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Jackets, Sharks hope to find consistency

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- These are not exactly the best of times for the Columbus Blue Jackets or the San Jose Sharks.

The Blue Jackets (27-19-4) have played in fits and starts during the first 50 games of the season. After an early six-game winning streak, they've leveled off dramatically and fallen back in the Eastern Conference standings.

The Sharks (26-16-8) are in the midst of a four-game losing streak and trying to compensate for the loss of their best player, injured forward Joe Thornton. He underwent arthroscopic knee surgery Wednesday to repair his right MCL.

Both teams will be attempting to figure out how to pick up a win when they meet Friday night at Nationwide Arena.

The Sharks have lost twice at the start of a five-game, post-NHL All-Star break road trip, dropping back-to-back games Tuesday and Wednesday in Pittsburgh and Detroit.

Without the 13-year veteran Thornton, the young Sharks will take a committee approach. They have seven double-figures goal scorers, led by Logan Couture's 21. Tomas Hertl is next with 14, followed by Chris Tierney with 12, Timo Meier with 11, and Joe Pavelski and Joonas Donskoi with 10 apiece.

"The optimism is with our younger guys, the way they've played," Couture said. "That helps cushion the blow a little bit, but you can't replace Joe Thornton. You just can't do it.

"We'll need everyone. We'll need four lines and six D. And we need both goaltenders to play well. It's a tough league to win in, and it's a tough league to win in when you're missing one of your best players."

Sharks coach Peter DeBoer is not panicking. San Jose trails the Vegas Golden Knights by 12 points in the standings but is among the Pacific Division leaders in spite of the recent skid.

"The nice thing is that this isn't happening in Game 5 when we still don't know what our identity is as a team or what works for us," DeBoer said. "The young guys have had 40 games to get some confidence and figure out how they can be successful at this level."

After the Blue Jackets suffered a 3-2 shootout loss at home Tuesday night to the Minnesota Wild, coach John Tortorella worked the team hard in practice to prepare for the final 32 regular-season games in 65 days.

"It's how you handle yourselves and trying to find a way to get a streak going to get a bunch of points," Tortorella said. "Eventually, we're going to have to find a run here of winning some games in a row, and I think that's what gives you an opportunity to play after the regular season."

After facing the Sharks, the Blue Jackets travel to the New York Islanders the following night.

"I like the way we've practiced the last couple of days. I'm anxious to play," Tortorella told reporters. "(There's) a good San Jose team coming in here. We're going to have our hands full, and then we go back-to-back, so we're going to start playing the games now."

Blue Jackets players are starting to sense the urgency of finding their groove before it's too late.

Scoring is a big problem, with the team minus-7 in goal differential for the season. Its last two-goal lead in a game came in late December.

"I don't have all the answers," said Seth Jones, the Blue Jackets' offensive-minded defenseman whose 33 points rank second on the team to Artemi Panarin's 41. "I wish I did, but we come into a period and we're flat. It's been the second period a lot this year, I feel like. I'm not sure why. I wish I knew.

"But we have to find a way (that) if we have one bad shift, it can't turn into four or five bad shifts. And that's what you see is happening in a six- or seven-minute stretch of a period."

Updated February 1, 2018

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