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PREVIEW: Blue Jackets take on Flyers in key game at Nationwide

Columbus looks to end six-game losing skid in return home

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com
BLUE JACKETS (30-19-12) at FLYERS (33-20-7)  

Thursday, 7 p.m. ET, Nationwide Arena (FOX Sports OhioCBJ appFOX Sports appCD 102.5

BUY TICKETS (Third jersey game)

John Tortorella can't see the future, but it sort of sounded like he could Tuesday. 

Speaking about his team's resilience ahead of that night's game vs. Philadelphia, the Blue Jackets head coach spoke about what would have to happen even if the team was defeated by the Flyers in big matchup when it comes to playoff positioning.  

"We just gotta take it one day at a time," Tortorella said. "That's all we can do. As I told you the other day, no matter what happens, we get spanked tonight, we can't lose our confidence. You have to come in the next day and get on top of yourself and get ready to play the next game because if we lose that belief, we're screwed." 

As Blue Jackets fans know, the team in fact did end up on the wrong end of a 5-1 decision in the City of Brotherly Love. In some ways, it wasn't a spanking -- Columbus had a 29-15 edge in shots on goal, and the Flyers scored a couple of odd goals, including two in the first 4:30 to take command of the game -- but it was a contest that laid bare some issues with the Blue Jackets right now, in particular a struggle in scoring goals at the moment. 

Now, the challenge for the Blue Jackets, who are 0-3-3 in the last six games, to keep that confidence and not be screwed, to use Tortorella's word.  

To a man, after the game, the Blue Jackets players said they do retain the belief their coach said is needed to get back to their winning ways, as Columbus had a 19-2-5 run in the 26 games before the recent losing skid.  

"I don't feel like there's a worry in this room, to be honest with you," captain Nick Foligno said. "We're fighting it right now. Maybe that's the confidence with the puck, but there's a lot of good plays out there being made, too. We're just not quite sharp enough to put them in, myself included. … We have to do this collectively. We've done it as a group all year long. We can't splinter now and say our confidence is down. It doesn't matter about your confidence. You just find ways." 

Goaltender Elvis Merzlikins echoed the message.  

"Until now, we've had a really good run," the first-year goalie from Latvia said. "We've built our confidence, and we'll have to keep that confidence together. Even if we have a lot of injuries, we have to stay together as a family. We are doing that. This team, I mean, for me it's the first year for me to be here and it's really nice to be here. I feel really like a family." 

Columbus was leapfrogged in the standings by both Philadelphia and Carolina on Tuesday, putting the Blue Jackets back on the wrong side of the playoff bar. But with four Metropolitan Division teams within a point of each other at the moment, the Blue Jackets can jump right back onto the other side of things with a response performance at home Thursday night.  

"We're going to get through this just like we have before," Foligno said. "It's a great opportunity to come home against a team that we have a little emotion against and make sure we come out with a win Thursday." 

Know the Foe  

The Flyers might be the last team the Blue Jackets want to see at the moment, at least based on how the season series has gone. One year after being swept by the Blue Jackets in all four games, Philadelphia has won all three this season against Columbus by a combined score of 15-7. 

That scoring ability is one of the hallmarks of this Flyers team, which is 10-4-1 in its last 15 games. In the last six games, Philadelphia has scored 28 goals (4.67 per game), and the Flyers are up to 3.22 goals per game, good for ninth in the NHL.  

It's a deep team when it comes to offense, as nine different players have at least 10 goals. Center Sean Couturier is having a fantastic year, as he leads the team in scoring with a 18-35-53 line and is plus-20. Travis Konecny is atop the team's goal-scoring chart after reaching 20 goals Tuesday night and has 51 points overall, while Claude Giroux has a 16-30-46 line and former CBJ forward Jakub Voracek is right behind at 12-33-45. 

James van Riemsdyk has posted an 18-20-38 line, while free agent signee Kevin Hayes has 18 goals among his 33 points. Defenseman Ivan Provorov (11 goals), forward Oskar Lindblom (11) and forward Scott Laughton (10) are also in double digits when it comes to scoring, though Lindblom is out indefinitely after being diagnosed with Ewing's sarcoma in December.  

Defensively, Philadelphia allows 2.88 goals per game, good for 11th in the NHL. Carter Hart and Brian Elliott have shared the crease, with the 21-year-old Hart starting 33 games and going 18-12-3 with a 2.54 goals-against average and .908 save percentage. Elliott has played in 29 games (25 starts) and is 14-7-4 with a 2.90 GAA and .898 save percentage.  

3 Keys to the Game    

Find the identity: Columbus has built its success this season on a defensive identity but gave up five goals on Tuesday night vs. the Flyers on only 15 shots. The defense and goaltending have to have a better night. 

Build some chemistry: The team's offensive chemistry has gone missing, and six games with just one goal in the last 10 also isn't enough. Something has to be manufactured here.  

Pucks to the net: Philadelphia showed how just getting pucks to the blue can have a big impact in a game Tuesday night. Tortorella talks about funneling pucks to the net, and that's one way to create danger.  

Of Note

The game will be the 900th of Nick Foligno's NHL career. … Merzlikins has a 1.23 goals-against average and .959 save percentage in his last nine home games. He owns the NHL lead with five shutouts. … Oliver Bjorkstrand has a 13-5-18 line in his last 16 games. … Zach Werenski leads all NHL defensemen with a CBJ-record 18 goals from the blue line this season. ... The Blue Jackets' penalty kill is 26-for-29 over the last 16 games. Columbus has not taken a penalty in six of 61 games this year. … The Blue Jackets have lost 336 man games to injury. ... The Blue Jackets had a 13-0-1 run against Philadelphia in Nationwide Arena snapped by the Flyers' 3-2 win in Columbus on Nov. 27. 

Projected Lineup 

(Subject to change) 

Nick Foligno - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Oliver Bjorkstrand

Gus Nyquist - Kevin Stenlund - Emil Bemstrom

Stefan Matteau - Boone Jenner - Nathan Gerbe

Eric Robinson - Riley Nash - Jakob Lilja

Zach Werenski - Markus Nutivaara 

Vladislav Gavrikov - David Savard  

Scott Harrington - Andrew Peeke 

Elvis Merzlikins  

Matiss Kivlenieks 

Scratches: Sonny Milano, Gabriel Carlsson, Joonas Korpisalo (injury)  

Roster Report: Korpisalo has been sent to Cleveland on a conditioning assignment while Matteau was signed Wednesday and goes in for Milano, who is a healthy scratch.

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