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Game 12 Preview: Jackets March To The Sea

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After a masterful display of Skatesmanship against the Northeast division leading Montreal Canadiens, the Jackets took practice yesterday before loading up and flying south to Atlanta, to take on the Blackhawks East Thrashers, who are coming off a come from behind win against the Florida Panthers last night in which goalie Chris Mason stopped a stunning 52 of 55 shots.

Surprisingly, Atlanta's strength is not the "Score first, try to score more, and hang on for dear life" of years past. The team, under new management and coaching, has become a counterpunching squad - they are actually 5-3 when their opponent scores first, and 1-1-2 when they get the first marker on the board. It's a counterintuitive stat for what is often a counterintuitive team, but it clearly shows how they have begun to take on an identity under new head coach Craig Ramsey.

With an offense lead by Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom, and Andrew Ladd, they're a much more lunchbucket team than in years past - and not surprisingly after acquiring so many players from Chicago this off-season, they're using a much more "Western Conference" style of play - heavily physical, with a strong "drive to the net" scoring mentality.

Where they need to improve is clearly on Defense (see the above -55- shots allowed last night), as nearly every player currently carries a negative +/- rating, and both Chris Mason and returning goalie Ondrej Pavelec are allowing at least three goals per game. As of this morning, it looks like it'll be Pavelec coming in for his second start of the year following his terrifying collapse on the ice in Atlanta's season opener, and he's struggled against the Jackets in the past. (0-2, 2.54 GAA, .900 SV%)

The Jackets are currently 2-0 against the Eastern Conference, and 5-0 when scoring first. Atlanta hasn't beaten the Jackets on their home ice since 2005. Why ruin a streak?

Goaltender Mathieu Garon will get the start again tonight after shutting out the Habs, and while some have begun to rumble about the team playing better in front of Garon than Steve Mason, I disagree.

Look at Garon's starts - until today, he had 2 starts after bad losses, and one start after a road trip. In each of these, I don't think the team played better so much as they tried to play simpler, returning to and/or emphasizing basics to help themselves get back on an even keel and minimize the effects of travel. I'm not taking anything away from Garon - he's played very, very well. But tonight I'm very interested to see how the Jackets play in front of him. Do they keep it simple, or do they start to get lazy, relying on the goalie to make a stop without giving him a hand?

Keys To The Game:

  • Commit To Defense - One of the most impressive parts of Tuesday night's win was the way the entire team, from Rick Nash on down, committed to defense, highlighted by Nikita Filatov leaping in front of Andrei Markov to block a shot in the third. They need that same level of effort and attention tonight.
  • Special Teams Are Special - The Thrashers have a history of being out-shot and out-chanced at even strength, and using their power play to pull themselves back into the game. This has not changed. The Jackets only went to the box three times Tuesday night (and one of those was a boarding call so weak it needed a cane to make it from the ref's mic to the scorer's table) - they need to continue playing smart and deny Atlanta's 7th ranked power play opportunities to get them into the game. Atlanta's PK, on the other hand, is currenty at just under 81%, 20th in the NHL. I realize that saying "Exploit our chances and minimize theirs" isn't really adding anything new, but it's worth repeating.
  • Keep An Eye Out For Streakers - Niclas Bergfors comes into this game with a 4 game goal scoring stream. Peverley and Byfuglien have multi-game assist streaks to match. Cutting off their offense could be a major boon to the Jackets tonight.
Essentials:

Game Time: 7:00pm EDT
TV: Fox Sports Ohio (HD)
Radio: 97.1FM WFAN
Blue Jackets vs Thrashers coverage
Opponent's Blog: Bird Watchers Anonymous

Blue Jackets Information:

Team Page Schedule
Roster Statistics


Lineups:

Columbus Blue Jackets

Rick Nash Derick Brassard
Jakub Voracek
R.J. Umberger Antoine Vermette Nikita Filatov
Chris Clark Samuel Pahlsson
Derek Dorsett
Kyle Wilson Derek MacKenzie
Jared Boll


Rostislav Klesla
Marc Methot
Jan Hejda Anton Stralman
Kris Russell Fedor Tyutin


Mathieu Garon
Steve Mason


Atlanta Thrashers

Evander Kane Nik Antropov Chris Thorburn
Andrew Ladd Rich Peverley Niclas Bergfors
Ben Eager Alex Burmistrov Anthony Stewart
Fredrik Modin Jim Slater Eric Boulton


Tobias Enstrom Dustin Byfuglien
Zach Bogosian Johnny Oduya
Ron Hainsey Noah Welch


Ondrej Pavelec
Chris Mason