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Jackets begin trip to California against L.A.

by Matthew Mankiewich
BLUE JACKETS (9-6-0) at KINGS (12-4-0)

TV -- FS-Ohio (HD), FS-West (HD)

Last 10 -- Columbus 6-4-0, Los Angeles 8-2-0.

Season series -- First of four games between Western Conference teams. The Jackets beat the Kings at home in their first meeting last season by a 4-1 score. They were then were dominated by Los Angeles in the subsequent three 6-2, 4-1 and 6-0. Over the last three seasons, the Kings have a 6-6-0 against the Blue Jackets.

Big story -- Western swings are never easy for any team, and the Jackets will have a chance to see where they stand with the conference's elite as they travel to Los Angeles, Anaheim and San Jose in a four-day period. The Kings hit a bump in San Jose themselves, but return home to Staples Center where at 8-0-0 they've been simply unbeatable.

Team scope:

Blue Jackets -- The Columbus Dispatch's Aaron Portzline may have said it best when he mentioned the concept of "running downhill," in other words, not to let up after one has crested the top. An example of not doing that might have been the two-game sequence where the Jackets trounced the Blues 8-1 last Wednesday only to fall 5-1 to the Avalanche two days later.

"It's a little bit of our psyche," coach Scott Arniel told the paper. "Do we get ourselves away from the things we were doing well early in the game? I'm not sure. This is part of what I'm learning about this team. I'm trying to figure out why that happens. We have games that have turned into routs. I'm not sure if it's a mentality from the past that they don't feel they can come back ... but obviously it's gnawing at the coaches and it's something we're trying to fix."

Kings -- Timing is everything and the Kings just happened to catch the Sharks Monday night as the sleeping giant was waking up. The Kings' record-breaking start notwithstanding, the Sharks re-asserted themselves against their Pacific Division rivals, manhandling them 6-3 at HP Pavilion and stopping L.A.'s six-game winning streak.

"They just beat us here tonight,'' Kings coach Terry Murray told the team's web site. "They beat us in the transition game. Our management of the puck, from the red line to the top of the circle in the offensive zone is what killed us. They rammed it right down our throats every time we tried to do something too much with the puck.''

The win gave the Sharks a 4-0-1 record in their last five games, looking once again like the force to be reckoned with.

Who's hot -- The Kings' penalty kill had been perfect for 22 straight chances before the Sharks scored twice with a man up in the third period Monday. They've still stopped 34 power plays in a row at home. Justin Williams kept his 10-game point streak going with an assist on Monday, giving him six goals and six helpers in that stretch. Jarret Stoll extended his point streak to seven games with a goal while Anze Kopitar has three goals and five assists in his last four games. ... Rick Nash still has a five-game point streak going, but Derick Brassard's eight-game streak was stopped by the Avs, one shy of the team record.

Injury report -- Nash still has a point streak because he sat out Friday's game with a lower-body injury, but had a full practice Tuesday and appeared to be moving well. Center Derek MacKenzie was also out Friday and practiced Tuesday but said his groin was still acting up. Mike Commodore (thumb) is expected back Wednesday and will be expected to help on the power play. Kings winger Alexei Ponikarovsky (finger) was put on IR and Dwight King was called up from Manchester to replace him, while Scott Parse (groin) will have surgery, possibly keeping him out until February. Brayden Schenn has been sent to Manchester for a conditioning assignment that can last up to 14 days.

Stat pack -- Arniel has been emphasizing the power play during practice the last few days with good reason -- his Blue Jackets are dead last in the League with a 10.2 percent conversion rate, going up against that near-perfect PK in Los Angeles, tops in the NHL at 89.6 percent. Blue Jackets center Kyle Wilson's four goals are good for third in the League among rookies. Nash is five assists shy of tying David Vyborny's team record of 204 and 12 games shy of Vyborny's franchise-best 543 games played. The St. Louis game was Columbus' ninth win in 14 games, the fastest nine wins in franchise history. Their 18 points in their first 14 ties a club record set in 2007-08.

Puck drop -- "I feel like I'm still learning a lot -- good and bad -- about a lot of guys, and that's after almost every game. This will be a great test for us. We're going up against three top teams, teams who are really good in their own buildings. It's going to have to bring the best out in all of us." -- Blue Jackets coach Scott Arniel in the Columbus Dispatch on the upcoming road trip

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