Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Four Lines Deep - 12/9/09

Florida Panthers at Blue Jackets; Nationwide Arena
7 p.m. (EST); Fox Sports Ohio

The Jackets need to find ways to distract Tomas Vokoun tonight.

I would struggle trying to think of a time when the Jackets were more in need of a win. The players need a win. The coach needs a win. The general manager and the owners need a win. And most of all -- the fans need a win. Nobody wants to talk about the wheels falling off -- and that's because they haven't fallen off. Yet. But they're getting shaky. This team is in dire need of a shot of confidence and success. They've had stretches of playing the right way, and stretches of not playing the right way. But everyone knows they certainly have the talent to meet with success. For whatever reason, the Jackets have clearly had issues with maintaining focus -- and ultimately, that's an issue of leadership. Not necessarily leaders with the No. 61 on their sweater, because different leaders emerge at different points in the season. Right now, that could be Vermette, or Mason or Dorsett (who makes a welcome return to the lineup this evening). We don't know, and the team doesn't know, but that leader better show up soon.

Florida is coming to Nationwide on a three game losing streak. The Panthers have lost eight of nine. Much like the Jacket's, they've been squandering leads and giving up a lot of goals in the third period. They do not have very good special teams play, with the 29th ranked penalty kill and the 27th best power play. Further, they've given up almost as many goals as the Jackets (103).

Vokoun has played well this year, but has struggled recently. Regardless, he can still take over a game and he will shut down the Jackets if he has a chance to get square to the shot and maintains good sight lines. The top three scorers for Florida (Horton, Weiss, Reinprect) will likely find themselves on the first line tonight. They have combined for nearly 75 points. Weiss has some sick puck handling skills. The Jackets defensemen will have to be pretty physical with him to slow him down in the neutral zone and defensive zone. Once again, the Jackets are confronted by a struggling team - with poor special teams play - that has one line that's a true scoring threat. Sound familiar?

Regardless of which Jackets team shows up at Nationwide tonight, the keys to the game remain pretty simple.

Limit defensive zone turnovers - Tyutin and Stralman, please take these words to heart.

Don't play East Coast hockey - For those of you keeping score at home, this style doesn't suit the Jackets this year. Our history of Eastern dominance has ended, and that's because we try to match the open style played in the Eastern Conference. We simply aren't good enough on transition defense - or goal tending - to do it any longer. Tight checking and responsible play in the neutral zone will shut down the Panthers cold. Weighty, Dorsett and Boll...have at it.

Check hard in all three zones - The lack of a penalty kill and powerplay for the Panthers should allow the Jackets to play a little more reckless and provide the (still) highly effective powerplay units on the Jackets some opportunities to get on the board.

Get plenty of traffic in front of Vokoun - He has the skill to dominate a game; the Jackets need to utilize their size and strength to create havoc in the crease and let Russell, Tyutin and Stralman put pucks on the net from the points

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