Minus one of the top defensemen in the NHL, the Columbus Blue Jackets have no choice but to move on and try to get back to their winning ways.
Those banged-up Blue Jackets look to avoid a third consecutive defeat when they visit the Buffalo Sabres on Thursday night.
Columbus currently holds the top wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference, but will be without star blue-liner Seth Jones (six goals, 24 assists) for eight to 10 weeks following ankle surgery. Though the Blue Jackets are 19-3-6 since dropping four in a row from Nov. 30-Dec. 7, the challenge to maintain that kind of success will be tougher minus Jones.
However, coach John Tortorella doesn’t want his team sulking about who is not playing.
“I’m not going to go into a whole litany of things about missing (Jones) and this and that,” Tortorella told NHL.com. “We’re going to play. Put other people in line and play, just like we’ve been doing for the past two months.”
Columbus is also dealing with a lower-body injury to forward Cam Atkinson (12 goals, 14 assists) and No. 1 netminder Joonas Korpisalo has been out since late December with a knee injury. Regardless of who is on the ice, the Blue Jackets need to get back on track following a pair of 2-1 losses, the most recent in overtime vs. Tampa Bay at home on Monday.
Columbus’ Oliver Bjorkstrand scored his team-leading 18th goal of the season and will take a four-game road point streak (four goals, two assists) into this contest. Elvis Merzlikins made 28 saves in that game and has a 1.20 goals-against average during an 8-1-1 stretch. Current Blue Jackets backup goalie Matiss Kivlenieks is 1-0-1 with a 1.49 goals-against average during his first two career starts in 2020. The most recent was a 22-save effort during Columbus’ 2-1 loss at Buffalo on Feb. 1.
Sabres star Jack Eichel notched the overtime winner for his 31st goal of the season in that contest. However, Eichel has gone five games since without a goal, but he does have five assists during that span.
That included a helper on Buffalo’s go-ahead goal early in the third period of Tuesday’s 3-2 home win over Detroit. Though the Sabres are again on the outside looking in at the playoff picture in the East, they’ve won two of three and earned at least one point in three of the past four contests.
“For us, just staying with it for a full 60 and finding a way to win, especially here at home, obviously is a big relief and something we can build off going forward,” Sabres netminder Carter Hutton, who made 27 saves against the Red Wings, told NHL.com after Tuesday’s win.
Hutton made 22 saves against the Blue Jackets earlier this month and has a 2.67 goals-against average during a 3-2-0 stretch. Buffalo backup Jonas Johansson has a 2.78 goals-against average while going 0-1-1 in his first two career starts this month.
Eichel has four goals and four assists over seven home games vs. Columbus. Bjorkstrand, meanwhile, will look for a goal in his fourth consecutive contest against the Sabres.
–Field Level Media