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Jackets host Jets in battle of struggling teams

by Matthew Mankiewich

JETS (5-8-3) at BLUE JACKETS (2-12-1)

TV: CBC, FS-Ohio (HD)

Last 10: Winnipeg 4-4-2, Columbus 2-8-0

Season Series: There will be just one meeting this season before the Jets' likely move to the Western Conference in 2012-13. While the statistical sample is small, history favors the Blue Jackets, who have won five in a row from the then-Atlanta Thrashers, including three shutouts, dating back to 2005-06 and are 8-5-0 overall.

Big Story: The cannon at Nationwide Arena might be getting a little rusty from lack of use, while the Blue Jackets have been withstanding a Gettysburg-like barrage from opposing offenses. Columbus has been outscored 19-6 during their three-game losing streak, 17-2 in the first two periods alone. The Jets are in similar straits, having lost four in a row while being outscored 11-4 in over the first two periods. It's a win both teams could use.

An interesting twist, though, is the history both coaches have in the opposing cities. Jets coach Claude Noel finished the 2009-10 season behind the Columbus bench when Ken Hitchcock was let go, while Scott Arniel coached the AHL Manitoba Moose before being hired away by the Jackets. Noel succeeded him in Winnipeg and moved up to the Jets job when they came north from Atlanta.

Team Scope:

Jets : After taking a respectable three of four the first leg of their seven-game road trip and peaking with a shutout of the Islanders, the Jets picked up only two more points the rest of the way, losing in New Jersey, Manhattan and Buffalo before coming home and turning in a lackluster performance in a 5-2 home loss to the Panthers. Winnipeg showed signs of post-trip sluggishness, going more than 23 minutes without a shot in one stretch.

"I didn't enjoy the game," an irritable Noel said. "We played poor for a good portion of the game. A lot of it was lack of intensity. We didn't have very many good players."

"We were standing around watching," captain Andrew Ladd said. "We didn't play the way we need to play in the first 40 minutes. The last 20 was more like the way we need to play."

Blue Jackets: Not the sort of thing a team wants to do 15 games into the season, but things are desperate enough in Columbus to force a trip back to the drawing board. That meant taking a four-day break in the schedule to implement a new system, toning down the swarming puck-possession attack to cut down on odd-man rushes and too many one-on-one scoring chances against a struggling Steve Mason. Off the ice, the front office shipped defenseman Kris Russell to Hitchcock and the Blues for blueliner Nikita Nikitin, while center Mark Letestu was pried away from Pittsburgh for a fourth-round pick.

To make it work, though, they had to get out of their own zone to begin with, which they couldn't do for the first two periods against the Blackhawks. The result was a 6-3 loss in which they trailed 6-1.

"All of their chances came in our (defensive) zone and we didn't (make any changes) to our D-zone," Arniel said to the Columbus Dispatch. "We (were) chasin' pucks.

"We turned the puck over eight times in the first period in our end of the rink. That's the Chicago Blackhawks. You turn the puck over eight times, you're going to spend a lot of time in there."

Who's Hot: Letestu scored in his Columbus debut Thursday, while Rick Nash picked up the 500th point of his career. On the other hand, Antoine Vermette hasn't scored a goal in 20 games while Ryan Johansen, scorer of both the team's game-winning goals, was a healthy scratch against the Hawks. … Jets forward Tim Stapleton finally scored his first goal against the Panthers while Blake Wheeler has been put back on the top line despite having no goals on the season.

Injury Report: Jets goalie Chris Mason (groin) was reactivated from injured reserve Friday which meant Peter Mannino barely had time for the proverbial cup of coffee, going back down to St. John's after playing the third period Thursday. Forward Eric Fehr (shoulder surgery) has been cleared for contact, but is still not on a set timetable to return. Defenseman Ron Hainsey (upper body) is day to day. … Blue Jackets defenseman Radek Martinek (concussion) has shown little improvement and is not expected back soon.

Stat Pack: Nobody in the NHL gives up more goals per game than the Blue Jackets, 30th in the League at 3.87. The Jets are only slightly better at 3.44, 28th in the League. Another important indicator of Columbus' defensive woes is their League-worst penalty kill at 71.2 percent. Many teams with winning records are only a couple of percentage points better, but all can outscore the Jackets and out-defend them 5-on-5. Only the defensive-oriented Blues have a worse power-play conversion rate than Columbus' 11.4 percent.

Puck Drop: "Any mistake, it goes in the back of the net. When you have a fragile team, as we are right now, a lot of guys are hanging their heads. We have to get over that. Just stop feeling sorry for ourselves and start playing some hockey." -- Defenseman James Wisniewski on the Blue Jackets' disastrous start

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