Saturday, January 31, 2009

Stars On Our Turf

C After two scrappy, contentious, controversial games in Dallas, this battle comes to the Jackets home turf for the next edition. The teams have split the season series thus far, with both games requiring extra time to be decided. The Jackets won on opening day with a Rick Nash overtime goal, and later Dallas prevailed in a shootout in the game best remembered for the Toronto War Room negating Malhotra's goal in OT, and for the injury that left Brass out for the year.

Both squads have a different look coming into this one. Steve Mason is the owner of the net for Columbus, so this is unlikely to be a high scoring affair. Similarly, Mary Turco has shrugged off his early season awfulness, being 3-0 in his last three games, sporting a 1.00 GAA and .961 save percent over that span. For the season, he is 2.98 and .888 Sean Avery is gone from the Stars locker room, and Ribeiro has stepped up his game.

Both teams are hot, and in the thick of the playoff chase in the West. With 53 points, the Jackets are in 6th, with Dallas snapping at their heels with 51 points, but two games in hand. The CBJ similarly have games in hand over Phoenix and Anaheim. The Jackets have won 2 in a row since the break, and are on a positive run. The Stars have won 3 straight, and 5 of 7. Lots on the line, lots of history to account for, so this promises to be an intense game.

Neither team excels on special teams, with Dallas ranking 25th in the league on both the Power Play and Penalty Kill, though both have been better of late. The CBJ are 30th on the PP, but 19 on the PK, and had a very strong effort last night.

Both teams are familiar with each other, but at the same time each has evolved since they last met. Here are the keys to a CBJ victory:

--Continue the Hitch-Hockey Mantra -- Since the break, we have returned to the Hitch style of controlling the neutral and defensive zones, supporting the defense, breaking out from the back, and forechecking and hitting hard. Keep it up. As with last night, keep their top line to the perimeter, limit their shots, and give Mase clear lines of vision.

--Offensive Aggression -- We need to play 3 period of forceful hockey in the offensive zone. Shoot, shoot, shoot!! A little success early will go a long way. Traffic in front, point shots, 3 men abreast -- it all needs to happen.

-- Composure -- Do not get drawn in to penalties or unnecessary fights. Keep Ott in check, and don't let him bait us. Let them make the mistakes. We are on the back end of a back-to-back, so we don't want to waste energy on the PK. If we do have to kill penalties, be aggressive, as in the Ottawa game.

-- Crispness -- The Ottawa effort was marred by substandard passing and general disorganization. Keep it simple, put it on the tape, play the role prescribed.

Should be a great one, with undisputed possession of 5th on the line. Go Jackets!!!

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