The past two games without Alexander Wennberg have been challenging for the Blue Jackets.
The final six weeks of the regular season, Wennberg centered a line with Boone Jenner and Thomas Vanek that was one of the Jackets' most consistent offensive threats. They were good against the Capitals in Game 1 of an Eastern Conference First Round series, too, until Washington's Tom Wilson knocked Wennberg out of the game with a blow to the head in the third period.
Wennberg hasn't played since, and his role is being filled by Columbus captain Nick Foligno. The line hasn't created as much offensive pressure the past two games, which Vanek hopes they change in Game 4 on Thursday at Nationwide Arena (7:30 p.m., Fox Sports Ohio, Fox Sports Go, 97.1 FM).
"It's two different players," Vanek said. "[Foligno] is a strong, hard-working guy, with obviously a ton of skill too, but a completely different player than '[Wennberg]. I think Boone and I are getting adjusted to it, but at the same time, the three of us need to be better, that's for sure."
Vanek said it's mostly on him and Jenner to adjust, as opposed to Foligno.
"Nick is a guy who wants to go hit and do his things that he does well, so I think he likes to play a little below the circles, which is fine," he said. "For Boone and I, we've got to complement him better. I think with 'Wenny' it was a little more give him the puck and then we get open. So, it is a different game. At the same time, Boone and I can play Nick's game just fine. We just need to be better right off the bat."
The Blue Jackets hope to be better, earlier, as a team too.
They've allowed the first goal in each of the first three games and had to claw back in all three, which all went past regulation. The goal this time is to get an early lead, build on it and try to go up 3-1 in the series, which shifts back to Capital One Center in Washington D.C. for Game 5 on Saturday.
Getting some offensive-zone time and production outside of the top line would be a good start, including Foligno's line.
"We don't want to change Nick's game, especially, since he's the center," Vanek said. "So, let him do his thing. It's not a complete [180-degree turnaround]. It's just a little bit different type. It's more like getting it in deep, getting that second man on the puck and I think, as the game goes on, our lines keeps getting better … but we've got to be better right from the start."
Neither team will have any lineup changes, other than the Capitals possibly moving Chandler Stephenson up to left wing on their second line and putting Jakub Vrana, who played there in Game 3, at left wing on the fourth line.
Sergei Bobrovsky will make his fourth start of the series for the Blue Jackets and Braden Holtby will start in net for the Capitals for the second straight game.
"If you look at it realistically, they're still up 2-1, so we're still fighting and desperate, and trying to use that to our advantage to win Game 4," said Holtby, who made 33 saves in the Capitals' 3-2 win in double overtime of Game 3. "It's pretty evenly matched. I felt last game was one of the better games in terms of just a good hockey game. Both teams were executing and working and sticking to their systems. It made for really good hockey and I think we're going to expect more of that tonight."
Alex Ovechkin - Evgeny Kuznetsov- Tom Wilson
Chandler Stephenson - Nicklas Backstrom - T.J. Oshie
Brett Connolly - Lars Eller - Devante Smith-Pelly
Jakub Vrana - Jay Beagle - Alex Chiasson
Michal Kempny - John Carlson
Dmitri Orlov - Matt Niskanen
Brooks Orpik - Christian Djoos
Scratched: Madison Bowey, Andre Burakovsky (upper body), Jakub Jerabek, Shane Gersich, Brian Pinho, Travis Boyd, Pheonix Copley
Artemi Panarin - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cam Atkinson
Boone Jenner - Nick Foligno - Thomas Vanek
Matt Calvert - Brandon Dubinsky - Josh Anderson
Sonny Milano - Mark Letestu - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Zach Werenski - Seth Jones
Ian Cole - David Savard
Ryan Murray - Markus Nutivaara
Others: Markus Hannikainen, Alexander Wennberg (upper body), Alex Broadhurst, Taylor Chorney, Jack Johnson, Scott Harrington, Dean Kukan, Lukas Sedlak (upper body)