excuse not to keep it going from an energy standpoint on Tuesday night.
Handle the top guns: Detroit's offense has only so much punch, and the Blue Jackets nearly let the Wings' top guys sink them when Columbus claimed a 5-4 win in Columbus in November. There must be attention to detail with Bertuzzi, Mantha and Larkin on the ice.
Support your goalie: With Korpisalo going for the second night in a row for the second time this year, giving him a chance to get some breaks in the action will be nice.
Columbus has won nine of the last 10 against the Wings and is 8-0-1 in the last nine in the Motor City. … Korpisalo has a .924 save percentage in his last 16 appearances. … The game in Detroit will close the sixth of 16 back-to-backs this season. … Pierre-Luc Dubois has a 5-2-7 line amid a five-game point streak against the Winged Wheel. … Dubois is also three games from 200 in his NHL career. … Gus Nyquist spent the first seven-plus seasons in Detroit before being dealt to San Jose at last year's trade deadline.
(Subject to change)
Alexandre Texier - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Eric Robinson
Gustav Nyquist - Boone Jenner - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Nick Foligno - Alexander Wennberg - Cam Atkinson
Kevin Stenlund - Riley Nash - Marko Dano
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Vladislav Gavrikov - David Savard
Dean Kukan - Andrew Peeke
Scratches: Sonny Milano (injury), Ryan Murray (injury), Scott Harrington
Roster Report: With Werenski's recall, he goes into the lineup in place of Harrington, while Josh Anderson went on injured reserve today. Korpisalo will start for the second game in a row after winning Monday night vs. Washington.