Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tables Turned, Predators Bullied by Blue Jackets

Look at the history of the Nashville Predators and the Columbus Blue Jackets and you see that Nashville has dominated Columbus much like Scut Farkus dominated Ralphie Parker and all the little kids in "A Christmas Story". Always beating them up and striking fear in their hearts. That is, until one day, deep in the recesses of the collective mind of the Columbus Blue Jackets, flickered a faint ember of... well, you know the story.

Nashville has won 40 of the 58 games that they have played against the Jackets. They have another 4 overtime victories and 1 tie. That is a .733 winning percentage. Last night, Nashville got owned in a 2-0 contest that wasn't as close as the score indicated.  Columbus controlled the game from start to finish. Maybe the Predators are like Scut Farkus, who threw just one too many snowballs.

I sat behind the benches for the game in Columbus and have a few thoughts about what I witnessed:

Columbus is a big team. A BIG team. They used their size very well against the Predators. I spoke with Coach Barry Trotz after the game and he told me that with the exception of Patric Hornqvist, the Predators did not have anyone who could "will" their way into the hard areas in front of the net. As such, most of the shot from the Predators came from the perimeter and never really challenged Steve Mason.

Coach Trotz said that Columbus was committed to a defense first philosophy, and that was certainly evident against the Predators. They were very aggressive on the forecheck and challenged Nashville puck carriers all night. Their forecheck was very reminiscent of the Nashville forecheck when it is working well- disruptive and excellent at neutralizing speed through the neutral zone. Once the Predators got in the zone, the Jacket defense packed in around Mason and did an excellent job of limiting chances.

Offensively, Nashville needs a "disruptor", someone who has the skills to disrupt a defensive scheme and force the opponent to adapt. We are missing that from our lineup. We are also missing the size necessary to compete against a team like Columbus. The size differential wore down the Predators as the game went on and allowed Columbus to dictate play in their zone.

Nashville got caught on a couple of bad line changes that nearly resulted in Columbus scores. Rinne made some great stops to keep them off the board.

Rinne nearly got the Nash goal on the 4 on 2 break that Columbus had. Even if he had gotten it and kept the score at 1-0, I do not believe that Nashville could have gotten the equalizer last night. Mason was solid and we weren't challenging the net.

Both Columbus goals came on breakdowns. Our margin of error between winning and losing in the ultra competitive Western Conference is razor thin. Our guys have to come to the rink mentally focused and physically prepared for a war each night. If not... well, unfortunately, we have already seen several times this year what will happen.

Interesting conversations with the Blue Jackets fans before the game. They know that Nashville has dominated them, and they hate it. They look at our team and our town as a peer, and the fact they have only made it once to the playoffs versus the five trips for us eats at them. They want to beat us- badly. Right now, they feel like Ralphie being chased down the street by Scut Farkus. They are looking to turn the tables.

Bob Boughner is a great add to the Jackets staff. He brings self confidence and poise to the team, and it is reflected in the play of the guys on the ice.

The development of some of the younger players in the Jackets lineup has taken a major step forward. Guys like Derick Brassard, Jakub Voracek, and Kyle Wilson have elevated their games this season. Rick Nash has always been a star, but he has never had the talent around him to compliment his efforts. Now, the talent level around him is starting to catch up.

The Jackets have indicated, like Ralphie Parker, that they are ready to fight back. Nashville took a punch last night, and the team gets a chance to respond when they travel to Columbus on December 1.

That faint ember of anger and resentment threatens to grow in the heart of the Blue Jackets. We will watch with interest to see if the Predators can snuff it out.

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