Tuesday, October 13, 2009

My abbreviated CBJ-Flames preview

I know it's early in the season, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this will be a fairly big game in the season - if not the life - of the Columbus Blue Jackets.  I'll pass on discussing the lineup changes as they are none too significant against recent lineups.

Calgary rolls into town as the number one team in the Western Conference.  Columbus dropped from number two to number six through not playing since Saturday, but a win tonight could possibly get them back into second seed.

Calgary is coming off what must be a deflating loss in Chicago - 6-5 in overtime - where they let a 5-0 lead get away from them.  This is the second game in two nights, and the Flames are on the road.  One of the biggest questions, then, is what type of Calgary team comes out to play the game.  Will they be an angry, "truculent" team, one that wants revenge on the world for having been humiliated in front of God and everyone (except DirecTV viewers) on Versus last night?  Or will they simply be tired, exhausted by the travel, a long game last night and a bit demoralized from blowing it against the Blackhawks?  My guess is a little of both.  They'll likely be looking to prove a point early in the game, but a feisty CBJ defense (which isn't a given as Mike Commodore is still out) and healthy forecheck could potentially wear the Flames down over the course of the game.  Don't get me wrong, my limited exposure to Calgary this year tells me that they are one of the best teams in the Western Conference.  This will not be easy, regardless of how they feel.

The Jackets are in the exact opposite place.  They are coming off a 2-1 west coast swing of "home openers," having acquitted themselves quite well.  They are rested if not entirely healed.  But are they sluggish from the extra day off?  Recall, the extra day off prior to the San Jose game didn't do anything to help the Jackets against the Sharks (who are my other top Western Conference pick, FWIW).  They're also happy with where they're at thus far, potentially lacking a little of Calgary's fire.  This Jackets team is a young team attitudinally, and they have to keep the urgency up throughout the season.  They're still in the world of emotional peaks and valleys.

Lastly, Steve Mason.  I'm not going to get into the "Is Mathieu Garon the better goalie" or "Should Garon keep starting" stuff because, frankly, it's irrelevant.  Steve Mason is Columbus' number one goalie until he loses the job.  His performance against San Jose was bad, granted.  Right now, however, we can look at that as an aberration.  My concern is that he bounce back strong and make a strong performance tonight to quiet the chorus and keep his confidence strong.  It's possible that the extra day off could be a benefit to Mase, who now has a genuine goalie coach to help with bumps in the road like this.  Anyway, this game is big for Mase beyond beating Calgary.

No predictions on the night.  If the Jackets come out strong at Masonwide, it could be fun regardless of Calgary's frame of mind.  If they come out flat (and let's be honest, we know that such potential is still in the Boys in Union Blue), it'll be a quick night.  If they come out strong and "weighty,"  I'll pop an extra bag of popcorn for everyone.

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