It appears that the Columbus Blue Jackets will ring in the new year with their prized offseason acquisition finally on the ice.
There’s a good chance Nathan Horton will make his Blue Jackets debut in Thursday night’s road matchup with the Phoenix Coyotes.
Columbus (17-19-4) made a huge offseason splash when it lured Horton to Ohio’s capital city with a seven-year deal worth $37.1 million. Horton spent his previous three seasons with Boston, helping the Bruins win the 2011 Stanley Cup and increasing his market value by amassing 19 points in the last postseason as Boston nearly captured another.
General manager Jarmo Kekalainen called Horton the "No. 1 guy on our list." The franchise went all out to gain his services, with director of hockey operations John Davidson treating Horton and his family to a picturesque day at the Columbus Zoo that helped seal the deal.
Horton missed the 2013 part of this season after shoulder surgery. Coach Todd Richards said he will determine whether Horton will play at Thursday’s morning skate.
While it figures to be a memorable night for Horton, the Coyotes’ Keith Yandle is dealing with some disappointment after he was left off the United States Olympic hockey roster on Wednesday.
Yandle has 27 points to rank in the top 10 among NHL defensemen and capped a three-point night with his second goal Tuesday in overtime in a 4-3 win over Edmonton. Coach Dave Tippett felt his player deserved to make the team.
"I see him day in and day out and he’s been one of our top players," Tippett said.
Tippett will likely turn back to Mike Smith, whom he pulled in the second period in favor of Thomas Greiss as Phoenix rallied from a 3-1 deficit. Smith has shutouts in two of his last four starts against Columbus.
"We were just looking for a change in momentum," Tippett said. "Greisser came in and stabilized things a little bit for us there and our team found a way to hang around."
Phoenix (20-10-9), which remains without captain Shane Doan, has played six straight overtime games.
The Coyotes went 2-0-1 against the Blue Jackets last season, and former Columbus first-round pick Rostislav Klesla could return after missing three games with an illness.
The Blue Jackets have allowed six power-play goals over consecutive defeats, and Colorado went 3 for 3 with the man advantage in Tuesday’s 5-3 loss that opened this four-game trip.
"Our penalty kill has to step up here," center Mark Letestu said. "That’s two games we have been burned pretty good there. As a group, we have to look in the mirror and be better."
Columbus is also mired in a 0-for-16 drought on the power play that has its coach grasping for answers.
"Teams might be gearing up on us too much as far as point shots," Richards said. "And we might have to look at some alternative things as far as alternative plays in terms of moving the puck and where it needs to go."
The Blue Jackets expect defenseman Dalton Prout to return after a six-game absence due to a shoulder sprain. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky remains out with a groin injury, but could return Saturday in St. Louis.