Saturday, February 6, 2010

Four Lines Deep - 2/6/10

Sabres at Blue Jackets; Nationwide Arena
7 p.m. (EST); Fox Sports Ohio (HD)
The Sabres are looking to get back on track in Columbus tonight.

The recent storm that dumped up to a foot of snow on Central Ohio should make all the Buffalo fans attending tonight's game in Nationwide feel right at home -- but the Jackets don't plan on extending much else in the way of hospitality. The Jackets have weathered more than one storm this week and the snowstorm was the easiest of the two -- the Jackets lost their head coach and perhaps, a piece of their identity. However, that old identity had them playing uninspired sub.500 hockey, so change isn't always bad. In fact, the Jackets played loose and very competitively against the Stars, and seem to be responding to interim coach Claude Noel in a big way.

The Buffalo Sabres, who make their one and only meeting of the season with the Jackets this evening, are a much better team than the Dallas Stars.  With 71 points, they currently sit in first place in the Northeast Division. However, they have struggled recently and lost three games in a row. In fact, they've only earned two points in two of their last nine games. It is their worst slump of the season and the Sabres lost a heartbreaker against Carolina last night after giving up a lead late in the third period.

The Sabres have Lindy Ruff behind the bench, who is one of the longest tenured coaches in the league, and they play a consistently hard checking style. The Sabres have an exceptionally balanced attack with seven players having 12 or more goals.  Buffalo is strong up the middle with Tim Connolly, Derek Roy and Paul Gaustad, who wins nearly 60 percent of his faceoff attempts. And Thomas Vanek is always a scoring threat -- he leads Buffalo with 17 goals.

First Line: The game will be won at even strength.  Buffalo has the top PK unit in the league (87.4 pct). With the likely absence of Tyutin on the point, the Jackets will be even harder pressed to play to the unit's strength -- which is to generate quick, fluid puck movement and scoring opportunities from the points.  Further, Coach Noel has relinquished responsibility for the PP unit and given that to Asst. Coach Agnew -- it's not a big shift, but it could be one more change to disrupt the flow of the unit.  The Jackets can't rely too heavily on the PP to generate goals tonight, which for some reason, have been very hard to come by at home even in the best of conditions.

Second Line: Challenge Lalime.  Team USA starting netminder Ryan Miller has struggled with the rest of the team. Patrick Lalime is expected between the pipes tonight -- he has only seen limited action this year (3-3-2) and is giving up more than 3 goals/game. He hasn't made a start in nearly a month.  The Jackets have to jump on him early and get him shaken -- that means no over-passing the puck in the offensive zone for an attempt at the next ESPY. The Jackets need to generate a minimum of 30 shots tonight, even if the bulk of those are quick wristers after gaining the line. He should give up rebounds aplenty if they can keep the shots on net.

Third Line:  Take advantage of the road fatigue.  Buffalo suffered a tough loss last night and hasn't fared well in tight games recently. They are going to be fatigued and the Jackets have a good opportunity to take advantage of some rested legs and fresh faces in the lineup -- fellow JR correspondent Top Shelf will be happy to see Mike Blunden back on the ice. (He recently purchased one of his used sticks at Nationwide). "Oh. It's a Blunden," was a quote that was echoed in the D league locker room the following night. I digress. Blunden needs to play big and take the body. Buffalo is not a team to play softly -- they demand a physical presence and tight checking for 60 minutes, or they will embarrass the Jackets at home.

Fourth Line: Go Four Lines Deep. The Jackets have a new spirit about them -- certainly, this was evident from the top of the lineup, but I thought it even more impactful to see how players like Andrew Murray responded. They were fired up and eager to get some more ice time. It was as if they had finally been unchained. Further, the young guns, such as Voracek and Brassard were shown a lot of trust late in the game. If the Jackets can sustain energy on all four lines and spread out the responsibilities, they have a really good shot tonight. Noel claimed they "made the decision easy" on Thursday and he didn't have to worry about rolling all four lines because of their consistently solid style of play throughout the game. Clearly, the team plays more effectively when all lines feel equally engaged and they will surely wear down a tired Buffalo team in the later stages of the game if they're checking hard and driving the net on every shift.  

1 comment:

  1. "The Blunden" had a backhanded goal in its first game... it wasn't top shelf, but it counted. I love my Mike Blunden stick.