Seems like it's been a while since the Blue Jackets played a game, but that can be both a blessing and a curse in this shortened NHL season. Most teams have found a groove with travel and game schedules but every now and then there will be an awkward break in the action -- and it's no different than what the Los Angeles Kings are facing, as well.
The Kings, like the Blue Jackets, last played Monday night and, like the Blue Jackets, won their most recent game. That's far too many commas in one sentence for me but I'll make an exception...just this once. Is there such thing as momentum in a game like this? I tend to think not, as it's more of a reset and clean slate game than anything.
After a travel day on Wednesday, the Blue Jackets have had some time to get settled in Los Angeles and had a good practice on Thursday afternoon in El Segundo. Todd Richards liked the pace and intensity of the skate following a couple days off, and after some time studying game tapes, thinks his club is on the cusp of assembling its parts on a consistent basis.
Here's the brief recap on today's events: Adrian Aucoin draws back into the lineup after missing six games with a lower body injury, and Sergei Bobrovsky starts in net for Columbus. Jonathan Bernier, who has a 1-1-0 lifetime record against the Blue Jackets, gets the call for the Kings.
Richards will not make any changes to his forward lines from Monday's game, but the defense pairs get shifted a bit with James Wisniewski back in Columbus awaiting the birth of his first child. Aucoin pairs with Jack Johnson, the Russian duo remains the same, and the third pairing (Erixon-Goloubef) is also intact.
Let's cover my "three keys" to success for the Blue Jackets:
1. First on, last off: With both teams sitting around and practicing for a few days, the early part of tonight's game will feature some "getting back to speed" moments. The Blue Jackets have to be the team that finds its legs first, and get working on the forecheck before the Kings can establish anything in the offensive zone. The game plan doesn't change much for Columbus: get the puck in deep, finish checks and make life hard for the Kings' skilled players. The Blue Jackets have to be the team that clocks in first, and checks out last.
2. Welcome back Bernier: The last time the Blue Jackets faced Bernier, it was a 3-1 for Columbus at Nationwide Arena last March. This is a new day, new situation and a completely different game. Both clubs would like to win this game and get some consistency going, especially the Blue Jackets in beginning a six-game road trip. A good start means goals, and scoring goals boils down to a familiar formula for the Blue Jackets: get pucks on the target, create traffic and chaos around the net, and out-work the Kings for second and third chances.
3. Win the battles: Los Angeles is a big, physical team that possesses a lot of skill. One of the keys to success against such a team is making sure you win the initial puck battles, and that has been a focus for Richards and the coaching staff all season long. The Blue Jackets play their best when they're putting the pressure on opponents with their forecheck and cycling the puck, but it all starts in their own end by winning battles and transporting the puck out of trouble. The less time the Kings spend with the puck, the better.