Game 21 Preview: Ante Up

For twenty years, the road to success in the Western Conference has run through I-75 and I-96.  Even in years where the Red Wings did not make it to at least the conference semi-finals, more likely than not the eventual cup champion was forced to vanquish them on their way to Lord Stanley. (In fact, last year is the first time I can remember in some time where the eventual Western Conference champs - Chicago - did NOT face Detroit during the playoffs.)

This morning, the Jackets are tied for first place in the Central with the Wings, and they're 4th place overall, even on points, but with the Wings holding a game in hand. Outside of the 2009 playoffs, this could be the most significant game between these two franchises in the Jackets' relatively young history.

The Jackets are 15-33-9 against the Wings in their history, but in the year the team went to the playoffs, the Jackets went 3-3, including a memorable 8-2 demolition of the Wings in Joe Louis Arena.  

Last year? 1-4-1. 

I'm not saying the Jackets have to dominate the season series to have a good chance at the playoffs, but it sure would help. Going .500 against Detroit  would be a good start, but every win they can muster would be another big step in the right direction.

 

Essentials:

Game Time: 7:00pm EST
TV: Fox Sports Ohio (HD)
Radio: 97.1FM WFAN
Red Wings vs Blue Jackets coverage
Opponent's Blog: Winging It In Motown  

The Jackets are likely to go tonight without Marc Methot, who is still nursing an upper body injury aggravated on Monday night, but he did take part in an optional practice yesterday, and was going to be evaluated again this morning after the pre-game skate. If he's able to play, I would expect Kris Russell to sit in his place, but on the other hand, the team has been happy to throw us some curveballs lately.

Nikita Filatov will be back in the lineup after his disciplinary scratch on Wednesday evening, skating with Vermette and Umberger. Andrew Murray appears to be the odd man out, based on the projected lineup from the Dispatch. 

Ethan Moreau is also reportedly "close", but I doubt the team would drop him in cold to this game. That's an awful lot of pressure to give a guy just coming back from rehab.

On the other hand? Maybe it's exactly the kind of pressure Scott Arniel wants to see Moreau respond to. Call him highly doubtful, but an outside possibility.

Keys To The Game:

  • Hammer Howard - Jimmy Howard has given up four or more goals in his last three starts. Now, Detroit still won a few of those, thanks to their industrial strength offense, but if the Jackets can get to Howard early, it puts this game on easier footing.
  • Home Cooking - The Wings are only 4-3 on the road, vs. 9-2-1 at home. Still not bad, but a bit more vulnerable. More importantly, their PK on the road has allowed 8 goals in 30 attempts - good for 24th in the NHL. Their power play has also allowed three shorties on the road so far this year, and drops from an impressive 25% at home to a more human 17%. The Jackets have been able to get the power play going on the road lately. It's time to bring that home.
  • Confidence - The Jackets have gotten a lot better about not folding in the face of adversity - they're going to need that tonight in spades. The Wings have been getting outscored in the first period, but then get back off the mat in the 2nd and third periods - they're outscoring opponents 23-14 in the final frame this year. The Jackets need to score early, score often, and not allow a goal or two by the Wings to take the energy away from them.
  • Puck Possession - Listening to XM Radio's Home Ice channel yesterday while driving around, they did a Western Conference review, and the Jackets were one of their top surprises. A lot of credit was given to the way the team chased down and controlled the puck. They're absolutely right, but Detroit knows that song too - they're one of the best Puck Possession teams in the NHL. Control of the puck, particularly in transition between zones, will be a major battle tonight.
  • GET LOUD - Tonight's game is expected to be a sellout, and I have no doubt we'll see a lot of red and white jerseys in the building. If you have a seat in the barn, your job is to personally out-shout, out-chant, out-cheer, out-drink, out-eat, and out-fight those Delta City sons of @$&*!es. That goes DOUBLE if you find yourself next to a quisling who decided to trade in his union blues for a winged wheel tonight. Back at the start of the season, Rick Nash told fans that the building was "a lot easier" to play in when it gets loud. Give the boys every edge they can get.

It's a home and home series, and any insults today can be repaid on Sunday...but this is still a big game that the team needs to get up for. How good would it feel to walk away tonight from a sold out arena with the Jackets atop the Western Conference?

 

Blue Jackets Information:

Team Page  Schedule
Roster Stats

Columbus Blue Jackets

Rick Nash Derick Brassard 
Jakub Voracek
R.J. Umberger Antoine Vermette Nikita Filatov
Derek Dorsett Samuel Pahlsson Chris Clark
Kyle Wilson  Derek MacKenzie Jared Boll
Rostislav Klesla Anton Stralman
Jan Hejda Kris Russell
Mike Commodore Fedor Tyutin

 

Steve Mason
Mathieu Garon


The Detroit Red Wings (a proud division of Omni Consumer Products)

Henrik Zetterberg Pavel Datsyuk Tomas Holmstrom 
Jiri Hudler Valtteri Filppula Johan Franzen
Dan Cleary Mike Modano  Todd Bertuzzi
Drew Miller Darren Helm Patrick Eaves
Nicklas Lidstrom Brad Stuart
Jonathan Ericsson  Brian Rafalski
  Niklas Kronwall Ruslan Salei


Jimmy Howard
Joey MacDonald


Tidbit: If Columbus wins tonight, they'll have registered a victory over each of the other Central Division teams already. I don't believe that's ever happened before this early into the season.

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