If the Columbus Blue Jackets are for real and plan to make a deep playoff run, they will lean on Sergei Bobrovsky to keep pucks out of the net.
Having Boone Jenner putting them in would be an added bonus.
Looking to win back-to-back games for the first time since their franchise-record winning streak ended two weeks ago, the Blue Jackets meet the Ottawa Senators on Thursday night for the first of three meetings this season.
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Ottawa has won five of the last seven games with Columbus (30-9-4), but Dion Phaneuf realizes this is not the same Blue Jackets team that has reached the playoffs only twice in franchise history.
“They’re at the top of the standings for a reason,” the Senators defenseman said. “They play hard, they play with speed, they play with structure.”
The Blue Jackets have alternated wins and losses over their last six games after their 16-game run ended with a shutout loss to the Washington Capitals on Jan. 5.
On Tuesday, Jenner and Brandon Dubinsky scored 35 seconds apart late in the first period to erase a one-goal deficit and Columbus went on to defeat the Carolina Hurricanes 4-1.
Jenner, a surprise 30-goal scorer in 2015-16, has only nine in 43 games. However, he’s scored in each of his last three games and has three in his last three games versus Ottawa.
“He’s beginning to find the net,” Columbus coach John Tortorella said.
With Jenner starting to come around, a more welcome sight for Columbus was Bobrovsky’s return after missing three games because of an illness. He finished with 24 saves for his league-leading 27th win.
“I think it relaxes the players because if a mistake is made and they get a scoring chance, Bob is that good,” Tortorella said. “I think all teams play off their goalie that way, and this team certainly does with Bob. They feel very confident with him.”
Outstanding play at Nationwide Arena might have Bobrovsky on the inside track to win his second Vezina Trophy.
Bobrovsky has won his last nine home games, allowing only 12 goals for a 1.33 goals-against average and .952 save percentage. Overall at home, he is 16-3-0 with a 1.79 GAA, .940 save percentage and a shutout.
His only home start against the Senators while with Columbus was one Bobrovsky surely wants to forget. He stopped only 20 of 26 shots in a 7-3 loss on Oct. 14, 2015.
In that game, Erik Karlsson of Ottawa recorded a career-best four assists.
Not surprisingly, Karlsson has carried the Senators when facing Columbus, scoring seven goals with nine assists in only 11 games. He also has notched two goals with six assists in a three-game points streak versus the Jackets.
Karlsson leads Ottawa with 29 assists — four of those coming in a three-game points streak — and 36 points overall, good for third in the league among scoring by defensemen behind Victor Hedman of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks.
Karlsson has led all NHL defensemen in scoring over each of the last three seasons, averaging 19 goals and 55 assists
Ottawa (23-15-4), which is looking for its fourth win in five games, opened a three-game trip with a 6-4 win over the St. Louis Blues on Tuesday.
The Senators have rediscovered their offense during the recent surge that’s come after a four-game skid from Dec. 27 to Jan. 7. Ottawa has 17 goals over the last four games, with 15 coming in the three wins.
Mike Hoffman and Mark Stone each scored twice against the Blues. Stone has four goals in his last four games, and is tied with Kyle Turris for the team lead with 15, one more than Hoffman.
Stone needs one assist for 100 in his career.
Neither Stone nor Hoffman has fared well against the Blue Jackets. Stone has only three assists in six games, while Hoffman has two goals and one assist in five matchups.
Ottawa coach Guy Boucher said Mike Condon would start Thursday. Condon had won four straight games going into the NHL’s Christmas break, but since then, he is 3-4-1 and has allowed at least three goals in five of those contests.
The Senators will play host to the Blue Jackets on Sunday in Ottawa.