Missing yet another important player from their lineup, the Columbus Blue Jackets will look to pick up a big road victory against the Nashville Predators on Saturday.
Oliver Bjorkstrand sustained a sprained and fractured ankle in the Blue Jackets’ 4-3 overtime loss to the Philadelphia Flyers on Thursday, and a projected eight- to 10-week recovery period will keep Bjorkstrand sidelined for at least the rest of the regular season.
That leaves Columbus without its leading goal-scorer, as Bjorkstrand joins a long list of notable players — including Cam Atkinson, Seth Jones, Joonas Korpisalo — on the Jackets’ injured reserve. While no team can get used to playing without so many key players, adjusting to an injury absence “isn’t new to us,” Blue Jackets captain Nick Foligno said.
“I think that we’ve put a pretty good brand of hockey together with the group we’ve had,” Foligno told NHL.com. “And in some ways, with all the injuries and the question marks on this team, I think it’s a little bit of a motivation for this group that people still count us out even the way we’ve played.”
The Friday loss dropped Columbus to 0-3-4 over its last seven games. A defeat at Nashville would give the Blue Jackets their first eight-game losing streak since an 0-8-0 start to the 2015-16 season.
Despite the slump, the Jackets continue to cling to the second Eastern Conference wild-card spot. A return to the win column is a necessity, however, as the Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers and New York Rangers all are within five points of the Jackets in the standings.
The Predators also are looking to end a winless streak and rebound from an overtime defeat. Nashville took its second consecutive loss, dropping a 2-1 result to the host Chicago Blackhawks on Friday.
Nashville held a lead through 49 minutes, but after Chicago’s Alex DeBrincat tied the score with a power-play goal, Predators forward Mattias Ekholm felt his team was “holding on for dear life” during the rest of the period.
“It is a point, but right now it’s just frustrating we didn’t get more than one,” said Ekholm, who scored Nashville’s only goal. “We’ve got to move on, we’ve got a game (Saturday), so it comes quick for us. But right now a little bit of a sour feeling, I guess.”
The Predators remain two points behind the Flames for the final Western Conference wild-card slot, with the Arizona Coyotes also tied with Calgary on points.
Since goaltender Pekka Rinne started against the Blackhawks, making 36 saves, Juuse Saros is Nashville’s probable starter against Columbus. Saros is looking to bounce back from a couple of shaky performances, as he has an .875 save percentage and a 3.50 goals-against average over his past two games.
Nashville is 3-2-1 in the second game of back-to-backs this season.
Saturday’s game begins a five-game homestand for the Predators, who still are looking for more consistency on their home ice. The Predators are only 13-12-4 in home games this season.
The Blue Jackets could again turn to Elvis Merzlikins in net on Saturday, though the rookie is 0-3-3 with an .887 save percentage in his past six outings.
Merzlikins could be showing some fatigue after starting 21 of the Jackets’ past 24 games since Korpisalo’s injury, so backup Matiss Kivlenieks would get the call if Columbus opted to give Merzlikins a breather.
–Field Level Media