Game #30 Preview: Full Metal Blue Jacket

Thomas Drance
December 13 2011 12:23PM


Birthday Boy Dan Hamhuis Flips-Up An Anonymous Blue Jacket

Game Day Recon: Game #30 - Canucks at Blue Jackets

Tin Soldiers, and the Richard Nixon of NHL team's are coming to Ohio tonight, as the visiting Canucks face-off against the lowly Blue Jackets for the third time this season. This is the Canucks third game on their current East Coast swing, and they're, thus far, undefeated on the trip. Cody Hodgson, who many feared would be out for a while with a concussion following an incidentally vicious head-shot from Nick Foligno on Saturday night, will be in the lineup. Roberto Luongo, who has been hot of late gets the start, his fourth in a row. In the Blue Jackets meanwhile, are throwing Steve Mason in net, so take the over.

While the Canucks have dominated the Blue Jackets so far this season, and historically, this Blue Jackets team is better than their record indicates, and if their goaltending holds-out (unlikely with mason in net) they could give the Canucks some trouble this afternoon. B.C. born youngster Ryan Johansen had a borderline dominant performance in a losing effort against the Canucks the last time these two teams met, and I'll be curious to see him skate again. Kid looks like the real deal.

Broadcast Info

Game Time: 4PM PST

TV: SNET-P Radio: Team 1040

The Setup

Of late, inferior team's like the Avalanche and the Senators have been "running" the Canucks in a failed effort to level the playing field. In the first meeting between these two teams, the Jackets seemed to take that approach, and Marc Methot memorably boarded Henrik Sedin, causing the first "should the Canucks retaliate or not?" debate of the season. The Canucks won the game on an Alex Burrows power-play goal mid-way through the third. In the second meeting between the two teams, the Blue Jackets played a significantly more disciplined game, but they were thoroughly out-chanced and dominated by the team from Vancouver.

So which Blue Jackets approach will we see tonight? If the call up of enforcer/crazy person Dane Byers is any indication, we may be in for another game in which a mediocore team takes constant liberties with the Canucks skaters. On the other hand, if the presence of Steve Mason in net is any indication, the Blue Jackets may well want to limit the Canucks power-play time, because if they don't, they're likely to pay for it.

In the two previous meetings between these teams this season, the Canucks have outscored the Blue Jackets 7-3 in aggregate, but Columbus has managed to out-chance the Canucks at even-strength by an agregate tally of 22 to 19. In the November 29th game, the Canucks basically had the win wrapped up by the end of the first twenty minutes, but struggled mightily on the power-play, giving up a short-handed goal and three power-play chances against (while producing none for). Perhaps the Blue jackets success on the penalty-kill in the game a couple of weeks ago has convniced them to try a "rougher" approach to handling the Canucks...

Bill Sweatt was forgettable in limited minutes in his first two NHL games, and was sent back to the Chicago Wolves this morning, which, means that the meandering Andrew Alberts gets the start at forward. Though Andrew Alberts was a minus-2 in five and a half minutes of ice-time against the Habs, he wasn't on the ice for any chances against. The "I watched him good crowd" seems intent on blaming Alberts for both soft goals, but I think that's a stretch. Alberts on the fourth line is not ideal, but it's not the Titanic level disaster many of the chicken little crowd in the Canucks fan-base seem to think it is.

The Canucks are 9-1-0 in their last ten games, and have scored 4 or more goals in their last six games. Henrik Sedin sits at 699 career points, and may well get his 700th tonight. It's also Dan "Christian Ehrhoff two point o" Hamhuis' birthday today, so I'll be rooting for him to score a birthday goal!

The Three Keys

  1. Generate chances on the power-play. Coming off of the power-play unit's thoroughly dismal performance against the Blue Jackets on November 29th, it is essential that they get back on track. The addition of Dane Byers into the Columbus lineup indicates to me that the Blue Jackets were emboldened by the Canucks listlessnes with the man-advantage. If the Canucks powerplay is generating chances, and looking like its usual self early, perhaps Arniel's club will back off their Rock'Em Sock'Em game-plan. For the physical health of the team, this is the biggest key as I see it.
  2. Pahlsson versus the Twins. So far this season, the Sedins have not dominated a Columbus team that they really should be a matchup nightmare for. Sure they've put up a combined four points, but the chance data tells a different story... One of the major reasons for this is the play of their countryman and close friend Samuel Pahlsson. Arniel has relied on Pahlsson to keep the Sedins in check and he's been generally effective. The Sedins may get some softies against Mason tonight, so if they can win this matchup (which they did in November, and didn't in October) they could have a very productive evening.
  3. Kesler versus the Nash line. You just know that Ryan Kesler (along with Hansen, Higgins, Bieksa and Hamhuis) are going to get a steady diet of Carter-Nash-Umberger tonight. There's a lot of size, talent and firepower on that line, especially if Nash shows up tonight, and doesn't pull his "Canadian Kovalchuk" floater routine. If Kesler and co. can win this matchup, the Canucks should win handily.
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Thomas Drance lives in Toronto, eats spicy food and writes about hockey. He is an NHL News Editor at theScore, the ex-managing editor of CanucksArmy.com and an opinionated blowhard to boot. You can follow him on twitter @thomasdrance.
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