Sunday, January 10, 2010

Four Lines Deep - 1/10/10

Blue Jackets vs. Dallas Stars; Nationwide
7 p.m. (EST); Fox Sports Ohio

Dallas forward James Neal has been laughing his way to the net this year -- especially against the Jackets.

It's starting to feel like old times. Modin is hurt. There is an odd situation brewing with a highly paid defenseman (his name rhymes with Lommodore). And the Jackets are on the verge of missing the playoffs in the beginning of January. But those two big road wins in Alberta have the players, coaches and maybe even a few fans feeling like these aren't old times. Maybe this team can rally and make things interesting in spring hockey. We'll start to get a better picture tonight when the Jackets face the Dallas Stars (49 pts; 4th in Pacific) -- a team which has dominated Nationwide and earned a win in its last four visits.

And then of course, there is the matter of James Friggin' Neal. He has somehow dominated the Jackets - both mentally and physically - this season. He must be made of 185 pounds of kryptonite, because nobody dressed in red and blue wants to come within a mile of him. Seriously. There was never any response for his dirty hit on Dorsett from behind, and we can't forget that he derailed Brassard's brilliant rookie campaign last year. Or can we? It will be interesting to see if he is treated with such reverence in his first visit to Nationwide this season.

The Good:  Dallas has been wildly inconsistent this year, and especially fragile on the road--they have seven wins in 22 attempts. Previous to beating the Islanders 4-3 on Friday, the Stars had lost three in a row. They are missing Ribiero, who is an offensive weapon and absolutely deadly in shootouts. For those of you keeping score at home, the shootout hasn't been very kind to the Jackets this year. Regular defenseman, Nicklas Grossman, is also out tonight. Marty Turco hasn't played well on the road recently and is 1-5-2 with a 3.91 GAA in his last eight road starts.

The Bad:  Kris Russell is out with an injury, and the Jackets really benefit from his ability to skate the puck out of trouble and join the rush.  Further, Swedish Olympian Modin is out with (another) injury, and he would be a great asset against a physical (and sometimes dirty) Dallas team on the forecheck. When the Jackets last played in Dallas (Dec. 23rd), they didn't show much willingness to meet the physical and aggressive style of the Stars, which is often led by Steve Ott. Rick Nash, who typically plays very well against the Stars, hasn't scored a goal in eight games. The first line doesn't generate nearly as many opportunities if he can't find his extra gear to find some separation from top blueline pairings.

The Ugly: The Stars make themselves right at home in Nationwide -- they are 12-2-2 there all time. Marty Turco also plays exceptionally well at Nationwide -- he is 8-0-0 there with a 1.96 GAA.   Despite much more consistent defensive play in the last several weeks from the Jackets, they still own the worst goals differential in the Western Conference by a wide margin.  They haven't fared well against "hot" top lines, and they will be facing a Dallas top line that features red-hot Swedish Olympian Eriksson and Brad Richards as the set-up man. They have a combined 95 points.

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