Seriously, it’s been one week since the Blue Jackets played the first of their two games this season against the Dallas Stars. Fortunately, I’ve got a trade deadline to discuss so this isn’t a complete cut-and-paste from last Tuesday.
I still marvel over the parallels between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Stars. Statistically, they’re near-even. Columbus is one rank ahead of Dallas on Goals For, but Dallas is one rank ahead of Columbus on Goals Against. Numerically, the differences are negligible.
Then there’s the playoff race. Both are sitting in their respective conference’s eighth and final playoff seed. Dallas has a little more breathing room than the Blue Jackets – who are in their position by virtue of a tiebreaker right now – but again, the difference isn’t that great.
Past that, we have the trade deadline. Both teams made depth trades that have proven to be more badly needed than first thought.
The Blue Jackets’ shelling of goaltender Dan Ellis in the first period last week – three goals in that frame – apparently either traumatized Stars general manager Jim Nill or cemented a previously-held suspicion: The Stars needed stronger backup goaltending. Ellis was not going to get it done for a team that currently is sitting in the last playoff spot in the West. So Nill took advantage of Vancouver’s early (trade deadline-wise) unloading of Roberto Luongo to Florida to package a deal for the Panthers’ netminder, Tim Thomas. What a fortuitous trade it was, as the Stars lost their starting goalie, Kari Lehtonen, to an apparently nasty concussion when Lehtonen was run into his net by a Minnesota fourth line forward. Hence, Thomas is now The Man in Big D. And Ellis remains. Nill must be thanking his lucky Stars that he made that trade for Thomas, who netted the win in relief of Lehtonen.
The Blue Jackets, on the other hand, brought in defenseman Nick Schultz from Edmonton to help duct tape the blue line with the Olympic injury to Fedor Tyutin and then promptly lost super-rookie Ryan Murray to a regular season-ending knee injury. Schultz played just under ten minutes in Saturday’s 1-0 win in Nashville, but imagine how grisly it could have been had coach Todd Richards been forced to start another minor league Springfield Falcon defenseman who was playing over his head! Expect Schultz to get a little more playing time as he re-acclimates himself to coach Richards.
Recent performance is close to even. Dallas is 7-2-1 in their last 10. Columbus is 6-3-1.
Lastly, the two teams are even all square when it comes to weekly awards! The Stars’ Tyler Seguin and the Blue Jackets Artem Anisimov were two of the NHL’s Three Stars of the Week for the past seven days.
The Blue Jackets had a dominating first period performance and an impressive third period rebound to beat the Stars at Nationwide last week. This week, however, they’re playing in Dallas – which means that coach Lindy Ruff gets the last line change. When two teams are this even, that might be the deciding factor.
WHY THIS GAME IS IMPORTANT:
It’s all about the playoffs from here on out. The Blue Jackets, as mentioned, are in the final playoff seed over Detroit by virtue of a tiebreaker. Washington is one point out, and New Jersey is two points out. With that in mind, the Blue Jackets control their destiny. Keep winning, and they stay in the playoff pack. Lose, and they open the door for the other teams.
I’ll also circle back to this whole "matchup of equals" thing. While Dallas has one more standings point than Columbus, which means that Dallas has given us two of the 16 post-Olympic games against teams that have more points than the CBJ, they don’t have the distance from the Blue Jackets that, say, the Chicago Blackhawks do. When assessing a team and its improvement, you look for it to soundly defeat lesser teams, beat teams who are considered their equals and occasionally steal a game against those who are higher up the food chain. This is a game between equals and, for both playoff and team assessment purposes, a must-win.
WHO I’LL BE WATCHING:
I thought that the defense would be the sore spot coming out of the trade deadline, what with the Tyutin (and then Murray) injury and the Schultz acquisition. Defense relies so much upon chemistry and communication. You can’t presume that Nick Schultz would just slide in and make everyone forget he is brand new.
But that hasn’t been the case. I’m throwing out the Chicago game, because the Blackhawks are playing at a higher plane than the Blue Jackets right now. But the Nashville game, even against the historically strong back end of goalies and defensemen that the Predators sport (that currently is ranked only 22nd in the league in Goals Against), revealed a weakness in the CBJ offense that I didn’t see coming.
Remember, Marian Gaborik was sitting out due to his broken collarbone while the CBJ began their rise from 16th in the NHL in Goals For to their current ranking of 8th. The team got along just fine without him, wouldn’t you say? But now, with no Gaborik, the team has two whole goals in two games. You would think that the trade deadline was a deflating event for this team when it should have been an inspiring one. So let’s again throw out the Chicago game, as the Blackhawks are a better hockey team right now. But only one goal against Nashville – a team that should have been ripe for the pickings for the Blue Jackets offense?
I’ll be watching for the offense as a whole tonight. It’ll be a challenge to get back on track, especially with Dallas getting last line change. At the same time, teams that rise to meet their challenges do better in the end.
YOUR FOX SPORTS OHIO BROADCAST INFORMATION:
If you had to have a Western Conference game with a start time at the bottom of the hour, why not schedule it as the first game immediately following the Daylight Saving Time change? That way, we’ll ALL be confused! Worry not, CBJ Fan, as we once again offer the timetable for tonight’s festivities from the Lone Star State:
– Brian Giesenschlag’s CBJ magazine show, "Blue Jackets Slap Shots," airs at 6 p.m. and then re-airs at 7:30 p.m.
– Brian and Dan Kamal bring you the "Blue Jackets Live Pregame" at 8 p.m.
– The puck drops at the American Airlines Arena at 8:30 p.m., with Jeff Rimer and Bill Davidge on the call.
– Brian and Dan return immediately following for "Blue Jackets Live Postgame" with postgame interviews, insight and analysis.
Yet another big road game for the Blue Jackets. Enjoy the game, everyone!