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NHL Preview from The Sports Network



Thursday, January 2nd (All times Eastern)

Columbus Blue Jackets (17-19-4) at Phoenix Coyotes (20-10-9), 9 p.m.

(SportsNetwork.com) - Columbus signed forward Nathan Horton to a seven-year deal this offseason hoping that the former Stanley Cup winner could help the Blue Jackets to just the second playoff appearance in club history.

Shoulder surgery delayed Horton's debut with the Blue Jackets, but the 28- year-old could finally suit up on Thursday night in a road matchup with the Phoenix Coyotes.

The third overall pick of the 2003 draft by the Florida Panthers, Horton reached the 20-goal mark in six of his first seven NHL seasons and had 22 points in 43 games with Boston a season ago. He has also added 36 points in 43 career playoff games, logging eight goals and nine assists in Boston's Cup- winning 2011 playoff run.

The Blue Jackets gave Horton $37.1 million over seven years in July, but the forward underwent shoulder surgery not long after inking the deal and has yet to play this season.

That could change tonight.

"It's not 100 percent, but there is a very good chance he will play (Thursday)," Columbus coach Todd Richards told the Columbus Dispatch. "It may not happen. But based on (Wednesday), right now, there is a really good chance."

While the Blue Jackets will still have to wait to see what a roster that has both Horton and Marian Gaborik active can do -- Gaborik is out with a broken collarbone -- there is also a chance that reigning Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky could dress tonight as at least the backup.

Bobrovsky has not played since Dec. 3 due to a strained groin and is 10-11-2 with a 2.72 goals against average and .909 save percentage in 23 games this season after going 21-11-6 with a 2.00 GAA and .932 save percentage a season ago.

Defenseman Dalton Prout is also in line to play tonight for the first time since Dec. 16 because of an upper-body injury, though forwards Matt Calvert and Jack Skille are out due to upper-body ailments.

If Bobrovsky is unable to start, Curtis McElhinney will make his 15th start of the season. He has yielded five goals in back-to-back losses however, making just 18 saves in Tuesday's 5-3 setback to Colorado.

Ryan Johansen, Boone Jenner, and Nick Foligno provided the goals for the Jackets, who had won three straight prior to two setbacks.

Columbus outshot Colorado 38-23 in the game, with a 26-13 edge through the first two periods, but went 0-for-3 on the power play to drop the opener of a four-game trip.

"We came out good tonight and had a great first period and played well. For awhile there, we kept moving. We have to look at those shifts in the first and see what we did right," Jenner said.

Not much has been going right on the power play for Columbus. It is scoreless in its last 16 chances on the man advantage and just 1-for-24 over the last seven games.

Phoenix will try to extend a six-game point streak, having gone 2-0-4 over that span. All six games have gone past regulation.

Defenseman Keith Yandle may play with a chip on his shoulder tonight after being left off of the U.S. Olympic squad for the upcoming Winter Games. The blueliner is tied for third on Phoenix with 27 points and notched a three- point game in Tuesday's 4-3 overtime victory against Edmonton.

Yandle scored twice, putting home the game-winner with 6.5 seconds left in the extra frame. He also assisted on Mikkel Boedker's game-tying tally with 1:10 to go in regulation.

"I tired to take pride in being a guy that you need a goal when you're down," said Yandle. "But it's not just me, all the guys here work really hard and we're going to keep going forward here."

Tim Kennedy also scored as Phoenix won the opener of a six-game homestand and improved to 11-3-3 as the host.

The Coyotes did so despite starter Mike Smith getting pulled in the second period after yielding three goals on 10 shots faced. Thomas Greiss stopped all 15 shots he faced in 37:38 of relief.

Smith is 4-3-2 with a 2.24 GAA in 11 career starts versus the Blue Jackets, who snapped a three-game series slide with a 1-0 shootout victory at home in the most recent meeting on March 16 of last season.

Columbus, though, has lost three straight and eight of its past 10 in Phoenix.

01/02 10:40:20 ET

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