This is a big one, folks.
It's not typically in Todd Richards' nature to declare a certain game a "must win," and he stopped just short of saying that after this morning's skate at Nationwide Arena. But given the circumstances with the Blue Jackets right now (a four-game winless skid) and the urgency to get things turned around quickly, Richards acknowledged that tonight's game is extremely important.
As a result, I expect the Blue Jackets to play with a little added urgency tonight. They played a sound game two nights ago against the Chicago Blackhawks but that's now in the rear-view mirror. Dallas is an entirely different opponent tonight and one that got a big boost this afternoon with the immigration clearance of Jamie Benn, the Stars' No. 1 center and one of the league's burgeoning young stars.
Kari Lehtonen gets the start in goal for Dallas, and he's got some stellar career numbers against the Blue Jackets: 5-3-1 lifetime with a 1.78 goals-against average and .940 save percentage. Not bad...not bad at all.
Sergei Bobrovsky is the starting goalie tonight for the Blue Jackets.
Let's get things rolling with my "three keys" to success:
1. Amp it up: The Blue Jackets couldn't have drawn up a better start than what they got on Saturday vs. Chicago. They had a high-flying, red-hot team in the building one that has traditionally played well in Nationwide Arena, but the Blue Jackets put their foot down first. They were skating hard and finishing checks, while funneling pucks to the net and making Corey Crawford work. Mark Letestu's opening goal was the direct result of an emphatic start, and one that needs to be replicated tonight.
2. Traffic in front: Lehtonen is a terrific goaltender and one of the best in the NHL, but like most goalies, he has trouble stopping what he cannot see. The Blue Jackets' modus operandi must be bodies in the shooting lanes and creating screens in front of the goaltender: high screens, low screens and moving screens. The more complex and heavy the traffic becomes, the harder it will be for Lehtonen to make saves. Columbus has done better at getting pucks on the target in recent games and if Lehtonen is to be bested tonight, he's going to have to be outworked -- plain and simple.
3. Full night's work: It's not panic time by any means, but the Blue Jackets really need this game tonight. Good teams don't let losing skids hang around, and they can boot this one out the door with two points against Dallas. As we've said time and time again, Columbus needs everyone on board tonight and everyone ready to contribute. The Stars are a talented club with an elite goaltender, and if the Blue Jackets can get four lines rolling and into the hockey game, they'll be in good shape.
Follow along with the game blog on BlueJackets.com throughout tonight's game, and check back post-game for a full recap and additional game coverage.