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Game 74 Preview: Bittersweet Reunions

When last we met, things were different.

The Jackets were in the midst of a surge that briefly returned them to the playoff picture, while the Coyotes had been in the midst of a long slump.

Blows were exchanged on and off ice. Words bandied. Tempers flared. A young star went from "prospect" to "hero". 

A few days later, the teams were intertwined again with a trade that seemed to help both while hurting neither, but one team found themselves back on the rise, while the other fell...

Essentials:
Game Time: 10:00 pm EST
TV: Fox Sports Ohio (HD)
Radio: WBNS FM (97.1)
Blue Jackets vs Coyotes coverage

Opponent's Blog: Five For Howling


It's another late one, so set the DVR or make some coffee. 

The Coyotes, with the addition of Rusty Klesla, have been on a 7-2-1 tear their last ten games, compared to Columbus' 2-4-4 slide. The seven point difference between the two clubs' results wouldn't quite put the Jackets into a playoff spot, but it would have raised them to within two points of Dallas, in 9th, and three points back of 8th place Anaheim. 

Despite the poor record, however, the Jackets have been happy to see Scottie Upshall and Sami Lepisto in their lineup - both have made important contributions, and even if the team is not in the postseason, it's hard to describe them as having "lost" the trade. The effort was there - it was simply let down by other factors...sadly, most notably goaltending.

However, there's little point in "might have", "shoulda" or "Could have beens" at this point in the season. It's a fairly simple equation - the Jackets may not have much of a shot at the post season, but players can (and should) finish strong for team pride, personal pride, and frankly, to give Scott Howson a reason to keep them in town, and not to dangle them as trade bait in the next few months.

With all that said, this is a Coyotes team who have been getting it done by dancing on a knife edge - with the exception of a five goal blasting of Anaheim, the majority of their wins have come by one goal margins of late, or a two goal win where the punctuation came from an empty net. 

This is not a team that overwhelms with their offense - they simply put their shoulder down and do their best to outwork you, and to rely on their solid defense (and outstanding goaltending from Ilya Bryzgalov) to do the rest.

Certainly a challenge, but a challenge the Jackets need to meet for their own peace of mind, if nothing else.

Keys To The Game:

  • Home & Away - In addition to playing a "smarter", "simpler" game on the road, which has given them a franchise high 17-3-7 road record, the Coyotes, while solid, are not as good a team at home as they are on the road, with an 18-12-6 record compared to their 22-12-5 road stats. It isn't a huge difference, but the Jackets need to jump on every advantage presented to them.
  • Pack Hunters - Just as the Jackets have worked to instill a "pack mentality", the Coyotes have been the picture of group effort, with well distributed scoring and every player making an effort to get the puck and move it to his linemate for the best advantage. The Jackets need to chase the puck hard, and work as carefully as possible with possession, not giving up on rebounds or low-percentage passes.
  • Keep The Pedal Down - Though it hardly needs to be said after the Jackets have watched two goal leads evaporate in two of their last three games, the team cannot afford to take their foot off the gas - particularly against Phoenix, who have a history this season of scoring more often in the third period than they do in the first or second. This is another team that the Jackets have built leads against this season only to see them washed away late, and you can't count on Matt Calvert getting a hat trick every time to save you.
  • Exploit the Weakness - The Coyotes penalty kill is one of the worst in the NHL - 27th over all, and 24th at home. Though the Jackets haven't been getting a lot of chances with the man advantage lately, any opportunities have to be taken - and finished - aggressively.

Again - this is a challenge. The Coyotes, for all their instability off the ice, have become a very solid team in the Western Conference - one that their fans (and anyone rooting for them simply to overcome their adversity) should be proud of. No matter what happens to the club following this season, they have much to be proud of. But the Jackets have shown they can skate with this team, and they can score on this team. Play strong, play smart, play simple...and play the full 60 minutes. 

Two points won't make a big dent, but it would put the Jackets into 11th place, rather than 12th. Maybe it's a small victory, but it's still one the team should be playing for.

Blue Jackets Information:

Team Page  Schedule
Roster Stats

 

Columbus Blue Jackets

Rick Nash Derick Brassard Jakub Voracek
Matt Calvert Antoine Vermette R.J. Umberger
Derek Dorsett Samuel Pahlsson Scottie Upshall
Maksim Mayorov Derek MacKenzie Jared Boll
Jan Hejda Sami Lepisto
Fedor Tyutin Marc Methot
Craig Rivet Kris Russell
Steve Mason

Mathieu Garon

 

Phoenix Coyotes

Taylor Pyatt Eric Belanger Shane Doan
Ray Whitney Lauri Korpikoski Radim Vrbata
Mikkel Boedker Vernon Fiddler Lee Stempniak
Paul Bissonnette Kyle Turris Andrew Ebbett
Keith Yandle Derek Morris
Rostislav Klesla
Adrian Aucoin
David Schlemko Michal Rozsival

Ilya Bryzgalov
Jason LaBarbera

 

Tidbit: Don't forget that Jackets' prospect Cam Atkinson and the BC Eagles start their NCAA Men's Hockey run tomorrow night! Will Weber, Trent Vogelhuber, and the Miami U. Redhawks will play their first round game on Saturday. Set your DVRs!