Blue Jackets, Stars meet for first time this season
DALLAS -- The Columbus Blue Jackets and Dallas Stars have identical records at this point in the season, but that's about where the similarities end.
On Tuesday night, these clubs meet for the first time this season at American Airlines Center with one team, Columbus (22-15-3), currently on a downturn, while the other, Dallas (22-15-3) on a definite upswing.
The Blue Jackets head into Tuesday's game on a three-game losing streak, their most recent loss coming Sunday when Columbus fell 5-0 to Tampa Bay at Nationwide Arena.
In that loss, the Lightning and Blue Jackets were scoreless after 20 minutes. However, Tampa Bay erupted for four goals in the middle frame and cruised to a 5-0 win.
"Well, when you lose a game like that, it's always a concern (that it might start a trend)," Columbus coach John Tortorella told the media postgame. "But I think coaches are always concerned no matter what. We're just going to go about our business. We just got to stay together as a team. We're just going to try to work it out and that's all you can do. It's a humbling league, no one's going to feel sorry for you and we're just going to go to work."
Columbus practiced Monday before flying to Dallas and Tortorella juggled his lines, moving Nick Foligno up from the second line to skate alongside Artemi Panarin and Pierre-Luc Dubois.
On Monday morning, the Jackets recalled center Zac Dalpe from AHL Lake Erie due to an undisclosed Columbus player being ill. Dalpe centered the fourth line during practice Monday.
Columbus has allowed 14 goals over its past three games and the Jackets are 3-5-2 over their past 10 games.
However, if there is a positive, it could be that Columbus is hitting the road at the right time. That's because the Jackets are 8-8-3 away from home and will be playing four of their next five on the road.
"Sometimes getting on the road helps you, surround yourself maybe in a different environment and you'll be playing in that kind of atmosphere where you have to tighten up. Hopefully it'll help us," Foligno said after the loss to Tampa.
While Columbus is trying to right the ship, Dallas has won two straight, including a 6-0 victory against San Jose on New Year's Eve.
The Stars are also 14-4-1 on home ice, one of the NHL's best home records. And with Dallas playing game three of a six-game homestand, goaltender Ben Bishop, who made 26 saves to earn his 23rd career shutout in Sunday's win, knows how important this run of games in Dallas is going forward.
"It's kind of nice to have this homestand, especially over the holiday," Bishop said. "We talked about it, (how) it was going to be important to get some points and we've done a good job so far and we've got three tough opponents left so it's going to be kind of important to enjoy this one and obviously get some rest tomorrow and obviously we got a really good team in Columbus coming in (on Tuesday)."
Dallas is also 6-2-2 over its past 10 games and has a power-play goal in six consecutive contests.
Against San Jose, the Stars got two injury scares to a pair of key regulars, but both players are fine and will play Tuesday.
Forward Alexander Radulov left the ice with an upper-body injury after a hard crash into the boards in the second period and did not return against the sharks. However, Stars coach Ken Hitchcock said postgame that Radulov was fine and that he was held out as a precaution.
The news was similarly positive on defenseman Dan Hamhuis, who took an inadvertent stick to the face in the second period and also had to adjourn to the dressing room. Hamhuis was back on the ice to start the third period and is also fine.
The Dallas players had Monday off, but Hitchcock knows at this time of year, the games seem to come quicker and take on added significance with the second half of the season about to start.
"We can't let go of the rope. We've had a little bit of a run here," Hitchcock said. "To me, this feels very much like you're in the playoffs. Next game's the halfway point, but that's what this feels like. It doesn't seem like anybody's missing a beat right now, especially in the Central."
Columbus knows facing the Stars in their building will be a big challenge, but the man wearing the "C" for the Jackets also realizes that the only way for him and his teammates to get out of this current rut is to stay the course, stick with their approach and the results will return.
"I don't feel sorry for ourselves, I don't think we should," Foligno said. "I think we're a team that's got to grow from it, got to find a way out of it. It just starts with our mentality of who we are as a team, what makes us good. We're built to be a strong team. Right now, we're just now playing like it."
Updated January 2, 2018