So far, the young season has provided many highlights for the upstart Columbus Blue Jackets, off to a franchise-record 8-4-2 start.
They have taken full-heartedly to Ken Hitchcock's structured mentality, and using their speed and forecheck to pressure opponents into turnovers. Vintage Ken Hitchcock hockey.
With a team as young as the Jackets, it is plausible to wonder if they can maintain such a focus over the course of an 82-game season. To date, they have only played two "poor games." The first coming in Denver, when the Avalanche flat outplayed the Blue Jackets for the majority of the game, winning 5-1.
The second installment of the "old Jackets" in 2007-08 came Wednesday night in Chicago. I'm not a big believer in the "overlooking" nonsense- worrying too much about your next opponent (which in the Jackets' case would be Detroit) and taking the current game lightly.
When it comes down to it, they weren't ready to play. The young Hawks skated circles around the Blue Jackets and carried the play for 50 minutes. Columbus came on by default late in the second after Hitchcock blasted the team during a TV timeout, and again early in the third following a rousing Hitchcock intermission speech. The latter spurned the Jackets to a 2-1 lead early in the third. From there on in, it was all downhill.
Chicago picked apart the Jackets' breakout and created several turnovers, leading to odd-man rushes one after the other. Eight minutes later, the Hawks had a 4-2 lead. Rightly so, the Blue Jackets were embarrassed.
Tonight poses an entirely different breed of challenge to the Jackets. They must believe in the game plan and trust their system, the same style of play that has rewarded them in the early season. To win tonight, they will have to be relentless on the forecheck and hit. Repeatedly hit. And hit again.
Hitchcock's hope is that tonight's game doesn't end being a special teams extravaganza. If it does, the Jackets will be burned. Columbus has played very well at even strength so far, and their penalty kill has kept them afloat for the few mistakes they've made.
Jiri Novotny will center the top line between Rick Nash and Nikolai Zherdev tonight, and Mike Peca (formerly on the top line) will center Jason Chimera and Jared Boll.
Pascal Leclaire returns the nets tonight after being given the night off in Chicago, which was coincidentally his 25th birthday. Happy Birthday, Pascal.