The general consensus from the Blue Jackets locker room is that they are fully content playing the role of spoiler as the 2011-12 NHL regular season winds down. And if their last two road efforts were not enough proof, they go for a third consecutive win over a Western Conference playoff contender tonight at Nationwide Arena.
Columbus shut out the Colorado Avalanche by a 2-0 final last week in Denver, and followed it up two nights later by defeating the Phoenix Coyotes 5-2 at Jobing.com Arena. Those same Coyotes are tonight’s opponent and they will be a desperate club – as so many are this time of year – when the puck drops this evening.
Head coach Dave Tippett is not pleased with his club’s recent slide, which began the game following an 11-0-1 record in February. The Coyotes have dropped back-to-back games (at home to both Calgary and Columbus last week) and are in danger of losing their grip on the Pacific Division lead.
Phoenix is currently tied in total points (75) with the Dallas Stars, and only games played is keeping the Coyotes atop the division. The Stars have more regulation/overtime wins (30) than the Coyotes (28), but Phoenix’s 65 games played ranks one less than Dallas. Those two clubs will meet one final time in the Lone Star State later this month, but the real trouble could loom in the form of the San Jose Sharks. The Sharks sit two points back of Phoenix and Dallas but have games in hand as well as three remaining contests against the Coyotes.
If Saturday night’s tilt between the Blue Jackets and Coyotes is any indication, this should be an exciting game that will come down to the battles in the trenches. Rick Nash’s pass to Derick Brassard to make it a 4-2 game came after he out-muscled Keith Yandle and stole the puck below the goal line, just one example of a hard-fought game by the Blue Jackets.
• Columbus returns home tonight after posting back-to-back wins at Colorado and at Phoenix last week. It marks the third time this season the club has won back-to-back games and comes after the club dropped three-straight decisions. The Blue Jackets have gone 7-6-1 the last 14 games after posting a 4-15-2 mark the previous 21 outings.
• Rick Nash registered his first three-point game since registering 2-2-4 Mar. 19, 2011 at Minnesota (69 games) with two goals and an assist Saturday at Phoenix. His first goal was scored shorthanded to give him shorthanded goals in two of the last four games.
• Nikita Nikitin has goals in back-to-back games for the first time in his NHL career after scoring his fourth of the season Saturday at Phoenix. The goal proved to be the game-winner, giving him game-winning goals in back-to-back games. He is the third NHL defenseman this season to score game-winning goals in back-to-back games.
• Tonight marks the third of four meetings overall and second of two at Nationwide Arena this season between the Blue Jackets and Coyotes. Columbus is 15-21-6 all-time against Phoenix, including a 9-10-2 mark at Nationwide Arena. The Blue Jackets have won three of the last four meetings after the Coyotes claimed 10 of the previous 11 contests.
DAVID RUNDBLAD D - #2
• This hasn’t been the most productive offensive season for the young Swedish defenseman, but the centerpiece of the Kyle Turris trade is slowly earning his way into the Coyotes top-six defensemen. Considered a raw prospect at 21 years old, he still may need time in the minors to fine-tune his game, but the potential is sky-high.