BLUE JACKETS (34-23-3) vs. SHARKS (36-17-8)
Saturday, 5 p.m., Nationwide Arena (FOX Sports Ohio, CBJ app, FOX Sports app, 97.1 The Fan)
To hear Cam Atkinson tell it, members of the Columbus Blue Jackets were "buzzing" when the team found out Friday that Matt Duchene would be joining the fold.
One can only imagine Nationwide Arena will feel the same way Saturday night.
The Blue Jackets' crash course of working Duchene into the lineup continues 22 short hours after the center made his debut in Ottawa and just 28 hours after the trade became official as Columbus hosts San Jose on Saturday evening.
Things looked a bit hurried at times on the ice in Duchene's first game in union blue, but it also appeared there is a treasure trove of potential in adding the talented center to the Jackets' lineup.
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"This is a very good player," head coach John Tortorella said. "In our situation right now as we're trying to fight to get (into the playoffs), it's really good timing. So I'm anxious to get to understand him. He had some good backchecks tonight. You can see he's a very intelligent player. So we'll go with it and see where it goes."
There was no wading into the waters in Duchene's first game with Columbus, as he was immediately placed on a line with the team's top point scorer, Artemi Panarin, and its top goal scorer in Cam Atkinson.
The three weren't able to score at 5-on-5 - Atkinson did tally shorthanded, and Duchene hit the post just four minutes into his CBJ tenure - but they certainly controlled possession. According to Natural Stat Trick, at 5-on-5, each player was at least plus-8 in scoring chances for and at least plus-5 in high-danger chances for.
That suggests that while there wasn't a goal on the scoresheet on Friday night, there very well could be in the near future if the three stay together.
"We'll just keep getting better the more we play together," Duchene said. "(Panarin is) a creative guy. Right away, I think we see the game kind of similarly as far as give-and-gos. He's a good playmaker so you just trust him and get open. … Then you add Atkinson, too, who is a hell of a player on the other side.
"I think the three of us can do something special here, and we just want to keep getting better every game."
That's especially true when you consider Duchene had just six hours from trade finalization to puck drop to fit into the Blue Jackets' equation. This has happened before, as Duchene was traded from Colorado to Ottawa early last season and took some time to really get going on the scoresheet.
This year, he had 58 points in 50 games with the Senators and expects to be able to keep that going with the Blue Jackets. Duchene said a year ago he worried too much about how he fit into the team's attack rather than just playing his game and going from there.
After one game, his linemates were impressed with the transition.
"It was fun," Atkinson said. "I'm sure it's pretty tough for him transitioning from one (team) to the other. It's kind of crazy in that sense, but I thought we did some good things. I think we're going to continue to get better. It was nice to get the first one out of the way. You can tell how skilled he is."
Next up is another milestone for Duchene - the chance to play his first game in Nationwide Arena with his new team. He hopes to make nice with the cannon, which he admits has taken him by surprise in previous visits, and is happy the team was able to figure out his work visa situation so he could play vs. the Sharks.
Duchene has already donned the road whites of the Blue Jackets. Saturday night he'll put on the union blues and say hi for the first time to the Nationwide crowd.
"Obviously that will be a whole new experience," Duchene said. "Tonight was weirdly familiar, but tomorrow will be a whole new one."
Know the Foe
The degree of difficulty ramps up Saturday as the Blue Jackets welcome San Jose to Nationwide Arena. The Sharks are second in the Pacific Division and are coming off an impressive 4-0 blanking of Pittsburgh on Thursday night in the Steel City.
Offensively, San Jose leads the league with five 20-goal scorers, one reason the Sharks are second in the NHL in scoring at 3.66 goals per game, behind only the Tampa Bay juggernaut. San Jose also scores on 25.1 percent of its power plays, fifth in the NHL.
Those goal scorers are Joe Pavelski (32), Tomas Hertl (28), Evander Kane (27), Logan Couture (22) and Timo Meier (21). Then there's the dynamic defensive duo of Brett Burns and Erik Karlsson, as Burns is third in the NHL in assists with 56 and leads all defensemen in scoring with 68 points. Karlsson has also been an assist machine, totaling 42 to go with three goals.
Things aren't quite as good defensively as San Jose has ceded 3.07 goals per game, which is middle of the pack in the league. Martin Jones (29-11-5) is tied for the NHL lead in wins and has a 2.89 goals-against average, but his save percentage is at .898 and per Hockey Reference he is at minus-13.09 goals saved above average.
Score on the power play: Columbus has gone six games without a power-play goal, and the Sharks don't give up a ton with the NHL's eighth-best PK (82.0 percent). A man-up goal would equal momentum.
Team defense: The Sharks go three lines deep - when Joe Thornton is your third-line center, you have some depth - so there won't be many breaks for Columbus. The third pair of Scott Harrington and Dean Kukan has had two straight good games and will need a third.
Ride the wave: A good crowd is expected in Nationwide Arena and it should have a reason to be excited with Duchene's debut. Columbus has struggled in front of packed home barns this year, a fact that needs to change quickly.
Columbus won the first game of the season series by a 4-1 score on Nov. 1 in San Jose behind goals from Anthony Duclair, Seth Jones, Nick Foligno and Josh Anderson. … Columbus has killed 49 of its last 53 power plays against. … The game will be John Tortorella's 300th in charge of the Blue Jackets. … Anderson is three points from 100 in his Blue Jackets/NHL career. … The game will complete the 11th of 16 back-to-backs this year for the Jackets.
Blue Jackets Projected Lineup
Subject to change
Artemi Panarin - Matt Duchene - Cam Atkinson
Nick Foligno - Boone Jenner - Josh Anderson
Anthony Duclair - Pierre-Luc Dubois - Oliver Bjorkstrand
Eric Robinson - Riley Nash - Brandon Dubinsky
Seth Jones - Markus Nutivaara
Zach Werenski - David Savard
Scott Harrington - Dean Kukan
Scratched: Alexander Wennberg, Lukas Sedlak, Adam Clendening
Roster notes: This is the lineup the team used in Duchene's debut vs. Ottawa. There is flexibility with the units now, and Tortorella said he's not going to forget about Wennberg. "There's a number of things you can do when you solidify the middle of the ice there," Tortorella said. "We'll just see how it goes." … Ryan Murray (out indefinitely; upper-body injury) was placed on injured reserve on Friday to make room for Duchene, while Markus Hannikainen is still on IR and has missed four games with illness.