Friday, October 30, 2009

Four Lines Deep 10/30/09

Pittsburgh (10-2) vs Columbus (6-5)
Nationwide Arena, 7:00 pm.
TV: FSN-O (no HD, again) / FS-P (HD)
Last 5 games: PIT 4-1 / CBJ 1-4
Last Meeting: CBJ won 4-3 in a shootout back in March of last season.

First Line: Forwards Need To Play Defense. There is plenty of blame to go around when discussing the recent struggles for the Blue Jackets. Allowing 26 goals in the previous five games can't be blamed on one defect. But the defensive accountability of the forwards takes the brunt of the blame in my opinion. Yes the PK has been softer than cheese-whiz, and yes our best penalty killer (Jan Hejda) is on IR, but the defensive play of the forwards from the top line through the fourth line has been atrocious. Any hope of winning tonight's game will start and stop with the willingness of the forwards to play smarter and play harder in their own end.

Second Line: Penalty Kill Has To Regain Its Form.: Reason number two for the recent woes has been the PK. After ranking numero uno in the league through the first few weeks of the season, the Jackets are tied for 5th worse in PPGA (11). The aggressiveness we saw from the Jackets' penalty kill early on disappeared after Hejda was injured. Since then, opponents have had lots of room at the points to either fire bombs at the net or to feed the puck to the open shooter down low.

Third Line: Can Mason Keep His Cool. Steve Mason showed time and time again last season that not only was he a technically sound net minder, but he rarely got rattled when things got dicey. So far this season, he has struggled and is clearly not as comfortable in the crease as he once was. Can he keep his heart rate steady in a match up against the defending Stanley Cup Champions and Sid the Kid? It will be a tall order as the Penguins have the 6th most goals in the league and are averaging over 3 per game.

Fourth Line: The Crowd. Last year when the Pens came to town Pittsburgh fans made a ton of noise and the arena was a see-saw of cheering and booing as the teams engaged in a track meet of scoring opportunities and finished checks. Granted it was late in the season with playoff implications on the line, but I expect tonight's game to have fans of both teams ready to be "dug in" as Hitch would say. The Jackets are fragile right now given their recent performances and if their home arena is overrun by Pens fans it could make the home team even more jittery. If you are a Jackets fan and have the means, I highly recommend getting down the NWA for the game and helping the boys get a win. If you are a Pens fan, screw you. Stay home and watch it on FS-P in High Def.

Healthy Scratches: Prior to the last game Hitch said Jared Boll would stay in the lineup as long as he was healthy. In his first game back on the ice Boll had only 3:40 TOI. Granted Boll doesn't kill penalties and the Jackets spent much of that game on the PK. According the Columbus Dispatch Boll will be back in the press box tonight. Also, Nikita Filatov had arguably his best period of hockey this past game and was rewarded with the most ice team he has seen all season (8:43). Keep an eye on the young lad as he will certainly be looking to capitalize on the momentum. Jackets C Derick Brassard is back on the 2nd line after a brief demotion. Like Filatov, he will be wanting to prove to his coach he deserves the promotion. Finally, the Jackets will be wearing the white sweaters and the Penguins will be wearing their sissy blues. Yea.

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