Friday, January 2, 2009

Game Day Preview -- Jackets vs. Colorado Avalanche

The first game of 2009 is just 12 hours or so away! Here are some tidbits to consider for tonight's contest, which will mark the halfway point in the Jackets current road trip, the longest of the season. This also marks the front end of a tough back-to-back, with St. Louis on tap for tomorrow.

To lead off, here is an interesting excerpt from Adrian Dater's blog entry in the Denver Post:

The Avs are running into one hot goalie tomorrow night. Columbus’ Steve Mason has three straight shutouts, a streak of 181:59. This is the same guy who led Canada to the World Junior title last year. No rookie has done what Mason has done since Glenn Hall in 1955-56.- Don’t be surprised if Doug Weight becomes a Blue Jacket before long. I think that will leave him with only four more NHL teams he hasn’t played with if that happens. Or at least it seems that way. (And, yes, I say why not get Doug Weight in the Burgundy and Blue, at this stage, as another reader noted below. Seriously, I’ve given up on Arnie. You either have it or you don’t. And Arnie just doesn’t have it anymore).

So, it appears that Mason is starting to get some notice, and the Weight deal is gaining some momentum outside the confines of Central Ohio.

Despite losing two of their stalwarts, including their leading scorer, Colorado has been making things tough for visiting teams. The Avs have won their last three at home, including a 5-4 win over Phoenix, a 4 - 3 victory over the Red Wings and a 5 - 1 thumping of Nashville.

Not sure who will be in goal for Avs tonight. Budaj has taken the brunt of the load, including the 3 - 1 loss at Phonix on New Year's Eve. He is 13-16-1, with a 2.74 GAA and a .903 save percentage. Raycroft has only appeared in 8 games, but has a 6 - 1 record. His GAA is 2.95 and sports an .886 save percentage. Given the disparity between the statistics and the records, it appears that Raycroft has been in the right place at the right time.

Both the CBJ and the Avs are working through injury issues. Colorado, however, still has Jacket killers Ryan Smith and Milan Hejduk. John-Michael Liles has been providing some scoring support from the blue line, and Ian Laperriere and T.J. Hensick have also been contributors.

The Jackets have moved up to 10th in the NHL in Goals Against, thanks to their recent spate of shutouts, and remain 22nd in goals scored. We need to continue with the tough Hitchcockian checking game tonight, but also need to step up the offensive assault. We need 30+ shots on goal tonight, and lots of early rubber. Get an early lead, dole out the majority of the hits, stay out of the box and own the faceoff circle. Those are the keys for the current road trip, and have worked so far. If we can add some more offensive zip and elevate the puck above the ice, but below the crossbar, we have the ingredients for success.

Let's go Jackets!!

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