What a world: the Hurricanes--who at one point were actual players in the Fail for Nail sweepstakes--still have an outside shot at making the playoffs in the Eastern Conference given their play of late. Since sitting at 8-17-4 in early December, they've gone 22-12-11 over their past 45 games. More recently, a 12-4-6 run over their last 22 games has then just six points behind eighth place Washington with eight games to play. Yeah, it's a total long-shot, but mathematically it's a shot. They're currently riding a four-game winning streak, and are theoretically desperate for points.
Enter the Jackets, who are staggering home amidst even more injuries. They were eviscerated at home on Tuesday by Chicago--for the sixth time this season, I might add--and will be without Derek MacKenzie, Fedor Tyutin, James Wisniewski, and Curtis Sanford. Again. Derek Dorsett reportedly took a shot off his hand at the end of practice, but Todd Richards said he believed Dorse would play.
In lineup news, a bit of a shake-up near the top. Rick Nash was moved to the Vinny Prospal--Mark Letestu line, and those three will again be united tonight, forming the top line. R.J. Umberger and Derick Brassard drop to the second line with Cam Atkinson.
With respect to Carolina, I e-mailed with my brother this morning, who is a big Canes fan. One of the things I asked was how the team had responded to new coach Kirk Muller, given the parallels to the Jackets' coaching situation this year. He told me the team has been playing much better under Muller, and told me: "If they had another month, they could probably make playoffs. As it is, it looks like a triumphant run to 9th."
Eric Staal has been beasting of late, with six points in the last three games, including back-to-back two-goal games in the team's last two wins. He is far and away the Canes' best player, leading the team in goals, assists, points, the latter of which he leads the next-closest person by 24. It will be imperative that the Jackets slow him down tonight.
My brother also noted that Carolina under Muller has been a stronger forechecking team, stronger on the PP (see below, hehehe), and has been doing a better job breaking out of their own zone. In addition to Staal, some players to watch include young blueliner Justin Faulk, who at age 19 has blossomed in his first full season with 19 points in 58 games. Jeff Skinner has been coming on of late, while also adding a more physical presence to his game. Finally, Joni Pitkanen--a potential Jackets FA target last summer before re-upping with Carolina--is now back from a stint on IR.
In short, he told me the Canes are a much more fun team to watch under Muller. I sighed longingly, as I wished I could say the same about Columbus. This quote really sums up the game from the Carolina perspective. My bro noted: "This game is exactly the type the Canes would normally lose over the last 3 seasons... We'll see if the culture has really changed under Muller!"
Columbus Blue Jackets
(23-43-7, 53 Points; 5th division, 15th conference)
|Vinny Prospal||Mark Letestu||Rick Nash|
|R.J. Umberger||Derick Brassard||Cam Atkinson|
|Ryan Russell||Ryan Johansen||Derek Dorsett|
|Colton Gillies||Darryl Boyce||Jared Boll|
|Jack Johnson||David Savard|
|Nikita Nikitin||Brett Lebda|
|John Moore||Aaron Johnson|
(30-29-15, 75 Points; 4th Division, 11th Conference)
|Jiri Tlusty||Eric Staal||Chad LaRose|
|Jeff Skinner||Jussi Jokinen||Tuomo Ruutu|
|Drayson Bowman||Brandon Sutter||Patrick Dwyer|
|Derek Joslin||Tim Brent||Anthony Stewart|
|Tim Gleason||Bryan Allen|
|Jay Harrison||Justin Faulk|
|Jamie McBain||Joni Pitkanen|
03/23/12 - Carolina at Columbus
Head to Head
Carolina Columbus 2.66 (13th) GPG 2.23 (29th) 2.86 (26th) GAPG 3.16 (29th) 16.5% (18th) PP% 14.9% (26th) 79.7% (24th) PK% 75.9% (30th) Eric Staal, 23 G Leader Rick Nash, 25 Eric Staal, 43 A Leader Vinny Prospal, 33 Eric Staal, 66 PTS Leader Rick Nash, 48 Bryan Allen, 68 PIM Leader Derek Dorsett, 196 11-16-9 Road/Home 13-20-3 3/21 vs. Florida, W 3-1 Last Game 3/20 vs. Chicago, L 5-1 6-2-2 Last 10 5-5-0
- Such a Strange Game - I am sure we all remember last year's game in Raleigh in which these two teams combined to go 0-for-14 on the man advantage, including the Canes who went 0-for-9. They missed the playoffs on the last day of the season last year, and you could point to that loss to Columbus as a big reason. Missing out on NINE Power Play chances didn't help--including FOUR with a 5-on-3 advantage--in a one-goal loss. In addition, it looked like the Jackets had put the game away late when a Derek MacKenzie empty-net goal with 1:01 left made it 3-2. Columbus couldn't make it easy, though, letting the Canes score just 28 seconds later to make the last 33 seconds all the more tense.
- Comparisons - We noted above the tale of two seasons for the Canes, and talked a bit about their response to a coaching change. How have the Jackets fared under similar conditions? The Jackets were 11-25-5 when Scott Arniel was fired, and have gone 12-18-2 since. Not quite the same work, eh? The silver lining, however, is that Columbus has actually gone 10-11-1 in their last 22. Baby steps, people!
- Homecoming? - Jack Johnson, lest we forget, was originally a 1st-round pick of Carolina in 2005, taken third overall (behind only Sidney Crosby and Bobby Ryan). When they couldn't convince him to sign and leave the University of Michigan, his rights were traded to LA with Oleg Tverdovsky in exchange for Tim Gleason and Eric Belanger. In other words, not a whole lot. In three previous career games against the Hurricanes, Johnson has an assist and is +2. So there's that.
The Blue Jackets haven't lost to Carolina since December 15, 2005. Granted, that's only four straight wins, but I guess what I'm saying is: they've had Carolina's number ever since the Canes won the Cup. Let's continue that streak tonight, boys!