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Game Preview #41 – WHAT?? Th–That’s… THAT’S NATHAN HORTON’S MUSIC!!

Columbus Blue Jackets at Phoenix Coyotes

January 2, 2014 – 9:00 pm EST
Jobing.com Arena – Glendale, Arizona
Radio – WBNS 97.1 – TV – Fox Sports Ohio
Opponent’s Blog: Five For Howling
SBN’s Blue Jackets vs Coyotes coverage

The Blue Jackets are skating as I type at this moment, so we’ll have some more lineup updates as the day goes on. But, the three important things to note are these:

1. Nathan Horton!!!1!1!
2. Sergei Bobrovsky!!!!1!
3. (Dalton Prout)

All of these people will be dressed tonight. Only Bob will probably not play (he’s slated to be the backup as of this moment). But, yeah. Nathan Horton makes his Blue Jackets’ debut tonight after missing 40 games coming back from shoulder surgery. Sergei Bobrovsky is back in the fold tonight after missing 12+ games with a groin injury. Oh, and Dalton Prout.

Obviously, my lineup conjecture below is rough at best. I’m assuming Jack Skille doesn’t play tonight after leaving Tuesday night’s game and with Horton coming in. I have no idea if the coaching staff plays Horton on one of the top lines (one would hope), but as a default for now I have him penciled in on the third line in place of Skille (with Blake Comeau moving over to the left side).

EDIT – After checking the Tweets after publishing, I’ve noticed that The Dispatch’s Shawn Mitchell has the morning skate lines as follows (reflected below as well, now):


That said, all personnel updates aside, the Jackets have some worrying trends to overcome. Their special teams have been abysmal of late, with their once-very-good PK having deserted them. The Power Play scored just THREE times in the entire month of December (3-for-39, 7.7%). Their PK allowed that many PPGs in each of the last two games and are just 10-for-18 (55.6%) over their last four games. These are disturbing trends.

The Coyotes are a team predicated on offense, as they trot out scoring from all facets of their lineup. Whereas Columbus has just two players with 25 or more points, the Coyotes have five of them. Look at the head-to-head chart below for their team leaders: it’s not just one guy driving the bus.

Defensively, however, the Coyotes are not as stout as they have been in years-past. Mike Smith has not been great, and has been outplayed by Thomas Greiss recently. After his breakout year two seasons ago in which he posted 2.21 gaa and .930 sv%, Smith’s numbers have dropped each season to the point where he’s posted a 2.88 gaa and .912 sv%.

Those numbers in concert speak to a defensive issue overall, and that is echoed by shots-numbers: Phoenix is 26th in the league in shots allowed per-game (over 33), and sooner or later even a goaltender with a moderately good save percentage against all of those shots is going to get scored on regularly. Smith played 34 games last season, and faced 938 shots, stopping 91.0% of them. This year, in one fewer game, he’s faced 104 MORE SHOTS, and is saving 91.2% of them. It doesn’t take a mathematician to see what that does to the team’s defensive numbers overall.

And, to wit, Smith has yet to record a shutout this season in 33 games after having five last season in 34 games.

But, enough about Smith; we might not even see him tonight, as Greiss came in in relief on Tuesday after Smith allowed three goals to Edmonton on 10 shots, and willed the team to an overtime victory.

Overall, there’s reason for an injection of life into the Jackets’ offense with Horton coming on board, even if it’s only a placebo-effect of having him in the lineup. What this game will come down to is the Jackets’ special teams, yet again. The Coyotes have a good Power Play, and the Jackets’ PK is hemorrhaging goals right now. Conversely, the Coyotes, PK isn’t very good, and the Jackets are more than overdue on the man advantage.

Which ship can they right tonight?

Projected Lineups

Columbus Blue Jackets
(17-19-4, 38 Points; 7th division, 13th conference)

Brandon Dubinsky Artem Anisimov Nathan Horton
Nick Foligno Ryan Johansen R.J. Umberger
Blake Comeau Derek MacKenzie Cam Atkinson
Boone Jenner Mark Letestu Corey Tropp

Fedor Tyutin Jack Johnson
Ryan Murray James Wisniewski
Nikita Nikitin David Savard

Curtis McElhinney
Sergei Bobrovsky

Phoenix Coyotes
(20-10-9, 49 Points; 5th division, 8th conference)

Lauri Korpikoski Martin Hanzal Radim Vrbata
Rob Klinkhammer Antoine Vermette Mikkel Boedker
Tim Kennedy Mike Ribeiro David Moss
Paul Bissonnette Jeff Halpern Kyle Chipchura

Connor Murphy Oliver Ekman-Larsson
Keith Yandle Derek Morris
Michael Stone David Schlemko

Mike Smith
Thomas Greiss

Season Series

01/02/14 – Columbus at Phoenix
04/08/14 – Phoenix at Columbus

Head to Head Stats

Phoenix Columbus
2.97 (6) GPG 2.68 (13)
2.97 (25) GAPG 2.90 (23)
19.7% (10) PP% 16.7% (21)
79.1% (24) PK% 79.0% (25)
Shane Doan / Antoine Vermette – 12 G leader Ryan Johansen, 16
Keith Yandle, 21 A leader Brandon Dubinsky / James Wisniewski, 18
Radim Vrbata / Mike Ribeiro, 29 Pts leader Ryan Johansen, 32
Martin Hanzal, 47 PIM leader Brandon Dubinsky, 68
11-3-3 Home/Road 8-10-2
12/31 vs. Edmonton, W 4-3 (OT) Last Game 12/31 @ Colorado, L 5-3
4-2-4 Last 10 5-4-1