BLUE JACKETS VS. CANUCKS
ANALYSIS: Chris Higgins has the only goal of the game so far, and it took more than 35 minutes for someone to light the lamp. The Canucks were able to break out of their own zone cleanly, and off the rush, Higgins surprised Bobrovsky with a short side shot that gave Vancouver a 1-0 lead at 15:25 of the middle frame. While Bob would probably like that one back, his teammates owe him a few goals and it'll be up to them to convert some chances in the third period. They've been out-shot 21-19 to this point, but the best chances have belonged to Columbus. The Johansen line was buzzing again in the second period and has had plenty of good looks, but Miller has been stingy back there in the Canucks net. Can the Blue Jackets finally mount a successful third period rally? We'll find out soon enough.
ANALYSIS: All in all, not a bad first period for the Blue Jackets, who are scoreless with the Canucks after 20 minutes. One thing we can't dispute: the Jackets had their chances to dent the scoreboard first but were unable to cash in. Cam Atkinson hit the outside of the post on the rush, Scott Hartnell had a pair of great opportunities that were thwarted by Ryan Miller, who was sharp in the first period for Vancouver. The Johansen line and the Jenner line have generated some offensive zone time for Columbus, which wants to improve its 5-on-5 game and not rely so much on the power play (though it's been good through 22 games). Look for more pucks in behind the defense and forechecking in the next 40 minutes, because the Blue Jackets brought their work boots tonight.
UPDATE (11:00 AM): Here are some snippets from Todd Richards' meeting with the media today...
- Tim Erixon returns to the lineup after a three-game absence. Kevin Connauton will be a healthy scratch.
- With three games in four nights ahead against three teams playing good hockey, the focus right now is to take care of business in the first one. "We have nine periods of hockey (to make something good happen)," Richards said, but it starts with the first period tonight against Vancouver.
- Richards likened the Canucks' tight-gap, high-pressure style to that of the Detroit Red Wings and Carolina Hurricanes, two teams that have given the Blue Jackets fits this season. Every bit of space will have to be earned tonight against a Vancouver team that doesn't give up much.
- Bobrovsky starts. No word yet on a starting goalie for tomorrow's game in Nashville.
- Tonight's game is not a "must win," Richards said, preferring to save that term for do-or-die situations either in the playoffs or when trying to stave off mathematical elimination from the postseason. He did admit, though, that tonight's game is a big test and a big opportunity for his group.
UPDATE (10:20 AM): Sergei Bobrovsky is in the home net this morning and will start tonight vs. the Canucks.
UPDATE (10:15 AM): Great to see Brandon Dubinsky on the ice and taking part in the morning skate with his teammates. He was a full participant in practice for the first time this season on Thanksgiving Day. He's making progress toward his season debut.
UPDATE (10:05 AM): It looks as though the Blue Jackets have a few tweaks to their forward lines this morning. Their first set of rushes went as follows:
Everyone recovered from their Thanksgiving feast?
Nope, same here. We're on the struggle bus this morning but that's totally acceptable after a day of turkey, family and naps. Emphasis on the naps.
The Blue Jackets practiced yesterday and, as a nice little Thanksgiving Day surprise, Brandon Dubinsky joined them and took part in his first full practice of the season. Dubinsky, who has been sidelined since early October due to abdominal surgery, is inching closer to making his season debut but it will not happen this weekend against Vancouver or in Nashville tomorrow night.
Tonight's task-at-hand is a red-hot Canucks team that has won 15 of its first 22 games and is opening a lot of eyes around the NHL. Last season did not go their way and thus came sweeping changes: a new president (Canucks legend Trevor Linden), a new GM (Jim Benning), a new head coach (Willie Desjardins) and a new starting goaltender (Ryan Miller). Got all that?
Before we tackle the Blue Jackets' morning skate - set for 10 a.m. at Nationwide Arena - let's get into some notes to kick off the day:
- Ryan Johansen was granted a maintenance day yesterday, Todd Richards said, and he's a little dinged up from the last few games. Richards also said he fully expects Johansen to play tonight against Vancouver.
- Richards does not yet know whether his goaltenders will split starts on this weekend's back-to-back. It's expected that Sergei Bobrovsky is going to get the start vs. the Canucks tonight.
- Dubinsky's return isn't far away but just having him on the ice was a boost of positive energy for the team, Richards said.
- There are lineup changes possible for tonight, Richards said, and possible on defense. Tim Erixon has been a healthy scratch for three straight games in favor of Kevin Connauton, who was claimed off waivers from the Dallas Stars last week.