The Columbus Blue Jackets play their first game Saturday night since their 16-game winning streak was snapped as they host the New York Rangers Saturday night at Nationwide Arena. This is a matchup of two of the three best teams in both the division and the league.
Last time out, the Blue Jackets had their winning streak snapped by the Washington Capitals in a dominating 5-0 performance. Sergei Bobrovsky was pulled early in the third period after allowing a fifth goal. Braden Holtby made 29 saves to earn his fourth shutout of the season. John Carlson and Evgeni Kuznetsov each scored two points, while Nate Schmidt scored his first goal in almost a year while adding an assist.
The Blue Jackets held a morning skate Saturday after taking Friday off to get away from the end of the streak. Curtis McElhinney finished the Capitals game and will start against the Rangers. Tortorella said that he didn’t think Bobrovsky was overworked, but wanted to manage his goalies. The Blue Jackets host the Flyers Sunday, so expect Bobrovsky to face his former team.
The Rangers last played on Wednesday night Rivalry Night. They scored four times in the third period and earned a 5-2 victory over the Philadelphia Flyers. Michael Grabner and Kevin Hayes each scored twice, while J.T. Miller added two assists to help the Rangers get the win. Henrik Lundqvist stopped 30 of 32 shots on route to his 17th victory.
Saturday marks the Rangers last game before their bye week. They have some injuries they’re dealing with, but the news seems positive. Rick Nash won’t play Saturday, but told the local media he expects to return after the bye. Pavel Buchnevich returned to the ice and is now in the AHL continuing his recovery from a back injury. Marc Staal is still day-to-day with an upper body injury.
The Rangers did not hold a morning skate Saturday, taking a page from the Tortorella handbook. Coach Alain Vigneault will speak to the media at 5 P.M. Expect Henrik Lundqvist to start in net as Antti Raanta worked out in the morning.
New York Rangers at Columbus Blue Jackets
Nationwide Arena – 7:00 p.m. EST
TV Broadcast Channels: Fox Sports Ohio/Fox Sports Go and MSG Network
Radio Broadcast Channels: 97.1 The Fan and ESPN 98.5 MSG Radio Network
New York Rangers: 27-13-1, 55 points
Road Record: 14-6-0
Hot Players: Chris Kreider, Ryan McDonagh, J.T Miller
Key Injuries: Rick Nash (lower-body, day-to-day), Pavel Buchnevich (back), Marc Staal (upper-body, day-to-day), Mika Zibanejad (lower-body, week-to-week), Matt Puempel (concussion symptoms)
Chris Kreider-Derek Stepan-Mats Zuccarello
Michael Grabner-Kevin Hayes-J.T. Miller
Jimmy Vesey-Oscar Lindberg-Jesper Fast
Nicklas Jensen-Marek Hrivik-Brandon Pirri
Ryan McDonagh-Brady Skjei
Nick Holden-Dan Girardi
Adam Clendening-Kevin Klein
Henrik Lundqvist (Projected Starter)
Columbus Blue Jackets: 27-6-4, 58 points
Home Record: 15-3-1
Hot Players: Cam Atkinson, Brandon Saad
Key Injuries: David Clarkson (back, on LTIR)
Brandon Saad-Alexander Wennberg-Nick Foligno
Boone Jenner-Brandon Dubinsky-Cam Atkinson
Matt Calvert-William Karlsson-Josh Anderson
Scott Hartnell-Lukas Sedlak-Sam Gagner
Zach Werenski-Seth Jones
Jack Johnson-David Savard
Markus Nutivaara-Ryan Murray
Curtis McElhinney (confirmed)
1) The Blue Jackets fell one game short of tying the NHL record for most consecutive wins. They need to make sure they come out fast tonight. After the Flyers 10-game winning streak from this season, they are just 1-5-2 since, while the Wild won their first game after their 12-game winning streak.
2) The Blue Jackets come in having won eight consecutive games at Nationwide Arena. Not counting shootout goals, the Blue Jackets have outscored their opponents 33-12 at home during their eight-game winning streak. As a result, they lead the league with a +47 goal differential.
3) The Rangers have enjoyed great success on the road this season. They enter Saturday with 14 road wins, the most in the NHL. They have 86 road wins since the start of the 2013-14 season, also tops in the league. In their last three road games, the Rangers have outscored their opponents 17-7. They are 7-1-0 in their last eight and 13-4 in their last 17 road games overall.
4) The Rangers top line of Kreider, Stepan and Zuccarello come in on a major roll. Between them, they have 10-15-25 in their last six games. Since Dec. 1, a span of 17 games, this trio has 18 goals and 49 points. As a result, the Rangers come into Saturday’s game leading the league in goals scored with 141 (counting their two team shootout goals.)
All eyes will be on Columbus to see how they respond after their most lopsided defeat of the season. The team says the streak is behind them, but we’ll see how they come out at the start.
A big key to this game is the neutral zone. In their first meeting, the Blue Jackets did a nice job of limiting the Rangers speed in the neutral zone. Tortorella said that controlling the neutral zone will be a key to tonight’s game. Both teams like to use their speed, so whoever can limit the other in the middle of the ice will have a leg up in this important divisional game.
The other key to the game is goaltending. With a back-to-back this weekend, the Blue Jackets will start McElhinney against the Rangers. He hasn’t played much on Saturday nights or against division opponents. When asked about his goaltender, Tortorella said he needs to get in there and play some games. Tortorella also said the team trusts McElhinney for this start. His performance will go a long way in deciding a winner.