The Vancouver Canucks visit the Columbus Blue Jackets on Thursday night, with playoff positioning on both team's respective minds. One team is chasing a spot while the other is looking to defend theirs.
After Tuesday's loss to Nashville, Vancouver sat seven points out of the wild card race. And while Columbus rode a historic franchise record 16-game win streak earlier this year that put them in first place in the league, they have gone 7-8-1 since.
The Jackets want to capitalize on a seven-game home stand that begins against the Canucks.
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"We need to reinvent ourselves and get the chip back on our shoulder," Jackets coach John Tortorella said. "We need to embrace this challenge. It's how you grow as a player. It's our home building. I think we have to get some consistency, how we start the game first of all, and make sure (Nationwide Arena) is a tough place to play."
The Jackets have been strong at home (18-6-1), while the Canucks, who are in the second of a six-game road trip, have struggled when not in their own building (6-18-3).
"We all believe that this road trip is going to be the turning point for us," Canucks goaltender Jacob Markstom told NHL.com. "This time of the year, every game is super important, road or home. The points are huge, and we all know what's at stake right now. We're below the playoffs right now, and we want to get back in. We know what we need to do."
Columbus is a team that has been known for it's depth this season, and the team is currently riding the performance of the line centered by Brandon Dubinsky with Cam Atkinson and Boone Jenner on the wings.
The trio has combined for four goals and five assists in the four games since the All-Star break. The points have been invaluable, as the Jackets' top ranked power play has sputtered recently. In their last ten games, Columbus has converted just two of 19 opportunities with the man advantage, and they've had three games with no power plays to speak of.
The Canucks will likely be without forward Sven Baertschi who sustained a concussion in Tuesday's game in Nashville off a hit from Predators' Cody McLeod. Baertschi (13-14-27) is the fourth leading scorer for Vancouver. Reid Boucher stepped into Baertschi's place at the team's practice Wednesday.
"It makes a difference (to not have Baertschi)," Canucks coach Willie Desjardins told assembled media Tuesday night. "It makes a difference with our power play. That's a key guy on the power play, it's a key skill guy."
The Jackets may also be without a player. Power forward Josh Anderson (10-9-19) left Tuesday's game in Detroit after taking a hit from Brendan Smith. The team announced afterwards that he was undergoing concussion protocol. Wednesday, Oliver Bjorkstrand was added to the roster as an emergency recall.
Anderson is just one of ten players on the Jackets roster age 24 or younger. On opening day, Columbus had the lowest average age of all NHL teams and managing with the success of this season is the current challenge for this group to overcome.
"We don't like looking ahead but you have to have some sort of semblance in your mind that teams are ready for you," Tortorella said. "They have to experience it and raise their level (of play). This is a great spot to be in but they have to accept the responsibility that comes with it. There's responsibility that comes with this not only physically but mentally."
This is the second and final meeting for the two teams. They last met in December, a match that was decided in overtime by a Seth Jones game winner and marked Tortorella's 500th NHL win as a head coach.