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Preview: Jackets seeking top gear and fourth straight win

Despite three-game win streak, Columbus still looking for its stars to shine brighter.

by Brian Hedger JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

GAME 21: BLUE JACKETS (12-7-1) AT SABRES (5-11-4)

KEYBANK CENTER, 7 P.M., MONDAY

TV: FOX SPORTS OHIO/FOX SPORTS GO

RADIO: 97.1 FM & BLUEJACKETS.COM

The Blue Jackets will try to push their winning streak to four in a row, after defeating the New York Rangers, 2-0, Friday at Nationwide Arena.

Columbus wasn't thrilled with the first two games of its three-game win streak, but had a solid effort to beat the Rangers for the second time in three games this season.

"I thought we played in the areas we needed to play in," coach John Tortorella said Sunday, after practice at Nationwide Arena. "We were better. It was a game that I thought we deserved to win. I'm pretty honest about winning and losing. We won some games prior to that, that, really, we went in the back door. We're still getting chances from, really, our secondary guys. We still haven't gotten our top guys untracked, but I thought we played good."

Next up is the Buffalo Sabres, who've lost five straight (0-3-2) and have scored one-or-fewer goals in five of their past seven games (1-4-2). Buffalo is coming off a 3-1 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes on Saturday at KeyBank Center, when Carolina's Sebastian Aho scored the game-winner directly off a turnover in the third period.

The Blue Jackets have scored two-or-fewer goals in their past five games (3-2-0), including just one regulation goal in four of them.

Columbus is still searching for a breakout game for several star players, including captain Nick Foligno, who doesn't have a point since the first game against Buffalo this season, Oct. 25 in Columbus.

"We're trying to get on the right road," Tortorella said. "We're trying to nail down our identity. It's taken us long enough here. No one is going to hide from that, and Nick has to play better. For us to be better, he has to play better in all situations."

It's a different story in net, where goalie Sergei Bobrovsky is on top of his game. He's started the past four games, going 3-1-0, and is coming off a 36-save performance against New York for his second shutout of the season.

Bobrovsky could make his fifth straight start, which would be his season-high for consecutive games.

SERIES RECORD

2017-18 Season: (1-0-0). This is the second of three games in the season series. The Blue Jackets will visit KeyBank Center on Jan. 11 for the finale.

All-time: 16-10-1 overall; 8-6-0 at Nationwide Arena

"BY THE NUMBERS"

  • 4: Goals allowed by Bobrovsky in his past four starts. The Blue Jackets' goalie has made 122 saves on 126 shots in that timeframe, for a blistering .968 save percentage.
  • 10: Shot attempts by Cam Atkinson against the Rangers on Friday, the day he signed a seven-year contract extension with the Blue Jackets worth $41.125 million. He didn't score, but put seven of them on net.
  • 14: Wins for the Blue Jackets in their past 20 games against Atlantic Division teams, stretching back to Jan. 22 of last season. They are 14-4-2 in that span, and play three of their next five games against Atlantic opponents.
  • 35: Percentage of games this season Columbus has scored their first goal within the first six minutes of the first period. They've done it seven times, including five of the past nine games.
  • 179: Seconds it took the Blue Jackets to score three goals against the Sabres in the second period of the first game, Oct. 25 at Nationwide Arena. The goals were scored by Seth Jones (15:20), Nick Foligno (17:38) and Matt Calvert (18:19).

EYES ON: THE BLUE JACKETS

  • Columbus snapped an 0-for-19 scoreless stretch on the power play with Artemi Panarin's goal in the third period against the Rangers. Columbus hadn't scored a power-play goal in six-plus games. The Jackets are 6-for-57 overall with the man-advantage (10.5 percent), including 2-for-26 on the road (7.7 percent).
  • The changes Columbus made to the setup of its power-play units worked against the Rangers. Zach Werenski went back to quarterbacking the second unit from the point, Cam Atkinson went from the middle to the left wing with the top group and Panarin shifted from left to right on that unit. The Jackets went 1-for-3 and applied better pressure in all three opportunities. "I thought the puck movement was good," Tortorella said. "We still have to get our shots through, but step-by-step, we're going to try and get better."
  • Bobrovsky has started four straight twice previously this season. Backup Joonas Korpisalo was assigned to Cleveland of the American Hockey League on Friday, after the win against New York, and allowed just one goal in the Monsters' 3-1 win. He was recalled Sunday and practiced.
  • Following the game against the Rangers on Friday, defenseman Gabriel Carlsson and rookie forward Sonny Milano were assigned to Cleveland along with Korpisalo. The Blue Jackets wanted all three to get a game in with the Monsters, after not getting much playing time in Columbus recently. All three were recalled Sunday, but Carlsson was re-assigned to Cleveland later in the day. "Since [returning from] his injury, the game has been faster around him," Tortorella said. "He's played slow. He's got to get some minutes. We can't keep him around here to play six or seven minutes. He's going to be a fixture of this organization, but we have to get him playing some minutes right now, and I'm not going to change the six [starters]."

