Before this season began, Columbus Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock placed veteran Jason Chimera with rookies Jakub Voracek and Derick Brassard on a line because he felt the group could mesh well offensively.
Chimera, Voracek and Brassard have combined for seven goals and nine assists this season, and in helping Columbus (3-3-0) win two of its last three, have four goals and four assists. Chimera has scored in each of the past three games.
“We put the line together for (scoring),” Hitchcock told Columbus’ official Web site. “We feel like they can contribute (to our offense).”
The Blue Jackets’ top line has been strong as well. Kristian Huselius leads the team with seven points and has five in the last three games. Rick Nash has a team-high five goals, scoring at least one in each of the last three games.
Offense was considered a question mark for Columbus after it traded Zherdev to the Rangers along with Dan Fritsche in the offseason in a deal that brought defensemen Fedor Tyutin and Christian Backman to the Blue Jackets. Zherdev—the fourth overall pick in 2003—had 61 points last season to rank second behind Nash for Columbus.
Chimera and Huselius, meanwhile, scored first-period goals to give Columbus an early lead in Tuesday’s 4-2 win over the Vancouver Canucks. Derek Dorsett got his first NHL score, Nash added an empty net goal, while Voracek also had two assists.
Pascal Leclaire, who had allowed 15 goals in his first four starts, made 25 saves and gave up less than three goals for the first time in his last eight games.
This will be his first chance to face Zherdev, who leads New York with a plus-five rating and has two goals and three assists.
Since starting the season 5-0, though, the Rangers have gone 1-2-1 and have suffered one-goal losses in their last two games.
Late goals hurt New York (6-2-1) in those defeats. In a 2-1 loss Monday to visiting Dallas, the Stars’ Mike Modano got the puck past Henrik Lundqvist with less than 12 minutes to go. Detroit used a goal with less than four minutes remaining to tie the Rangers on Saturday in a 5-4 overtime victory.
“It was a winnable game, and, at the end of the day, we beat ourselves,” New York coach Tom Renney said of the Dallas loss.
Most of the Rangers’ top offensive players have slumped over the last four games. Top scorers Brandon Dubinsky and Aaron Voros, who each have nine points, have tallied just two points apiece in that span. After getting a point in each of his first four games, Markus Naslund has one in the last five. Both Zherdev and Daniel Girardi have failed to record a point in the past four games.
“It has been a tough stretch for a lot of us here, not putting the pucks in the net,” Naslund said. “And it happens throughout the year. I’ve been around long enough that I’ve seen you go through cycles.”
The Rangers have won just once in five games in Columbus, the first meeting between the teams in 2001. New York has lost their last three versus the Blue Jackets and five of their last six.