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PREVIEW: Columbus begins big back-to-back vs. Philadelphia

Blue Jackets take on Flyers in Philadelphia ahead of home game

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /
BLUE JACKETS (30-18-12) at FLYERS (32-20-7)  

Tuesday, 7 p.m. ET, Wells Fargo Center, Philadelphia (FOX Sports OhioCBJ appFOX Sports app97.1 The Fan

The natural inclination for some is to panic. 

That's exactly the feeling John Tortorella is trying to avoid right now. 

The Blue Jackets have lost five games in a row, and with just 22 games left in the season, it's a bad time to be racking up losses. 

But the Columbus head coach also sees plenty of reasons not to be frustrated as well. Columbus has points in three of those games thanks to overtime or shootout losses, and the Blue Jackets have played some good hockey through the stretch as well. 

The Blue Jackets kept potent Colorado, Tampa Bay and New York offenses under wraps for the most part. They battled from deficits to earn points on the road at Buffalo and New Jersey, with the latter game mostly one-way traffic as the Blue Jackets had a season-high 55 shots on goal. One more goal here or one less breakdown there and the team would have a few more points to its record. 

That's why Tortorella is focused on making sure his team stays the course and keeps its confidence as it enters a huge back-to-back with Philadelphia. 

"It's a big part of coaching right now for us and conversation amongst one another with the coaches and players," Tortorella said. "If we lose confidence and we start second guessing ourself or whatever happens, we are done. This is a team that is going about its business and finding its way to stay in the hunt here because they believe. If we start second guessing or shaking your head about not scoring, we are done. We need to be strong in that area and I trust our guys they will be." 

It's a message echoed by goalie Elvis Merzlikins, who gave an impassioned answer when asked about the Blue Jackets' five-game losing streak Sunday. 

"The season is still long," he said. "There is like 20-something games. We still have time. We are just going to have to use our confidence and our belief that we have. We are not losing it. I believe and I know my teammates are going to fight and we are all together going to fight and all together going to do beautiful things." 

While it's too early to get intro true must-win games, it would be hard to find contests that mean more to the Blue Jackets' playoff hopes at this point in the season than the two games against Philadelphia, with the second to be held Thursday night in Nationwide Arena. 

The Blue Jackets and New York Islanders are tied for third in the Metropolitan Division with 72 points, with Columbus holding the No. 1 wild card spot at the moment. Philadelphia is in the second wild card spot, just a point behind, while Carolina has 70 points and is breathing down the necks of both teams.  

"Tomorrow is a new day," Pierre-Luc Dubois said in the locker room after the shootout loss to New Jersey. "Philly is a new game. We've lost five in a row. It sucks, but we just have to look at every game as just one game. You can't look two games ahead or behind. The next game is the next game." 

Know the Foe  

The Flyers have become one of the hotter teams in the league, boasting a 9-4-1 record over its last 14 games, though the team is 3-3-0 in its last six. In the last five, Philadelphia has scored 23 goals, and the Flyers are up to 3.19 goals per game, good for 12th in the NHL.  

It's a deep team when it comes to offense, as nine different players have at least 10 goals but none has 20. Center Sean Couturier is having a fantastic year, as he leads the team in scoring with a 17-35-52 line and is plus-19. Travis Konecny is atop the team's goal-scoring chart with 19 among his 48 points, while Claude Giroux has a 16-28-44 line and former CBJ forward Jakub Voracek is right behind at 11-32-43. 

James van Riemsdyk has posted an 18-20-38 line, while free agent signee Kevin Hayes has 17 goals among his 32 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 2.92 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 32 games and going 17-12-3 with a 2.59 goals-against average and .906 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    

Keep pushing: The Blue Jackets found some offense against the Devils but could only muster three goals on 55 shots. Tortorella liked the way the team played but wants to see more goals.

Strong in the zone: The strength of this team is its defensive identity. That needs to shine through against a team like the Flyers, who have been filling the net of late. 

Big, not too big: These are huge games, but there's still 20 games left. The Blue Jackets can't treat them like the end of the season quite yet. The team just needs to play its game against the Flyers.

Of Note    

Merzlikins is 12-4-2 since becoming the CBJ starter with a .945 save percentage. He leads the league with five shutouts, all in the last 12 games. … Oliver Bjorkstrand has a 12-5-17 line in his last 15 games. … Dubois has 18 points in his last 14 road games (5-13-18). … 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-28 over the last 15 games. Columbus has not taken a penalty in six of 60 games this year. … The Blue Jackets have lost 327 man games to injury. ... Columbus has points in the last six road games (3-0-3). … Philadelphia has won the first two games of the season series, a 7-4 victory Oct. 26 in the City of Brotherly Love and a 3-2 final in Columbus on Nov. 27. Before that, the Blue Jackets had won five straight games in the series.  

Projected Lineup 

(Subject to change) 

Gustav Nyquist - Kevin Stenlund - Oliver Bjorkstrand 

Nick Foligno - Boone Jenner - Nathan Gerbe 

Sonny Milano - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Emil Bemstrom 

Jakob Lilja - Riley Nash - Eric Robinson 

Zach Werenski - Markus Nutivaara 

Vladislav Gavrikov - David Savard  

Scott Harrington - Andrew Peeke 

Elvis Merzlikins  

Matiss Kivlenieks 

Scratches: Kole Sherwood, Gabriel Carlsson, Joonas Korpisalo (injury)  

Roster Report: There will be no lineup changes from Sunday night's game, Tortorella said, with Merzlikins going in net.





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