Preview: Rangers at Blue Jackets
The Columbus Blue Jackets have skated to the league’s second-best record since snapping a four-game losing streak on Dec. 9, but they will look to avoid their fourth straight setback Friday when they host the New York Rangers. The Blue Jackets dropped their second consecutive contest in overtime Thursday with a 4-3 decision against the Sabres - their league-leading ninth defeat this season in the extra frame.
The Blue Jackets are holding onto one of two Eastern Conference wild-card spots but they’ll be playing the next eight to 10 weeks without All-Star defenseman Seth Jones, who is sixth in the league with a team-best 25:17 of ice time per game, after the 25-year-old underwent ankle surgery earlier this week. Columbus is used to playing through injuries as starting goaltender Joonas Korpisalo (knee) missed his 19th straight game Thursday but rookie Elvis Merzlikins has been excellent when called upon with a 1.20 goals against average, .959 save percentage, and 8-1-1 record over his last 10 games. Mika Zibanejad played the hero for the Rangers Thursday as the center tied the game with 1:06 remaining in regulation and converted in the shootout to lead his squad to a 4-3 triumph over the Wild. Zibanejad has six goals along with seven assists in his last nine games and linemate Artemi Panarin leads the Rangers with 29 goals and 47 assists while sporting a plus-28 rating - the top mark among all NHL forwards.
TIME: 7 p.m. ET. TV: MSG, FS Ohio
ABOUT THE RANGERS (29-23-4): Making his first career start away from Madison Square Garden Tuesday, rookie goaltender Igor Shesterkin stopped 42 shots in a 4-1 win over the Jets as the 24-year-old is expected to get the call Friday after improving to 6-1-0 since his NHL debut on Jan. 7. Ryan Strome extended his point streak to three games with an assist Thursday and, with 48 points, the seven-year veteran sits two shy of tying his career-high set with the New York Islanders in 2014-15. Left wing Chris Kreider’s name has been frequented in trade rumors recently and the pending unrestricted free agent has 27 points (16 goals, 11 assists) over his last 27 games.
ABOUT THE BLUE JACKETS (30-17-11): Merzlikins was 0-4-4 with a .881 save percentage when Korpisalo went down, but the 25-year-old Latvian is 12-3-1 since with five shutouts - three more than any other netminder during that time. The Blue Jackets have struggled on the power play as they are 2-for-23 over their last 11 games, but their penalty kill has allowed just one goal in its last 12 opportunities over six contests. After not finding the back of the net in the first 14 games of the calendar year, forward Boone Jenner has goals in two of his last four after potting his 10th marker of the season against Buffalo.
1. Blue Jackets RW Oliver Bjorkstrand scored with 27 seconds remaining in regulation to lead his team to a 2-1 victory over the Rangers on Jan. 19 - handing Shesterkin his only NHL setback.
2. In 377 games played, Panarian is four points shy of 400 for his career and is on pace to become the fourth-fastest active player to reach the milestone behind Sidney Crosby (292), Alexander Ovechkin (314) and Evgeni Malkin (319) - and just ahead of Steven Stamkos (382).
3. Blue Jackets C Pierre-Luc Dubois has a team-best 43 points, but recorded just one assist in his last five games.
PREDICTION: Rangers 3, Blue Jackets 2