Three Keys: Phoenix
One of the things Todd Richards mentioned after last night's game was the Blue Jackets spending far too much time inside their own zone and losing their style of play. It disrupted their flow and prevented them from generating and sustaining a consistent attack, and with only eight shots on goal after 40 minutes, it was easy to see why.
They saw what happens when they're on form: game tape from Edmonton and San Jose is clear evidence of that. They can overwhelm opponents and get them back on their heels with forechecking and puck pressure, two things that were not a big part of their game last night in Los Angeles.
It's time to turn the page, though, and another game awaits in just a few hours. The Phoenix Coyotes are another one of those big, physical Western Conference teams that provide a complete test of your game, and the Blue Jackets are going to need a stronger effort tonight if they want two points in Glendale.
Steve Mason is the starting goalie for the Blue Jackets this evening and he's likely to face Mike Smith on the Phoenix side. A few lineup changes for Columbus: Artem Anisimov will not play tonight after taking a slap shot off the boot last night, so Nick Drazenovic gets a chance to show what he can do. Cody Goloubef is a likely scratch in favor of the now-healthy John Moore, who will also return tonight.
Let's proceed with my "three keys" to success for the Blue Jackets:
1. A clean slate: Probably one of the best things going for Columbus tonight is the simple ability to make amends for a subpar effort last night in Los Angeles. Sure, they made it interesting in the latter stages, but the word out of the locker room was disappointment that they strayed from the game plan in the second period. From the drop of the puck tonight, that commitment has to be there in spades: pucks to the net, traffic in front and using their checking to retrieve pucks.
2. Fresh legs: The additions of Drazenovic and Moore into the lineup give the Blue Jackets more speed both up front and on defense, and Moore in particular is a grade-A option for transporting the puck out of trouble. They've missed his foot speed on the back end, especially during some long shifts in their own zone that have resulted in scoring chances against. With Anisimov out tonight, this is an opportunity for Drazenovic to display the skills that have him leading the Falcons in scoring with 45 points in 46 games, which is also the third-best total in the entire AHL. The 26-year-old center has been itching for another crack at the NHL, and tonight, he'll get it.
3. Simple game: It looked like the Blue Jackets made last night's game too complex and they were forcing a lot of plays all over the ice. Their game is very simple, as outlined above and echoed by the players and coaching staff: use the forecheck to create turnovers and scoring chances, and play a sound and competitive style in the defensive zone. The best way to simplify it? Spend less time chasing the puck and more time pushing it "north" toward the Coyotes' net.