Brandon Dubinsky and the Columbus Blue Jackets face the New Jersey Devils on Thursday. Photo by Archie Carpenter/UPI | License Photo
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Columbus Blue Jackets and New Jersey Devils will get familiar with one another over the next four days.
The Metropolitan Division opponents will play each other twice in a home-and-home starting Thursday night at Nationwide Arena. Columbus will then visit New Jersey on Sunday in the final game before the Christmas break.
"We have some division games coming up, which I love," Blue Jackets center Brandon Dubinsky said, according to the team's website. "I've played a lot of games in my career against the guys coming up, and I'm excited about that."
The vibe going into the first meeting is different on each side.
The Blue Jackets (18-12-3) are feeling positive about the state of their game after a 1-0 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights on Monday night without leading scorer Artemi Panarin in the lineup because of a lower-body injury. With a win, the Blue Jackets would close out a season-long six-game homestand that started with two losses with a 3-2-1 record.
Columbus has won two of its last three games and generally played well during the extended home stay, losing several close games that could have gone either way depending on a few bounces of the puck here and there.
Panarin is expected to return for Thursday's game and rejoin the top line with Cam Atkinson and Pierre-Luc Dubois.
Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella didn't disclose Wednesday which player would come out of the lineup for Panarin, but it will be a tough decision.
"It's not a challenge, it's a good thing," Tortorella said.
Anthony Duclair probably won't be coming out. He was inserted into Panarin's spot against Vegas and impressed Tortorella with his play after being a healthy scratch for two games.
"I thought Duke, the speed that he can show, some of the things that he can do, I just hope he understands the other part of it because I'd love to keep him in the lineup," Tortorella said. "But that's gonna fall on him."
The talented but inconsistent 23-year-old Duclair hadn't played much recently because Tortorella says he needs to be better away from the puck.
"I just have to gain his trust as we go on here," Duclair said, according to the team's website. "I'm a competitor. I want to play every game. I don't want to be sitting out.
"When I'm in the lineup, I want to play as many minutes as possible and help the team in any way I can. I just wanted to do all of those things right and hopefully stay in the lineup."
Duclair could end up on the second line with team captain Nick Foligno and center Alexander Wennberg.
The Blue Jackets will be facing a team that's languishing. The Devils (11-14-7) have slid to the bottom of the Metropolitan Division standings after losing seven of eight games in December.
New Jersey returns home Friday night to face the Ottawa Senators to close out a back to back before the Blue Jackets' visit on Sunday.
"The biggest thing is that we have to be a team that plays with attention to detail," Devils coach John Hynes said. "We can't have passengers. We had 20 passengers (Tuesday) night."
Hynes was referring to Tuesday's 7-2 loss at home to the Toronto Maple Leafs on home ice.
The Devils' difficulties can be traced to stopping opponents. They're giving up 3.63 goals per game. Goaltender Keith Kincaid, who's now the No. 1 goalie with struggling Cory Schneider on injured reserve, has a 3.00 goals-against average and a .902 save percentage.
"We're a blue-collar team that has to work for everything we want to earn," Hynes said. "You're pushing and pushing and pushing."