The Blue Jackets have been looking for consistency and results after struggling through a stretch of hard-fought, one-goal contests. The first step in the right direction came Sunday afternoon against the Colorado Avalanche, a pesky team that likes to push the pace on its opponents.
Not unlike the Avalanche are the Edmonton Oilers, who possess world-class skill on their top two lines and aren't afraid to open the game up and beat teams on the counterattack. They have learned to play a more patient and responsible game under first-year head coach Ralph Krueger, but have struggled in their past two games with giving up leads.
Edmonton held a 2-0 lead on Friday night in St. Louis and went into the third period tied 1-1 with Minnesota on Sunday, and lost both games by an identical 4-2 final. In the midst of a season-long nine-game road trip (thanks to men's curling championships being held at Rexall Place), the Oilers are well aware that they can either climb the playoff ladder or fall out of reach pending the outcome of this trip.
On the home front, the Blue Jackets have strung together three straight games with points (1-0-2 in that stretch) but feel like they've left some points out there. They had the Blackhawks back on their heels in the third period and overtime last week, and made a few too many mistakes in an overtime loss to Dallas the game prior. Closing out Sunday's game - and doing so with two power-play goals - could be a big confidence boost for the Blue Jackets as they continue a long stretch of home games.
Looks as if Devan Dubnyk will carry the load in net for the Oilers, especially with Nikolai Khabibulin on the shelf with a groin injury. Dubnyk is expected to get the call tonight against the Blue Jackets, while it's possible Columbus will go back to Sergei Bobrovsky.
Let's take a look at tonight's "three keys" to success for the Blue Jackets:
1. ON THE TARGET: We covered this in today's game day preview, but the Blue Jackets have to continue getting more pucks to the net. They are near the bottom of the league is shots per game and are facing a team tonight that's tops in the NHL in that regard. The Blue Jackets out-shot the Avalanche by a 16-5 margin in the third period on Sunday and put a ton of pressure on their defense, leading to power plays and a couple of goals along the way.
2. TIGHT CHECKING: Todd Richards pointed out after Sunday's game that the Blue Jackets gave up significantly fewer scoring chances to Colorado than in their previous meeting, and it's because of a committed, checking mentality. When Richards said "that's us," he referred to the need to win games 3-2 and 2-1, because the Blue Jackets simply are not a team that's going to put up four or five goals per game on a regular basis. By limiting the opponent's time in the offensive zone, the Blue Jackets have been able to get their forecheck going and make it difficult for teams to sustain pressure.
3. KEEP IT GOING: After searching for the coveted element of consistency, the Blue Jackets have looked to be in rhythm over the past few games. They rallied from four one-goal deficits against Dallas, came back to tie the game late and force overtime against Chicago, and stuck to their game plan and executed under pressure, in overtime vs. Colorado. They've managed to do so by being smart with the puck, knowing when to pick their spots, and taking advantage of turnovers and power play chances.