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Notebook: Connauton returns, Bourque finding his footing with Jackets

by Rob Mixer / Columbus Blue Jackets

A year ago, the Blue Jackets had their way with the Carolina Hurricanes in a five-game season series, winning three of the five meetings and losing one of the two thanks to an other-worldly goaltending performance from Anton Khudobin.

This year, the season series has not been as kind to Columbus; the Hurricanes have taken the first two meetings, earning a 4-2 win on Nov. 4 at Nationwide Arena and a come-from-behind 3-2 overtime win a few days later. In the second of those two meetings, penalty trouble doomed the Jackets before Elias Lindholm capitalized on a 2-on-1 in overtime.

Back on the road tonight – where the Blue Jackets have played very well as opposed to a disappointing home record – Todd Richards wants to see more of the same that’s been regular on the road: strong starts, game management and the ever-elusive 60-minute effort.

“Our starts (on the road) have probably been a little bit better, not getting behind the eight-ball,” Richards said this morning. “We’ve done some good things, even in our last game, you go through the first two periods and we were playing pretty well but we were down 3-0. We put ourselves in a tough position with a penalty on the first shift, then we shoot it out of play, they have a 5-on-3 and they score two goals.

“Those are tough holes to come out of. In this league, it’s tough to win. It doesn’t matter who you’re playing or where you’re playing on each and every night. It’s being able to perform and doing the right things for 60 minutes.”

As we mentioned in today’s AAA Game Day Hub, Sergei Bobrovsky will get the start in goal for Columbus. It’s his fourth straight appearance since returning from a groin injury on Mar. 3, and he’s looking to find a groove and find form in the final stretch of the regular season.

Kevin Connauton, out since Feb. 24 with a lower body injury, returns tonight and will pair with Cody Goloubef. Justin Falk, acquired last week by the Blue Jackets, is slated to be a healthy scratch. Ryan Murray traveled with the team and is nearing a return, but won’t play tonight.

Scott Hartnell missed the morning skate but Richards said he will play tonight against Carolina. Cam Ward is expected to start in goal for the Hurricanes, who are coming off a 7-4 win over Edmonton on Sunday – a game in which they scored six unanswered goals to erase a 3-0 deficit and roll to the finish line.

Newcomer Rene Bourque made his Blue Jackets debut on Saturday in a 4-0 loss to Colorado, and despite the result, he was one of the team’s more effective forwards. Bourque, 33, was acquired in the James Wisniewski deal with Anaheim and the Blue Jackets believe he has something to offer with his wide-ranging skill set.

Following Saturday’s game, Richards and the coaches were impressed by Bourque’s speed and ability to get a quick shot off, and he even did so without his regular equipment. That arrived earlier this week and he’ll be using his own sticks and gear tonight.

On a line with Brandon Dubinsky and Artem Anisimov (where he will remain tonight), Bourque was a solid +11 in shot attempts at even strength (SAT EV), good for 70.4 percent possession on-ice.

“I thought, in his first game, he came out and did a good job,” Richards said. “He’s going to get opportunities, so we’ll see what he does tonight. He’s a guy that, as long as he’s performing, you can start using him in different situations because he’s proven that he can score at this level.”

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