Here we are: after this game there are only 30 to go. The Jackets have been reeling after two lackluster performances at home against teams they really should have—and needed to—beat. Tonight is the front end of a tough road-and-home back-to-back, and Columbus needs to come out and right the ship, lest the playoff race they were right in the thick of not even one week ago were to pass them by. Pittsburgh has always been a bit of the proverbial “regional rivalry” given that before having a team of their own, Columbus hockey fans were evenly split between Pittsburgh and Detroit. Columbus/Pittsburgh games have always sold out here in Columbus, even when both teams were lousy.
Columbus Blue Jackets:
LW: Rick Nash – Fredrik Modin – Jason Chimera – Raffi Torres
C: Manny Malhotra – RJ Umberger – Jason Williams – Michael Peca
RW: Kristian Huselius – Jakub Voracek – Jared Boll – Derek Dorsett
D: Jan Hejda – Fedor Tyutin – Kris Russell
D: Mike Commodore – Rostislav Klesla – Christian Backman
G: Wade Dubielewicz
LW: Evgeni Malkin – Matt Cooke – Pascal Dupuis – Luca Caputi
C: Sidney Crosby – Jordon Staal – Maxime Talbot – Bill Thomas
RW: Petr Sykora – Tyler Kennedy – Miroslav Satan – Eric Godard
D: Ryan Whitney – Rob Scuderi – Hal Gill
D: Kris Letang – Mark Eaton – Brooks Orpik
G: Marc-Andre Fleury
CBJ – 2.65 gpg (21st NHL)
PIT – 3.02 gpg (9th NHL)
CBJ – 2.78 gapg (t12th NHL)
PIT – 3.04 gapg (t24th NHL)
CBJ – 11.8% (30th NHL)
PIT – 16.4% (t23rd NHL)
CBJ – 81.0% (17th NHL)
CBJ – 80.3% (21st NHL)
No prior matchups this season. Pittsburgh also travels to Columbus on March 12th.
The Jackets will have their hands full with the Penguins offense tonight. The top line of Malkin/Crosby/Sykora has a combined 187 points on the year, with a mind-boggling 64 goals and 123 assists between them. Malkin and Crosby are one-two in the league in overall scoring. In other words, as good as the Ottawa top line was that Columbus shut out last Friday night, this line is a whole different animal. Malkin has developed into one of the best—if not THE best–all-around scorers in the league at the ripe old age of 22. To top all of this cheery information off, consider that Columbus is giving back-up netminder Wade Dubielewicz his first start of the season tonight, finally electing to give the ailing Steve Mason a well-deserved night off. With the high-flying Sharks coming into Columbus tomorrow night, the Jackets had to play a game of “pick your poison” to give Mase a night off, and chose the Pittsburgh game. And, it is being reported that because he wasn’t able to practice on Thursday, Mason did not even travel to Pittsburgh with the team, so the pressure will be on Dubielewicz entirely.
It’s not all bad news for the Jackets tonight, though. First, for his career, The Dube (as I’ve taken to calling him for whatever reason) has had moderate success against the Pens, to the tune of a 3-1-0 record with a .914 save percentage in four starts. More importantly, consider two other stats: 1) The Penguins got off to a 12-4-2 start, and since then have gone 13-19-2 and currently sit outside playoff position in the Eastern Conference, and 2) They lead the NHL in both third-period come-from-behind wins (nine) AND third-period come-from-ahead losses (six). What these numbers say to me is the exact same thing that the “Team Rankings” numbers above show: Pittsburgh is not solid on defense or in goal, but has a good enough offense to make up for it at times.
Columbus must follow a similar blueprint to their shut-out win last Friday against Ottawa: they must shut down the uber-line of Malkin, Crosby, and Sykora. They must then take their chances against the lesser lines, and capitalize on timely chances. The biggest thing that needs to change from their previous two games (both losses) is the effort level. It just hasn’t been there these past two games. And, on top of that, the team seemed to be pressing the past few games, trying to make the extra pass when they just need to concentrate on shooting pucks and keeping the pressure on. That combination won’t fly these next two nights against two potent offenses, and moreover it won’t fly for any extended period of time if this club is serious about making the playoffs.
Much like I wrote in the St. Louis preview on Tuesday, Columbus needs to come out with a sense of urgency they simply have not had the past two games. They need to come out mad, push the energy level against a team that can’t play solid defense, and they need to keep the tough scoring line in check. The special teams cancel out tonight, but Columbus needs to maintain their discipline and play five-on-five, where they are at their best.
Side game notes:
- Jackets forward RJ Umberger grew up just outside of Pittsburgh, but lately hasn’t enjoyed his homecomings so much: “I’ve had some pretty good games there lately. At first, they were just booing me, which is kind of cool, really. But last year, when I played there with (Philadelphia), they were throwing stuff at my family. It was pretty wild. My mother-in-law got hit in the back of the head with a beer towel.”
- Jackets defenseman Marc Methot is suffering from the flu, and also did not travel with the team. Christian Backman will start in his place.
- For whatever reason, when the Jackets face Eastern Conference foes, they tend to have more success. Thanks to the NHL’s return to a more balanced schedule this year, that fact has helped Columbus: they are 8-2-1 against the East this season.
Next Game For The Jackets
Saturday, February 7, 2009
7:00 PM EST
San Jose Sharks at Columbus Blue Jackets