Thursday, December 10, 2009

Four Lines Deep - 12/10/09

Jackets at Nashville Predators; The Death Star
8 p.m. (EST); Fox Sports Ohio

The Nashville Predators, referred to as "Darth Vader" by Coach Hitchcock, love having the Jackets as guests.

As fans, we know the Nashville Predators. The Jackets know the Nashville Predators. And most importantly, the Predators know the Predators. They have retained a consistent style of hockey since the inception of the franchise, and as such, you know what you're going to get from them every single night.

The Predators went on a torrid pace in November and emerged from the bottom of the division to a viable contender in the West. The Preds are (14-5-1) in their last 20. Impressive. Nobody really saw this coming as they made very few alterations to their lineup in the off-season, and they just don't have a lot of goal scoring support. Or so we thought. Players such as Martin Erat have stepped it up, and he had a hat trick on home ice against a very respectable Vancouver team earlier this week. The Predators are 2-2 in their last four, but the Jackets haven't won in Nashville since in THREE years ago. Think they're due?

The Jackets earned a much-needed win against Florida last night, and Mason earned a much-needed shutout. The team was in dire need of confidence, and hopefully found some in the 3-0 victory. That being said, Florida is a pretender and Nashville is a contender. Last night's win will quickly lose it's luster if the Jackets fail to get a point this evening. Preferably two. The division race is heating up quickly, and as Hitch eluded to in his post-game presser last night, some of the teams in the West (LA, Phoenix, Nashville) are starting to take off.

Regardless of whether it makes much sense or not, the Jackets benefit from hard-working grinders like Murray and Dorsett in the lineup. Certainly, that style of play is needed against the Predators, who don't give up many goals (82) and have extremely dependable goaltending in Pekka Rinne. As a side note, if Mase ends up with the start tonight, he could really earn some more confidence if he clearly outperforms Rinne. Certainly, Garon could get back in his groove with a solid outing as well.

There isn't any complex strategy to win this game -- the Jackets just need to replicate the play from last night. First off, the defense needs to play with a comparable sense of urgency -- they jumped on loose pucks, skated the puck out of harm's way and jumped on opponents behind the net.

The forwards need to dominate the faceoff circle (again), limit turnovers in the defensive zone and drive hard to the net. Rinne has a quick glove and the Jackets will have to throw pucks and bodies at the net to shake him. Hopefully, Chimmer and Brass can carry their newfound momentum forward, and it would be great to have Rick Nash dent the twine. He was really gripping his stick in the offensive zone last night and ripping slappers as opposed to driving the net. Rinne won't be caught sleeping on a deep slapper, so I hope he drives hard to the net to create scoring opportunities.

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