BLUE JACKETS (30-20-3) at GOLDEN KNIGHTS (31-21-4)
Saturday, 10 p.m., T-Mobile Arena, Las Vegas (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports app, 97.1 The Fan)
In a "find a way" league, the Blue Jackets have done just that the past two games.
It hasn't always been the prettiest hockey, at least in the eyes of head coach John Tortorella, but road wins at Colorado and Arizona couldn't have come at a better time for a Blue Jackets team that got on the plane out west trying to shake a five-game losing streak.
There's still more in the tank for a Columbus team that won 6-3 against the Avs and 4-2 against Arizona, but wins are wins any way you slice it.
"We've found a way to win the past couple nights," Tortorella said Friday. "I don't think we've played very good hockey, but we've played well enough to win. Last night (at Arizona), better minutes than the Colorado minutes."
There have been encouraging signs the past two games, though, for the Blue Jackets. The team has received much better secondary scoring, including two straight game-winning goals from Josh Anderson and tallies from such players as Boone Jenner, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Lukas Sedlak and Alexander Wennberg.
The goaltending has also been strong, with Sergei Bobrovsky making a number of big saves at crucial times. Special teams have also been dominant, with the Blue Jackets not allowing a power-play goal in the two wins and scoring a man-up goal in each of their wins.
It's almost been the inverse of the first-half play of the team, where the team's top line of Artemi Panarin, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Cam Atkinson helped cover special teams deficiencies and inconsistent goaltending.
Panarin, Dubois and Atkinson didn't play in the final 10 minutes at Arizona thanks in part to their struggles in finding their game but also because of the strong play of the other three lines. Tortorella said "I hope so," when asked if he expects the top-line issue to be a one-off, while the other forwards said they were happy to do their part.
"It's nice to help them a little bit because they've won a lot of games for us," Sedlak said. "Today it was on us, and next game it's probably going to be them again."
Know The Foe
Vegas returns home for the first time since Jan. 23 and looks to continue its home-ice mastery, as the Golden Knights are 16-6-3 and outscoring teams 80-54 in the home confines of T-Mobile Arena.
That's one major reason the Knights remain firmly in a playoff spot through this point in the season, as the team is third in the Pacific Division with 66 points at 31-21-4. Defense has been the key, as Vegas allows 2.71 goals per game to place fourth in the league and kills penalties at an 83.8-percent rate, fifth in the league.
Alex Tuch leads the way on the scoresheet with a 16-24-40 line in 49 games with two former Blue Jackets next. Jonathan Marchessault has a team-high 19 goals and 19 assists for 38 points while William Karlsson has a 17-18-35 line. Max Pacioretty adds 16 goals and Cody Eakin has 14.
In net, Marc-Andre Fleury leads the NHL in wins with 29, as the veteran has posted a 29-15-4 record while starting 48 games, also the best in the league. Fleury has a 2.48 goals-against average and .912 save percentage. Backup Malcolm Subban (2-5-0, 2.95, .904) was activated Friday off injured reserve (illness) but has not played since Jan. 6.
The home team has won each of the first three meetings of the all-time series, including Columbus' 1-0 victory Dec. 17. … The Blue Jackets rank fifth in the NHL in penalty kill percentage overall (84.0 percent) and first since Nov. 1 (96-of-109; 88.1 percent) and on the flip side have scored on 9 of their last 29 power plays. … The Jackets have set a franchise record with 16 wins in the first 26 road games of a campaign, one more victory than the previous record (2016-17).
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
Zach Werenski - David Savard
Scott Harrington - Markus Nutivaara
Scratched: Brandon Dubinsky (injury), Mark Letestu, Dean Kukan
Roster Notes: Foligno took a "maintenance day" Friday and did not practice but is expected to play Saturday. … The team remains without Dubinsky, who flew back to Columbus to have an MRI done on an injured hip. … The team will have a meeting Saturday morning at T-Mobile Arena followed by an optional skate.