Saturday, December 19, 2009

Four Lines Deep - 12/19/09

Blue Jackets at The Avalanche; Pepsi Center
9 p.m. (EST); Fox Sports Ohio (HD)

The Avalanche surprised many in the league with such a strong start, and to their credit, they've maintained very solid hockey 30+ games into the season. They are tied for first with Calgary in the Northwest Division with 44 points.

Colorado is wrapping up a five-game homestand. They lost badly (6-1) to Washington on Tuesday night and will surely be looking to give a better showing to the home crowd. With Hejduk likely rejoining the lineup, the Jackets will have their hands full with this Avalanche team -- especially with Statsny and Wolski, who anchor the top line.

The penalty kill percentages for both teams are nearly identical, but Columbus holds the edge in the powerplay. The Jackets didn't find too much rhythm to their powerplay on Thursday against a formidable Phoenix PK unit, but one gets the sense that the "bounces" are starting to go in the Jackets favor. The most obvious proof of this was Tyutin's missed one-timer that evolved into a perfectly timed pass to Nash for his powerplay tally. If the Jackets just sharpen up the zone entry and point passing, the unit should continue to produce. Columbus has been playing much better on the kill, but should keep an eye on Wolski -- one-third of his points (11) have come on the power play.

The Jackets will spend the next week on the road and it's obviously a critical juncture in the season. A good time to build momentum and some more fortitude. Despite the fact they only earned one point in the last two games, there were some meaningful positives to draw upon. First - and certainly most important - the defense has really tightened up. Methot should probably get comfortable in the press box, because Roy is playing very well. Both Mason and Garon have also looked pretty sharp, and the defense in general has really cut down on turnovers and miscommunication behind the blue line. When these two teams last met, the Jackets did not play well -- nor did they play with much passion. I see it playing out differently tonight:

Oh Captain, My Captain: Rick Nash has put the hammer down in the last few games. Whether he realizes it or not, the team draws so much energy from his style of play. He is quickly returning to form and leading the charge and I expect another strong game from him tonight. Adam Foote is logging more than 20 minutes per game, so it's likely he'll see some of Nash -- I don't see Foote being able to contain a determined Rick Nash at this point in his career.

The Chemistry Set: It's the holiday season and maybe some kids still ask for one of these. Maybe not. Regardless, I'm asking for one. The lines Hitch has set for tonight make the more sense to me than the lines have for a long time. I'm sure Hitch is relieved to hear of my review. This team needs to start building some consistency and chemistry. I'd like to see Dorsett in this mix when he's healthy, but I still think the top two forward lines look as they should. Umberger is on fire and has earned a spot on the top line. Specifically, I'm glad to see Brassard on the No. 2 line. He needs to build some confidence with guys that can finish -- I still think he has No. 1 line potential, but he's not going to improve with eight minutes of ice time between grinders. Hitch prides himself on rolling four lines, much as Phoenix did to the Jackets on Thursday. The ability to do so will be crucial as the season wears on, and there is a tremendous opportunity to build a stronger identity among those four lines on this road trip. With all this said, Hitch could change every line by the second period.

Keep on shooting:  As we discussed before the Phoenix game, there's only one way to get out of a scoring slump...shoot the puck. They took 39 shots on net vs. Phoenix, and missed the net another 15 times. They need to get 35 or more shots on Anderson -- the Jackets are due. Voracek and Huselius are really due. Keep the pucks coming from all angles and there will be some juicy rebounds to pounce upon.

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