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Blue Jackets, Devils face off in key Metropolitan game

by Brian Hunter

BLUE JACKETS (16-17-4) at DEVILS (15-16-7)


Last 10: Columbus 6-3-1; New Jersey 4-4-2

Season series: This is the third of four games between the Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils. The first two were played at Nationwide Arena and won by the Blue Jackets, with Brandon Dubinsky and Cam Atkinson doing much of the damage. The duo combined for five goals and 11 points.

Big story: One point separates these teams in the Metropolitan Division standings and each will be trying to get back to .500 in the first game out of the Christmas break.

Team Scope:

Blue Jackets: Viewed as a potential breakout team after its second-half tear a season ago, Columbus has had an up-and-down transition to the Eastern Conference. As the Blue Jackets shoot to tie a season high with a third straight win, defenseman Jack Johnson told the Columbus Dispatch that although they're in better position to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the East, he's not so sure the move has ultimately been to their advantage.

"To be honest, I think we match up better with Western Conference teams," Johnson said. "I don't think it's a blessing to be in the East, other than the travel, and to be honest, that is overrated. Last year, we owned the Red Wings, played tough games against St. Louis and played well against Nashville. Chicago was the only team that really gave us a lot of trouble.

"The East has been a different challenge, and there has definitely been a learning curve. But I don't know that if we were in the West, we'd be in trouble."

Devils: Perennially among the NHL's stingier defensive teams, New Jersey slipped to 12th in the League in team goals-against average at 2.47 after allowing nine goals in its past two games. Martin Brodeur allowed four goals on 22 shots in an overtime win against the Washington Capitals before the Chicago Blackhawks beat Cory Schneider five times on 37 shots as the Devils sustained a 5-2 loss Monday in the final game prior to the holiday.

"It doesn't sit well tonight," coach Peter DeBoer told the Newark Star-Ledger after the loss in Chicago. "I think when I look at the big picture of it, we've been battling pretty hard and we've dug ourselves out of the hole we put ourselves in early in the season. It hasn't been easy. Where we go from here is the key."

Who's hot: Ryan Johansen has three goals in his past two games for the Blue Jackets. Jack Skille has goals in the past two games he's played. ... Michael Ryder has six goals in his past 11 games for the Devils.

Injury report: Columbus goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (groin), defenseman Dalton Prout (upper body) and forwards Nathan Horton (shoulder), Cody Bass (hand), Jared Boll (foot), Matt Calvert (shoulder) and Marian Gaborik (collarbone) are on injured reserve. ... New Jersey forward Ryane Clowe (concussion) will return to the lineup for the first time since Oct. 13, while defenseman Bryce Salvador (foot) is close to playing. Forward Andrei Loktionov (illness), who missed the past two games, is also available. Defensemen Adam Larsson (lower body) and Peter Harrold (foot) and forwards Ryan Carter (lower body) and Damien Brunner (knee) remain out.

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