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PREVIEW: Blue Jackets welcome Philadelphia ahead of Thanksgiving

Columbus looks to continue strong play of late vs. Flyers in Nationwide

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

BLUE JACKETS (10-9-4) vs. FLYERS (12-7-5)    

Wednesday, 7 p.m. ET, Nationwide Arena (NBCSN, CBJ app97.1 The Fan)    

BUY TICKETS (Drawstring bag giveaway courtesy of Kroger for first 10,000 fans)

Earlier this month, the Blue Jackets won back-to-back home games against the defending Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues and a Montreal Canadiens team that got off to a hot start as one of the top teams in the Eastern Conference. 

And afterward, head coach John Tortorella looked at his team and didn't like what he saw. 

It came down to the team's identity, or lack thereof. The plan was to have a fast, physical team that was aggressive and played hard, using turnovers in the neutral zone to lead to offense.  

It wasn't that the Blue Jackets weren't trying hard or turning in some solid efforts. It was just that the hallmarks of the team's play he was hoping to see weren't there. 

In the last few games, though, Tortorella seems pleased, especially after the 1-0 win Monday over Ottawa that wasn't a thing of beauty but did feature a Blue Jackets team that just kept grinding its way to a victory.  

"I think since that St. Louis game, I think we talked about it with you guys, we're not who we're supposed to be," Tortorella said. "I think we've made some improvements. We always say that word, identity of how we have to play. I think we've made improvements in that." 

While the team continues to be near the bottom of the Eastern Conference when it comes to points, the team's current 4-1-1 run going into tonight's game vs. Philadelphia has put it back within striking distance of a playoff spot as the season chugs past the quarter pole. 

In addition, there are markers that the style Tortorella wanted to see -- one that focused on possessing the puck, not getting beat in transition and making it hard on the opposition to create -- is settling in. 

He talked often in preseason about the team needing to be "above the puck," which was designed to both keep the team from bleeding odd-man rushes as well as focused on creating turnovers that could turn into offense. 

While the offense has been slow to come, finally turning on a bit the past five games in which the team has averaged 3.40 goals per game, the defense has been among the best in the NHL.  

Per Natural Stat Trick, the Blue Jackets are allowing just 1.96 expected goals per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, good for fourth in the NHL, showing the team has done a good job of limiting opposing shot quality. Columbus is also second in the NHL in high-danger scoring chances allowed per 60 minutes at 5-on-5, ceding just 8.33 per game. 

The culmination of that defensive effort came Monday in the 1-0 victory over Ottawa. The Blue Jackets allowed 25 shots on goal, largely harmless attempts, in a shutout that goaltender Joonas Korpisalo described as a fairly easy effort. 

"I think it was good," Oliver Bjorkstrand said of the defensive effort. "At times, Korpi made some good saves. Overall, I think we kept them on the outside, it seemed like. So yeah, it was a good game." 

Know the Foe  

The Flyers currently occupy fifth place in the Metropolitan Division, five points head of the Blue Jackets. The team has had trouble getting momentum going with a 2-2-3 mark in the last seven games after a season-best four-game winning streak.  

While the Flyers are one of the best teams in the NHL when it comes to possession -- the team averages a 33.7-28.6 edge in shots per game and wins an NHL-best 54.0 percent of faceoffs -- it hasn't been able to turn that into a huge amount of goals. Philadelphia is 18th in the NHL with 2.88 goals per game and ninth in the league in defense, allowing 2.79 goals per game. The penalty kill is a big reason why, stopping 85.7 percent of chances, third in the league.  

Travis Konecny is having a standout campaign, leading the team with 23 points on eight goals and 15 assists. Sean Couturier (7-11-18) and Claude Giroux (7-10-17) have been consistent point producers, while former Blue Jackets forward Jake Voracek has a 6-10-16 line and Oskar Lindblom leads the team with nine goals among his 16 points.  

In net, youngster Carter Hart has been solid but not spectacular with a 7-5-3 record, 2.54 goals-against average and .900 save percentage. Veteran Brian Elliott has been steady, going 5-2-2 with a 2.75 GAA and .913 save percentage.  

The team previously took a 7-4 win over the Blue Jackets on Oct. 26 in Philadelphia, scoring five times in the last 10 minutes to overturn a 4-2 deficit. Philadelphia is currently without Nolan Patrick, the No. 2 overall pick of the 2017 draft who is dealing with migraines.  

3 Keys to the Game  

Home cooking: This is particularly appropriate the day before one of the best food days of the year. The Blue Jackets have won four in a row at home and are 13-0-1 in their last 14 games at Nationwide Arena vs. the Flyers. As they say, why stop now? 

Defend: Columbus is coming off one of its best defensive performances of the year, and both of these teams are among the better teams in the NHL when it comes to team defense. Avoiding a track meet like in Philadelphia seems prudent. 

Puck possession: Philadelphia likes to have the puck, and by and large the Flyers had it in the Jackets' visit to the City of Brotherly Love. That needs to change in Nationwide.  

Of Note

Zach Werenski extended his point streak to a career-high seven games (3-6-9) to tie a CBJ record for defensemen on Monday, while Bjorkstrand has a 2-5-7 line in the last three games. … Joonas Korpisalo has a .922 save percentage in his last seven starts. ... Werenski has 99 career assists. … With 550 games played, Cam Atkinson is three away from passing Fedor Tyutin for second in career games for the CBJ. ... Columbus has played in 16 one-goal games, most in the NHL, going 9-3-4 in such games. … The Blue Jackets are 10-2-1 when scoring first and 0-7-3 when giving up the first goal, and Columbus has scored first in eight straight games. … Columbus will play 10 of the next 15 against Metropolitan Division foes.  

Projected Lineup

(Subject to change)    

Alexandre Texier - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cam Atkinson 

Gustav Nyquist - Boone Jenner - Oliver Bjorkstrand  

Sonny Milano - Nick Foligno - Emil Bemstrom 

Eric Robinson - Alexander Wennberg - Josh Anderson 

Zach Werenski - Seth Jones    

Ryan Murray - David Savard  

Vladislav Gavrikov - Dean Kukan  

Joonas Korpisalo (confirmed starter)

Elvis Merzlikins

Scratches: Riley Nash, Scott Harrington 

Roster Report: The Blue Jackets will turn to Korpisalo again in net coming off Monday's shutout win despite Elvis Merzlikins' Wednesday morning recall after his first North American pro win last night with AHL Cleveland. No other lineup changes are expected, Tortorella said.

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