After dropping seven goals on the St. Louis Blues, the Blue Jackets travel to Ottawa for the second time this year to wrap up the season series with the Senators. The Senators have lost back-to-back 2-1 games to the Devils and Capitals to start the month of February, but they are a perfect 2-0-0 against the Blue Jackets this season.
The Senators’ win over the Blue Jackets on Oct. 28 moved them to 5-2-1 to start the season and amongst the top teams in the Atlantic Division in the early going. Fortunes have turned since then, and they now sit sixth in the Atlantic behind the three-headed monster of the Lightning, Red Wings, and Canadiens, but also in back of the now-surging Bruins and seven points behind a feisty Panthers team trying to stay in the hunt.
Paul MacLean is also gone from behind the bench in Ottawa, dismissed on Dec. 8 and replaced by assistant coach Dave Cameron. The Senators are 9-10-4 under Cameron.
Despite their struggles, the Senators can still hurt you in a hurry. Captain Erik Karlsson is one of the best offensive defensemen in the world. His 35 points put him sixth in scoring among defenseman and his 12 goals rank third. He has two goals and an assist against the Jackets this season.
The Senators have reasonably good scoring depth up front, with Bobby Ryan leading the way. The All-Star has 37 points on the season and 14 goals. In total, the Senators have seven players in double digits for goal-scoring, but no one on the team has cracked 20.
On Oct. 27, the Senators defeated the Blue Jackets 5-2 at Nationwide Arena, 10 days after having beaten the Jackets 3-2 in Ottawa. The Jackets’ loss was their third straight, in their first game home after their California road trip. That losing streak would reach nine games before the Jackets could snap it.
The Jackets were in this game for the first 40 minutes, opening the scoring early in the first period with a power play goal from David Savard. Clarke MacArthur and Zack Smith scored to put Ottawa on top, but the Jacket responded with a Cam Atkinson goal to tie the game with 1:03 left in the second period. The Senators pushed the pedal to the floor in the third with goals from Karlsson and Alex Chiasson. MacArthur’s second goal of the game midway through the third capped the scoring.
Nick Foligno had a heck of a night against the Blues on Friday. He had been playing well for the Jackets, but was stuck in his worst goal-scoring drought of the season. Foligno had only one goal in the last 16 games, though he wasn’t a slouch during that stretch either with 13 assists during a hot period for line mate Ryan Johansen. Foligno busted out in a big way with two goals and an assist against St. Louis, clicking beautifully with new center Brandon Dubinsky, a player looking for an offensive spark himself. With Foligno back in the scoring swing, he becomes dangerous not only for his own skill but also for his potential to get the team’s secondary producers back on track.
One of the pleasant surprises for Ottawa this season made an appearance at NHL All-Star Weekend. Rookie Mike Hoffman, a fifth round pick in 2009, leads the Senators with 17 goals, a total that also is tied for first amongst all rookies with Nashville’s Filip Forsberg. Hoffman made brief appearances in the Senators’ lineup the last three seasons, but never played enough games to lose the rookie tag. Now he’s making the most of that opportunity, and he has two goals and five points in the last five games. Another rookie teammate of his is doing damage, too; 2010 sixth-rounder Mark Stone, briefly in the lineup the last two years, has been playing the wing opposite Hoffman and has 12 goals and 29 points (3rd amongst rookies).
The Blue Jackets took advantage of the Blues on their second game of a back-to-back, putting the pedal to the floor and physically dominating St. Louis in the second period. But in the first period, when the Blues still had the legs to make plays in the offensive zone, the Jackets countered by playing one of their better neutral zone games of the season. The Jackets contested entry at their blue line, killing the momentum of the Blues’ speed attack and forcing the Blues into a dump-and-chase game they didn’t have the legs for. In Ottawa, it will be a back-to-back Jackets effort against a rested squad priding itself on speed and a transition offense. The Jackets need to clog the neutral zone in the same fashion, slowing down the pace of the game and minimizing Karlsson and Ryan’s abilities to drive the rush.