BLUE JACKETS (6-7-3) at AVALANCHE (9-5-2)
Saturday, 9 p.m. ET, Pepsi Center, Denver (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports app, 97.1 The Fan)
In the moments after the Blue Jackets' victory on Thursday night at Arizona, there was something coming from the team locker room that it hadn't heard for a full two weeks.
Loud, thumping postgame music.
The surest sign of a losing streak in the NHL is postgame silence in the dressing room, and the Blue Jackets had to live with that quiet during an 0-4-1 stretch that spanned 14 days.
So it was a welcome dose of postgame energy that awaited the Blue Jackets following the 3-2 win in the desert.
"Huge," goaltender Joonas Korpisalo said. "A win like this, especially the way we battled and really earned the points on the road, it's the first game out of three so it lifts up the mood and gets us some confidence. It's big points here."
To head coach John Tortorella, the win wasn't all candy and roses, but they don't all have to be. Columbus still didn't get an offensive explosion but it did see two players who have to help carry the mail this year score in Gustav Nyquist and Oliver Bjorkstrand. Emil Bemstrom also finally got off the schneid and tallied, while the team got some excellent penalty killing and very good goaltending from Korpisalo.
The negatives largely settled on a 15-minute span of the first period in which the team vanished and let the Coyotes impose one-way traffic, but Columbus responded and found a way to win.
"We don't get caught up in talking too much about a losing streak," Tortorella said. "We're just trying to get better every day. Were we really good tonight? I wouldn't say we were, but we found a way.
"We have to get better in a lot of different areas. Individual players have to keep getting better, but it's good for us to get a result. There's been some games we lost this year where we didn't get the result. We got the result tonight."
A year ago, a three-game road trip out West, which featured games vs. Arizona, Colorado and Vegas proved to be the perfect antidote to a five-game losing streak, the team's longest of the season. Columbus won all three games on that trip to right the ship in what would become the franchise's most successful season to date.
This time, the three-game trip continues Saturday night in Colorado with another big test against a high-flying Avalanche team before heading to Montreal to finish. While the team knows it has to keep getting better, to start with a win might bring back some echoes of how things unfolded a year ago.
"We have to be more consistent in our 60-minute game," Bjorkstrand said. "It's something we need to work on, but tonight it's just nice to get the win. That was important to us."
Know the Foe
Colorado comes into the game with some confidence, one would have to imagine, after the Avs put up a nine-spot on Nashville in a 9-4 victory on Thursday night. It was a cathartic victory, as it snapped a 0-4-1 stretch for the Avs after an 8-1-1 start.
Scoring has been a strength of the Avalanche, who are fourth in the NHL with 3.63 goals per game. The team has been fantastic at 5-on-5, outscoring teams 37-27, while special teams have been average (17th in power play at 18.8 percent, 12th in penalty kill at 83.3 percent).
Even without injured linemates Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen, Nathan MacKinnon is off to a red-hot start as he sits seventh in the NHL with 22 points thanks to nine goals and 13 assists. Rookie sensation defenseman Cale Makar is second on the team with a 2-13-15 line to lead all rookies in scoring, while Andre Burakovsky has come over from Washington and excelled with five goals and seven points.
Coming off a hat trick vs. the Predators, Joonas Donskoi has eight goals, while Blue Jackets legend Matt Calvert has a 4-6-10 line in 16 games. He's one of three former Blue Jackets on the squad along with recently called up forward T.J. Tynan and defenseman Ian Cole.
In net, starter Phillip Grubauer is 6-3-2 with a 2.80 GAA and .915 save percentage, but he is likely out with a lower-body injury. Pavel Francouz is 3-2-0 in five games with a 2.98 GAA and .906 save percentage, and he's currently backed up by 30-year-old Swede Adam Werner.
3 Keys to the Game
Squad goals: The Blue Jackets got back on track a bit in the goal-scoring department in the win over Arizona, but the ceiling can still be higher. Against a Colorado team that can fill the net, it might have to be.
Keep Korpi going: The Finnish goalie has staked his claim on the net and been outstanding in the past three games. He'll need another solid showing vs. the Avs, and the Jackets have done well to clear rebounds the past few games as well.
Altitude attitude: Columbus hasn't seemed to have had much trouble with the high altitude over the years, going 4-1 in its last five trips to Denver. Even so, it might be nice to get off to a strong start rather than letting it come down to the final minutes.
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. … Columbus is 6-0-0 this year when scoring first and 0-7-3 when giving up the first goal. … The Blue Jackets have won three in a row vs. Colorado and are 7-2-1 in the last 10 games in the series. … Alexander Wennberg had a 1-3-4 line in the two CBJ wins last year, which were by a combined 11-5 score, while Pierre-Luc Dubois had three goals and Nick Foligno and Josh Anderson each had two.
(Subject to change)
Gustav Nyquist - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Nick Foligno - Boone Jenner - Josh Anderson
Sonny Milano - Alexander Wennberg - Cam Atkinson
Emil Bemstrom - Alexandre Texier - Kole Sherwood
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Vladislav Gavrikov - David Savard
Scott Harrington - Dean Kukan
Scratches: Riley Nash, Adam Clendening, Markus Nutivaara (injury)
Roster Report: Head coach John Tortorella said Riley Nash will be a healthy scratch while Kole Sherwood will return to the lineup. Defenseman Ryan Murray, who is on injured reserve with a broken hand, traveled west with the team and joined the team at the end of practice but will not play.