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Horton debuts for Blue Jackets against Coyotes

by Jon Lane

BLUE JACKETS (17-19-4) at COYOTES (20-10-9)


Last 10: Columbus 5-4-1; Phoenix 4-2-4

Season Series: The Columbus Blue Jackets and Phoenix Coyotes will play the first of two games this season. Phoenix was 2-0-1 against Columbus in 2012-13.

Big Story: Columbus received good news Thursday morning when it learned Nathan Horton will play in his first game wearing a Blue Jackets sweater. Horton, who signed a seven-year contract worth $37.1 million in July, has been out since undergoing offseason shoulder surgery.

"Last night I couldn't sleep too well," Horton said. "I've been waiting so long to play. It'll be tough the first few games, but I want to get out there and contribute."

In addition to Horton, the Blue Jackets activated goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and defenseman Dalton Prout off injured reserve. Bobrovsky will back up Curtis McElhinney against Phoenix.

The Blue Jackets' 5-3 loss Tuesday to the Colorado Avalanche was the first of four straight games against teams that are in or close to a playoff position. The next three are against the Coyotes, St. Louis Blues and New York Rangers.

"We've had tough stretches," Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said. "Through Canada, out West, we've had tough stretches. This is going to be another test. We have to find a way. There is nothing else you can do."

The Coyotes opened their six-game homestand with a 4-3 overtime win against the Edmonton Oilers on New Year's Eve. After a heavy slate of road games in December, Phoenix plays 10 games this month at Arena.

Team Scope:

Blue Jackets: Goals from Nick Foligno, Boone Jenner and Ryan Johansen could not get Columbus over the hump Tuesday in Denver. Special teams were an issue for the Blue Jackets. Their power play, which went 0-for-3 against Colorado, has failed to score on 16 consecutive chances with the man advantage and is 1-for-24 in the past seven games. Columbus has allowed three power-play goals in two straight games.

''We outworked them, outshot them and out-chanced them. And we still came up short,'' center Mark Letestu said. ''Our penalty kill has to step up here. That's two games we have been burned pretty good there. As a group, we have to look in the mirror and be better.''

Coyotes: Keith Yandle's goal with 6.5 seconds left in overtime Tuesday against the Oilers gave Phoenix a win to close out 2013. Yandle also set up Mikkel Boedker's tying goal with 70 seconds left in regulation. The Coyotes have earned a point in six straight games, all in overtime, and have 14 points in games in which they have trailed by two or more goals, the most in the NHL.

''We always talk about scratching and clawing,'' Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said. ''You've got to do everything you can to get points in the regular season to get yourself into the playoffs. Some are a little bigger character-builders than others.''

Who's hot: Johansen has 10 goals and eight assists his past 17 games for the Blue Jackets. Foligno has six points (two goals) his past seven games. … Yandle scored twice with an assist Tuesday for the Coyotes and have five points in three games.

Injury report: Blue Jackets forward Matt Calvert (shoulder) was placed on injured reserve Wednesday retroactive to Dec. 21. Right wing Jack Skille (upper body) left the game Tuesday after playing one shift in the second period and did not return. Forwards Marian Gaborik (broken collarbone), Jared Boll (torn ankle tendon) and Oliver Gabriel (torn Achilles tendon) are on injured reserve. … Coyotes forward Shane Doan (illness) and defensemen Zbynek Michalek (lower body) are on IR. Defenseman Rostislav Klesla (illness) is a game-time decision.


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