Monday, November 30, 2009

Four Lines Deep - 11/30/09

Blues at Blue Jackets - Nationwide Arena
7 p.m. (EST); Fox Sports Ohio (HD)

TJ Oshie, pictured above, is not on Rick Nash's Christmas card list.

The Jackets will find themselves in familiar company on Monday evening - not just in a division opponent, but with a team that just gave away a lead late in the game. St. Louis gave up the tying goal with less than a minute remaining to Detroit on Saturday night -- and then they lost in a shootout. Sound familiar?

In 24 games, St. Louis is 10-9-5 and sits in fifth place in the Central. Due to injuries, the Blues had a devastating start to the season last year, before becoming one of the hottest teams in the league and earning a playoff spot. The game they clinched a spot was against the Jackets, by the way. The Blues don't quit, no matter what the score or their record. Prior to the shootout loss to Detroit, St. Louis had won four of five, including a win over scorching hot Nashville. The game against the Jackets marks the first of a three game road swing.

St. Louis does not score a lot of goals -- they've only scored 60 on the year. As such, their powerplay isn't much of a threat and is only converting at a (league worst) rate of 12.6 percent. Winger David Perron leads the team in scoring with nine goals. However, they've only allowed 62 goals against, and that is 28 fewer than the Jackets. Netminder Chris Mason has been very solid this year - even without much goals support - and getting the lion's share of the starts.  As such, it shouldn't be a surprise to learn that the Blues' leading point scorer is blueliner Erik Johnson (3 g/14 a/+8). The Blues always show up ready to play the Jackets and they have dominated the series lately -- both on the scoreboard and on the body. Remember the sparring between Rick Nash and TJ Oshie? Check out the video link. Hopefully, Rick remembers and intends to exact some payback. The Jackets need Nash to set the tone in this game.

First Line: Get Nashty.  Nash's goal scoring had slowed to a more normal human being level over the last five games, but he tallied in the Calgary game and tends to score more at home. This has been discussed to death, but he needs to answer the bell. Howson said that the answers to the team's slump lie within the dressing room, and those answers have to start with the Captain. He has to come out with bad intentions, and not just make an impact on the scorers sheet -- he has to hit some people and get nasty in the defensive zone. He was a real threat on the PK to start the season, and a breakaway could make a great statement for the whole team tonight.  And it would be fine to see a big hit on Oshie.

Second Line: Win the special teams war. The Jackets have an excellent powerplay and have continued to find success even while the rest of the team's game is slumping. Stralman, Tyutin and Brassard have done a great job of distributing the puck and everyone is looking for opportunities to get shots through. The Blues have an excellent penalty kill (83%) and sit at third best in the Western Conference. The Jackets have to win that matchup, as goals have been fleeting during five on five. Further, the Jackets can afford to be aggressive with the body, as the Blues have the league's worst powerplay. The penalty kill has done a great job with blocking shots recently, now they just need to capitalize on their opportunities to clear the zone. That commitment starts with Jan Hejda.

Third Line: Get the lead. Don't give it back.  Hopefully, this has already become painfully obvious to the Jackets. They simply have to manage the flow of the game much, much better. On paper, the Jackets have a lot more firepower than the Blues and should be able to capitalize on that. Strangely enough, that hasn't been the challenge this year -- it's been playing with the lead. Once the Jackets can strike an effective balance between aggression and responsibility, they should start stacking up the wins. Let's start tonight, shall we?

Fourth Line: Put the passes on the tape. As a team, the passing efficiency has been really terrible lately. It has been a long time since I've seen the Jackets make so many "no look" passes, pushing the puck up the ice without a target in mind, and banging passes into the skates of teammates on the rush. It has created a lot of defensive and neutral zone turnovers, and a fair number of those turnovers have ended up in the Jackets' net. The Jackets practice seamless breakouts a great deal, so I'm not sure why they're having so many problems. There has been a lot of line shifting, but I have to believe it's just an overall lack of focus. Poor passing exacerbates an already suspect defense and neutralizes the great team speed and transition game of the Jackets. That has to be better against the Blues, or the game will be much more challenging than we already expect.

1 comment:

  1. Honestly, I'd forgotten about those hits on Nash by Oshie. It would be nice to see the captain respond with some of the like.