It’s been awhile since I’ve been able to do a proper game preview, but the Jackets are in the midst of their most solid stretch of hockey since mid- to late-November. They’ve gone 6-2-2 in their last 10, good for 14 points—including a solid win last night in Pittsburgh (4-1, box/Highlights) to make it three wins in a row. They’re now up to 12th in the conference, and just four points out of a playoff spot; both are the highest/closest they’ve been since early December when their swoon began. The Sharks, however, are even hotter: They’ve won nine of 12, and have lost in regulation just once in that span. They’re coming off of back-to-back road shutouts, including last night in Washington. In short, it’s going to take the best effort for Columbus, but they need to keep building, and therefore heading in the right direction: up the standings.
Season Matchups This is the fourth and final matchup between these two teams this season:
1. 10/08/10 – San Jose 3, Columbus 2 – (in Stockholm, Sweden) – recap
2. 10/9/10 – Columbus 3 @ San Jose 2 – OT (in Stockholm, Sweden) – recap
3. 11/20/10 – Columbus 3 @ San Jose 0 – box – Highlights
4. 02/09/11 – San Jose @ Columbus – 7:00 PM EST
These two teams haven’t met since November in an odd scheduling quirk due to the back-to-back games to open the year in Sweden. They played three times in the Jackets’ first 18 games, and now here we are 36 games later.
The Sharks are making a crazed run at the top of the standings—a place they seem to be almost every year. They have points in nine straight games (8-0-1), and thanks to their back to back shutouts in Boston and Washington on this trip, have not been scored on in over 134 minutes (i.e., almost seven periods). And that marks one of the bigger differences in this year’s Sharks team: they used to be know for straight offense and average defense. This year they’ve approached a much more balanced look, scoring less but also giving up less.
Part of that has to do with injuries, and not coincidentally they’ve gotten healthy and are starting to click at the right time. The Power Play is dangerous as always, though the Jackets have been decidedly better during their three game winning streak, killing off 15 of 16 penalties. Columbus has also been successful killing off three 5-on-3 Power Plays during that stretch.
And, one of the reasons the PK has been better is thanks to the improved play of Steve Mason. He’s won his last three starts, including a shutout of Detroit last Friday night. He’s finally managed to get his save percentage above 90%, which is a mark he hasn’t seen most of the year. Mason has been getting extra practice time with coach Dave Rook, and it’s clearly paying off: he looks more comfortable, more assertive, and seems to be seeing a lot more pucks that maybe he was guessing on earlier in the year.
The Jackets’ offense has been better of late, as well. They’ve scored 14 goals in their last four games to bump their goals-per-game mark into the top-20 for the first time in awhile ,as well. They’re being paced by their top two lines, as all six guys have been contrbuting since the All Star Break. All six guys on the top two lines have goals over the past four games; this is a combination the Jackets need to maintain if they are serious about knocking off some of these better teams and really making some noise in the playoff race.
This is going to be probably one of the toughest games coming up between now and the trading deadline, since the Sharks are at full power roster-wise and are playing as well—or better—than anyone in the league. A win tonight for Columbus may signal that this team is serious about making a playoff push.
DP is a native north-eastern Ohioan who has been living in Columbus since 1999. DP's main area of concentration here at WFNY is the Columbus Blue Jackets hockey team, and you can catch his weekly 5-Hole columns each Tuesday. During the summers, you can also catch up on all the Columbus Clippers news that's fit to print in his Clip Show columns. In his spare time, he works in publishing, plays the drums, and wastes hundreds of dollars on Browns season tickets.