The Jackets are back in action tonight after a couple of off days following their roller-coaster ride of a weekend. They get back at it tonight against the only team that finished behind them in the Western Conference standings last season. The Jackets have won four of five, including two of three at home. The Oilers got off to a great start winning their first two games, but have since dropped five in a row (four in regulation), and are currently winless on the road. If the Jackets can build off their last two solid wins, all signs point to being able to win again tonight. But, as Calgary showed last Friday, games aren’t played in blog previews.
|LW:||Dustin Penner||Magnus Paajarvi||Taylor Hall||Ryan Jones|
|C:||Sam Gagner||Shawn Horcoff||Gilbert Brule||Colin Fraser|
|RW:||Ales Hemsky||Jordan Eberle||Andrew Cogliano||Steve MacIntyre|
|D:||Ryan Whitney||Theo Peckham||Jim Vandermeer|
|D:||Tom Gilbert||Ladislav Smid||Jason Strudwick|
Columbus Blue Jackets:
|LW:||Rick Nash||R.J. Umberger||Kyle Wilson||Nikita Filatov|
|C:||Derick Brassard||Antoine Vermette||Sammy Pahlsson||Derek MacKenzie|
|RW:||Jakub Voracek||Derek Dorsett||Chris Clark||Jared Boll|
|D:||Jan Hejda||Rostislav Klesla||Fedor Tyutin|
|D:||Anton Stralman||Marc Methot||Nick Holden|
EDM – 2.71 gpg (t18th NHL)
CBJ – 2.50 gpg (t26th NHL)
EDM – 3.57 gapg (28th NHL)
CBJ – 2.75 gapg (t16th NHL)
EDM – 16.2% (14th NHL)
CBJ – 12.1% (t21st NHL)
EDM – 65.6% (30th NHL)
CBJ – 83.8% (t13th NHL)
This is the first matchup of the season. Columbus finished 3-1-0 vs. Edmonton last season.
10/28/10 – Edmonton @ Columbus – 7:00 PM EDT
12/16/10 – Columbus @ Edmonton – 9:00 PM EST
02/05/11 – Edmonton @ Columbus – 7:00 PM EST
03/03/11 – Columbus @ Edmonton – 9:00 PM EST
Based on last year’s records, this is hardly an exciting matchup. 14 vs 15 in the standings, though in fairness the Jackets were in 14th by a pretty wide margin, hehehe. I digress. Top pick Taylor Hall is in the building for the Oilers, and the Jackets are riding a nice little stretch of four wins in five games, including back-to-back signature wins on the road in Chicago and home against Philly. Columbus has been a feast-or-famine club so far through eight games, and right now they’re living in gluttony. But, as we know, that can always change in a heartbeat.
The bread and butter for Columbus in their wins so far has been defense: when it’s good, they team have kept very good teams off the score-sheet (Chicago, Philly, San Jose), but when it’s bad they become mired in giving up endless odd-man rushes, and they get abused (see: Opener, Home and Flames, Calgary). Consider that—despite giving up a combined 11 goals in two of their eight games—the Jackets are still basically in the top-half of the league in defense, and you arrive at the secret to their early success.
Mason has followed that same pattern in goal. He’s either lights-out, or prone to giving up two shots from the point on a given night. He was stout his last time out against the Blackhawks on the road, so hope springs eternal that Jekyl is in net tonight, and not Mr. Hyde that we saw against the Flames last Friday.
On Special Teams, the Jackets’ Penalty Kill has been solid of late. While the Power Play was wretched for most of the first six games, it has come to life a bit in the last two after coach Scott Arniel made some sweeping line changes from top to bottom before Saturday’s tilt. And, it needs to be good again tonight. Seriously, look at Edmonton’s PK %. It’s groin-kickingly bad. If Columbus can’t get anything going against a PK unit playing that badly, there needs to be some serious re-evaulating (and bag skating?) going on.
Along the lines of line-changes, moving Nash onto a line with Brassard and Voracek—and putting The Cap back at his natural LW—has paid immediate dividends. The line has teamed up for slick goals in the last two games, including one on the PP Monday night. Brassard looks like a kid on Christmas morning, as the pressure to deliver seems to have lessened with goals in back-to-back contests.
Injuries-wise, Ethan Moreau misses his first chance to get some payback against the club that waived him in the off-season. It’s a tough loss for Columbus, as the original checking line of Teeth–Pahlsson–Umberger was our best line through the first 4+ games before Moreau got hurt. That said, they’ve been able to keep plugging along so far while they wait for his hand injury to heal. In addition to that, Mike Commodore is still out, Kristian Huselius is out again with a foot/ankle injury, and Kris Russell is playing his first game in five due to a groin injury; his strength is his skating when healthy, so it remains to be seen how effective he’ll be since he hasn’t been able to skate/practice in about 10 days.  Russell is, in fact, not playing tonight. Precautionary. Nick Holden has been solid enough, so there’s no rush to get Russell back, especially against a team scuffling like Edmonton is.
For Edmonton, it’s been a long road. Just four years ago they made a run to the Cup Finals (losing to Carolina), and now they’re coming off a last-in-the-league season that earned them the top pick in this summer’s draft (Hall). So far, their goals-per-game average is a touch better than the Jackets, but in fairness 11 of their 19 goals came in three games (2-0-1). Their defense has been getting blistered, giving up four or more goals in all of their five losses. We’re hearing that backup goalie Devan Dubnyk will be making his first start of the season tonight, so hopefully the Jackets can capitalize. The Jackets have managed to fire 65 shots on net in their last two games—after a season-low 22 against Calgary the game before—and that is a trend that needs to continue. Test the goalie early and often, and get traffic in front of the net.
All in all, I believe that if the Jackets play like they’re capable (and have played against the Hawks and Flyers the last two times out), they’re going to rudely send Edmonton on their way. But this Jackets team is capable of–and notorious for–coming out flat in games they should win on paper. And, since guys like Ales Hemsky tend to beat the Jackets’ defense like they stole something, obviously anything’s possible.
Next Game For The Jackets
Saturday, October 30, 2010
9:00 PM EDT
Columbus Blue Jackets @ Colorado Avalanche