Afternoon matinees are typically odd games (at least to start), and the same can be expected when the Blue Jackets and Avalanche get together for a 3 p.m. tilt at Nationwide Arena.
There are some common threads between the two clubs, as well: they're each dealing with injuries to key members of their teams and neither has played particularly well on the road so far this season. The Avalanche open a brief three-game swing through the midwest with today's game before heading out to Detroit and Chicago later this week.
Coming off a disappointing overtime loss to the NHL-leading Chicago Blackhawks on Friday night, Todd Richards and the Blue Jackets know they have some mistakes to clean up but also some positives to glean from a pretty well-rounded performance. Save for one goal in the second period, Steve Mason was terrific for Columbus and made several key stops at crucial moments that gave the Blue Jackets an opportunity to tie the game in the third period.
The Avalanche are coming off a thrilling 5-4 win over the Calgary Flames on the same night they matched the Flames' RFA offer sheet for Ryan O'Reilly, who is expected to play this afternoon against the Blue Jackets. They erased deficits of 3-0 and 4-2 in the game, and Matt Duchene snapped home the game-winner in the third period for Colorado.
It appears as if Semyon Varlamov, who has played very well against the Blue Jackets in his career, will get the start in goal for the Avalanche.
Let's get started with my "three keys" to success for the Blue Jackets:
1. CLOCK IN, GO TO WORK: Richards said after practice on Saturday that he thought the Blue Jackets' systematic play and attention to detail has been very good in the last few games, and their hard work has been a large part of that. In facing a speedy, skilled Avalanche team, they'll need to be ready to go right from the opening face-off...as they found out in their last meeting with Colorado, giving up a goal in the first minute at the Pepsi Center.
2. KEEP GOING NORTH: Several players have mentioned this when playing speed-based teams, and that's forcing them to play in their end of the rink. For the Blue Jackets, this is right up their alley and they've committed to it over the past few weeks. It's about getting the puck in deep, out-working the opposition's defense below the goal line and winning the first battle for pucks in all three zones. Spending little time in the defensive end and more time in the offensive end seems like a simplistic formula for success, but when the Blue Jackets stick to it, they've gotten results.
3. PUCK MANAGEMENT: The Avalanche are an opportunistic team that loves to play off the rush and generate chances with speed, and one way to combat that is taking care of the puck in the most important areas of the ice. Limiting turnovers in the neutral zone and exiting the defensive zone cleanly are going to be big keys for the Blue Jackets this afternoon, and they will need to be mindful of the Avalanche's "get up and go" mentality.