GAME 23: SENATORS (8-6-6) AT BLUE JACKETS (14-7-1)
NATIONWIDE ARENA, 7 P.M., FRIDAY
TV: FOX SPORTS OHIO/FOX SPORTS GO
RADIO: CD102.5 FM & BLUEJACKETS.COM
The Blue Jackets are the hottest team in the NHL right now, and they're still in the process of building to something better this season.
Columbus isn't a finished product, by far, but is atop the Metropolitan Division standings and can extend the longest current winning streak in the league to six games with a win against the Senators - who've lost four straight (0-3-1).
"It doesn't matter who we're playing," coach John Tortorella said Thursday, after practice at Nationwide Arena. "They're all good teams who we play. We've just got to keep on improving as a team."
One area it will be difficult to get much better is in net, where Sergei Bobrovsky is on top of his game. The two-time winner of the Vezina Trophy as the league's top goalie has started the past six games, and won five in a row.
The Blue Jackets' defense has played strong in front of him the past two games, but Bobrovsky put Columbus on his shoulders during the first three games of this win streak. He's now 13-4-1, with a 1.91 goals-against average and .936 save percentage in 18 games this season, including 5-0-0 with a 0.78 GAA during the win streak.
The Blue Jackets have needed this hot stretch from their goalie, too. They've scored just 10 goals combined in their five straight wins.
"I'm focusing on my things, so I can't go out and score the goals," Bobrovsky said, after making 22 saves against the Calgary Flames on Wednesday for his third shutout of the season and second in the past three games. "I can't control that, and I don't think about that. I just try to stay in my zone and do my things. Then, the rest of my teammates will take care of me."
Unlike the start of the season, Columbus is playing a well-rounded game more often. It's not paying off in goals just yet, but will if the Jackets continue to play this way. They're controlling the puck, keeping the action in the opposing zone and clearing their own zone consistently.
"I think each game that's gone by here, we've played more consistent minutes," Tortorella said. "I think we've gone in the front door more, winning games, than going in the side door in some of the games we've won this year. We deserved to win [Friday] night, and we've had more situations like that, in really deserving to win the game, than some of the games we won going through the early part of the season."
2017-18 Season: (0-0-0). This is the first of three games in the season series. The Blue Jackets will visit Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa on Dec. 29, and host the Senators on Mar. 17 in the finale.
All-time: 8-13-2 overall; 4-6-1 at Nationwide Arena
"BY THE NUMBERS"
- 1: The Blue Jackets have held opponents to one goal or fewer in four of their five victories during their current win streak.
- 6: Consecutive games Columbus has scored first. The Jackets have also scored first in eight of their past nine games, and have a 10-3-1 record in games they scored the first goal."
- .978: Bobrovsky's save percentage during the Blue Jackets' win streak.
- 136:12: The Senators went this amount of time without scoring a goal, until Ryan Dzingel scored late in the second period Wednesday against Washington. Their previous goal was scored by Mark Borowiecki at 1:48 of the second period in Ottawa's 3-2 loss at the Arizona Coyotes on Nov. 18.
Senators: Mark Stone had an assist Friday against the Capitals, and has nine points (six goals, three assists) in the past eight games.
Blue Jackets: Bobrovsky is in a happy place right now. He's stopped 174-of-180 shots in the past six games for a .967 save percentage, has won five straight games and his shutout against the Flames was his second in the past three contests. It was his third shutout of the season, tying him for the NHL lead.
EYES ON: THE SENATORS
- Ottawa has lost four straight games (0-3-1), and will play its third straight road game in a stretch where the Senators play 10 of 11 games on the road. After visiting Columbus, they'll return home Saturday against the New York Islanders and then play the next seven games on the road.
- The Senators played seven defensemen and 11 forwards in their last game, a 5-2 loss Wednesday at the Washington Capitals. They will play six defensemen and a full slate of 12 forwards against the Blue Jackets, which could lead to a lineup change on the back end. Look for either Johnny Oduya or Fredrik Claesson to be scratched, while Ben Harpur and Thomas Chabot form the third defense pairing.
- Ottawa added veteran forward Gabriel Dumont off waivers from the Tampa Bay Lightning this week, and he will make his Senators debut. Chris DiDomenico was placed on waivers, and will be assigned to Bellville of the American Hockey League if he isn't claimed Friday. Dumont will start out on the fourth line.
