Nationwide Arena, 2:00 pm
TV: FS-O (HD), CSN-CH (HD)
Less than 48 hours ago these two teams played in Chicago. Final score 3-0 'Hawks. While the Blue Jackets did not wilt after giving up the first goal barely a minute into the game, they proved that playing with anything less that 100% effort will not allow them to hang with these Blackhawks. Chicago's puck moving/possession game was far too proficient, and the Jackets ability to create second and third scoring opportunities far too futile, for Columbus to take 2 points from the Central division leaders. Shots on goal from Thursday night? Chicago 36, C-Bus 24. If not for G Mathieu Garon, it could easily have been another 6 goal disaster.
FIRST LINE: Possess the Puck. The issue of the Jackets low scoring is well documented this season, and the game two nights ago was a perfect example. The Jackets are a dump and chase team, which works well enough against a slower moving defense. The "Hawks are anything but slow on D. Even when the Jackets do gain the offensive zone, far too often a shot is taken before anyone in the same color sweater has made their way to the net. Consequently, when that shot is stopped or blocked, there is no one there to get a rebound attempt or to corral the puck to keep possession. The puck simply goes the other way. If Columbus is looking to score some goals, they need to be willing to go to the difficult areas to first fight for the puck and then to score dirty goals. The new top line of 18-50-61 is big and skilled. We'll see if they have enough speed to get to the loose puck before the Blackhawks clear the zone.
SECOND LINE: A Change in Net. As mentioned above, if not for the performance of Garon Thursday night in Chicago the final score could have been even more lopsided. Despite keeping the Jackets in the game, Hitch has decided to sit Garon in favor of the slumping Steve Mason. Mason, the former number one goaltender, has sat in favor of Garon for the previous six games. Masons last start was against the Avalanche, a 3-2 loss on January 2nd.
In their first meeting between these two teams back on December 1st, Mason was in net for what turned out to be a 4-3 loss in an 11 round shootout. The Blackhawks scored a shortie and two PP goals in that one. It wasn't all Mason's fault as that game fell during a stretch of some of the worst defensive hockey the Jackets have ever played. But the change for today's game is curious in that Garon was the best player against this opponent two nights ago.
THIRD LINE: Nash on the Shnide. CBJ F Rick Nash, a born scorer, is currently mired in an eleven-game scoreless drought. That ties his career record for longest stretch without a goal. For the Jackets to be able to hang with the Chicago on the scoreboard, Nash will have to put this slump in the past. Number 61 currently leads the team in goals (19), assists (23) , and points (42) despite this drought. That speaks volumes about both the Captain and his charges. Patrick Kane leads his team in all categories (19g, 33a - 52p).
FOURTH LINE: Home Ice Advantage. The game in Thursday night was a sellout in Chicago. An announced crowd of 21,884. It was loud and the Hawks fed off the energy. Today's game will be a sellout (prediction) as well. Will the crowd spark the Jackets to leave it all on the ice as Chicago did the other night? Will the team give the crowd a reason to get on their feet? An energized crowd could go a long way to getting 2 points against the current Central division leaders. Carry the flag!