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Zherdev, Jackets Look For Sixth Straight Win

by Staff Writer / Columbus Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets were looking for a turnaround when they hired Ken Hitchcock. They've gotten a lot more than that.

The Blue Jackets try to match their franchise record with a sixth straight victory Thursday when they visit the Phoenix Coyotes at 9 p.m. tonight. Coverage on FSN Ohio begins at 8:30 with Ice Breaker.

Columbus (11-16-2) suffered a seventh straight loss on Nov. 22, the same day Hitchcock was brought in to take over for the fired Gerard Gallant. The Blue Jackets have gone 6-3 under their new coach and stretched their winning streak to five games Tuesday with a 3-1 win over the Dallas Stars.

It was their first franchise victory in Dallas and put them one win away from the team record of six consecutive victories set March 24-April 3.

"We've been playing smart since (Hitchcock) took over," said Blue Jackets goaltender Fredrik Norrena, who made 25 saves Tuesday to win his fifth straight start. "He's done a terrific job. We've been close in every game. We're a lot more organized."

Norrena has done a good job as well, posting a 0.91 goals-against average during Columbus' winning streak, starting four of those five victories. He also appeared in the other win, a 6-2 victory over Ottawa Sunday, after Pascal Leclaire suffered a lower body injury. Norrena has never faced Phoenix.

The Blue Jackets averaged 2.13 goals in their first 24 games, but have boosted that number to 4.20 during their winning streak. One of Columbus' strong early season performances came against the Coyotes, when the team converted 3 of 12 power-play opportunities en route to a 5-1 victory Oct. 9.

Nikolai Zherdev scored twice in that win for Columbus, while Rick Nash added a goal and two assists to extend his points streak to four games against the Coyotes (11-18-1) with three goals and five assists in that span.

The Blue Jackets have won three of the last four matchups between these teams, but have just one victory in 10 all-time trips to Phoenix. Columbus has won four in a row on the road, however, after starting the season 2-9 there.

The Coyotes are opening a four-game homestand, where they have gone 5-0-1 in their last six games. They could use that type of success after losing three in a row overall, including a 5-2 defeat Tuesday to the Vancouver Canucks.

Phoenix allowed the first five goals of the game before Oleg Saprykin and Dave Scatchard finally narrowed the gap, but coach Wayne Gretzky found little to be optimistic about.

"I liked that it was over," Gretzky said when asked if he liked anything about the game. "We need more guys to show up, simple as that."

Mikael Tellqvist, who was acquired from Toronto on Nov. 28, was pulled after allowing the four first-period goals and was replaced by Curtis Joseph, who played just one period before a leg injury put him back on the bench.

"I don't know exactly what happened," Gretzky said. "I'm not sure where he's at as far as how much it's hurting him, but he's definitely a little bit hurt."

The Coyotes were also without the Jeremy Roenick (back spasms) and Mike Ricci, who missed 20 games earlier this season with a neck injury. Patrick Fischer sustained a groin injury in the defeat and is questionable for this game.

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