Blue Jackets center Derick Brassard has been alongside his teammates for a disheartening five-game trip.

He has chatted with them, dined with them, practiced with them. He has done everything but what they needed most - play in the games.

The absence of the team's top center, out because of a bruised left hand, has grown in magnitude as the losses have mounted. Columbus has averaged just two goals in the past four games and his usual linemates, Rick Nash and Jake Voracek, have a combined one assist.

"He's such an important part of the team, but injuries give opportunities to other guys," Nash said. "And we've had guys step up and help us."

The Jackets went 3-0-1 in the first four games after Brassard's injury in the opening seconds of a game Feb. 16 against Los Angeles. But they have been unable to maintain that level with centers moving up in the lineup and wingers playing out of position. Beyond Brassard's passing, his ability to finish chances is sorely missed. He remains the club's fourth-leading goal scorer with 14.

Coach Scott Arniel refuses to use Brassard's absence as an excuse. The center was expected to have his hand X-rayed soon after the club arrived home yesterday. He was originally to miss two to three weeks. Brassard is taking part in practices, but no contact drills.

Rookie defenseman Grant Clitsome watched Friday's game against Calgary from the press box as a healthy scratch. It was the first time Arniel had sat out the hard-shooting defenseman since he was promoted Jan. 10.