EYES ON: THE SABRES

  • Buffalo is having trouble possessing the puck and preventing scoring chances. According to naturalstatrick.com, the Sabres have a 46.9 shot-attempts percentage (Corsi) at 5-on-5 (770-873) and are minus-46 in 5-on-5 scoring chances (354-400). Those numbers rank 27th (Corsi) and 26th (scoring-chance percentage) in the NHL.
  • Buffalo's Jack Eichel was given a new line to center at the morning skate Monday. He was replaced on the top line by Ryan O'Reilly, and will now center the third line. Eichel will skate between Zemgus Girgensons and Jason Pominville. Eichel has five goals, but only one in the past 11 games. 
  • Chad Johnson started for Buffalo against Carolina and made 30 saves. It was just his third start (fourth appearance) in the past 12 games, which includes the first game against Columbus. He faced 38 shots in that game, and allowed all five Blue Jackets goals. 
  • Robin Lehner, who's getting the bulk of playing time in net, will start for the Sabres. Lehner has lost his past three starts (0-2-1), allowing 10 goals. Lehner has sterling career numbers against Columbus: 5-2-0 in seven games with a 1.81 goals-against average, .951 save percentage and one shutout.

QUOTABLES

"It's been a little harder than the past two years. You've just got to stay positive. It's going to come back at some point. It happens to everybody, to have those moments you go through. It could be five games, 10 games, 20 games. You've just got to get back to where you can play and help the team to win games." - Blue Jackets defenseman David Savard on his recent struggles

"Yeah, his pockets are full of money, and he found a new gear." - Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella, joking about Cam Atkinson's uptick in play Friday, after signing a seven-year contract extension.

"I think it was advice from my dad, [that] you better make an impact in the game somehow. He always said, 'If you're not scoring, you better be hitting. If you're not hitting, you'd better be fighting. If you're not fighting, then get the hell off the ice.'." - Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno, quoting his dad, former NHL player Mike Foligno.

 

PROJECTED LINEUPS

BLUE JACKETS

Forward lines (12)

Artemi Panarin - Nick Foligno - Oliver Bjorkstrand

Boone Jenner - Brandon Dubinsky - Cam Atkinson

Tyler Motte - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Josh Anderson

Sonny Milano - Jordan Schroeder - Markus Hannikainen

 

Defense pairings (6)

Zach Werenski - Seth Jones

Jack Johnson - David Savard

Ryan Murray - Markus Nutivaara

 

Goaltenders

Sergei Bobrovsky

Joonas Korpisalo

 

Power Play 1

Foligno

Atkinson - Bjorkstrand - Panarin

Jones

Power Play 2

Jenner

Milano - Dubois - Dubinsky

Werenski

Others: Scott Harrington, Gabriel Carlsson

Injured reserve: Lukas Sedlak (ankle), Matt Calvert (upper body)

 

SABRES

Forward lines (12)

Evander Kane - Ryan O'Reilly - Sam Reinhart

Benoit Pouliot - Johan Larsson- Kyle Okposo

Zemgus Girgensons - Jack Eichel - Jason Pominville

Seth Griffith - Kyle Criscuolo - Jordan Nolan

 

Defense pairings (6)

Marco Scandella - Justin Falk

Jake McCabe - Nathan Beaulieu

Josh Gorges - Viktor Antipin

 

Goaltenders

Robin Lehner

Chad Johnson

Power Play 1

O'Reilly

Eichel - Kane - Okposo

Scandella 

Power Play 2

Reinhart

Pominville - Pouliot - Beaulieu

McCabe

Others: Casey Nelson, Matt Moulson

Injured reserve: Evan Rodrigues (hand), Zach Bogosian (lower body), Jacob Josefson (lower body), Rasmus Ristolainen (upper body), Matt Tennyson (foot), Taylor Fedun (lower body)

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