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Jackets return home after West Coast trip

The Columbus Blue Jackets expect to win each game, but that wasn’t the case during their second road trip of the season. 

After its best start in franchise history, Columbus (6-4-0) dropped three of four West Coast games in six days. During the trip, the Jackets allowed a combined 22 goals. The Jackets lost 6-2 Sunday night in Los Angeles, and now return home.

“The minute we stop being aggressive and give up the middle of the ice, we are going to get burnt every time,” coach Ken Hitchcock said.

Columbus now faces Phoenix 7 p.m. Wednesday at Nationwide Arena. On Friday they face the Penguins, the defending Stanley Cup Champions, in the same setting at 7 p.m.

Before the Anaheim game last Saturday, Hitchcock switched up each of the four lines to look for a change in the team’s late letdown. On the top line, center R.J. Umberger and left wing Jason Chimera joined team captain Rick Nash. Kristian Huselius moved down to the second line with Antoine Vermette and Jakub Voracek.

The strategy worked. Columbus won 6-4 against the Ducks and Hitchcock spoke with the media following Columbus’ third road win of the year.

“It’s early in the season and guys are learning,” Hitchcock said. “I thought we really stayed with it tonight, and I liked a lot of things we did. We looked more like the team we needed to be to win on the road.”

The second line and Nash were the highlight of the night against the Ducks. Nash and Voracek each scored twice, while Vermette scored a goal with two assists. Columbus outshot Anaheim 18-10 in the second period and outscored the Ducks 4-1.

Vermette tied the game after a score from the low slot with a backhander. The Ducks responded with a power play goal, but the Jackets came flying back putting up three goals in the final 6:06 of the period.

Nash scored at 13:54 after spinning away from a Ducks’ defenseman at the right of the net and shooting it through the slot before a deflection sent it in.

Nash is showing why he is considered one of the best in the NHL. He has collected 15 points this year, including six goals and nine assists.

“That’s the difference about our team this year,” Nash said. “A couple years ago, we’d get down a goal on the road and fold our cards. But now we don’t let it discourage us. We stick with it.”

Pittsburgh (9-2-0) is one of the hottest teams to begin the 2009-10 campaign. The Penguins have a league-high 18 points and are led by forwards Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The two Penguins top the team in points to begin the season. Malkin has 13 points and nine assists, while Crosby follows with 11 points, including six goals.

The Jackets’ defense has only allowed one goal each of three home games this season. Top defenseman Mike Commodore will make his 2009-10 home debut after missing the beginning of the season with an injury.

A home environment could be exactly what the Jackets need right now.

“We can’t hold up,” Hitchcock said. “When we pull back in this league and decide to play a counter-attack game, we aren’t going to be successful. We are just trying to get our players to understand that — don’t play the score, play the game.”

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