Preview: Blue Jackets vs. Rangers
THURSDAY, 7 PM | NATIONWIDE ARENA
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While it was difficult to think of any major plot lines heading into Thursday's game in Columbus (kidding), we do have an update on the expected rosters for both teams. The Rangers come into the game having played last night at home against the Penguins, and having started Henrik Lundqvist last night, they're expected to go with back-up goalie Cam Talbot against the Blue Jackets.
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Todd Richards confirmed following Wednesday's practice that Sergei Bobrovsky will return to the net against the Rangers after two good days of practice with goaltending coach Ian Clark. After missing Tuesday's game and practice on Wednesday, Richards said there's a possibility that Nick Foligno will be able to play on Thursday.
There are plenty of former Blue Jackets and Rangers on both sides of the ice, more so than Richards can remember for one game. One notable absence is that of Rick Nash, who has missed last dozen games (concussion) as the result of an elbow to the head from San Jose's Brad Stuart. As of Wednesday, the Rangers reiterated that there is no change or update to Nash's status and he is definitely out of the lineup for this first Rangers-Blue Jackets showdown.
With back-to-back games against Metropolitan Division opponents on the docket, time is of the essence for the Blue Jackets to right the ship. In fact, their next six games are against Eastern Conference competition where the race for playoff positioning is wide-open, making the acquisition of points (and most importantly, wins) the top item on their list of priorities.
The Blue Jackets have not picked up a point in the standings since beating the Toronto Maple Leafs at Nationwide Arena on Oct. 25, and while they're still very much in the divisional playoff race, the need for points is growing by the day. What they don't want is a repeat of 2013, when they had to put a 19-5-5 run together just to stay in the conversation down the stretch.
One thing to watch for is the special teams battle: the Blue Jackets saw an uptick in that department on Tuesday night, scoring a power play goal (1-for-4 overall) against the Senators and putting up a spotless performance on the penalty kill (4-for-4). As Brandon Dubinsky said on Wednesday, the team that wins the special teams battle is usually the team that wins the hockey game - and the Blue Jackets, while still seeking consistent production from their power play, feel like they're trending in the right direction.
They'll start Bobrovsky between the pipes in an effort to get him back to top form, as well, after McElhinney filled in admirably for a pair of starts against Pittsburgh and Ottawa. Bobrovsky has turned in some solid performances this season but has also struggled at times, but Clark said earlier this week that the issues with the reigning Vezina Trophy winner aren't anything that a few tweaks can't solve.
Bobrovsky and the Blue Jackets face a Rangers club that sputtered out of the gates in 2013-14 but has steadied in the last couple of weeks. Under new head coach Alain Vigneault, the Rangers are playing a slightly different style of game than they did under John Tortorella but their roster remains largely the same; they're anchored in goal by one of the best in the business in Henrik Lundqvist, and their team defense is one of the Rangers' biggest strengths.
After struggling to generate offense during a season-opening, nine-game road trip, the Rangers have found a bit of offense in their last few games. Derek Stepan recorded a hat trick (second of his career) in the Rangers' 5-1 win over Carolina - a far cry from their low point, a 9-2 loss to San Jose early in the season.
For many reasons and for both teams, Thursday's game is an important one.
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