In sports, as much as athletes play for the thrill of competition and the thrill of victory, there is something to be said for the benefits of good old fashioned hatred to fire you up before a game.
Rivalries that capture that spark make for captivating spectacles, because the players are as emotionally invested as their fans. Hate gives them focus. Hate gives them drive. Hate gives them that push to beat one more defender, a little extra emphasis on their checks, or a a bit more "oomph" on a slap shot.
It's why Pens - Flyers, Rangers - Devils, Red Wings - Avs, Habs - Bruins and Oilers - Flames produce some of the most memorable matchups in both the regular season and the playoffs. It's why NBA fans used to drop everything when the 76ers took on the Celtics, and NFL fans can't get enough of Baltimore and Pittsburgh.
The Jackets' fanbase has hated plenty of teams, most notably the Wings, Preds, and Blues....but for the first time I can remember, it seems like one of those teams has begun to hate them right back.
That's when the magic happens.
|Game Time: 8:00pm EST
|TV: Fox Sports Ohio (HD)
|Radio: 102.5FM WCVZ-FM
|Blue Jackets vs Blues coverage|
|Opponent's Blog: St. Louis Game Time
For those of you who slept through the month of November, a brief recap of events leading us to this point. In their first matchup of the season, R.J. Umberger took deep exception to the Blues players sneaking out of the visitor warmup area in Nationwide Arena to conduct their pre-game soccer warmups in front of the Blue Jackets locker room. After running his normal pre-game wind sprints through the Blues' game a few times, it turned into a shouting match and security had to seperate the players from both sides, with Umberger's shout of "THIS IS OUR BUILDING!" ringing through the hallways.
That shout likely rang in the Blues' ears all the way back to St. Louis, as the Jackets hammered them, 8-1, with Jake Voracek and Chris Clark each netting a pair of goals. The Blues also suffered physically, as T.J. Oshie went down with a fractured ankle after a late game scrum, and is still out of their lineup as of today.
The Blues have continued to struggle with injuries this year, with Oshie, Roman Polak, David Perron, and now Andy MacDonald all out of their lineup, badly hampering their offense, particularly on the power play, which has fallen to 26th in the leauge.
The Blues will try to minimize their losses tonight by jacking up the physical play, and trying to grind the Jackets off the ice at every opportunity. The Jackets have been prepared for that, but being aware of what is coming is different than actually experiencing it on the ice. Much will depend on the team giving back as good as they get, and creating scoring chances regardless of what the Blues' try to put against them.
Keys To The Game:
- No Home Cooking - After starting the year 6-0 at home, the Blues have gone 2-2-1 in their last five home games, and 4-5-1 in their last ten games overall. The Jackets cannot let them get comfortable on their home ice. The Blues' power play has also struggled at home, barely managing to convert ten percent of their chances. The Jackets need to maintain a strong PK tonight to help keep St. Louis from improving on that stat.
- Early And Often - This game will be physical from the get-go, and the Jackets need to use that to their advantage - let the Blues hit, but look for ways to exploit the slower speed of their defense, particularly for springing an odd man rush. Most of the goals in last month's big win came in odd man or one on one situations. Getting a good break and scoring a goal or two early to put the specter of last month in the Blues' minds would be huge.
- Pick Your Spots - St. Louis continues to give up the most PIMs in the NHL, taking an average of 17 minutes of penalties every game. Let the Blues dig their own grave by allowing them to take bad penalties, keep tempers in check and avoid getting retaliation or coincidental calls, then stick it to them on the power play.
- Slot Machines - Conklin and Halak continue to give up goals from the slot. Keep getting pucks to the crease and the high slot for our shooters, and watch for the big, fat, juicy rebound.
This game is a chance for St. Louis to yell back "This is OUR building!" The Jackets just need to let it fall on deaf ears. As usual, Arniel is not releasing his starting lineups or goaltender yet, but the team did use the same lines and power play configurations in practice yesterday that came out for the Dallas game, so we'll assume there's a good chance those lines will be used again, barring any last minute tweaks.
I'm also assuming that Mathieu Garon will get the start again tonight, and then Mason will go back in against the Rangers on Saturday, but who knows, really?
Blue Jackets Information:
Columbus Blue Jackets
|Rick Nash||Antoine Vermette||Jakub Voracek|
|Nikita Filatov||Kyle Wilson||R.J. Umberger|
|Derek Dorsett||Samuel Pahlsson||Chris Clark|
|Ethan Moreau||Derick Brassard||Jared Boll|
|Jan Hejda||Anton Stralman|
|Rostislav Klesla||Marc Methot|
|Mike Commodore||Kris Russell|
|Vladimir Sobotka||David Backes||Brad Boyes|
|Brad Winchester||Patrik Berglund||B.J. Crombreen|
|Alex Steen||Jay McClement||Matt D'Agostini|
|Stefan Della Rovere||Dave Scatchard||Cam Janssen|
|Ian Cole||Eric Brewer|
|Alex Pietrangelo||Barret Jackman|
|Erik Johnson||Carlo Colaiacovo|
Tidbit: When Umberger was asked where he planned to warm up tonight, his answer was "Outside."