Game Preview #32 - Homecoming

Trevor Ruszkowksi-USA TODAY Spor

For Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, and Tim Erixon, it's a chance to play in their former home. For the Jackets, it's a real chance to move up the division standings.

Columbus Blue Jackets at New York Rangers

December 12, 2013 - 7:00 pm EST
Madison Square Garden - New York, New York
Radio - WBNS 97.1 - TV - Fox Sports Ohio
Opponent's Blog: Blueshirt Banter
SBN's Rangers vs Blue Jackets coverage

"I'm going to go in there fired up tomorrow night, trying to show [Rangers] management that they made the wrong decision trading me, and let them know, try to make them feel, like they wish they still had me," Brandon Dubinsky told The Dispatch yesterday. "I think all of us feel that way. I talked to Gabby. He's bummed for sure he doesn't have the opportunity to play. [Dorsett] and [Nash] and [Brassard] and Johnny Moore are feeling the same thing, I'm sure, like they want to stick it to us."

"That's the type of rivalry it can be for sure."

Alrighty, then. The Jackets certainly didn't play with that mindset the last time these two teams met in Columbus, that's for sure. The Jackets largely rolled over as Sergei Bobrovsky managed to keep what could have been a 9-2 loss respectable. I will say this, though: Dubinsky has to be able to keep that fire under control, a controlled burn if you will. We've all seen what can happen when he pushes it a bit too far.

That said, these two teams are trending in different directions at the moment, for sure. Both are battling some injuries, as the Rangers lost Ryan Callahan with a knee injury to go along with Marc Staal's concussion. That said, the Jackets clearly win the injury contest, as Marian Gaborik misses his first chance to play in MSG after being traded from the Rangers, to go along with James Wisniewski, Nathan Horton, and Bobrovsky all being out.

Despite the injuries, however, the Jackets have been playing solid hockey of late, with only the close loss to Pittsburgh blemishing their record in their last four games. Columbus has 19 points in their last 16 games (8-5-3); not exactly setting the world on fire, but not terrible either--over an 82-game extrapolation, that point pace would finish with 97 points. So, yeah, the Jackets have improved over the last month or so, even with injuries and some ugly losses.

The Rangers, on the other hand, are hitting the skids a bit. As the boys at BSB note, they're at a bit of a crossroads:

The New York Rangers are currently in the nexus when it comes to professional sports. They're probably a good enough team right now to make the playoffs, but they're not good enough to truly contend. They're also not bad enough to tank for a quality draft choice. No team wants to be where the Rangers are right now. It's the worst thing you can do. Granted, getting into the dance makes any team dangerous, but the Rangers need to figure out who they are. They either need to make some moves to trim the fat and give the kids tons of minutes to season as the Rangers drive towards a better draft selection, or they need to make some moves to bring the battle level (and goal scoring) back to the locker room. But they can't just sit like this.

They're 1-3-1 in their last five, and are just 6-8-1 over their last 15 games, including 1-6-1 in their last eight games at home. There was a players-only meeting prior to playing (and losing badly to) the Preds the other day. They have scored just 31 goals over that 15 game span, which has been their biggest issue this season: they're just not good at scoring with any consistency. Hmm, that sounds familiar.

At any rate, we get to play against Rick Nash for the first time tonight, as he's returned to the Rangers' lineup, and he's playing pretty well considering the time missed, with eight points (6G, 2A) in 12 games since returning from his concussion. I'll admit, it's going to be weird seeing him playing against the Jackets. Though, if I might editorialize, I wonder if Rick is truly "happy" right now. Yes, he got to play in the playoffs last season, and so he certainly got some return on his trade request in that respect. That said, his coach got fired, his previous team played basically just as well as his new team last year, and at this exact moment in time, the Blue Jackets are trending in a better direction than the Rangers. If the Rangers continue to struggle and fall out of the playoff race, will he ask himself if it was all worth it? For his sake, I hope it was. With the kind of injury he sustained, his prime is getting closer and closer to ending, and it certainly still sucks that he's only gotten to play in three playoff series in his career.

But, at the end of the day, the most important aspect of this game for Columbus isn't the rivalry between players and their former teams; it's the standings. Thanks to the Rangers' loss on Tuesday, the Jackets rallying to beat New Jersey, and Philadelphia getting flat-out embarrassed by Chicago last night, the Jackets can move up to fourth place in the division with a regulation win. They would be just one point behind third place Carolina--and the corresponding automatic playoff berth spot--pending the Canes' game later tonight in Calgary. Yes, it's early, but it's better to get into that spot and hold on to it than to wait longer and longer to make the move.

If the recent improved play of the Jackets over the past four games or so ends up being their "new normal," getting rewarded for it in the standings would be a huge boost. As of this writing, the Jackets haven't skated yet this morning, so no word on lineup changes. One would think Todd Richards is inclined to continue rolling the same lineup out there that's played well these last few games.

Projected Lineups

Columbus Blue Jackets
(13-15-3, 29 Points; 6th division, 12th conference)

Nick Foligno Ryan Johansen R.J. Umberger
Matt Calvert Brandon Dubinsky Cam Atkinson
Boone Jenner Artem Anisimov Blake Comeau
Derek MacKenzie Mark Letestu Corey Tropp
Fedor Tyutin Jack Johnson
Ryan Murray David Savard
Nikita Nikitin Dalton Prout
Curtis McElhinney
Mike McKenna

New York Rangers
(15-16-1, 31 Points; 4th division, 9th conference)

Taylor Pyatt Derek Stepan Rick Nash
Chris Kreider Brad Richards Mats Zuccarello
Carl Hagelin Derick Brassard Benoit Pouliot
Arron Asham Brian Boyle Derek Dorsett
Dan Girardi Ryan McDonagh
Anton Stralman Michael Del Zotto
John Moore Dylan McIlrath
Henrik Lundqvist
Cam Talbot

Season Series

11/07/13 - New York 4 at Columbus 2
12/12/13 - Columbus at New York
01/06/14 - Columbus at New York
03/21/14 - New York at Columbus

Head to Head Stats

Rangers Columbus
2.19 (28) GPG 2.48 (20)
2.62 (14) GAPG 2.74 (18)
19.0% (13) PP% 20.2% (10)
85.7% (7) PK% 81.2% (19)
Brad Richards, 9 G leader Ryan Johansen, 10
Brad Richards / Derek Stepan, 15 A leader James Wisniewski, 16
Brad Richards, 24 Pts leader Ryan Johansen, 24
Derek Dorsett, 97 PIM leader Brandon Dubinsky, 62
5-8-1 Home/Road 5-8-2
12/10 vs. Nashville, L 4-1 Last Game 12/10 vs. New Jersey, W 5-4
4-5-1 Last 10 6-4-0
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