There once was a time, not so long ago, that the Blue Jackets were burgeoning rivals for the Blues. There have certainly been some memorable games. Remember the November 2010 game, where the Blues were off to an amazing start, only to see it crash and burn in Columbus? It was an 8-1 blowout loss, and we saw T.J. Oshie break his ankle, keeping him out of action for the next couple of months. Remember SoccerGate? No matter how bad the Blue Jackets got, they seemed to always come out strong against the Blues. We usually beat them, but it was almost never an easy game.
Well, just as they were starting to get interesting again (that is, good), they were re-aligned into the Eastern Conference. This will be our only match in Columbus this year. And my, how things have changed.
Last year's Vezina-winning goalie Sergei Bobrovsky (BOBROVSKY!) is out with a strained groin. This opened up a chance for the backup, Curtis McElhinney to get a few starts, but now he's gone down with a Lower Body Injury (a lot of that going around). This happened in their last game, a 4-2 win over the New York Rangers. St. Louis product Mike McKenna, the trooper that he is, stepped in to start the second period of that game. He made 17 stops on 18 shots against, and preserved the win for the BJs. This sets up today's game, where McKenna will make his first NHL start since 2010, when he was with the New Jersey organization. Good luck Mike (just not today)! A side note: the goalie shuffling has another local effect - CBJ affiliate Springfield (MA) Falcons had to send yet another goalie to back up McKenna, and so had to replenish their cupboard by bringing up Linus Lundin from the CHL St Charles Chill.
The injury bug has taken a lot of BJ players down this year. Already, they've lost over 100 man-games to injuries of one type or another. Not only that, but these are some major players - Marian Gaborik , Nathan Horton, James Wisniewski, and the aforementioned goalies. Despite missing those players, they've managed to play about .500 hockey - a season record of 14-15-3. In their last ten games, they've gone 6-4-0, and are in the thick of the playoff race. Let's hear it for the "Meh"tropolitan Division!
This adversity has toughened up the team considerably, and they've pulled together. They are 6th in the league in terms of Home PK at 87.3% , and they've gone 13 for 13 in penalty kills so far in the month of December. The team is led in goals and overall points by Ryan Johansen (11G , 14A), followed by Brandon Dubinsky (6G 14A) and the injured Wisniewski (2G, 16A). In terms of goal-scoring, after Johansen there is Nick Foligno and Cam Atkinson, both with 9 Goals and 8 Assists.
Looking at recent history and #FancyStats, it looks like a familiar story. The BJs won in New York by jumping out to a 3-0 lead in the first period. Per Extra Skater, the BJs are below 50% in 5V5 Fenwick when the score is close, so it's in their interest to get ahead early. The Blues are still shaking off the slow-start-syndrome that has hindered them in the past, but have an advantage in the same stat when the score is close (55.5%). So, to echo a recurring theme, don't run to the hills if you give up a goal, BUT ... don't let the first period get away from you and dig yourself a deeper hole. Fast starts are important - be quick or be dead.
Puck Rakers (Columbus Dispatch blog)
Final Verse: The Blue Jackets are in the Eastern Time Zone, so a bit earlier start than usual. The opening faceoff is at 6:00 PM St Louis time. The TV broadcast is on Fox Sports MW, and the radio call will be on KMOX 1120 AM. The GDT should drop just before the puck does. Until that time, consider this your pregame warmup. Gather here, chat about the snow, wax nostalgic about hating the Blue Jackets, and enjoy a little Heavy Metal...