This may be the first meeting of the season between the Blue Jackets and Canucks, but the two clubs are certainly familiar foes.
Even though they face each other just four times per season (and three times in 2013 due to the shortened schedule), there always seems to be an element of anticipation when they get together. Call it bad blood, call it general rivalry-ish behavior, but the Blue Jackets and Canucks don't seem to like each other very much, and both sides are okay with that.
As we get set for Thursday's game at Nationwide Arena, we're looking at two teams headed in completely different directions. The Blue Jackets, so often on the wrong end of one-goal games, have strung together a four-game points streak and have won back-to-back games after a 4-3 shootout win on Tuesday over the Edmonton Oilers. On the flip side, Vancouver has hit a rough patch and can't separate itself from the Minnesota Wild just three points back in the standings.
The Canucks are 0-4-1 in their last five games, and the Blue Jackets are suddenly 3-2-2 in their past seven contests. Hard to tell which way this one will go (most likely because I have no bearing on the result), but my gut tells me we'll watch an entertaining hockey game between two very competitive teams tonight at Nationwide Arena.
Looks like Roberto Luongo gets the call in net tonight for Vancouver, which comes as a bit of a surprise given Cory Schneider's three wins against the Blue Jackets last season. But Luongo, the subject of seemingly-endless trade speculation, has been one of the Canucks' most consistent players this season and given them a chance to win.
Sergei Bobrovsky is expected to start for the Blue Jackets.
Here are my "three keys" to success for the Blue Jackets tonight:
1. STAY FOCUSED: In talking with Todd Richards on Wednesday, he referred to comfort and complacency as two things coaches try to guard against when teams have long stretches of home games. With the Blue Jackets in a nine-of-10 games at home spurt (tonight's game being the third of four in a row), Richards wants their minds sharp and focused on this game and nothing else. So far, so good on the home stand as they've picked up a pair of wins over Colorado and Edmonton, but the Canucks are another hungry opponent coming into Nationwide seeking two points.
2. WIN THE SPECIAL TEAMS BATTLE: The Canucks are a team that can really make you pay on the power play, and the Blue Jackets have done a good job in recent games of staying disciplined and not taking many lazy or careless penalties. Doing so has freed up their game and allowed them to spend a lot of time in their systems and creating chances with their forecheck -- but when called upon, their penalty killing has been sharp. Entering tonight's game, the Blue Jackets have not allowed an opposition power play goal in seven consecutive games.
3. KEEP IT ROLLIN': It sounds simple enough, but sticking to the formula from the past few games is exactly what the Blue Jackets need to do tonight. They've limited their turnovers, managed the puck well and capitalized on power play chances (including two goals against Colorado), which is a potent combination for opposing teams to handle. Richards has been able to keep fresh legs on the ice and roll four lines along with six defensemen, and the results have been positive with everyone chipping in.