It's interesting to chart the relative positions of the Blue Jackets and the Stars this season.
Both were considered unlikely to make the postseason, and both came out to surprisingly strong starts - the Stars were dominant in the Pacific Division for much of the season - while the Jackets had a roller coaster season that has finally bottomed out, preparing to coast towards the finish, but came with a couple of surprising high points against these very opponents - breaking one slump in early December, and the win that seemed to catalyze the team towards their playoff push.
With the Jackets officially eliminated this past week, and the Stars in serious danger of missing the post-season themselves, it will be interesting to see if the Stars will be able to come back swinging against the Jackets, or if the battered Columbus roster can play a bit of spoiler tonight.
Goaltending is one of the big question marks for the team - do they return to Mathieu Garon, who has been in net for one shootout win vs. the Stars this year, and one narrow loss that was...rather impacted...by a bad call. On the other, Garon got the hook after giving up four goals on Sunday in an effort that wasn't entirely his fault, but certainly didn't do much to help his cause for potentially returning to the team as a free agent.
With Steve Mason still day to day, the choice has to be Garon or David LeNeveau - a bit of a wild card, to say the least. I'm guessing that Arniel probably goes with the proven quantity, but on the other hand, there isn't much left to lose.
Meanwhile, both Chris Clark and Grant Clitsome made the trip with the team, and it's possible that they could return to the lineup, though earlier reports from the Dispatch and other sources indicated that Clitsome's return before the end of the season was unlikely. If he does play, it would be a welcome boost to a team that has dearly needed his mobility at the blue line, as their power play difficulties after his injury have proven. If he is unable to go, I would expect to see Craig Rivet again, while I'm not sure whom Clark would replace. Dorsett, perhaps? On paper, you might think he'd replace Kubalik, since he's up on an injury callup, but he's played well enough that I don't see Arniel taking him out of the lineup.
As for the Stars, they have Brad Richards back, after losing him just prior to the trade deadline to a concussion, and the addition of Alex Goligoski has made a good blue line that much more dangerous - he's been a point a game player since being acquired from Pittsburgh with four goals and 8 assists in 12 games.
Oddly enough, every game between these teams this year has been a 1 goal game. If they end up in the same situation again, I actually think the edge may go to Columbus. We can play in close games - it's the back and forth offensive matches that seem to give the Jackets fits.
Keys To The Game:
- Denial - The Stars have a habit of looking for shots on the perimeter anyhow, and trying to make use of rebounds. The Jackets need to work to take away the middle of the ice and push Dallas to the edges, keeping them from getting good looks at whomever gets the start in net.
- Temper - Though James Neal is no longer with the Stars, having been traded to the Penguins, there's still a fair bit of bad blood between the two teams. The Jackets need to keep themselves in check and prevent the Stars from taking the man advantage as much as possible.
- Opportunity - Make no mistake, Kari Lehtonen has been great for the Stars, but this is a team that typically allows 30+ shots a game. The Jackets need to come out and get on the Stars as quickly as possible, not only getting pucks to the net, but getting in position to capitalize on any rebounds or bounces.
R.J. Umberger is getting talked about a lot in advance of this game, as he'll set the team's new Iron Man record with 244 consecutive starts in a Blue Jackets' uniform. The person we're not talking about is Antoine Vermette, who has quietly gotten onto a 5 game points streak. It'd be great if he can stay hot and give this team something to smile about before they head on to Nashville and the final pair of games.
Blue Jackets Information:
|Kristian Huselius||Jakub Voracek|
|Scottie Upshall||Derick Brassard||R.J. Umberger|
|Matt Calvert||Antoine Vermette||Tomas Kubalik|
|Derek Dorsett||Samuel Pahlsson||Jared Boll|
|Grant Clitsome (?)||Sami Lepisto|
|Fedor Tyutin||Marc Methot|
|Anton Stralman||Kris Russell|
|Jamie Benn||Brad Richards||Loui Eriksson|
|Brenden Morrow||Mike Ribeiro||Brandon Segal|
|Toby Petersen||Tom Wandell|
|Steve Ott||Jason Williams||Krys Barch|
|Stephane Robidas||Karlis Skrastins|
|Trevor Daley||Jeff Woywitka|
|Alex Goligoski||Brad Lukowich|