Friday, February 12, 2010

Four Lines Deep - 2/12/10

Canucks at Blue Jackets; Nationwide Arena
7 p.m. (EST); Fox Sports Ohio (HD)
The Canucks feel like they've been on the road for a really long time.

Have you ever been on a road trip that started with good music, a bag of cheddar pretzel Combos and a full cooler -- and then one of the wheels fell off the car? The Canucks are going through one of those trips right now.  Did I mention that they have 14 consecutive road games? Yes folks -- that's an NHL record. After starting out with a road win in Toronto, they dropped three of four, with the only win coming in a shootout against the struggling Bruins.

However, they might be coming out of it. They shut-out Florida last night 3-0, and their big threats such as Henrik Sedin (1a) and Alex Burrows (1g) found their way back onto the stat sheet after a notable absence over the previous four games. Luongo had 31 saves, but the hapless Panthers don't have much bite. They hit FIVE posts and squandered a  5-on-3 with too many men on the ice. 

Regardless, the Canucks are a tough team to handle on any given night. They score a bunch of goals (188; 3.14/g) and don't let the opposition score too often (143/2.39). They have the fourth best goals differential in the league (+45). The Jackets clearly don't get any kind of a break after tackling the Sharks on Wednesday. However, the CBJ seem to be brimming with confidence -- the next big test will be seeing how they handle some adversity and the Canucks certainly have the roster to add some of that to the mix.
First Line: Exploit the chinks in the armor. Due to injuries and the demands of a long road schedule, the Canucks will have some faces on the ice tonight that aren't seen too often. Former Jackets' defenseman Aaron Rome has seem limited action this season, but was given more than 18 minutes of ice time last night and finished a +1 against the Panthers. With the Canucks missing Willie Mitchell and Bieksa, the blueline simply isn't as strong as normal. Further, Andrew Raycroft will be in net. He's got decent stats this year (5-4/2.17 GAA/.912 SV), but he's only made five starts in the past three months. He lost four of the five and the Canucks were outscored 22-13 in those games.

Second Line: Make the twins see triple.  Just as it was the case with San Jose, the Jackets have to lock down the top line with the Sedins and Burrows. That line is a combined +76 and accounts for more than a third of the team's goals.  It's likely to assume that Pahlsson and company will be assigned the task of harassing the top line again and that will require a full commitment from each forward. The Jackets did a really good job of limiting quality chances for the Sharks on Wednesday, much of which was due to solid backchecking. The Sedins have to get some aggressive checking, or they will carve up the Jackets again.

Third Line: Lather. Rinse. Repeat.  It's pretty clear that the Jackets are figuring out a formula for success and it's not too complex. They have to continue playing aggressively and rolling four lines with some "jump." The transition game has been much faster and effective, and that's due in large part to improved play in the center of the ice and responsible passes out of the defensive zone. A steady diet of hitting helps quite a bit as well -- I'd like to see Umberger ensure that Kesler shows up for the Olympics with some eye paint. Despite taking two penalties, I hope that Boll continues to punish on the forecheck as well.

Fourth Line: Keep Mason-wide Rocking.  This one is for the fans. I will be in attendance with Top Shelf this evening, and we'll do our best to keep up the energy. Mason clearly takes inspiration from the crowd and the fans have to do their part to make Nationwide a hostile environment. The CBJ won't win tonight if Mason doesn't continue to stand on his head. I continue to believe that the playoffs are nearly impossible to make, but if the Jackets are going to keep things interesting, the home crowd must be more of a factor down the stretch. Vancouver is tired and they've just played in southern Florida the last few nights -- so they'll be dragging from the schedule and the shocking change in climate.

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