No Pittsburgh Celebration Tonight!
When you mention the Pens, the first thoughts always go to Crosby and Malkin, and with good reason. Malkin leads the league with 79 points, and Crosby is second with 69. Scratch the surface, however, and you might see that the Penguins perhaps do not merit superhero status., and are quite comparable to the CBJ in many respects.
Both clubs are presently 10th in their respective conferences — Pittsburgh with 55 points in 53 games, Columbus with 53 points in 51 games. Pittsburgh ranks 6th in the league in scoring, compared with the CBJ’s ranking of 21. Beyond that, the tale changes significantly. Pittsburgh is 26th in the NHL in Goals Against (Columbus 12). They are 21st on the PK, while the Jackets are 17th. Both teams are power-play challenged, with Pittsburgh ranking 23rd and the Jackets 30th in the NHL.
Pittsburgh comes in having lost 4 of their last 6, though winning the last 2 at home. Not much of a home ice advantage — 13-11-2 at home, vs. 12-12-3 on the road. With a large contingent from the Jacket Backers en route to Mellon Arena tonight, it might not seem like a road game for the Jackets!
As you can imagine, when your top two skaters have 148 points between them, not a lot left for the rest of the team. Sykora, Satan and Staal have 99 points between the three of them. Intriguing +/- stats — while Malkin is a relatively gaudy +17, Crosby is only +4, Sykora +2, Satan -1 and Staal -5.
All this adds up to a recipe the Jackets have seen before. Eastern Conference team with speed and scoring studs that must be neutralized. Sounds like Washington, Montreal, Buffalo??? Get beyond Crosby and Malkin, you have a big dropoff. We need to keep these guys at the perimeters, jam up the neutral zone and not let Malkin and Crosby create space. In other words, Hitch-Hockey! You know that they will be testing Dubie in net, so we need to make sure to create lanes, hit hard, and clear the puck quickly.
In net, Fleury can be had. He has a 2.85 GAA and .910 save percentage, but has been known to give up some big numbers when pressured. Defense is not the hallmark of the Penguins, so we need to take advantage of that and cash in our chances.
For the Jackets, Dubielewicz is definitely in the white hot light of the spotlight tonight. With Curtis Sandford languishing in the minors for Vancouver, and Manny Legace being put on waivers by St. Louis today, there will be a very short leash. GM Scott may pull the trigger on a goalie anyway, since we have so few in the organization. Methot is out, and Backman gets the call. We need him to come up big tonight.
Here are the keys to a CBJ victory:
Hitch Hockey — Everything starts in our zone, from hard checking to crisp passes and clearing. Maintain composure when Malkin and Crosby are on the ice.
Legs, Legs, Legs — Not talking about the cheerleaders here. When we play poorly, it is when we stop moving our feet, at both ends of the ice. This leads to odd man rushes, stupid penalties, and lack of traffic in the crease. As Puck-Rakers and Hitch observed today, Crosby and Malkin stay at full speed for their entire shifts. We don’t want to try to outskate them, but we can position ourselves properly, hit hard and keep the feet moving for 60 minutes.
Offensive KISS — When we have the puck, we need to keep it simple. It seems that as we have developed some chemistry and confidence in our back end support, we suddenly believe we are hockey’s version of the Harlem Globetrotters — 17 passes per shot. I am all for good passes with a purpose, but shoot the darn puck!!! Put lots of rubber on Fleury early and he will melt like a butter cow in August.
Heads Up! — Let’s play smart hockey, with our heads up, looking for both threats and opportunities. Eliminate the threats, take advantage of the opportunities, and a W is in our grasp. Can’t let the threat of Crosby and Malkin put us on our heels. They are most dangerous when they get a turnover at either blue line. Get the puck deep, strong forecheck and stand ‘em up at our blue line, and we will have more odd man chances than Pittsburgh. Not even Malkin and Crosby can play every shift . . .