Monday, March 8, 2010

Four Lines Deep - 3/8/10

Blue Jackets at L.A. Kings; Staples Center
10:30 p.m (EST); Fox Sports Ohio (HD)
 #33 Freddy Modin has already played two games for the L.A. Kings and has not been injured.

Spring is a time for new beginnings and the LA Kings are looking to start a new chapter in the franchise -- aided by an emerging core of young talent and solid goaltending, the Kings look like they're well on track to making the playoffs for the first time since 2002. Another former Jacket, Freddy Modin, will be enjoying a trade deadline "upgrade" and provided that he can remain healthy, will be in the playoffs this year. Good for Freddy.

In talking with various members of the JR staff this weekend, I predicted that the game against San Jose would answer a lot of questions about the balance of the season for the Jackets -- most notably, what we could expect from them in terms of effort. I would say the results were mixed. The biggest concern coming out of Saturday's game was the (continued) abysmal performance of the power play -- if that unit can't be counted on for the same level of goal production its added all year, then this last part of the season could seem very long.

The Kings, who have 80 points and sit in third place in the Pacific, have lost their last two games and been outscored 8-4. It is safe to assume that with key defensive players such as Jack Johnson and Drew Doughty coming back from a demanding Olympic tournament, that they have been a little bit off their game. The two have combined for (-) 7 in the last two games.

However, their top line of Kopitar, Smyth and Brown is playing well right now and has given the Jackets big problems in the last several meetings -- especially Kopitar and Smyth. In three games this year, the two have combined for eight points against the Jackets. That line has to be shut down if the Jackets are going to have a chance for two points tonight.

It doesn't feel like there are a lot of bright spots for the Jackets right now, but one would certainly be the return of Brassard. Keeping the second line a justified scoring threat should help the production of Nash and the second line. "Should" is the operative word -- even with Murray/Voracek/Umberger challenging Nabokov on Saturday, the line was especially quiet against the Sharks. Noel credited that to a focus on shutting down the Thornton line - and they were mostly successful in that regard. We shall see if a similar strategy is employed this evening with the Kopitar line.  Regardless, the Jackets need that first line to generate some good chances.

If the Jackets score first, the outcome looks bleak. The Jackets, who have scored the first goal in the last nine games, have a well documented history of blowing leads late in the game. They have lost five of the past nine. They are the worst in the league at keeping a lead after two periods. The Kings - on the other hand - are the best at maintaining a lead after two periods. This is a subject worthy of its own rant -- but the conditioning program for this team must be called into question in the off-season. I don't doubt that the players are working hard and that everyone has the best of intentions -- however, hard work without the benefit of strategy or cohesion is just wasted effort. Ineptitude on this scale transcends the issues of consistency and focus that often plague a young team. For the sake of tonight's game, let's hope the CBJ can keep after it for 60 minutes.

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