Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Four Lines Deep - 10/28/09

Phoenix has suffered from blown coverages on its PK recently.

Both squads are reeling right now. Phoenix has dropped its last two games on the roadtrip, and surrendered 10 goals in the process. Sound familiar? The Jackets are coming off a tough road trip and are in desperate need of re-establishing their commitment to playing aggressive hockey in all three zones.

First Line: Play defense first. Much has already been made of this by Hitch and the team at Puck Rakers, but it's a valid concern. The Jackets have been soft and inconsistent in the defensive zone during the last four games. The PK, formerly best in the league, was shredded out West. As a team, the Jackets gave up 22 goals during the road trip, and only 12 before. The good news is that we saw how well the Jackets can play defense in the first six games - even without Hejda in the lineup. They have the potential - now they just need to play to it.

Second Line: Nothing fancy needed.  Over the history of this series, the Jackets have scored some pretty goals on Phoenix, including a beautiful tic-tac-toe goal as recently as the last meeting on Oct. 10. However, when the Jackets get in the offensive zone, they need to get the puck on net and create traffic around the crease. Phoenix has only given up 22 goals in 10 games. That's the best in the Western Conference, folks. Jason LaBarbera is likely starting in net for Phoenix tonight, as Bryzgalov has been roughed up a bit on the road trip. He is still a very capable goaltender and has a .942 save percentage. He performed well in relief of Bryzgalov in New York. Safe to say, goals don't come easy against this team and there's only one way to play those types of teams. Put your big boys in front, screen the goalies' sight lanes and hope for some garbage around the net.

Third Line: Welcome back, Jared Boll.  The Jackets need to unleash the Cannonballs on Ice tonight for the home crowd, and Boll's return to the lineup couldn't be better timed. Hitch reaffirmed Boll's role on the team and claimed he wouldn't be scratched any more as long as he's healthy. That's a pretty strong endorsement, and also says that Hitch wants to keep some more grit in the lineup. A couple well-placed checks and perhaps a few gloves dropped to the ice would go a long way in building some energy on the bench. Look for a big game from him tonight.

Fourth Line: Enjoy the home cooking. The Jackets have yet to lose at home, and Nationwide has earned a reputation among visiting teams as a tough barn to earn points. Phoenix hasn't been tearing up the offensive end of the ice, and if the Jackets can get the first goal, both the bench energy and the home crowd will build some momentum. Certainly, Mason (3-0; 1.00 GAA) has played much better at home, and a few well-timed glove saves could have an equally positive effect. It feels like the Jackets have been on the road for a month, and I expect they'll return to Jackets hockey tonight in Nationwide.

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