- The Senators have scored a combined five goals in their past four games, which all ended in defeat. They have just one win in regulation in their past seven games (2-4-1), and each goalie is looking to be sharper. Craig Anderson, who will start, is 7-6-3 with a 2.93 goals-against average and .896 save percentage. Mike Condon, his backup, is 1-0-3 with a 3.00 GAA and .904 save percentage.
- Ottawa has top players off to slow starts too, just like Columbus. Bobby Ryan hasn't scored a goal, while Matt Duchene doesn't have a point in six games and is minus-8 since the Senators acquired him in a trade with the Colorado Avalanche.
EYES ON: THE BLUE JACKETS
- Center Alexander Wennberg has missed the past four games with an upper-body injury, and is expected to miss his fifth straight. He is day-to-day, and there is no defined timetable for his return.
- The Blue Jackets' most effective forward line the past two games was centered by rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois. He's played between Artemi Panarin and Josh Anderson, and doesn't look out of place. The trio had the puck a lot, generated numerous scoring chances and wasn't a defensive liability. Dubois and Anderson each have big frames, but can also skate and have enough skill to play with Panarin, a shifty forward with a great shot, vision and hands. According to naturalstattrick.com, they were plus-19 as a unit in 5-on-5 scoring chances Wednesday against the Flames.
- Columbus continues to thrive when games go beyond 60 minutes. The Jackets improved to 7-0-1 in games that end in overtime or shootouts. They're 2-1 in shootouts, and have yet to lose in overtime.
- The Jackets are 7-1-1 against teams from the Atlantic Division, with their next two games against Atlantic opponents, Ottawa and the Montreal Canadiens.
"I get a kick out of us, as coaches. We talk about this, that, the other thing. 'This is what I'm looking for …' It's a bunch of [nonsense]. We try things, and if it works, it works. It's not on the board and going over what that player is. At least, that's my feeling. I shouldn't talk for the other coaches, but we get in the way most of the times." - Tortorella on the 'science' of putting line combinations together.
"He played good. He got lit up a little bit in a couple of meetings, as far as his play away from the puck. I thought the prior game to last night's game [against the Buffalo Sabres], I felt he listened and tried, and I felt [he] played a pretty good game. He played on both sides of the puck." - Tortorella on rookie left wing Sonny Milano, who played a season-high 15:43 against Calgary on Friday.
"He loves to shoot, but he's an amazing passer too. When you're open, you're going to get it right back on your blade, so you've just got to be ready. Me and [Anderson] are trying to get ready as much as we can. We don't want to force it to him, but when he's open you want to get it on his blade." - Blue Jackets rookie center Pierre-Luc Dubois on playing with Artemi Panarin the past two games.
"Our fundamentals [are] what is going to get us out of it. For the most part, we've been in most of these games. There's no reason to be crying wolf, or whatever the terminology [is] you might want to use. It's just a matter of sticking with it, sticking with what's worked for us in the past." - Senators goalie Craig Anderson, according to the Ottawa Sun.
Forward lines (12)
Ryan Dzingel - Derick Brassard - Mark Stone
Tom Pyatt - Matt Duchene - Bobby Ryan
Mike Hoffman - Jean Gabriel-Pageau - Alexander Burrows
Nick Paul - Nate Thompson - Gabriel Dumont
Defense pairings (6)
Fredrik Claesson - Erik Karlsson
Dion Phaneuf - Cody Ceci
Ben Harpur - Thomas Chabot
Others: Johnny Oduya
Injured reserve: Zack Smith (thumb), Chris Wideman (hamstring), Mark Borowiecki (concussion)
Forward lines (12)
Artemi Panarin - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Josh Anderson
Boone Jenner - Brandon Dubinsky - Cam Atkinson
Sonny Milano - Nick Foligno - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Tyler Motte - Lukas Sedlak - Jordan Schroeder
Defense pairings (6)
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Jack Johnson - David Savard
Ryan Murray - Markus Nutivaara
Others: Scott Harrington, Markus Hannikainen, Alexander Wennberg (upper body)
Injured reserve: Matt Calvert (upper body)