Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Need To Douse The Flames

The last extended road trip of the season for the CBJ begins tonight, with the Jackets sitting in 6th place in the West. I think any of us would have been thrilled to death at the thought of being in 6th at February 24th. However, the crown sits uneasy on our head, as Dallas, Minnesota, Edmonton, Vancouver and Anaheim are all in the thick of the race for the 5th through 8th slots in the West. (A more detailed discussion of the goofy playoff race, the implications for the trade deadline, etc. will be featured here tomorrow.)

This is the 3rd meeting between the Flames and the Jackets this year, with each team claiming 1 home victory so far. Way back in game 15, the CBJ posted a 3 - 1 victory over the Flames, with Mason stopping 22 of 23 shots in his 3rd start (and 3rd win). In the last contest, an exhausted and battered Jackets team gutted out a point in a 5 - 4 shootout loss, which featured the Phaneuf game misconduct, the cross-check to Dorsett's face and assorted other extracurricular activities. Mason was in the midst of his mononucleosis, and we were without Huselius, Chimera, etc. etc.

Calgary has a comfortable 8 point lead in the Northwest Division, and will hold the 3 seed in the West. barring some truly bizarre events. They are starting to feel the injury bite, with Mark Giordano, Rene Borque and Daymond Langkow all out with injuries. Despite being undefeated in regulation at home against the Bluejackets in his career, netminder Miikka Kiprusoff has played in 55 games, sporting a .907 save percentage and a 2.76 GAA overall this year, and has to be aching for a bit of a rest. Jarome Iginla, like Rick Nash, has ramped up assists this year, and has 40 coming into this game. Calgary has uncharacteristically dropped 3 out of 4 at home in February, but has won its last 2. Their challenge will be motivation, with some injuries, an overworked goaltender and a virtual lock of the # 3 seed.

The Jackets need to show that the Anaheim game was an aberration, and come out firing after 2+ days of rest. The game need to be much closer to the 23 shot 3 - 1 game at Nationwide than the 34 shot effort in Calgary. We don't want a track meet, and need to dictate the pace. Factors to consider:

--Masonic Wall -- Mase needs to stand tall, have focus, and stare down Kiprusoff. When Mase stands tall, everyone in front plays better.

--Puck Control -- Be strong on the puck at both ends, clear the crease, crisp outlet passes, no turnovers. Calgary are an opportunistic lot, and we need to make them work for their possessions.

--Shut Down Top Line-- with the injuries Calgary is facing, the top line will be Conroy centering Iginla and Cammalleri, with Bertuzzi on the second line. While you can never overlook Bertuzzi, the top line is clearly the key. Disrupt their flow in the neutral zone, check them all over the ice, and keep them facing the boards.

--Opportunism -- Kiprusoff does not give up a lot of easy garbage, so we need to make life difficult for him and cash in our chances. Simple, straightforward puck movement and rubber on the net. Calgary leads the league in shorthanded goals allowed, so take note Nasher.

-- Controlled Passion -- don't get pushed around, but don't be stupid with trying to prove a point. We don't need stupid penalties or fights that do not server our purposes. Strong checking and forecheck from the drop of the puck for 60 minutes.

As a sidelight, keep an eye on Matthew Lombardi, centering the 3rd line for Calgary. Some say he will be moved at the deadline to create some cap space.

Finally, as part of our ongoing public service, here is your rooting guide for tonight:

Buffalo over Anaheim
Montreal over Vancouver
Tampa Bay over Edmonton
Los Angeles over Minnesota
Chicago over Nashville

Go Jackets!!!!

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