Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Four Lines Deep - 1/12/10

CBJ at St. Louis Blues; Scottrade Center
8 p.m. (EST); Fox Sports Ohio (HD)

Although he has no relevance whatsoever to tonight's game against the St. Louis Blues, Blues legend John Lee Hooker was one of the most awesome dudes to ever walk the Earth, and probably a Jackets fan.

St.  Louis is a cool town. It has a giant arch, plenty of beer and some of the best blue's bars in the U.S. Recently, it is also a tough place for the Jackets to earn two points.  The Jackets and the Blues play very similar styles, but the Jackets have had trouble in matching the physical intensity of the match-up and were dominated in the second half of the season last year. 

The Jackets have won three in a row and built some momentum after the "Sweep of Alberta," with a shutout win over Dallas on Sunday night. Mathieu Garon was unbelievable, and will be starting between the pipes again. 

St. Louis has been through a very similar season to the Jackets. After under performing for the first half of the season and watching their young players plateau in development, General Manager John Davidson sacked Andy Murray and promoted Davis Payne to interim coach on Jan. 2.  The Jackets obviously haven't made a coaching change, but have been struggled through adversity and plenty of losses.

The Jackets hold a slight edge in special teams, however,  St. Louis has a dominating PK unit, currently working at 86 percent (4th best in NHL). Their powerplay unit has not been very good, converting at 15 percent and thus earning the 27th ranking in the league.  The PK unit for the Jackets has been on a steady rise (currently 11th in NHL) -- I credit a lot of that to the active stick of Vermette up top and the blueliners moving bodies from the crease so that Mason and Garon can get a good look and angle on the shots. The powerplay has continued to generate good opportunities (8th in NHL) -- I really like having Jurcina fire his cannon from the point.

St. Louis has been brutal at home. They haven't won at Scottrade since the middle of December and have only one win in the last 10 home games. Prior to winning on the road in LA on Saturday, the Blues had dropped seven games in a row. Sound familiar? It's tough to see if this Blues team is starting a resurgence as it appears the Jackets are doing. A coaching change can alter the identity of a team -- for the better or for the worse. It seems like this St. Louis team is still trying to grasp theirs. Time will tell if the Jackets were best served by not making a change behind the bench.

The "TV Line" (Torres, Vermette,Voracek) is getting great ratings and attracting plenty of viewers. They have benefited from solid two-way play from Vermette, the aggressive scoring instincts of Torres and the raw speed and energy of Voracek. This line is a lot to handle right now.  It looks like Vermette is finally settling in at the center position and he has been brilliant. It has strengthened the entire line.

The first line (Nash, Juice, Umberger) has not been clicking very effectively.  They've been pushed on the perimeter too much and Nash has been lacking the extra gear that defines so many of his scoring opportunities. It's not uncommon for Nash to go through a scoring drought, but we always forget about them because when it rains for him...it really pours. He'll get off the slide very soon - and perhaps even tonight.  Umberger had four points, including a hat trick, the last time the two squads met. I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him factor into tonight's game on the score sheet.

Games between these two teams are always tight checking, but there could be some fireworks. Speaking of fireworks, how great would it be to get Dorsett back on the ice? Both teams allow more than 3 goals per game, although the Jackets have really tightened up the goals against in the last few weeks.

If the game comes down to a track meet - which hopefully it won't - I like the Jackets chances nonetheless. They have more firepower and are quickly regaining a scoring touch. Chris Mason is a pretty decent netminder (.908/ 2.65) , and he has the benefit of a dependable defensive corps in front of him - although I was surprised to see that Brewer is -15. Ouch. Kariya is due back tonight for the Blues and he will do nothing but help the team. However, Garon has been rock solid and the d-men are supporting him with smart checking and shot blocking. Speaking of the d-men, who would you replace when Russell comes back from injury? I really like the way Jurcina has been playing and with his heavy right-handed shot, he may open up some space on the bench for Stralman. We'll table that discussion for later.

The last three games have provided a great lesson in how the Jackets need to play to win -- we'll get a better idea tonight if they can sustain it.

No comments:

Post a Comment