Chris Uhler / Lantern Photographer
After beginning the 2009-10 season with eight of its first 13 games on the road, Columbus (7-5-1) is now amid a stretch of five of six games at Nationwide Arena.
The Blue Jackets ______(beat or lost to)______ the San Jose Sharks Wednesday. They travel to Atlanta (6-4-1) Thursday, and finish the weekend back home against the Carolina Hurricanes (2-8-3) Saturday night.
Columbus began the second month of the season with a 5-4 overtime victory at Washington Sunday. Blue Jackets forward Raffi Torres scored his second goal in the third period with 23 seconds remaining and sent the game into overtime.
R.J. Umberger, former Ohio State men’s hockey player, claimed the victory for Columbus with his second goal of the game 1:45 into extra play.
The win against the Capitals snapped a three-game losing streak for Columbus. The Blue Jackets currently sit in second place in the central division of the Western Conference after one month of play, but know there is still room for improvement.
“I think it was good for us to get a win and find a way to get it done,” Umberger said. “I think we need to know as a team that is not our best hockey. We need to play better in the third period, but we are going to take the momentum from the win.”
The Jackets come into the week with a 3-1-1 record at home and are 29-9-3 at Nationwide Arena since Nov. 29, 2008.
“This home stretch is big for us,” forward Jakub Voracek said. “Getting eight to nine points during these six games as a team is something we are looking to do and that would be great.”
Scouting the Thrashers, Hurricanes
Columbus knows how to beat the East.
The Blue Jackets play two of their three games this week against Atlanta and Carolina of the Eastern Conference’s Southeast Division. Columbus is 1-0-1 against the East this season after going 13-3-2 vs. the conference last season. The record against the East was the best record of any Western Conference team in the NHL.
“I don’t think there’s a difference between the Eastern or Western conference,” Voracek said. “It’s just another game in the NHL where we are trying to win it.”
Looking forward to Atlanta, the Thrashers have struggled at home with a 1-3-0 record this year. The Jackets will have to be careful on special teams against Atlanta. The Thrashers will be missing All-Star Ilya Kovalchuk who is out with an injury.
“We have to play our best game,” Voracek said. “If everybody plays 100 percent and plays smart, we think we can beat them.”
The Blue Jackets will need to put Carolina away early. A close third period could be exactly what Carolina needs right now. The Canes have dropped nine-straight games (0-6-3) heading into this week and rank 29th in the NHL in goals scored (2.15 per game) and goals allowed (3.85 per game).
Columbus earned a 5-1 win at Carolina Feb. 14, 2009 in the only meeting last season.
“We just have to play them hard like we do every other team,” Voracek said. “It doesn’t matter how many games they’ve lost, its going to be a tough game.”
It’s easy to see the improvement the Jackets have made since last year. The team is the highest-scoring team in the Central Division.
Columbus ranks 11th in the NHL on the power play at 22.8 percent (13-of-57). Last year, the team was 30th in the league on the power play and didn’t score its 13th power play goal until its 128th power play opportunity of the season in game No. 27 Dec. 7 at Anaheim.
“We are shooting the puck more and we are getting our first shots on net, which makes the other team scramble,” Umberger said. “We are winning more face offs in the zone and keeping the puck in there. Basically, it comes down to execution.”
The team entered the week ranked ninth in the NHL in scoring, averaging 3.23 goals per game.
Nash continues to lead team
Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash has not slowed down offensively at all this season. He scored two goals against Pittsburgh Oct. 30 and added three points vs. Washington.
The 25-year-old ranks fourth in the NHL in points, sixth (tied) in goals and seventh (tied) in assists, while also tying for the league lead with two shorthanded goals.
Look for Nash to have no letdown this week either, as he continues to take this young team to the next level at home this week.