An interesting matchup tonight for the Blue Jackets. Coming off what has to be a disappointing road loss in Minnesota, the Jackets have had time to recharge and focus on their opponents for game 3. Though the season is young, it is not premature to call this a "crucial" game.
Had the Jackets won more games last year against teams beneath them in the standings, they would've been significantly closer to a playoff berth. Such was not the case, and Columbus was often handled by the lower eschelon teams in the NHL. Good thing that's not an official stat.
The last time these two teams met in Nationwide Arena was February 6, 2007...and it was ugly. A brutal snowstorm swept through central Ohio and rougly 10,000 diehards made it to the rink (and that was the bright side). The Coyotes skated all over the Jackets, wearing them down physically and capitalizing on multiple turnovers to win 3-0. At the time, it was the latest in a string of embarrassing defeats for Columbus, who were starting an important six-game homestand. They went 2-4 on the homestand, and any hope of the playoffs vanished.
Based on the events of the past week, it is justified to think this Columbus team is markedly different from last year's. Personnel-wise, few adjustments were made, but the most visible change has been the style of play. For 60 minutes against Anaheim and 40 minutes in Minnesota, the Jackets played hard-nosed, in-your-face hockey--vintage Ken Hitchcock. They dictated the pace and forced the opponent to play right into their hands. The Wild were only the second team in 27 games to beat the Jackets in regulation when trailing after two periods.
Columbus needs to get better at home, and in doing so must win the "winnable" games. Phoenix is fast and physical, so the Jackets will have to come out with energy and finish all checks. Creating turnovers is key for the Jackets, and if they play their style, they should have their chances.
Michael Peca makes his Blue Jackets debut tonight between Dan Fritsche and Gilbert Brule. Ole-Kristian Tollefsen is a healthy scratch.
Jody Shelley and Curtis Glencross have yet to dress this year.
Pascal Leclaire, coming off his outstanding opening-night shutout, gets the nod in goal tonight.