Game 54 Preview: Rendezvous

It's a story that began in Stockholm, five months and a lifetime ago. Two teams, one looking for respect, the other trying to find the combination that would finally raise them from also-ran to champions.

At that point, they split their two meetings, and made the long trek back home. Both teams suffered to greater or lesser degree in their first games back, thanks to the rigors of travel, but one seemed to find their footing just a bit faster, and climbed their way to the top, including a shutout victory in their first reunion, before slipping and sliding back down the hill, while the other team languished, but finally seemed to find the cure to what ailed them, and made their way back up the mountainside.

Now, we have the final chapter (at least in the regular season) - the San Jose Sharks have pushed their way back to the top of the Western Conference, but the Jackets aren't so far behind them...and as it stands, they've got the edge in the season series.

Essentials:
Game Time: 7:00 pm EST
TV: Fox Sports Ohio (HD)
Radio: 97.1 WFAN-FM
Sharks vs Blue Jackets coverage
Opponent's Blog: Fear The Fin

With both teams coming off a game last night, the biggest question is likely to be goaltending. Does Todd McClelland keep riding Antti Niemi, who registered his second straight shutout last night, or will we see Antero Niittymaki? Will Scott Arniel go with the hot hand in Steve Mason, who seems to be returning to form, or give Mathieu Garon the start, particularly since his last game against the Sharks didn't go so badly?

The Jackets are also likely to tweak their lineup a bit, with Coach Arniel implying heavily that the scratches from last night (Andrew Murray, John Moore) would be in the lineup tonight to help keep fresh legs on the ice. 

With both teams coming off against big wins against Eastern Conference opponents, each side will have a great deal of energy - but the Jackets need two points tonight. It's as simple as that.

Keys To The Game:

  • Couture Cat - Logan Couture passed Alex Ovechkin last night for the lead in Game Winning Goals in the NHL this season, and has been a major reason for the Sharks' revival after they nearly hit rock bottom in November. He's leading the rookie scoring race, and if it weren't for Jeff Skinner, I'd say he's a lock for the Calder. The Jackets are going to need to try and lock him up defensively the same way they handle Thorton, Marleau, and Heatley.
  • Power Play - Not surprisingly, given their offensive firepower, the Sharks have one of the best power plays in the league - including the third best road PP. Their PK isn't half bad, either, so the Jackets are going to need to scrap for every advantage they can get, while doing their best to keep out of the box and denying San Jose a chance to pull out their big guns.
  • Middle Frame - Statistically, the Sharks put the screws to you in the second period - outshooting opponents by almost two hundred shots in the second period, while normally allowing a relatively even level of shots in the first and third. They're also outscoring opponents 59-42 in the second period, while normally being outscored 53-44 in the third period, and fairly flat (44 to 43) in the first period. The Jackets need to come out swinging, weather the second period, and then put this game away in the third period if at all possible.

The Jackets are four points back of 8th place this morning, but nearly every team in the West is playing tonight. If they want to keep making up ground, they have to take care of the Sharks tonight, and they have to do it in regulation.

Nobody said it was going to be easy...

Blue Jackets Information:

Team Page  Schedule
Roster Stats

 

Columbus Blue Jackets

Rick Nash Derick Brassard Jakub Voracek
R.J. Umberger Antoine Vermette Kristian Huselius
Andrew Murray Samuel Pahlsson Derek Dorsett
Matt Calvert Derek MacKenzie Jared Boll
Jan Hejda John Moore
Fedor Tyutin Marc Methot
Grant Clitsome Kris Russell
Steve Mason
Mathieu Garon

 

San Jose Sharks

Patrick Marleau Joe Thornton Dany Heatley
Ryan Clowe Joe Pavelski Devin Setoguchi
Ben Eager Logan Couture Kyle Wellwood
Torrey Mitchell Scott Nichol

Jamal Mayers

Dan Boyle Douglas Murray

Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Niclas Wallin
Kent Huskins Jason Demers
Antti Niemi
Antero Niittymaki

 

Tidbit: Shark cartilage is currently being studied as part of cancer research - sharks appear to somehow be immune to cancer. While it is unlikely that the trade for Dany Heatley was part of this research, you never know...

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