It has been quite the turnaround for Ottawa since these teams last met 12 days ago in Columbus.
were mired in a slump, their No. 1 goaltender was hurt, and they had no puck luck whatsoever. But they were in control for long stretches of a 4-1 win over the Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena on Nov. 5, and Robin Lehner was spectacular between the pipes to help the Senators snap their skid.
The Blue Jackets are now that team, having lost eight of nine entering Sunday's matinee at Canadian Tire Centre in Kanata, and now have to make do without the services of one of their biggest offensive threats (whether or not he's been scoring lately).
Gaborik's 4-6 week timeline means the Blue Jackets aren't likely to have him back before the New Year, but they hope to get Nathan Horton
in the mix sometime before then. Having Jenner back - and hopefully, Matt Calvert
will follow in the not-too-distant future - means Richards can have some depth at forward and shuffle some players around who are underperforming.
One of the key focal points for the Blue Jackets is minimizing the mental mistakes that are costing them precious points in the standings; Richards was hard on his group after Friday's game for a couple of plays that directly led to Montreal goals. An ill-advised drop pass in the neutral zone in the dying seconds of the opening period allowed Alex Galchenyuk to waltz in and make it a 2-1 game, and in the second period, a bad holding penalty was followed by a power play goal for Lars Eller.
With those two brief lapses, the Jackets saw a 2-0 lead in the final 10 seconds of the first period dissipate by the time the game was halfway over. They are the kinds of mistakes that are causing Richards to seriously consider healthy scratches of some of his top-end players, as he said Friday that Columbus' fourth line (MacKenzie, Letestu, Boll) has been its best for the better part of a year - but this is a club that needs many more contributors playing at that level.
They'll have a stern test to pass on Sunday afternoon. The Senators play with speed, they're creative, and they have an underrated group of defensemen that can move the puck and shut things down in their own zone.
As usual, the key for the Blue Jackets is to create opportunities off their forecheck, and much like they did Thursday in Boston