The Blue Jackets are hoping to pick themselves up after five straight losses, but they’ll have to do it against a team that is playing with more confidence than at any point this season.
The Hurricanes struggled mightily out of the gate this season, but have now won two games in a row. They shut out the Arizona Coyotes on Saturday night for their first win of the season and then responded the following night to beat the defending champion Los Angeles Kings. Both wins were recorded by Cam Ward, arguably the best goaltender in franchise history. Some hockey people believed Ward’s time was up in the Carolina crease with Anton Khudobin coming on last season, but he’s proving that he's still capable of filling the No. 1 role.
A contributing factor in the Hurricanes 2-6-2 start has been injuries to their top players, something that Blue Jackets fans can understand. Captain Eric Staal missed five games with an upper body injury, returning last Tuesday. His brother Jordan remains on injured reserve with a broken leg that will cost him the first three to four months of the season. Jeff Skinner also missed the start of the season with a concussion, an issue that has plagued him early in his career.
The Blue Jackets visited Raleigh on Mar. 29 of last season and escaped PNC Arena with a 3-2 overtime win. Ryan Johansen’s overtime wrister dribbled through Khudobin at 2:40 of overtime to seal the victory. Artem Anisimov had a goal and an assist in the win, and Matt Calvert had the other goal for Columbus. Curtis McElhinney outdueled Khudobin with 25 saves.
The Blue Jackets were 3-1 against the Hurricanes last season, and 1-1 at Nationwide Arena. The Blue Jackets are 1-1 against the Metropolitan Division this season after Saturday night’s loss to the Devils.
Foligno was arguably the Blue Jackets’ best player in his past two games since returning from injury. Foligno had a goal and an assist in New Jersey while playing center for the first time since his days with the Senators. It was a very effective line with Brian Gibbons and Jack Skille, and the Blue Jackets definitely missed Foligno on the power play during his absence. There’s been so much talk about Ryan Johansen (as there should be), but let’s not forget that Foligno had points in six straight games to start the season, and he’s playing with serious offensive jump in his game. Injury doesn’t seem to have slowed him down.
The Hurricanes are struggling offensively, but one player in particular is off to a very nice start. Jiri Tlusty has eight points in the Canes’ first 10 games, including two goals in the past three contests and three points in the past five overall. Tlusty has offensive ability, scoring 23 goals in the lockout-shortened 2013 season and already scoring a hat trick earlier in the year. Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner in the lineup at full strength makes him that much more dangerous, and the Canes really like his ability to play either wing and in all situations while contributing offensively.
Johansen's line vs. Staal's line
Both teams are struggling to score and both teams need a win. Columbus needs to get back to feeling good about themselves after five straight losses, while the Hurricanes need to prove their two-game winning streak is not a fluke at a point in the season when it is possible to climb back into the race to April. In these games, even this early in the season, you look to the big guns to produce. Johansen, Cam Atkinson, and Scott Hartnell have been producing for the Jackets. Tlusty has been scoring for Carolina, while Eric Staal and Alexander Semin are expected to do more. The top line that shines against a struggling defense can make a difference in this game.