Jackets hit the road to take on Arizona

Improved road play contributed to a stellar December for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

They’ll have plenty more opportunities to continue that in the new year starting Saturday night against the Arizona Coyotes.

This seemed like it was destined to be a lost season for the Blue Jackets, who headed into December with a 6-15-2 record and were languishing at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division and missing as many as nine top players.

As some of those players returned, Columbus (16-16-3) began to hit its stride. The Blue Jackets started the month with seven straight wins, and after a 1-1-1 stretch, closed it with consecutive victories over Boston and Minnesota to reach the .500 mark.

Defenseman Kevin Connauton had a goal and an assist and Sergei Bobrovsky made 28 saves in Wednesday’s 3-1 victory over the Wild.

Columbus won at least 10 games in a month for the third time in franchise history.

"It’s a credit to the guys," coach Todd Richards said. "Where we were a month and a half ago, that was a big hole. To get back to .500 is a good spot considering where we were. But we can’t be satisfied with it."

Richards’ team won just three of its first 11 road games before taking all four in December. The Blue Jackets will play their next four and nine of the next 13 away from Nationwide Arena.

Bobrovsky was in net for all four of those December games, posting a 1.41 goals-against average. He’ll likely be asked to help Columbus win five straight away from home for the first time since a six-game run Jan. 19-Feb. 18, 2011.

Nick Foligno was a huge part of the team’s success last month, tallying seven goals and 10 points in the 12 games. Foligno, whose 17 goals are one shy of his career high set in 70 games last season, was rewarded Wednesday with a six-year contract extension worth $33 million.

"This is where I wanted to be," Foligno said. "I talked to my wife. We love it here. This is where I want to win, where I want to be. I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished and I want to see it through."

Another key in the Blue Jackets’ turnaround has been much better penalty killing. After allowing opponents to score 13 times on 53 power-play opportunities in November (24.5 percent), Columbus surrendered only five goals on 43 chances last month (11.6).

This contest marks the start of a six-game homestand for the Coyotes (14-19-4), who had a season best-tying three-game win streak snapped Wednesday with a 6-0 loss at Dallas.

"(We’ll) find a way to win the next one," captain Shane Doan said. "We talked about it, that’s all our focus is. When you lose that one, you’ve got to find a way to win the next one."

Devan Dubnyk had stopped 91 of 95 shots during the three-game run before allowing all six goals on 31 shots against the Stars. Dubnyk has a 1.26 GAA in a three-game home win streak.

Generating offense has been an issue all season for Arizona, which had scored three goals or fewer in 14 straight home games before a 4-2 victory over Philadelphia on Monday. That fourth goal was scored into an empty net.

Doan’s goal in that game is his only one in a 16-game span.

The Blue Jackets have won three straight against the Coyotes, and ended a three-game skid in Arizona with a 2-0 victory Jan. 2, 2014.