Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Four Lines Deep - 2/10/10

Sharks at Blue Jackets; Nationwide Arena
7 p.m. (EST); Fox Sports Ohio (HD)
The Sharks have kept their puck hunger on the road.

I don't want to be a "kill joy," but the Jackets face a much tougher challenge than an average Dallas team or a slumping group of Buffalo Sabres tonight. The Sharks are arguably the best team in the league right now and they've won the first three games on a six-game road trip. The Sharks have 20 wins on the road this season -- including their last eight -- and that's obviously a big reason why they're the best in the West and hold a 4-point lead over Chicago for that honor.

The Jackets have a lot of good energy right now and certainly seem to be embracing the Noel Era with some fun, high-tempo winning hockey. The true test of this team's improvement and emerging style of hockey will come during the next five days, as they face the three top teams in the division.

The Jackets will see a few familiar faces around Nationwide today. Jody Shelley pounded Colton Orr in Toronto in their last game -- should be interesting to see if he drops the gloves in Nationwide. On a side note, I had the honor of meeting Mr. Shelley once and couldn't have been more impressed by him. He is truly an outstanding individual. And I hope his team loses.  According to some fans commenting on David Pollak's Mercury News blog, our old friend (and Hitch translator) Manny Malhotra was limping badly in the airport after doing the "Bambi Splits" in Toronto.  Best to Manny, but I'd rather not have him available in the faceoff circle. On another side note, two-thirds of Pollak's post was about our little snow squall. I was on my way to Cleveland by 7 a.m. yesterday morning -- the West Coast is extraordinary but it does make you soft.

First Line: Turn off the faucet.  During the first two games of this season's series, the Jackets' blueline was absolutely flooded by the Sharks first line. Heatley hung a hat trick in the first game and Joe Thornton tied a franchise record with four assists. The second game wasn't as bad, but Heatley and Thornton both scored again. San Jose has tremendous offensive weapons - one of the best is blueliner - and Miami alum - Dan Boyle.  The Sharks' top line is disgusting it's so good -- they have combined for more than 200 points this season. The Jackets will have plenty of challenges in this game, but the chances for getting two points are zero if the CBJ can't hold this line in check -- Pahlsson will have to do yeoman's work in shutting down Thornton.

Second Line:  Stay Loose.   If the Jackets win this game, it's not going to happen without some adversity. This Sharks team is just too good to go quietly into the night. The Jackets must continue in their new mentality of "mistakes happen" and not to get rattled during the rough patches in the game. Good communication on the bench and on the ice will go a long way in keeping an even keel. This will be especially true for the blueliners and Mason.

Third Line:  Take a page from Detroit's playbook. The only team that has had any consistent success against the Sharks this year is Detroit. The Wings are 3-0 against the Sharks and have outscored them 10-4. By coincidence, the Wings are the next game for the Sharks and San Jose may be overlooking the CBJ in favor of that game. Regardless, we know the Wings, and we know the style the Wings play. Even in a "down year," they possess and pass the puck with great efficiency -- ultimately, so they can counterattack quickly and come at you from a bunch of different angles. If the Jackets can sustain the intense forecheck and speedy transition game they showed against Buffalo, they'll have a chance to overwhelm the Sharks' d-men and give Nabokov some problems.

Fourth Line:  Attack and then attack some more - and then attack even more in the third. The tables have finally turned -- the Jackets are now facing teams that are in the middle of extended road trips. San Jose played in Toronto on Monday and then had a bumpy trip to Cbus. They will be tired in the third, and I suspect that's why Noel had the Jackets doing conditioning drillls AFTER a spirited 50-minute practice the other day. He wants the Jackets to show some jump in the third period and take advantage of the scheduling drain on the visitors. Since they haven't played a game since Saturday, the Jackets should be able to bring a lot of pressure for 60 minutes tonight.

1 comment: