Game Preview #67 - Fishing For Second Place

USA TODAY Sports

The Jackets--with some help--could play their way into second place tonight. But, it will be a tall order against the Sharks.

San Jose Sharks at Columbus Blue Jackets

March 13, 2014 - 7:00 pm EDT
Nationwide Arena - Columbus, Ohio
Radio - WBNS 97.1 - TV - Fox Sports Ohio
Opponent's Blog: Fear The Fin
SBN's Sharks vs Blue Jackets Coverage

Well, here we are. Tuesday night was a huge shift in the standings, with a big win for Columbus coupled with a TON of help around the league. Tonight could be another one of those nights: if the Jackets can earn a win--of any kind--against San Jose, and Minnesota can provide some help in the form of beating the Rangers, well, second place would belong to the Jackets by virtue of the games-played tie-breaker.

That's a lot of if's, I know. But, it's a real possibility.

The Jackets have weathered a huge storm, with the West Coast trip into the Olympic break coupled with injuries a-plenty on the blue line having sapped some of their January momentum. But, since the break, they're sitting at 5-2-0 (and were holding a lead and outplaying Dallas early in the postponed game on Monday). They seem to be getting their groove back. Sergei Bobrovsky looks like the Vezina version of himself again, with a .946 save percentage and 1.76 gaa in his last five games... and that included a clunker in Chicago last week. Even larger, since returning from his groin injury, he's sporting a .929 save percentage and 2.25 gaa in 21 games. Over the entirety of his Vezina season, his save percentage was only a smidge higher at .932, and while his gaa is up this year, a lot of that rests on the defense.

In short, maybe it wasn't a fluke, people.

Some more good news: Fedor Tyutin and Jared Boll both participated in the morning skate this morning, which means they're both that much closer to coming back. Obviously, Tyutin is the far, FAR more important cog there.

Tonight's lineup will not be without its changes from the team's recently successful lines: Blake Comeau is back out, having been given a ridiculous two-game suspension for boarding Brendan Smith Tuesday night. Cam Atkinson takes his spot in the lineup, playing on the third line. And, also on that line, Mark Letestu moves up to center, as Artem Anisimov and his wife are expecting a baby and Arty looks to be out for tonight's game. Godspeed to the Anisimovs, as hockey is just hockey, but speaking from experience there just isn't anything quite like seeing your first child come into the world. The rest of the team will certainly hold down the fort for you, Arty!

The Sharks are hot. What else is new? Winners of three in a row and eight of 11 (8-2-1), the Sharks are now actually closing in on the once-invincible-looking Ducks for first place in their division. That said, they've had to travel across the country after playing at home on Tuesday, and face a back-to-back tonight and tomorrow on Long Island.

Strangely enough, they've elected to go with backup Alex Stalock in net tonight while saving Antti Niemi for the Isles tomorrow night. OK, then. That said, Stalock is no push-over. He's played in 19 games this season (14 starts), and sports a 1.85 gaa and .932 save percentage. THAT said, in his last six games (five starts), he's been pretty average, with a 2.43 gaa and .908 save percentage. The Jackets need to punish him with shots and make him work.

That's a tall order, as the Sharks' defense has been much, much better this season than in years-past. Columbus will need to bring the effort that they had for most of the second period and ALL of the third period on Tuesday.

Projected Lineups

Columbus Blue Jackets
(34-26-5, 73 Points; 3rd division, 7th conference)

Boone Jenner Ryan Johansen Nick Foligno
Matt Calvert Brandon Dubinsky Nathan Horton
R.J. Umberger Mark Letestu Cam Atkinson
Corey Tropp Derek MacKenzie Matt Frattin
Jack Johnson David Savard
Nikita Nikitin James Wisniewski
Nick Schultz Dalton Prout
Sergei Bobrovsky
Curtis McElhinney

San Jose Sharks
(42-17-7, 91 Points; 2nd Division, 4th Conference)

Joe Pavelski Joe Thornton Brent Burns
Patrick Marleau Logan Couture Matt Nieto
Marty Havlat James Sheppard Tommy Wingels
Mike Brown Andrew Desjardins Adam Burish
Marc-Edouard Vlasic Jason Demers
Scott Hannan Justin Braun
Matt Irwin Dan Boyle
Alex Stalock
Antti Niemi

Season Series

02/07/14 - Columbus 2 at San Jose 3
03/13/14 - San Jose at Columbus

Head to Head Stats

San Jose Columbus
2.97 (7) GPG 2.86 (8)
2.33 (4) GAPG 2.74 (17)
16.0% (23) PP% 18.6% (16)
84.2% (6) PK% 82.1% (14)
Joe Pavelski, 34 G leader Ryan Johansen, 25
Joe Thornton, 55 A leader James Wisniewski, 33
Joe Pavelski, 65 Pts leader Ryan Johansen, 49
Andrew Desjardins, 84 PIM leader Brandon Dubinsky, 90
17-13-3 Road/Home 19-11-2
3/11 vs. Toronto, W 6-2 Last Game 3/11 vs. Detroit, W 4-1
7-2-1 Last 10 6-3-1

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