Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Four Lines Deep - 11/11/09

Jackets vs. Detroit Red Wings - Nationwide Arena
7 p.m. (EST); Fox Sports Ohio

Former CBJ forward, Jason Williams, has returned to the Red Wings and become the latest mark on the injury report for an ailing, and aging, team.

This is about as big of a game as you can have in November. First rematch since the playoffs. First division game for the Jackets. And last, but certainly not least, tonight's tilt marks the 1,000th game for Hitch minding the bench. By the way, his first game coached was against the Red Wings. Needless to say, there should be a lot of energy tonight.

Detroit is about as healthy as Chrysler right now. Which is to say, not very healthy at all. They have lost several key forwards, such as Filppula, Franzen and most recently, Jason Williams with a broken fibula. The defensive core is still led by future Hall of Famer Nicklas Lidstrom (1-4-5/+8). Osgood (2.77 GAA/.902 sv pct) continues to mind the net regularly, and has been playing adequately. With the loss of so many key forwards, he is not getting the goal support that he typically enjoys. To date, the Wings have scored 43 goals, but have a very uncharacteristic goal differential of -5.

Like the Jackets, Detroit has been off since Saturday night. Neither team played particularly well, although Columbus still earned a 3-2 victory and Detroit lost 5-1 to Toronto. Toronto is on a bit of a surge with the return of Phil Kessel, but Detroit still had to be pretty upset with that game. How will they react?

First Line:  Make Mason's crease a no parking zone.  This means Holmstrom. "Homer," as he's called by his linemates, has spent enough time in the Jackets' crease throughout the years to have his address changed. Last year, he received plenty of nasty messages from the new tenants -- Commodore and Hejda. And Rusty abused him during the playoffs as well. Regardless, Holmstrom is leading the Wings in goals (8) and the Jackets can count on him trying to make commotion around the net.

Second Line: Forwards have to neutralize the points in the defensive zone. Much of Detroit's offense, both in its transition game and in its sustained attack, originates from the defense. Lidstrom and Rafalski are tremendous offensive talents, and they always get their shots through. If they don't score, there are red sweaters around the net (see Homer) to bang in rebounds. Brad Stuart, who plays with a nasty edge and has a strong slapshot, has just been put back on the PP unit as well. The Jackets' forwards can't afford to take any shifts off in the defensive zone.

Third Line:  Remember the playoffs. The Jackets lost four straight to this team in the playoffs. That has to provide some extra energy. The Jackets are young (youngest in the league), competitive and eager for success. You know that those losses were remembered during quite a few summer workouts. The Wings are the Wings -- one of the best franchises in all of professional sports. However, they are old (oldest in the league) and they've had quite a bit of transition in the lineup. Most notably, they've lost a lot of offensive firepower from trades and injuries. When I attended practice this week, I noticed that Boll and Dorsett has switched lines -- good to see Boller back on the fourth for tonight's game. That line will be counted upon to set the physical tone for the game.

Fourth Line:  Rule the neutral zone.  Even with some many injuries and new faces in the lineup, the Wings are still capable of carving up their opponents' defensive pressure with their breakout. Lidstrom, Zetterberg, Draper, Datsyuk, Holmstrom, Rafalski, etc., have all been in the system long enough to effectively mentor anyone new that pops into the lineup. Led by some of the top puck-moving defensemen in the league, they make the transition game look like a jet runway -- they move fast and take off faster. The Jackets have to neutralize that deadly counter-attack with gritty, and responsible, play in the neutral zone. If the Jackets can do that, they stand a good chance of creating some odd-man rushes and leveraging their speed on the outside.

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