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Game Preview #36 - Keep The Train Rolling In 2015

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The Jackets closed out 2014 with their best month (10-1-1) in franchise history. They head out west for a road trip to start off 2015. Can they keep the good mojo flowing?

Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Columbus Blue Jackets at Arizona Coyotes

January 3rd, 2015 - 8:00 PM EST
Gila River Arena - Glendale, Arizona
Radio - WBNS 97.1 - TV - Fox Sports Ohio
Opponent's Blog: Five For Howling

There's some interesting symmetry here: last season, the Jackets' run started in their first game after the calendar flipped to January. They went on a 9-1-0 run, and that run started in Arizona (nee: Phoenix). Those Jackets were hovering just around (slightly below) .500, and then they kickstarted a playoff run. This year's Jackets are right at .500, and are again starting January in Arizona. The difference? The Jackets are coming off a white-hot month of December that saw them go 10-1-1, good for 21 out of a possible 24 points.

Even cooler? The teams against which they went 10-1-1 are a combined 204-107-54, good for 462 points in 365 games. In other words, they Jackets played a tough, tough schedule in December, and they damn near aced it.

Enter the Coyotes, who are not in the class of the opponents the Jackets have been beating. Arizona is in a down year, and they don't do anything particularly well. When I do these previews, I do the chart at the bottom with the team rankings in offense, defense, and special teams. To my recollection, the Jackets have not one time this season gone into a game better in all four categories posted below. Tonight, they do.

Remember a few years ago when Mike Smith was unbeatable? Well, he's been pretty god-awful to this point, going 5-15-2 in 23 games, posting a 3.48 gaa and a .884 save percentage. And he makes $5.667 million this year and each of the next FOUR seasons. Yowza!

The other nice thing about this trip that includes Arizona, Colorado, and Dallas? After it's done, the Jackets only have to go out of the Eastern and Central time zones twice: once to Winnipeg later this month, and the three game Western Canada swing in mid-March. The season won't be halfway done until later this month, and Columbus will have completed almost all of their tough travel.

So, heading into 2015 as a .500 team can be looked at as good or bad, depending on the context. I think the Jackets are actually in OK shape, all things considered. Guys may continue to get healthy, and the team has built a foundation over the last month upon which they can build. Now would be as good a time as any to climb over the psychological hurdle of .500.

Optional skate this morning for Columbus, so no expected lineup changes from the lines and pairs that started on Wednesday.

Projected Lineups

Columbus Blue Jackets
(16-16-3, 35 Points; 5th division, 12th conference)

Scott Hartnell Ryan Johansen Jeremy Morin
Matt Calvert Brandon Dubinsky Corey Tropp
Nick Foligno Alexander Wennberg Jack Skille
Adam Cracknell Michael Chaput Jared Boll
Jack Johnson David Savard
Kevin Connauton James Wisniewski
Fedor Tyutin Dalton Prout
Sergei Bobrovsky
Curtis McElhinney

Arizona Coyotes
(14-19-4, 32 Points; 6th Division, 13th Conference)

Mikkel Boedker Antoine Vermette Shane Doan
Martin Erat Martin Hanzal Sam Gagner
Tobias Rieder Kyle Chipchura David Moss
Lauri Korpikoski Brandon McMillan B.J. Crombeen
Oliver Ekman-Larsson Zbynek Michalek
Keith Yandle Michael Stone
Brandon Gormley Connor Murphy
Mike Smith
Devan Dubnyk

Season Series

01/03/15 - Columbus at Arizona
02/03/15 - Arizona at Columbus

Head to Head Stats

Arizona Columbus
2.24 (25) GPG 2.43 (24)
3.22 (27) GAPG 3.11 (26)
19.5% (12) PP% 24.4% (1)
75.4% (29) PK% 80.2% (20)
Antoine Vermette, 10 G leader Nick Foligno, 17
Keith Yandle, 20 A leader Ryan Johansen, 22
Antoine Vermette, 25 Pts leader Nick Foligno / Ryan Johansen, 32
Kyle Chipchura, 47 PIM leader Jared Boll / Dalton Prout, 49
7-8-3 Home/Road 7-7-1
4-5-1 Last 10 8-1-1
12/31 @ Dallas, L 6-0 Last Game 12/31 vs. Minnesota, W 3-1