It would be nice if the Coyotes could roll into Columbus and count on a win against the perennially impotent Blue Jackets. But before back-to-back 2-1 shootout losses to likely division champs Vancouver and Chicago, Columbus had won five straight, and the Jackets have now earned 12 of their last 14 possible points.
That’s not good news for a club still looking to establish a road identity after a 3-0 loss in St. Louis on Thursday. The Coyotes are just 3-6-2 away from home this season, the fourth-worst mark in the NHL and a bad early sign for a club that will play 13 of its final 21 games away from home.
“In reality, we didn’t play well enough to win,” said Coyotes goalie Mike Smith, who made 27 saves against the Blues. “We didn’t play well enough to get those bounces going our way. We weren’t ready to play from the drop of the puck.”
Why that is still the case past the midpoint of the season is anyone’s guess, but with back-to-back games in Los Angeles looming next week, Phoenix had better be prepared Saturday.
“We came out and took penalty after penalty in the first period,” Coyotes coach Dave Tippett said of his team’s loss in St. Louis. “You give a home team like that momentum and give them the lead, they’re going to take it and run with it, and that’s exactly what they did.”
THREE KEY OPPONENT STATS
9: Columbus is riding a franchise record nine-game point streak, and has captured 14 of 18 possible points in that stretch (5-0-4). The biggest reason is goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky (8-6-5, 2.11, .927), who has stopped 200 of 208 shots in his past seven games because, as we all know, Russian goalies only struggle when they play for the Flyers. Entering play Friday, Bobrovsky was sixth in the NHL with a 2.11 GAA and .927 save percentage.
0.79: Columbus ranks 26th in the NHL in goals for/against ratio in 5-on-5 play. If the Coyotes are to beat a surging team, this is where it will likely be done because the Jackets power play is more woeful than the Coyotes, ranking 28th in the league at 13.6 percent, while the Columbus penalty-killing unit is the league’s fourth best, killing 86.2 percent of opponents’ chances.
Follow the script: Columbus’ recent run of success parrots that of many other small-market teams that must make due without top-end forward skill. The Blue Jackets average just 2.14 goals per game, the worst mark in the NHL. But Columbus is allowing 2.61, the 12th best average in the NHL. In their last seven games, the Jackets have allowed just nine goals in regulation or overtime. Tight-checking, low-scoring hockey with strong goaltending: It may not be pretty, but numerous teams have proven it can get you at least as far as the playoffs.
THREE THINGS YOU SHOULD KNOW
Realignment a good thing for Jackets: Following the Board of Governors’ approval of the NHL’s realignment plan, Columbus will move with Detroit to the Eastern Conference where the club expects bigger home crowds, better rivalries against regional opponents like Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Toronto, as well as the New York Rangers, who acquired former Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash in a trade last summer. “We tend to use common sense around here. This seems to make a lot of common sense,” Blue Jackets president of hockey operations John Davidson told the Columbus Dispatch. “When you get out the ledger sheet and you go through pros and cons, I don’t think there is anything on the negative side. This is all positive.”
IOU: The Blue Jackets were supposed to host this season’s All-Star Game, but it was canceled due to the lockout. There won’t be an All-Star Game next season either, if NHL participates in the Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. “My hope is in the next couple of months, as our long-term calendar becomes a bit clearer, we’ll be able to address that more specifically,” NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said Thursday during a conference call.
Picks to click: You all know it by now: Coyotes F Steve Sullivan has 50 points in 49 games against the Jackets, including three goals and two assists in two meetings this season. It would help greatly if that trend continued Saturday. The Coyotes need points in the worst way, and Sullivan has just two goals and five assists against the rest of the NHL this season.
For the Coyotes, F Radim Vrbata (foot) and D Zbynek Michalek (lower body) are day to day. For Columbus, D John Moore (upper body) was activated on Friday, while F Derek MacKenzie (upper body) is day-to-day. F Derek Dorsett (collarbone), D Ryan Murray (shoulder) and James Wisniewski (foot) are on injured reserve.