The last time the Jackets and New York Rangers met, it was a strange affair at Madison Square Garden. The Jackets went up by 4-1, including a wicked strike in the first period by Jared Boll, but the Rangers eventually cracked both Mathieu Garon and Steve Mason on their way to a 7-4 victory that was one of the first major alarm bells for last year's squad.
Today, the Jackets face the Rangers at home in Nationwide Arena, and to many fans the alarm bells have already begun to sound. In response, Scott Howson has made some internal moves, but how will they stand up to tonight's test?
|Game Time: 7:00pm EST
|TV: Fox Sports Ohio (HD)
|Radio: 102.5FM WCVZ-FM
|Rangers vs Blue Jackets coverage|
|Opponent's Blog: Blueshirt Banter
The most obvious change for the Jackets tonight is the assignment of Nikita Filatov to Springfield, where they hope he can find his goal scoring mojo again. I'm still in the camp that this is a good move for him - and even more interestingly, the team has brought Tom Sestito up to the big club, where head coach Scott Arniel already has plans for the big bodied winger.
"I'm going to put him in front of the net - he's got good hands, soft hands. He can play down low." - During the pre-season, Sestito got several goals this way from redirections or simply driving to the net and crashing in, which the team has been unable to do consistently. I'm especially excited to see this on the Jackets' woeful power play, where having a player consistently around the crease has been lacking. It also certainly wouldn't hurt to have him out there for his physical edge, as well. I wasn't able to watch Thursday's game live, but after seeing replays of Antoine Vermette getting smoked into the boards with almost no retaliation, and remembering how Stephan Robidas was using Rick Nash as a rocking horse during the Dallas game, we need to see more physical fire from these guys.
Another bit of good news is that Kristian Huselius appears to be close to returning, though he has not yet been officially reactivated from LTIR - the Swedish winger took part in full contact practice yesterday, after skating in a red "no-contact" sweater for most of the week, and will make the road trip to Western Canada with the rest of the team next week. It seems entirely possible that we could see him come into play against the Flames or the Oilers.
For the moment, the lines have been slightly re-arranged owing to Filatov's departure and Sestito's arrival, but not drastically. Fedor Tyutin is expected to be back in the lineup after being scratched for two games, and it's uncertain who will come out - Kris Russell did miss practice on Friday, but it was described as a maintenance day. If Russ plays, my guess would be Mike Commodore or Marc Methot sits out.
Derek MacKenzie also returns to the lineup, and Andrew Murray will be in the press box. Kyle Wilson also finds himself back on the fourth line after an unsatisfactory performance on the top six.
Meanwhile, the Rangers team coming in tonight will be enjoying the afterglow of a 5-3 win over Ottawa, and an offense that was previously struggling to score goals seems to have found solid production again from the returning Marian Gaborik, Brandon Dubinsky, Brian Boyle, and rookie Derek Stepan.
It's not clear who will be in net for New York - some reports are saying Martin Biron will get the net tonight, but others say that John Tortorella may go back to his workhorse with Henrik Lundqvist. Either goalie, though, would be a challege. Biron has a .911 save percentage and 2.38 GA so far his year, to go with a 5-2 record, while Lundqvist has a .917% save, 2.54 GAA, and a 12-10-1 record. With the Rangers facing the Washington Capitals on Sunday, it seems likely that Torts would give Biron tonight's start and let King Henrik take the job of shutting down Alex Ovechkin, but we'll see what we find when we get into the game.
Worse, if you're Columbus, is the fact that this Ranger team, much like the Jackets, has been playing much better on the road than at home, with a 11-4-0 road record compared to their 6-8-1 home tally. They've been making quite a few mistakes and bad mental lapses, even in victories, but they keep finding ways to pull out a win.
Tonight, the Jackets need to pull out all the stops for the home crowd. Two points tonight would bump them right back into 6th place, but a couple more losses and they could be peering at the bottom of the standings once again in the insanely tight Western Conference.
Keys To The Game:
- Home Ice - The Jackets will have the last change and ability to dictate matchups, so they need to do just that. Give Rick Nash a chance to play against less experienced defenders like Mike Sauer or Matt Gilroy, rather than forcing him to line up against Dan Girardi and Marc Staal. Keep him away from Sean Avery, but give him a chance to exploit the weaker defense of forwards like Callahan and Anisimov.
- Early Goals - The Jackets put themselves in a hole on Thursday night with an early penalty and a bad PK leading to a St. Louis goal in the first two minutes. Keep the Rangers in check early and get some good shots on whichever goaltender is in net, and see if the Jackets can put the shoe on the other foot.
- Shot Location - The Rangers are actually 6-7-0 when outshooting an opponent, and 11-4 when outshot. The difference is that teams allowing the Rangers to shoot from low percentage angles and giving the goaltender plenty of time to make the save, compared to less frequent but more dangerous shots around the crease and in the high slot. Let the Rangers try hail marys that Mason can gobble up, and get down low and give Biron or Lundqvist a headache from close range.
- Jump! - In the game against Dallas, the Jackets came out with a lot of hard, physical play and high energy skating. They let themselves back off from that against St. Louis, and the only success they had in the game came when they got back to being aggressive. This team needs to come out with the "pack mentality" and stick with it.
- PK / PP - As has been reported by the Dispatch, Scott Arniel stopped practice the other day after too many lazy clearing and entry plays on special teams to tear the team a collective new one. "DO IT @$&%ING RIGHT, OR DON'T $#@*ING DO IT!" was a regular refrain. They didn't seem to grasp that lesson on Thursday. For their sake, it had better have sunken in tonight.
Blue Jackets Information:
Columbus Blue Jackets
|Rick Nash||Derick Brassard||Jakub Voracek|
|R.J. Umberger||Antoine Vermette||Chris Clark|
|Ethan Moreau||Samuel Pahlsson||Derek Dorsett|
|Kyle Wilson||Derek MacKenzie||Tom Sestito|
|Jan Hejda||Anton Stralman|
|Rostislav Klesla||Fedor Tyutin|
|Marc Methot||Kris Russell|
New York Rangers
|Ruslan Fedotenko||Derek Stepan||Marian Gaborik|
|Brandon Dubinsky||Artem Anisimov||Ryan Callahan|
|Alexander Frolov||Brian Boyle||Brandon Prust|
|Sean Avery||Erik Christensen||Todd White|
|Dan Girardi||Marc Staal|
|Michal Rozsival||Michael Del Zotto|
|Mike Sauer||Matt Gilroy|
Tidbits: I went on Blueshirt Banter's call in radio show on Wednesday Night to talk about Columbus, the Arena Lease, and the upcoming game. Take a listen!
Apparently all of the complaints about Boomer have been heard, and the Dispatch is reporting that he could be "retired" as soon as this summer.
Jackets should be thankful that there isn't a waffle house in walking distance of Nationwide...
Finally, I was told that GM Scott Howson is having a sit down meeting with Season Ticket Holders ahead of this game - it must be for 20 game or full season packs, as my rep didn't contact me about it, and I have a ten game. If anyone happens to be going to the meeting, I'd love to hear just what comes out of that talk...