Coming off two strong wins against the Eastern Conference, the Jackets go back to the grind tonight against our expansion brothers, the Minnesota Wild.
After losing to Columbus on R. J. Umberger's shorthanded goal just under a month ago, Wild head coach Todd Richards put the team through a punishing bag skate, with whispers that it might be a last ditch gamble to hold on to his job.
If so, I hope he bought a lottery ticket that day. The Wild are 5-2-1 since that practice, and have muscled their way back into the playoff picture with a 2-1 victory over Calgary last night at the XCel Energy Center, though last night was their first back to back win this season.
The good news for Columbus is that means we're getting them on the second night of a back to back, and one in which they had to travel, at that. It certainly paid off for us against Atlanta, as their fatigue clearly showed in the third period.
The bad news is that the Wild are just as aware of this, and I have no doubt that they're thinking of that 3-2 loss on their home ice, and are likely to push themselves just a little bit harder to fight back.
The interesting news is that the Wild will start Jose Theodore in net - the fifth backup goalie the Jackets have faced in a dozen games by my count. It's a respect issue, but I don't think the team minds facing the #2 guy as long as they can collect two points from him. There's also the point that Theodore, coming off a 30-7-7 season with Washington last year, isn't your typical backup. As former Cap Chris Clark mentioned yesterday, Theodore is difficult to beat on the first shot, a very athletic and aggressive goaltender with a history of success against Columbus - he's 5-3-1 in nine starts.
That said, this is only Theodore's second start behind Niklas Backstrom, and in his first outing with the Wild, he suffered a 5-1 drilling in Vancouver with an .857 save percentage. If Columbus can keep up their good habits of shooting frequently and generating rebounds, it seems like a good recipe for sending Jose home 0-2.
The Wild are missing top line winger Chuck Kobasew tonight, with Cal Clutterbuck elevated to their top line. Top defenseman Marek Zidlicky was a game time decision yesterday - depending on how he feels today, I wouldn't be shocked to see him out tonight.
For Columbus, Mathieu Garon gets the start tonight after his second straight shutout on Thursday, and despite the activation of Mike Commodore off of IR, the lineup is not expected to change for tonight's game. Keep an eye on Rusty Klesla, who has had some scoring success against the Wild, and while people are appreciating the new, more responsible style of play Jared Boll has come out with in the past few weeks, I wouldn't be shocked if Brad Staubitz attempts to get him to drop the gloves, especially if Minnesota goes into a hole early.
Keys To The Game:
- Continue Good Habits - In the last two games, with the "back to basics" approach, the team's defense has made life a lot easier for Garon by working hard to deny their opponents quality chances. This needs to continue - despite their winning streak of late, the Wild still tend to tally less than 30 shots a game.
- Clear Out The Crease - Though the team successfully shut down the Thrashers, some of their best chances came with heavy traffic around Garon, and the Wild are a team who like to go to the net to create some havoc - both of their goals last night against Kiprusoff came with a player either screening Kipper, or going to the net to create the opportunity.
- Drive Safely - The team has cut down the parade to the box nicely, only being flagged for three penalties against Montreal, and two penalties against Atlanta. The Wild's power play has cooled slightly from its' red hot start, but they're still #3 in the NHL at just under 28%.
|Game Time: 7:00pm EDT
|TV: Fox Sports Ohio (HD)
|Radio: 97.1FM WFAN
|Wild vs Blue Jackets coverage|
|Opponent's Blog: Hockey Wilderness
Blue Jackets Information:
|R.J. Umberger||Antoine Vermette||Nikita Filatov|
|Andrew Brunette||Mikko Koivu||Cal Clutterbuck|
|Matt Cullen||Kyle Brodziak||Martin Havlat|
|Casey Wellman||John Madden||Eric Nystrom|
|Matt Kassian||Cody Almond||Brad Staubitz|
|Marek Zidlicky||Greg Zanon|
|Nick Schultz||Brett Burns|
|Cam Barker|| Justin Falk
A final tidbit for those of you who actually read to the bottom of the article - head coach Scott Arniel's parents flew into town for tonight's game. The coach called his dad his "best critic...or worst critic, depending how you look at it." The team knows that Arniel's family is visiting him - I wouldn't be shocked if a few guys really push for the extra gear. They know how special it would be for him to get a win with them in attendance.