Before each Blue Jackets game I'll identify what strategic elements the Blue Jackets should focus on based on their opponent, the likely match-ups, injuries, goaltenders and recent play. This will be broken down into both offensive and defensive keys, with the occasional look at the keys for the Jackets netminder.
Offensive Keys: Crash the Net.
Similar to the Detroit game, the Jackets will be facing a back-up goaltender. Also similar to the Detroit game, the key to scoring on said back-up goaltender is to get traffic in front of him. However, Jonas Enroth is a much better goalie than Ty Conklin. Conklin absolutely cannot track the puck if there is any kind of traffic in front of him. Enroth can track the puck just fine, when he can see it. The little guy, generously listed at 5'10, 166 pounds, is making only his second start of the season. Getting the big bodies in front of him, getting some point shots, and picking up some dirty goals on screens, tips and rebounds will be vital to beating the Sabres. However, this will be no easy task. The Sabres defense features a top pairing of Tyler Myers and Robyn Regehr, who run a combined 12'11", 455 pounds. Sabres coach Lindy Ruff will try and get Myers-Regehr out against Nash-Brassard-Prospal as much as possible. They will have a much tougher time getting to the net than they have for most of the season. On the flip side, this should free R.J. Umberger and Ryan Johansen to crash the net hard against smaller, offensively inclined defensemen Jordan Leopold, Christian Ehrhoff, Andrej Sekera and Marc-Andre Gragnani.
Don't do this:
A decent try, but the forwards have to get the traffic in front of Enroth BEFORE the shot.
The big guys need to follow Staal's example and get to the net with Ehrhoff and Sekera on the ice.
Defensive Keys: Watch Your Gap
On Saturday night, former Blue Jacket/current Lightning goaltender Mathieu Garon shut out the Sabres with a fairly easy 21 save performance. The Sabres really did not test Garon all game, and the Lightning provided the rest of the NHL with the blueprint for how to slow the Sabres offense. Buffalo rolls four lines, with talented scoring players on every single one. They forecheck relentlessly, and capitalize on turnovers. They are very dangerous off the rush. To beat them, the defense has to minimize turnovers, make crisp outlets passes (or make sure to get it off the glass and out of the zone), and keep the Sabres forwards to the outside on the rush. Tomas Vanek, Derek Roy and Nathan Gerbe are all especially dangerous on the rush and all play on different lines. Add in Jason Pominville, Ville Leino, Drew Staffard and Brad Boyes, and you have a team that can put up numbers. What Tampa did so successfully, was not allow the Sabres to get to the middle of the ice. Those are seven dangerous forwards, but they lack the size and grit to really fight through traffic on a consistent basis. Unfortunately for Columbus, Methot and Martinek are still injured, and keeping players out of the middle is what they do best. Grant Clitsome and Aaron Johnson have struggled with this, and John Moore was terrible with his gap control against Detroit. Moore's struggles in this area are expected, as the increased pace of the NHL game is tough to get used to for a young defenseman from the AHL. Clitsome and Johnson on the other hand, have to be better. If they can push the Sabres forwards outside and limit their mistakes with the puck, Steve Mason should be primed for another excellent performance.
Don't do this:
The defense have to make smarter plays with the puck
Defense maintain perfect gap control, keep Stafford to the outside for a bad shot, denies any pass to Roy or the now-injured Ennis and forward gets back to stop Roy/Ennis from dropping back for a pass.