Islanders Gameday: The curious case of Columbus

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Columbus Blue Jackets (15-18-7) at New York Islanders (15-18-7)
7 p.m. | Nassau [
gloriously unsponsored] Veterans Mem. Coliseum | MSG+, radio
BJ watchers:
The Cannon | Dispatch

With the exception that it went to overtime and provided a division rival with a consolation point, last night's Blue Jackets game was probably ideal for coach Ken Hitchcock: a nearly goalless 1-0 (OT) win over the Red Wings.

It's been a rough ride this year for Hitchcock. The expected trajectory is that he came in to put a long-developing expansion team over the hump, molding all those (presumed) young assets together into a cohesive, gritty, winning whole before they eventually tune his act out. Except that "hump" was supposed to be more than one playoff series, a sweep no less. Making it worse is that he's hit a skid in the tougher conference, in a tough Central Division.

Last night's win ended a nine-game "losing" streak (0-7-2 ... with those "2" being shootouts which, I'm sorry, shouldn't count as wins or losses in any record-affecting streak). Before the game, Columbus completed a shake-up trade, sending long-time BJ Jason Chimera away in return for the Capitals' captain Chris Clark and Slovakian Milan Jurcina, who was needed to replace injured D-man Rostislav Klesla. (If you're asking why Garth Snow didn't acquire Jurcina, I'd ask who the Isles have that equates to Chimera.) Both make their BJ debut tonight.

So Hitch no doubt thinks their tide is turning, as the Jackets played the way he wants in the previous three games. It'll be interesting to see how his hoped-for defensive rigidity matches up with Scott Gordon's hoped-for constant forechecking pressure. Neither coach has all the tools he'd like; but only one of them is expected to make the playoffs with what he has.

History

When the NHL must pit interconference foes against each other twice in a season, Canadian teams get their traditional "rivalry" games and clubs like the Islanders and Blue Jackets get each other. This year will see two meetings; last year saw two meetings. The first was a November OT win at home for the Isles -- that was the funky Chris Campoli two-for-one OT special. Later, in that ugly December (sound familiar?), the Isles lost a dead game in Columbus for their sixth straight, right as Jon Sim was clearing waivers. Overall, Columbus has won eight of 10 meetings, which is just embarrassing so I'm not going to think about it.

Lineup Shenanigans

Chris Botta and Katie Strang report Prodigal Jeff Tambellini has a "good chance" of resurfacing tonight, according to Gordon. Tambellini last played Dec. 9 and has one goal since his Oct. 31 hat trick ... Also in that Botta report was an ominous note on Sean Bergenheim's injury status, as the rib lingers. The Islanders miss him more than his stat sheet would indicate. ... Jiggsy Bonus: We get the great Jiggs McDonald on the air for the next four games. That voice, man, that voice. ... Eric notes this is the last home game of the "aughts" and -- of course -- gives us the Islanders' decade stats to go with it.

Should I bother mentioning special teams again? The Blue Jackets' PP and PK are each at least 5% better than the Isles (21.6% to 16.6%, 80.8% to 75.8%). That just might be a factor tonight.

Prediction: Hitchcock rolls his eyes.

When the time comes, someone help Lakewood find a feed for the game tonight. I'll be missing most of this one.

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