Game 24 Preview: Homecoming

For Scott Arniel, flying into Buffalo and finding two feet of snow waiting for the Blue Jackets had to feel incredibly familiar. 

Having played in the City of Light for four seasons, then later coaching there under Lindy Ruff from 2002-2006, he's seen his share of heavy snow, and he's seen his share of victories in the old Aud and HSBC arena. 

But couldl the frosty Northeastern air be just what the Jackets need to pick up their first win in the last week?

 

Essentials:

Game Time: 7:30pm EST
TV: Fox Sports Ohio (HD)
Radio: 97.1FM WFAN
Blue Jackets vs Sabres coverage
Opponent's Blog: Die By The Blade 

Despite the Buffalo Sabres being a regular Eastern playoff team, the Jackets have had their number for the last several years - particularly at HSBC, where the Sabres are 2-4 against the Blue Jackets. Last season, in their sole meeting, Steve Mason shut out the Sabres in a 4-0 victory that included this Not-Top-Ten play by Patrick Lalime.

This time around, it seems likely that the Jackets will face Olympic Hero Ryan Miller in net, but the team in front of him has been suffering this season. Currently 4-8-1 at home, eight points out of a playoff spot, the Sabres dearly missed Miller while he was recovering from a groin injury, but his return to the net has remained problematic, splitting his last four starts, including a 3-1 loss to Montreal on Saturday.

The Jackets, on the other hand, look to return to their winning ways on the road, and it seems that they may throw a few curveballs at the Sabres as part of the plan, as the team scrambled up several line combinations in their last practice at home before flying to New York. Don't be surprised to see Rick Nash reunited with R.J. Umberger and Antoine Vermette, or Chris Clark up with Jakub Voracek and Derick Brassard.

Another X-Factor for the boys in Union Blue is Nikita Filatov, scratched for the last three games. The young Russian is saying the right things, and seems to understand what he needs to do to improve in the yes of the coaching staff, but he has yet to find his way back onto the ice outside of Wednesday's pre-game skate. 

While Coach Arniel said that FIlatov is likely to play in at least one of the back to back games this weekend, it strikes me as more likely that he'd go in against the struggling Sabres than the Atlantic Divsion leading Penguins on Saturday. The team would lose an advantage in last change to give Filatov better matchups, but a mistake against Buffalo could also be far less costly than a defensive lapse against Crosby or Malkin. 

On the other hand, don't take my word for it - I'm blogging about this game, not sitting in the coaches' office.

Marc Methot is on the trip, but doubtful to play. He did skate in a no contact Jersey on Thursday, but was still rehabbing a muscle injury. That means that Anton Stralman is likely to play tonight, but I would expect him to have a short leash.

Kris Russell seems to be finding his game again, though, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him given extra power play time tonight.

The coaching staff has been tightlipped about starting lineups and goalies, but I'm assuming Garon plays tonight and Mason plays Saturday. 

Keys To The Game:

  • Cover The Points: Buffalo leads the NHL in scoring from their blue line, and that's not just because of their forwards having trouble finding the net. Tyler Myers has five goals and three helpers on the year already, while Jordan Leopold has racked up seven goals and nine assists. Neutralizing the cannons on the blue line, especially in PK situations, will be crucial.
  • Take The Body: Outside of the statuesque Tyler Myers, most of the Sabres lineup is fairly small - a lot of 5'9" to 6'1" guys. In classic NES terms, it's a team of all Thin players vs. a team of Normal sized guys. Hard, physical play to take them off the puck should be the order of the day.
  • Decapitation: The Sabres lean really hard on their top line and checking unit, with members of both lines logging over 20 minutes of ice time in their last two games, but the second line and fourth line get less than half of that. If the Jackets can get well rounded production from all four lines, I think that extra jump from fresh legs could lead to scoring opportunities.
  • Instill Doubt: Buffalo's captain, Craig Rivet, has been in Lindy Ruff's doghouse all year, including several healthy scratches. Outside of Miller, it's not really clear who the team can look to when things get tough, particularly when guys like Rob Niedermayer, Derek Roy, Tim Connolly, and Thomas Vanek have been lost to injury or struggled through slumps. If the Jackets can get an early lead, I think they can use that leadership vacuum to break down Buffalo's confidence. 
  • Home Cooking vs. Road Rules - While the Jackets' power play woes continue at home, they've actually scored a power play goal in each of their last four road games, good for 11th in the NHL right now. Buffalo, on the other hand, has one of the best PK units at home (tied for 6th), but their power play has allowed 5 shorthanded goals. Given R.J. Umberger's nose for the net in short handed situations, I think this is a pretty favorable situation for Columbus.

Blue Jackets Information:

Team Page  Schedule
Roster Stats

Columbus Blue Jackets

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


Mathieu Garon
Steve Mason


 Buffalo Sabres

Nathan Gerbe Derek Roy  Thomas Vanek
Drew Stafford Luke Adam Jason Pominville
Tyler Ennis Jochen Hecht Patrick Kaleta 
Cody McCormick Paul Gaustad Mike Grier
Jordan Leopold Steve Montador
Tyler Myers Andrej Sekera
  Shaone Morrisonn  Mike Weber


Ryan Miller
Patrick Lalime


Tidbit: Personally? I actually didn't mind the "buffaslug" after I got used to it, but the new uniforms Buffalo brought out this year are sharp. Too bad they will do absolutely nothing to help against a team that has outscored them 16-3 in their last four meetings.

Umberger_all_star_-_animated_-_normal_speed_medium

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