Programming note: Blue Jackets-Sharks coverage starts tonight at 7pm with Sharks Pregame Live on CSN California.
SAN JOSE – There has been no bigger disappointment in the NHL this season than the Columbus Blue Jackets.
After a strong finish to the 2014-15 campaign and some offseason additions like Brandon Saad from Chicago, the Blue Jackets were picked by many as a playoff team, if not a contender to win the Metropolitan Division. Instead, they sit at the bottom of the NHL standings with just two wins in their first dozen games.
Joel Ward saw the Blue Jackets plenty of times with the Washington Capitals, a Metro rival.
“Kind of surprised, for sure,” Ward said of Columbus’ struggles. “They’ve got a lot of quick forwards, guys that can put the puck to the net, and a lot of good two-way players. … We’ve got to limit their space and shut them down as best we can.”
The Sharks shouldn’t take the Blue Jackets lightly. In the last eight head-to-head meetings, San Jose has won just twice – including one in a shootout. Columbus won both games of the season series last year.
Joe Thornton said: “At the beginning of the year, everybody expected big things out of this team. You look at this team on paper, they’re a very dynamic team and very talented team. It’s going to be a good test for us to beat this club tonight.”
San Jose will be opening up a four-game homestand, looking for back-to-back wins for the first time since reeling off four straight to open the season.
“We’re [6-5-0]. We’ve got to go,” Thornton said. “We’ve got to win some games and put a streak together, and we realize that. We know they’re a desperate team, but so are we.”
“I’ll be disappointed if our [desperation] doesn’t match theirs,” Pete DeBoer said.
The coach is hopeful that the his club can build off of Sunday’s 4-3 win in Denver, which in his opinion was the Sharks’ best game since week one.
“That’s the first time I think we played 60 minutes like that since the first three games of the year. We’re finding out what we have to do in order to be successful, and I think we know now. Now, it’s on our group to bring that every night.”
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The Blue Jackets were the first team to make a coaching change, hiring John Tortorella to replace Todd Richards on Oct. 21. Columbus is 2-3-0 under Tortorella.
DeBoer and Tortorella have some history, including a shouting match in the 2012 playoffs when DeBoer’s Devils were on their way to the Stanley Cup Final.
While the Sharks coach was complimentary of former Sharks asst. coach Richards, calling him a “really good coach,” he also expressed his contentment that Tortorella, who had a disastrous one-year stint in Vancouver in 2013-14, is back in the NHL.
“I’m happy Torts got back in. He’s a guy that belongs in this league,” DeBoer said. “He’s won a Stanley Cup, his teams play hard. We had some great battles when he was in New York. He always manages to get his teams to play with a workmanlike identity. That’s hard to establish and it’s hard to play against.”
The Blue Jackets have improved their defense under Tortorella, according to DeBoer. Although they sit 29th in the NHL with a 3.83 goals-against average and have the league’s worst penalty kill, Columbus has surrendered 12 goals over their last five games since the coaching change.
“You know at some point this group is going to get it figured out, you just hope it’s not tonight,” DeBoer said.
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In goal, Martin Jones will go for the Sharks against Sergei Bobrovsky. The Sharks’ lineup appears unchanged from Sunday, with Bryan Lerg staying in as the fourth line center.
Ben Smith has experienced a setback from his head injury, although DeBoer said that his benching in the third period of the loss in Dallas was not due to health. Smith is day-to-day after some “light exercise” on Tuesday, according to DeBoer. He did not skate.
Karl Stollery was recalled from the Barracuda as an extra on defense.