Blue Jackets return home in pursuit of 10th straight win (Dec 20, 2016)
John Tortorella reached a personal milestone in his last game. Next he’ll try to guide the Columbus Blue Jackets to a team milestone.
Seeking their 10th straight win, the Blue Jackets open what might be their toughest stretch of the season on Tuesday night when they take on the Los Angeles Kings to start a four-game homestand.
Columbus matched the franchise record for longest winning streak and delivered Tortorella’s 500th NHL win — a first for a coach born in the United States — with Sunday’s 4-3 overtime victory over the Vancouver Canucks.
The 58-year-old, who won a Stanley Cup with the Tampa Bay Lightning in 2004, also guided the New York Rangers to three straight playoff appearances followed by one stormy season with the Canucks.
When all is said and done, Tortorella’s finest work behind the bench might be with the Blue Jackets (20-5-4), who have the fewest regulation losses in the league while surrendering the fewest goals in the Eastern Conference (61) and posting a plus-37 goal differential.
Columbus also has converted six of its last 14 power-play chances in the last four games and has the league’s top power-play unit, which has converted 27.7 percent of its opportunities with the man advantage.
“We’re happy to have him at the helm. He’s really helped push this group forward,” said Columbus captain Nick Foligno, who has assists in four straight games against Los Angeles.
The Blue Jackets last won nine straight from March 18 to April 4, 2015. The team failed to make the playoffs that season, and have only been in the postseason twice since entering the league as an expansion team in 2000.
The Jackets’ top two scorers during the winning streak are Cam Atkinson (four goals, seven assists) and Sam Gagner (six goals, five assists).
Atkinson is two goals and two assists short of 100 in each category for his career. Gagner, the club’ leader with 13 goals this season, hasn’t scored a goal in seven straight games when facing Los Angeles.
It’s fair to say Tuesday’s game kicks off a key portion of the schedule. On Thursday, the Blue Jackets face the defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins followed the next night with a game against the Atlantic Division-leading Montreal Canadiens.
After the Christmas break, Columbus closes the homestand on Nov. 27 against the Boston Bruins.
If Columbus is to extend its streak and set a record, it will have to avenge a 3-2 loss in overtime on Oct. 25 in Los Angeles. The Blue Jackets also are 2-5-2 in their last nine games against the Kings at Nationwide Arena.
Los Angeles (16-13-2) comes to Ohio’s capital at the midpoint of its longest road trip of 2016-17. The Kings dropped to 2-2-0 on their nine-game trek with a 1-0 loss to the Bruins on Sunday.
“We played our (butts) off again today,” Kings coach Darryl Sutter said after pointing out that the team played for the fourth time in 5 1/2 days. ” … They left it all out there.”
Los Angeles managed just 18 shots on goal playing without former captain Dustin Brown (day to day, upper-body injury), who has just four assists in seven games in December.
Playing in Columbus could help veteran and first-year captain Anze Kopitar turn around a season that has been nothing short of disappointing.
After averaging 24.3 goals in his first 10 NHL seasons, Kopitar has just three in 26 games so far. However, 10 of Kopitar’s 14 career goals against the Jackets have come in Columbus.
The Kings also played Sunday without Marian Gaborik, who was a healthy scratch and whose status for Tuesday has yet to be determined. Gaborik has been limited to nine games after suffering a foot injury during the World Cup of Hockey in December. He has just one goal and three assists this season.
The Kings are 6-9-1 on the road this season and 0 of 14 with the man advantage in five road games this month.