Thursday, February 4, 2010

Four Lines Deep - 2/4/10

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

Claude Noel will be wearing a Jacket behind the bench on Thursday night, as he will look to earn his first win as an NHL head coach.

The Jackets don't need an excuse to be emotionally charged for a game with the Dallas Stars. Injuries, friendships, rivalries and scars all bear testament to the recent history of these two clubs facing each other on the ice. The sudden firing of Blue Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock yesterday, who won a Cup while coaching the Dallas Stars, only adds another layer of intrigue to the game. 

The departure of Ken Hitchcock deserves its own post and analysis, but as it pertains to this game, it will be very interesting to see how the young Jackets team responds to interim coach Claude Noel. Noel has been with the team since June 2007 and he certainly knows the system in place. Noel has promised not to make any sweeping lineup changes prior to tonight's game, but this blogger is paritcularly interested to see if he gives a line more than one period to gel and generate some energy. He has shown great success at the AHL level, which generally means that he excels at motivating and molding young talent into a cohesive team. Certainly, those would be good assets to bring to the head coaching job in Columbus, but time will tell if he can really do it.

Dallas (25-20-11) currently sits in 10th place in the Western Conference with 61 points. The Stars are not a particularly strong club on the road -- they have only eight victories as the visiting team this season. The Stars start their road trip in Columbus after an impressive win 4-2 against Minnesota on Tuesday night in Dallas. Veterans Modano and Turco are playing very well lately.  Some consider Dallas to be a dirty team, and with players such as Ott, Morrow and Barch in the lineup, it's not too difficult to see why. Regardless, they play hard and one can assume they'll be looking for revenge as they were shutout by the Jackets in the previous meeting.

First Line: There is no place like home. Who knows how the faithful in Nationwide will react to the coaching change, but the Jackets simply have to dominate in the biggest - and most important - homestand of the year. I'm not counting any playoff chickens just yet. I tend to agree with most that the playoffs are all but out of reach this year, but the team has to build some momentum in this last quarter of the season. It's crucial for the health of the franchise. I think the Jackets will come out on fire tonight -- they have plenty of bad blood with the Stars and they just lost their coach. I believe that Noel will preach a simple and fun style of hockey with an emphasis on phsical play. When the Jackets rattle the boards with some energy, they tend to win. When you add in the sound of a cannon and some fans hungry for a win, I think the energy will be good in Nationwide tonight. You can bet that our friends in the R Bar will be pouring plenty of drinks tall and long before the game.

Second Line:Make the special teams special.  The Jackets hold the statistical advantage both on the PK and the PP. Dallas is always good for a couple of bonehead penalties and I don't anticipate that to be any different tonight with Boll and Dorsett on the ice. The PK has continued to look very strong and was finally rewarded with the first shorty in months against Colorado. Vermette and Nash on the points are quite a counter-attack. The PP has also continued to play well -- with the very notable exception of the Colorado game. Has anyone ever given up two shorties on the same powerplay? I didn't even know that was possible -- ok I did, but I've never seen it happen. Wow. They should get ample opportunities to erase that hideous memory and cash in tonight. Stralman has been great on the point and I like how Umberger has been positioning himself in front the net with regularity. Noel has been coaching that unit, so let's hope his focus isn't divided too much with the additional coaching responsibilities.

Third Line: Fire up the Young Guns. NO MORE EXCUSES. Voracek, Mason and Brassard are a big part of this franchise's future. They haven't played to expectations this year and now they have been relieved of any excuses from a coaching perspective. Noel will give them some breathing room and confidence. They have to turn it on, and with a new sheriff in town, there couldn't be a better time. Voracek and Brassard both have to look to shoot more often -- once they start scoring, I predict they'll both go on long streaks. It's clear they have been undone via "paralysis by analysis."They should be linemates for years to come. Mason also needs a healthy dose of confidence and a five-game homestand should be just what the doctor ordered. Those three are integral to the success of the team as it's currently built.

Fourth Line: Let history be your guide.  The Jackets know how to beat the Stars. They have to take care of the puck -- Dallas has 150 points on its first line and two 20+ goal scorers. Neal must be neutralized -- I'm eager to see how Dorsett treats him this evening. The Jackets have to press the Dallas blueliners, who just aren't the caliber that used to play there. There will be turnovers and the speed of the Jackets could create plenty of problems for Turco in the transition game. Finally, the Jackets' blueliners will have to play much better than they did in Colorado. Players such as Tyutin and Methot can't get lost on the rush and have to be much more responsible with the puck through the neutral zone. MUCH MORE RESPONSIBLE.

1 comment:

  1. How bout Umberger, Pahlsson and Modin together last night? I like it!