The Columbus Blue Jackets enter the United Center tonight on a 3-9-3 streak, which won't have anyone quaking in their blue suede shoes. If you have blue suede shoes, that is. And if you do, you probably wouldn't be reading this blog. Anyway, to top off that streak their last game saw them completely destroyed at home by the Vancouver Canucks, 7-3. And that scoreline would suggest a much closer game than it actually was.
It's always a little unnerving to see a divisional opponent right after they've be tallywhacked. Division games up the ante as it is, and a team that's coming look to reverse fortunes after something like that will have lightning bolts shooting from their....well, ask William Wallace. This is a family blog after all. The Jackets always bring the physical game against the Hawks, it's all they have.
As far as their attack goes, it begins and ends with Rick Nash. He's in the top 10 in goals scored again, and on his day there are few players that can dominate shift, periods, and games like he can. A 6-4, 215-pound package complete with skates and a great set of hands. But it's the "on his day" part. Nash doesn't always bring his best, and sometimes the burden of being the only threat wears on him. He's never had a true center to bring the best out of him. Still, if you let him he'll beat you on his own.
But past that, there isn't much. R.J. Umberger is a big body you have to deal with in your crease, but he's hardly prolific. Antoine Vermette is a nice little center, but too much is expected of him from Columbus. Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook should be able to see off that challenge. Young hopefuls Jakub Voracek and Derick Brassard haven't developed yet the way Jackets' fans have hoped, though there's still time for that and for them to get real first names.
Defensively, the Jackets have gotten quite the contribution from supposed-backup Mathieu Garon, but his water is starting seek its own level. After a Rookie of the Year campaign, Steve Mason hasn't recovered from his sophomore slump last year. Top pairing of Marc Methot and Rostislav Klesla have actually been a revelation this season. But past that this corps is made up of "guys". That's better than "girls", but still not good.
If the Hawks replicate what we've seen the past three games, two points will be in the bag. The Jackets have trouble scoring, their special teams are neighboring on disaster, and they have trouble staying out of the box. Garon has stolen games before, but with the big buzz that always accompanies a Boxing Day crowd at the UC, an energized Hawks squad should see them off.