Perhaps the silver lining in last night's 5-1 loss in Phoenix is that the Blue Jackets have a quick turnaround before getting right back at it.
Their chance at redemption comes in about five hours when the puck drops at Pepsi Center for the first of three meetings this season with the Colorado Avalanche, who have historically held the upper-hand in the all-time series. Columbus split four meetings last season with the Avalanche, and the last was highlighted by Cam Atkinson's first career hat trick.
It was a particularly crushing loss for the Avalanche, which needed to win that Apr. 5 to keep any hope of playoff berth alive. By the wayside it went, but for both sides, it's a completely different ballgame when things get under way this evening.
Colorado has split its first two games of the season, dropping a 4-2 decision on opening night in Minnesota and winning its own home opener Tuesday vs. the Los Angeles Kings. While it hasn't exactly been a "mixed bag" of results, per se, the Avalanche have played two distinctly different games in their only two outings.
The Wild got the Avalanche into penalty trouble and took advantage, but the Kings were stymied all game long by a fast and competitive Colorado defense. The Blue Jackets have to prepare for any and all possibilities tonight, as the Avalanche have proven to be one of the NHL's most unpredictable teams (and that's a compliment).
Sergei Bobrovsky will start between the pipes for Columbus and oppose Semyon Varlamov for the Avalanche. As far as lineup changes beyond that, we'll have to wait and see closer to game time as some players are nursing bumps and bruises.
Here are my "three keys" to success for the Blue Jackets:
1. Get the legs going early: This is a young, speedy Colorado team that wants to get you back on your heels as soon as possible. They're adept at making the opposition turn the puck over, and based on the number of giveaways by the Blue Jackets last night, it will be an area of focus and concern against the Avalanche. The Blue Jackets have to be ready and willing to match the Avalanche in the skating department, and commit to keeping the puck headed "north" and work the Colorado defense below the icing line. The best way to take away a team's speed is to wear it down.
2. Shots, shots, shots: Everybody. The Blue Jackets probably should have tested ice-cold Jason LaBarbera a bit more upon entering the game due to Mike Smith's injury, but LaBarbera barely broke a sweat. They had some chances on the power play but couldn't convert, and aside from a few shifts, their zone time was mostly a lot of "one and dones." I expect a different approach tonight, and we're likely to see a few more pucks headed toward the Colorado net. The key is cashing in on opportunities; when you work hard to get chances, you'd obviously like to make them count. One way to get going in that direction is to funnel the puck to the net and outwork the opposition down low.
3. Support the goalie: Blue Jackets coach Todd Richards said this morning that he thought Steve Mason played well enough to win the game in Phoenix, but the team "left him out to dry" on numerous occasions. It's hard to disagree, especially given the numerous breakdowns and penalties that felled them in the second and third period. But tonight, with Bobrovsky in the goal, the Blue Jackets must play a more confident game than they did last night. They did so in Nashville and at times against Detroit, so there's something to work with there. Playing their style for 60 minutes has been a focal point the past week, and tonight would be a great time to put it all together.
Stay tuned to BlueJackets.com and the CBJ Today blog for continuous coverage leading up to, during, and after the game!