Game 55 Preview: Mountain Climbing

Some say that they climb mountains like Everest, K2, Kilimanjaro, and Pike's Peak because they are there. Because that peak, glorious, deadly, and defiant, touches some chord within their souls and inspires them to challenge it - to prove that there is nothing in nature that mankind, with the help of some ingenuity and tools, cannot find a way to overcome.

Then there are those who climb the mountains not because of glory or poetry, but because they simply have no choice. Their crops are there. Their homes are there. Their lives are there. To fear the mountain, to refuse it, is to commit themselves to death. It is simply a matter of survival.

Which camp the Blue Jackets are in is a matter of debate in the fanbase right now, but I think everyone would agree that the Avalanche are a mountain the Jackets must conquer tonight if they wish to keep the guttering hopes for this season alive.

Game Time: 7:00 pm EST
TV: Fox Sports Ohio (HD)
Radio: 97.1 WFAN-FM
Avalanche vs Blue Jackets coverage
Opponent's Blog: Mile High Hockey

This is a seriously difficult game to handicap. While the Avs are seriously banged up, now including the loss of goaltender Craig Anderson, who has left the team for personal reasons, they have also been able to whoop the Jackets but good in their two meetings so far this season, using a combination of speed and aggression that the Jackets simply could not answer.

While the lineup has certainly turned over, they still have quite a bit of offensive firepower, and there is the X-factor of Peter Forsberg, whom many expect to start his NHL comeback tonight (assuming his visa issues are resolved in time). Meanwhile, despite being a fairly average to weak goaltender against the rest of the NHL, expected starter Peter Budaj has a notably better stat line when he faces the Blue Jackets.

That said, the Jackets need tonight. Between losing to San Jose and a spate of OT games over the past two nights, the ground they had made up with a four game win streak has started to slip back away from them. Two points tonight will help them jump back into the fight - and keep them from falling below the Avs and Blues in the standings.

Keys To The Game:

  • Defense - With Adam Foote, Kyle Cumiskey, and Kyle Quincey all out, the Avs have called up Jonas Holos to fill out their blue line alongside Ryan O'Byrne, Matt Hunwick, and Ryan Wilson. Only John-Michael Liles has played close to the full season for the Avs. It's a patchwork mix of experienced journeymen and younger guys. The Jackets need to find ways to take advantage of that. Meanwhile, Marc Methot, Fedor Tyutin, and Grant Clitsome have been solid performers for the Jackets - we need them to continue that, and if possible, have the rest of the D kick it into a higher gear to join them.
  • Speed, speed, speed - One advantage the Jackets do have compared to the two previous meetings is the return of Kristian Huselius and the additions of Matt Calvert and John Moore (who may or may not dress tonight.) Adding some more speed to help counter Colorado's speedy rushes (and to perhaps counter-rush the puck) would go a long way to help the Jackets tonight.
  • Smart Pucks - One of the biggest differences in the wins of last week to the loss against San Jose was the way the Jackets started to make some bad turnovers and lazy passes. When this team is on and mentally sharp, they find ways to move the puck without exposing it to any more trouble than necessary. That's a habit they need to get back into, and to keep using.
  • Foppa - Honestly, if he plays, he plays. I'm not terribly wound up about it. But the Jackets need to realize that if he does hit NHL ice for the first time in over a year (not counting the Olympics), he's going to want to make a big impression, and he's been a guy who has tasted a lot of success against them. Don't go so far into trying to defend him that you leave the rest of the ice wide open, but minimize his effectiveness. Let the Avs run themselves ragged trying to get him going, and hopefully leave them frustrated.

As I mentioned before, this is the first of 7 pivotal games before the trade deadline. A playoff for the playoffs, if you will. The team needs to get a big jump on that "series" tonight. Carve out a handhold, and use each one to help pull themselves towards the summit.

Blue Jackets Information:

Team Page Schedule
Roster Stats

Columbus Blue Jackets

Rick Nash Derick Brassard Jakub Voracek
R.J. Umberger Antoine Vermette Kristian Huselius
Chris Clark Samuel Pahlsson Derek Dorsett
Matt Calvert Derek MacKenzie Jared Boll
Jan Hejda John Moore
Fedor Tyutin Marc Methot
Grant Clitsome Kris Russell
Steve Mason
Mathieu Garon

Colorado Avalanche

David Jones Paul Stasny Chris Stewart
Peter Forsberg Matt Duchene Milan Hejduk
Daniel Winnik Ryan O'Reilly Brandon Yip
Cody McLeod Phillipe Dupuis

David Koci

Kevin Shattenkirk John-Michael Liles

Ryan Wilson

Ryan O'Byrne
Jonas Holos Matt Huwick
Peter Budaj
John Grahame

Tidbit: Since Matt Duchene is apparently a fan of vodka, he might be interested in checking out local Microdistillers Middle West Spirits or Watershed Distillery, both of whom create unique, locally sourced artisanal spirits. Middle West's OYO vodka, made from Ohio grown red winter wheat, is a particularly fine beverage. If the Jackets can turn the tables tonight, maybe we can send Duchene a bottle as a consolation prize.

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