KINGS (4-3-0) at BLUE JACKETS (4-1-0)
Season series --
The teams are meeting for the first time this season. They split their four games last season, with the Kings winning the first two by 3-0 scores, and the Jackets winning the next two 3-0 and 5-4. Columbus is 10-5-1 against the Kings at Nationwide Arena.
Big Story --
Both teams are off to good starts, though the Kings have hit a couple of bumps on their long road trip. They started off 4-1-0 but lost in New York on Wednesday and Detroit on Thursday. The Blue Jackets are playing like a team that plans to return to the playoffs -- they're 4-1-0 and coming off a 2-1 home victory over Calgary on Tuesday.
Back-to-back losses to the Rangers and Red Wings have cooled down the Kings, who had won four of their first five. One of the culprits was less-than-impressive goaltending. Neither Erik Ersberg (in New York) nor Jonathan Quick
(in Detroit) played well.
"Goaltending is critical," coach Terry Murray told the team's Web site after Friday’s practice, "and our goaltending last night (against Detroit) has to be better, and it has to be better against the New York Rangers. That’s a fact of the business, period. I told the players, the two goaltenders, that, and that’s just the way it is. We have to put more demands on ourselves."
Murray is shuffling his defensemen, moving Davis Drewiske
up to play with Drew Doughty
and shifting Sean O'Donnell to play with Matt Greene
Blue Jackets --
As is to be expected of a Ken Hitchcock-coached team, the Blue Jackets are doing it with defense. They've allowed only 11 goals in five games -- six of them in their only loss, at San Jose on Oct. 8. Columbus has rebounded from that loss by allowing just one goal in its next two games -- a 2-0 shutout at Phoenix on Oct. 10 and a 2-1 win over Calgary on Oct. 13.
"We all have these ideas about how a team is going to play and how you want to play, but then you find out, you gotta drag one guy in at a time," Hitchcock told the Globe and Mail. "As much as you want your team to play committed and everything, it’s like you pull in one guy one day and one guy the next day and that’s what we’re doing. We’re trying to get to the level, where every player feels committed to compete for every puck every day on every shift."
Who's Hot --
The Kings' top line of Anze Kopitar
between Ryan Smyth and Justin Williams
has been one of the best in the League. Kopitar's 11 points were tied for second in the League, and the trio had 27 points in L.A.'s seven games. … Columbus' Rick Nash
continues to round out his game. Nash had 2 goals and 7 assists in the Jackets' first five games. He had just one assist in the whole month of October 2008.
Injury Report --
Columbus placed Jan Hejda, perhaps its best defenseman, on IR Friday. He's expected to miss 4-6 weeks with a sprained left knee. It's a big loss for the Jackets -- Hejda was plus-8 in five games. Mike Commodore, who played on the same pairing with Hejda last season, has yet to play due to a groin strain.
Stat Pack --
The Blue Jackets are helping themselves by staying out of the penalty box and excelling on the penalty kill during the rare occasions the opposition gets a power play. Columbus allowed just 19 man-advantages in its first five games and surrendered only one power-play goal for a League-leading .947 percentage.
Puck Drop --
Don't expect a lot of offense. The Jackets have won both their home games by the same score -- 2-1 -- and the Kings will have to work hard to generate much against one of the NHL's best defensive teams.
-- John Kreiser, NHL.com