Here's how tight this race is: these two teams are two points apart in the same number of games played (edit - clearly, I cannot count or read; the Devils have played one more game than the Jackets), and yet find themselves with three teams between them in the race. Yikes.
But, yeah, this game is important. Hell, from here on out, they ALL are important. A win tonight would give the Jackets the season sweep over the Devils, and with the slate of games tonight, there is room to move in the division. The entire division is in action tonight, and other than this game no two divisional teams are playing each other; Pittsburgh is also playing Montreal which has Wild Card implication for Columbus. So, there's actually a chance that the Jackets could win and get a ton of help. (I know, I know, that never seems to happen, but it bears mentioning...)
The Jackets almost got to the elusive promised land of being "100% healthy," but the Olympics took a toll on their blue-line with Fedor Tyutin going down to an ankle injury. He'll be out at least two weeks (possibly longer), and Dalton Prout and Cody Goloubef have been called up. Prout gets first-crack at filling in, and slots in on the [gulp] top pairing with Jack Johnson.
However, the flip side of that coin is that both Marian Gaborik and Blake Comeau are healthy, with the former getting back into the lineup tonight. Considering he's not played an entire game since November, the Jackets will bring him along slowly. He'll start on the fourth line, though he'll get some top-PP-unit work as well. If he is able to produce, he may get moved up in the lineup. We all know how Todd Richards likes to tinker...
The Devils, frankly, have surprised me. I expected a complete implosion this season, but their defense and special teams have kept them afloat. Jaromir Jagr continues to defy all traditional measures of age and decline, and the Devils' top-five defense, league-leading PK, and sold PP unit have made up for a lack of overall scoring.
And that's the key: the Jackets are probably going to struggle on the Power Play given that they haven't had any game action for three weeks and the Devils' PK is very good. The Devils' PP is solid, and the Jackets PK is a bit of an enigma, and will be without Fedor Tyutin. But, the biggest divide between these two clubs is at 5-on-5 even strength: The Jackets have scored 114 goals in 58 games (1.97 per game), and the Devils sit at just 89 goals in 59 games (1.51 per game).
So, there it is. Stats, schmats. It's game time, finally! Let's go, boys! 24 to go, let's bring it home!
Columbus Blue Jackets
(29-24-5, 63 Points; 4th division, 9th conference)
|Boone Jenner||Ryan Johansen||Nathan Horton|
|Matt Calvert||Brandon Dubinsky||Cam Atkinson|
|Nick Foligno||Artem Anisimov||R.J. Umberger|
|Mark Letestu||Derek MacKenzie||Marian Gaborik|
|Jack Johnson||Dalton Prout|
|Ryan Murray||James Wisniewski|
|Nikita Nikitin||David Savard|
New Jersey Devils
(24-22-13, 61 Points; 7th division, 13th conference)
|Travis Zajac||Jaromir Jagr|
|Patrik Elias||Adam Henrique||Damien Brunner|
|Ryane Clowe||Andrei Loktionov||Michael Ryder|
|Stephen Gionta||Jacob Josefson||Steve Bernier|
|Andy Greene||Mark Fayne|
|Jon Merrill||Eric Gelinas|
|Bryce Salvador||Marek Zidlicky|
Head to Head Stats
|2.29 (28)||GPG||2.86 (7)|
|2.34 (5)||GAPG||2.76 (18)|
|19.0% (13)||PP%||18.6% (15)|
|87.4% (1)||PK%||82.2% (13)|
|Jaromir Jagr, 17||G leader||Ryan Johansen, 24|
|Jaromir Jagr, 32||A leader||James Wisniewski, 30|
|Jaromir Jagr, 49||Pts leader||Ryan Johansen, 46|
|Marek Zidlicky, 48||PIM leader||Brandon Dubinsky, 86|
|2/8 @ Washington, L 3-0||Last Game||2/7 @ San Jose, L 3-2|