Three Keys: St. Louis
Two days later, Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards still didn't sound pleased about Tuesday's game when he met the media this morning at Nationwide Arena.
We heard the phrase "30 minutes of hockey" after a 3-2 loss to the Minnesota Wild and it wasn't one of the Blue Jackets' better performances of the young season. Richards said he had a message for the players when they gathered on the ice for today's morning skate, but the context of the discussion will remain between he and the team.
St. Louis is probably the best opponent for where the Blue Jackets currently are. The Blues are a strong, fast and physical team that demands the most out of its opponent, or else it's a long night. The Blue Jackets can bring nothing less than their "A" game if they want to defeat a Blues club that has won five of its first six games and hasn't shown many weaknesses in its game.
Brian Elliot starts in goal for the Blues and he will face Sergei Bobrovsky for the Blue Jackets. The goaltending matchup is just one of many layers to this game, and the most notable layer is the injury trouble that Columbus has run into of late. Cam Atkinson, Matt Calvert, Nikita Nikitin and Adrian Aucoin are all out of the Blue Jackets lineup, but Richards said this morning that all but Atkinson are expected back within a week.
Tim Erixon and Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, recalled yesterday from Springfield (AHL), both make their Blue Jackets debuts this evening. It's also the NHL debut for Audy-Marchessault, the third-leading scorer in the AHL at the time of his recall (16 goals, 29 assists in 42 games).
Ryan Johansen will center Vinny Prospal and "JAM" tonight, and Richards said the chemistry between the two youngsters in Springfield is one of the reasons he chose to re-unite them. With a veteran playmaker like Prospal on the other side, I'm looking forward to seeing how many opportunities that line can generate. Should be fun to watch.
Let's get right to my "three keys" to success for the Blue Jackets:
1. Stride for stride: The Blues are a team that's made to wear down opponents, and the sooner they can do it, the better. St. Louis gives teams a pretty good punch right out of the gate and it's something the Blue Jackets have to be prepared for tonight. Smart puck decisions, responsible forechecking and puck pressure are all important things to remember when facing a team like the Blues. If the Blue Jackets can absorb the first push from St. Louis and counter with something similar, I like their chances.
2. Pick up the check: Establishing territory on home ice is something NHL teams focus on, and it begins with letting the opponent know this isn't going to be an easy night. Finishing checks, laying the body and inflicting a little pain into the Blues is what the Blue Jackets have to do right from the drop of the puck. Fight fire with fire, checking with checking, and as coaches often say "don't give them anything for free."
3. Pucks to the net: The Blues are a solid defensive team but their shots-against numbers are staggering; they are allowing just under 20 shots a game, and on opening night at home, they only gave up 14 shots to the Detroit Red Wings. If there's a recipe for winning hockey, cutting down opportunities is one of the main ingredients. The Blue Jackets have struggled in getting pucks on target lately, and against a team that's committed to blocking shots and taking away lanes, they have to get creative and not frustrated if things don't go their way early. Shots on goal are chances to score, no matter how you carve it up, and the Blue Jackets need to put pressure on the Blues defense by getting pucks behind them.