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PREVIEW: Blue Jackets visit the desert to take on Arizona

Columbus looking to snap skid as it begins a three-game road trip

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider /

BLUE JACKETS (5-7-3) at COYOTES (9-4-2)    

Thursday, 9 p.m. ET, Gila River Arena, Glendale, Ariz. (FOX Sports OhioCBJ appFOX Sports app97.1 The Fan)    

As the Blue Jackets look to break a five-game losing streak on Thursday night in Arizona, it's worth pointing out that not all losses are the same.  

The first two games of the skid -- at Philadelphia and a home game vs. Edmonton -- were contests where Columbus simply didn't have its game and took a loss as a result. The team got back at it at St. Louis and played well enough to win were it not for some crucial defensive breakdowns and a late penalty that left the team shorthanded going to overtime. 

A night later at home vs. Calgary, the team just didn't generate enough high-quality chances in a 3-0 loss, with head coach John Tortorella saying offensive execution was to blame. And then there was Tuesday night's 2-1 home setback vs. Vegas, where it was a little bit of everything. 

Bad puck luck? You bet, as four different scoring chances in the second half of the game got behind Golden Knights goalie Marc-Andre Fleury but didn't go in. A lack of finishing? You could point to that, too, as the issue has dogged Columbus' top guns all season. And a breakdown in patience was killer, as the team probed to find a power-play goal led to Vegas' game-winner, as an intercepted cross-ice, offensive zone pass led to a shorthanded tally. 

It wasn't a bad showing, Tortorella said, but a team with a small margin for error at the moment did enough to lose yet again. 

"Although we didn't finish (scoring chances) again, I thought we played a good game," Tortorella said. "We limited them to nine scoring chances. The thing I didn't like in the second period is you can call it trying too hard, a lack of patience, (but) we can't get into the situation where we lack patience because it'll double up on you. 

"When you are struggling to score goals, you start giving more chances to the other team because you're losing your patience. That's not a good thing." 

Video: Tortorella on the recent struggles.

The struggles to put a puck in the net almost reached reach a point of laughter -- it's either that or crying -- against Vegas, as it seemed improbable that so many pucks could get behind Fleury and still not go in the net. It's become a common theme for a team that has probably deserved better fates in a number of games but is still searching for consistency in scoring. 

"They gotta come eventually," forward Josh Anderson said. "The one that goes to Sonny (Milano) and it goes off his heel, an empty net - things like that drive you crazy a little bit. That's tough luck, but they're going to start going in here." 

The good news is the Blue Jackets appear to have found their game from the losses to the Flyers and Oilers, two contests that were out of character for a team whose identity is its hard work on a nightly basis. 

If the Blue Jackets play like they did for much of the Vegas game, they'll likely win a lot of games. They just have to start coming soon. 

"Those were totally different games (vs. Philadelphia and Edmonton)," defenseman Dean Kukan said after Tuesday night's loss. "We played really bad those games. I think we're back on track in our game, we just didn't get the points. That's the only thing that is missing - the goals and the points, but I think we can feel really good about our game tonight." 

Know the Foe 

If you're looking for a shorthand on what to expect from Arizona, perhaps a look at last year's New York Islanders is a primer. 

The Isles shored up the defensive woes that had ailed them a season ago and ended up turning around the ship. This year, Arizona has done the same, as the 2.27 goals allowed per game is the second best total in the NHL.  

The Coyotes weren't a terrible defensive team a year ago - they ceded 2.68 goals per game, sixth best in the NHL - but coach Rick Tocchet's system appears to have fully sunk in. The team is particularly impressive at 5-on-5, where Arizona has allowed just 20 goals in 15 games, best in the NHL. 

On the goal-scoring front, there has been a slight uptick as well, as the Coyotes have gone from 2.55 goals per game to 2.87. Not much of that can be attributed to marquee offseason acquisition Phil Kessel from Pittsburgh, as Phil the Thrill has a solid but unspectacular 3-7-10 line in 15 games. But there is scoring depth, led by Nick Schmaltz (4-10-14), Conor Garland (7-3-10), Clayton Keller (2-8-10) and Alex Goligoski (1-9-10). 

In net, Darcy Kuemper has blossomed into an elite goalie at age 29 with a 7-3-0 record and NHL-best marks of a 1.69 goals-against average and .940 save percentage. He also leads all NHL goalies at 9.15 goals saved above average. Backup Antii Ranta is at 2-1-2/.3.12/.912.  

3 Keys to the Game

Power time: While Arizona is playing airtight defense at 5-on-5, the penalty kill is at middle of the pack at 80.4 percent. To beat the Coyotes, scoring on the man advantage seems to be a must. 

Take it to them: The Blue Jackets got off to a quick start in the last road game at St. Louis, and the team has talked about having the mind-set to take the game to the opposition away from home. That will be key in the desert. 

Have fun: The five-game skid has become a bit of a slog, but the Blue Jackets can't let it weigh them down. There's a lot of hockey to be played.  

Of Note 

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 5-0-0 this year when scoring first and 0-7-3 when giving up the first goal. … The Blue Jackets have won seven of the last eight overall vs. Arizona and four in a row in the desert. … Jenner and Josh Anderson (1-1-2 each) led the CBJ in scoring last season against the Coyotes. ... The three-game trip will be the first road swing of more than one game this season. 

Projected Lineup    

(Subject to change)    

Gustav Nyquist - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Oliver Bjorkstrand 

Nick Foligno - Boone Jenner - Josh Anderson  

Sonny Milano - Alexander Wennberg - Cam Atkinson 

Emil Bemstrom - Riley Nash - Alexandre Texier 

Zach Werenski - Seth Jones    

Vladislav Gavrikov - David Savard  

Scott Harrington - Dean Kukan  

Joonas Korpisalo (confirmed starter)

Matiss Kivlenieks 

Scratches: Kole Sherwood, Adam Clendening, Markus Nutivaara (injury) 

Roster Report: Nutivaara did not make the trip after suffering an upper-body injury Tuesday. Texier is also expected to be to move into the lineup after being reinstated from injured reserve Wednesday in place of Sherwood. Harrington will return to the lineup in Nutivaara's place while Clendening serves as the extra defenseman. Kivlenieks is yet to make his NHL debut.





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