BLUE JACKETS (29-20-3) at COYOTES (23-25-5)
Thursday, 9 p.m., Gila River Arena, Glendale (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports app, CD 102.5 FM)
For the first time in exactly three weeks, the Columbus Blue Jackets won a hockey game on Tuesday night.
That 6-3 win against Colorado left the Blue Jackets able to celebrate in the locker room for the first time in what seemed like an eternity.
So how does the team now keep that good feeling going?
Following the way the team played in the third period would be a start. It as a backs-against-the-wall performance, especially after the Blue Jackets had struggled to truly find their footing through the first two periods of a 3-3 game.
PRACTICE REPORT: Dubinsky out with hip injury
"(Sergei Bobrovsky) gave us a chance," head coach John Tortorella said afterward. "We are just really struggling with our reads defensively."
That all changed in the third period. Despite playing at altitude and taking on a Colorado team that had already lost three games in a row and is in its own playoff battle, Columbus took it to the Avs in the third with a 19-5 shot advantage and three goals.
Tortorella spoke with some measure of relief after the game, but he also spoke of how he hopes that final period ignites the team going forward.
"I just want us to start feeling good about ourselves, and hopefully getting a win like that, where we get a goal (like Cam Atkinson's late in the second) that gives us a chance and then we played a really good third period," Tortorella said. "Hopefully that will propel us into Arizona."
The Blue Jackets also got something in the third period that has consistently eluded it throughout much of the season: secondary scoring. The game-winning goal came off the stick of Josh Anderson, while Alexander Wennberg followed with a power-play goal, his first tally in nearly three months. Add in Oliver Bjorkstrand's first-period goal and the Jackets got depth out of the team's scoring.
That came after Tortorella went into the game hoping to lengthen the team's lineup by splitting up the consistently productive top-line trio of Artemi Panarin, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Cam Atkinson. Dubois and Atkinson played together to begin the game with Nick Foligno, while Panarin was paired with Wennberg and Bjorkstrand. That left a third line of Anderson and Anthony Duclair paired with center Boone Jenner in his return from injury.
That lasted until about the midway point when Tortorella reunited two of his tried-and-true lines. In addition to the top line being back together, the head coach reunited the heavy line of Foligno, Jenner and Anderson.
"I tried to balance (the lines)," Tortorella said. "I think they're balanced now the way I ended the game because Jens is playing. It gives me a better chance to balance them playing it that way, keeping Jenner's line together. We tried different combinations. We scored right away, but we just didn't generate enough offense so we made the change back."
Keeping 9-18-13 together and pairing the gritty trio of Foligno, Jenner and Anderson works if Duclair, Wennberg and Bjorkstrand can produce. All have had their struggles at times this season, but for one night in Colorado, the Blue Jackets got production with goals from Wennberg and Bjorkstrand -- his fourth in six games -- and a team-high six shots on goal from Duclair.
All three certainly have talent and a resume of scoring ability to fall back on. Wennberg scored 59 points two seasons ago, Duclair had 20 goals as a 20-year-old rookie with Arizona in 2015-16, and Bjorkstrand was a 40-point guy as a 21-year-old a season ago and possesses one of the team's best shots.
The bugaboo for each has been consistency. If the trio can find that, the losing streak could turn into a winning streak just that quickly.
Know The Foe
For the second game in a row, Columbus will take on a desperate team trying to end its own losing skid.
While Colorado had dropped three straight, Arizona is winless in four dating back to Jan. 22, putting the Coyotes in a similar position to the Jackets when the team headed to Colorado.
The losing streak has Arizona on the wrong side of the playoff line, but the Coyotes are just three points behind eighth-place Vancouver in the Western Conference. On the same hand, Arizona is also only three points ahead of Los Angeles, which has the worst record in the West. Yes, it's a real logjam in the West, where six teams entered Wednesday's action within three points of the Canucks.
Scoring has been the biggest issue for the Coyotes, who are 28th in the league with just 2.60 goals per game and have a 0.78 ratio of goals for to goals against at 5-on-5. The team's strongest suit is the penalty kill, as Arizona leads the NHL by killing 85.3 percent of opposing power plays.
Just one Coyote has more than 30 points, as Clayton Keller checks in with an 11-26-37 line. Amazingly, his 11 goals are tied for the team lead along with three other players in Christian Fischer, the injured Brad Richardson and Derek Stepan. Just behind with 10 goals are Conor Garland, who has played just 26 games, and Richard Panik.
Darcy Kuemper and Calvin Pickard are the two Coyotes goalies active with Antti Raanta on injured reserve. Kuemper has started a team-high 28 games and is 11-12-5 with a 2.75 goals-against average and .911 save percentage, but he missed Tuesday's game with an upper-body injury. Pickard has played just two games with Arizona on the year and lost both.
Arizona is just 9-12-3 at Gila River Arena. … Former CBJ defenseman Kevin Connauton has played in 37 games for the Coyotes and is 1-6-7 with a plus-4 rating. … The Blue Jackets rank fifth in the NHL in penalty kill percentage overall (83.7 percent) and first since Nov. 1 (93-of-106; 87.7 percent) and on the flip side rank fourth in power play percentage since Jan. 10 (8-of-27; 29.6 percent). … Columbus had its six-game win streak in the series dating back to Nov. 14, 2015, snapped in the most recent meeting on Oct. 23 at Nationwide Arena as Arizona claimed a 4-1 win. … The Blue Jackets have won just 10 of 29 all-time road meetings in the series.
Blue Jackets Projected Lineup
Artemi Panarin - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Cam Atkinson
Nick Foligno - Boone Jenner - Josh Anderson
Anthony Duclair - Alexander Wennberg - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Markus Hannikainen - Riley Nash - Lukas Sedlak
Seth Jones - Ryan Murray
Scott Harrington - Markus Nutivaara
Zach Werenski - David Savard
Scratched: Mark Letestu, Dean Kukan, Brandon Dubinsky (injury)
Roster Notes: Dubinsky and Murray did not play Tuesday at Colorado with lower-body injuries. The Blue Jackets said each was day-to-day, and Dubinsky has returned to Columbus to have an MRI on an injured hip. Murray skated Thursday morning but his status is unclear for the game.