The Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings headed into a home-and-home series in late November tied atop the Central Division. Detroit swept Columbus and continued building its division lead.
Things haven’t been the same for the Blue Jackets since.
Columbus hosts Detroit in the front end of another home-and-home Friday night looking to begin a second-half push.
The Blue Jackets and the Red Wings both had 28 points going into their first matchup of the season Nov. 26. Columbus had won five in a row but lost 2-1, then fell 4-2 in Detroit two nights later. Those defeats began what has turned into a 6-14-3 stretch that has sent the Blue Jackets to the bottom of the division, 16 points behind the Red Wings.
“They know how to win and that’s something we’re learning,” forward R.J. Umberger said following the second loss.
Columbus (20-20-3) enters the rematch having lost five straight to tie a season high, including a 4-3 defeat to Phoenix on Tuesday, but remains hopeful it can turn things around.
“We’ve got 40 games to go. This still is a race. We’re still in it,” coach Scott Arniel said. “We just have to find that consistency and that desperation right now that we don’t drag this into February, that we don’t allow it to continue. We don’t want to be playing in March having the games mean nothing.”
Columbus is within seven points of a playoff spot but has lost six consecutive division games.
Leading scorer Rick Nash has only three goals over his last 14 – two came Saturday against Los Angeles – and the Jackets’ 29th-ranked power play is 3 for 35 over the last 12 games.
The Red Wings (27-11-5), ending a five-game trip and a stretch of nine of 11 on the road, have beaten the Blue Jackets in five straight. The last meeting ended a string of four straight one-goal victories in the series.
Since the November sweep of Columbus, the Red Wings have increased their Central Division lead to a comfortable margin ahead of second-place Nashville.
Detroit had its three-game winning streak snapped Monday in a 5-4 loss to Colorado. Jimmy Howard was pulled after giving up four goals on 10 shots in the first 14:15 of the game.
“We let Howie down big time,” coach Mike Babcock said. “We had every opportunity to win this game. We were unable to get it done.”
Howard has allowed at least three goals in six of his past eight games but is 5-1-1 in that span, and he’s likely to keep getting most of the starts in net.
Detroit announced Thursday backup Chris Osgood will miss six to eight weeks after successful hernia surgery, leaving Joey MacDonald as the No. 2 netminder. Osgood joins Pavel Datsyuk, Brad Stuart, Dan Cleary and Mike Modano on the list of Red Wings battling long-term injuries.
Howard is 7-0-1 with a 1.39 goals-against average against the Blue Jackets and has yielded only three goals in four career starts at Columbus.
Henrik Zetterberg had a goal and an assist against the Avalanche, extending his point streak to 11 games. However, Zetterberg is pointless in his last three games versus the Blue Jackets and hasn’t netted a goal in seven straight against them.
The Red Wings are 8-0-1 in their last nine against Columbus, allowing just 11 goals.
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