To summarize: the Blue Jackets have not had much success against the New York Islanders this season.
In two meetings, they have been out-scored 11-5 and struggled to match the high pace of the Islanders, who have been one of the NHL’s strongest teams all season long. They’re aggressive, they try to make you uncomfortable, and they have a lot of players who can put the puck in the net – and they have given the Blue Jackets all kinds of problems this year.
Tonight, with a red-hot Blue Jackets team facing an Islanders team in a fight for playoff positioning in the Eastern Conference, there will be a lot on the line and it’s up to the Jackets to make sure their start is better than it’s been in the previous two meetings.
“From a playing standpoint, we’re a better defending team right now (than the last time the teams met),” said coach Todd Richards. “This will be a great challenge tonight; the two games we played these guys, we did a lot of chasing in our own zone and we were chasing the game and chasing them. It’s a team that plays fast, they have depth and they’ll stretch you out and put you in some 1-on-1 situations.”
One of the main areas in which the Islanders pose a threat is the aforementioned 1-on-1 situations; their skill players are dynamic and can make opponents pay for mistakes, so defending down low and winning the 50-50 puck battles is going to be a point of emphasis – so, in other words, nothing for free.
“I’ve really liked the way our defensemen have played the last four or five games…just down low, and the battles in front of our net,” Richards said. “They’re making teams earn it. What’s fresh in my mind is the game we played here (a 5-2 loss on Jan. 10); the first few shifts…we were chasing them around the defensive zone.”
Rookie forward Marko Dano was not a part of regular line rushes this morning and will be a healthy scratch tonight. Dano has been part of a highly-successful line with Alex Wennberg and Scott Hartnell, but Richards indicated his game has dipped a bit recently.
“You can learn a lot by watching,” Richards said. “It’s a chance for him to sit and watch. He worked hard today, we’ll have a practice tomorrow and he’ll work tomorrow, and we’ll see about Saturday. To me, it’s part of the process.”
So, to recap: Dano won’t play tonight but he could be back in the lineup as soon as Saturday afternoon against Pittsburgh.
Jeremy Morin, who has played well of late, will move up and skate in Dano’s spot on the right wing, and Jared Boll returns from a three-game suspension to play on the fourth line with Matt Calvert and Mark Letestu.
Jack Johnson came to the rink this morning feeling ill, Richards said. He’s considered questionable for tonight’s game, but the team will assess how he’s feeling later today and make a decision at that time.
Here is the projected alignment for the Blue Jackets tonight: Jenner-Johansen-Atkinson, Dubinsky-Anisimov-Foligno, Hartnell-Wennberg-Morin, Calvert-Letestu-Boll; Johnson*-Savard, Tyutin-Prout, Connauton-Goloubef.
*If Johnson can’t play, Justin Falk will draw into the lineup and it would be his first appearance in 12 games.