Friday, November 21, 2014

Let the Wookie Win

Dalton Prout
In the strike shortened year of 2012-13, a classic DKM hockey podcast was attributing Star Wars names to CBJ players.  Naturally, Dalton Prout was dubbed 'the Wookie".

Tonight, in a 4-3 CBJ shootout loss to the Bruins, Milan Lucic of Boston ignored the sage advice offered by C3PO to R2D2....Let the Wookie Win.  Nope, Lucic had to do his thing, so suffered a one punch loss in a fight well chronicled in this Puck Daddy article.

Not wishing to risk his precious hide, so he could kill certains habitants later in the year, he waited until a linesman had Prout wrapped up before he managed to take a swing.  Manly Lucic.  Manly.

And totally worth the price of admission.  Boston played a classic Bruins game, and came out with the 2 points.  Our guys played well, didn't close the deal, but came from behind to tie it.  Not what we were looking for in the third period.  Tomorrow, you'll have to put up with more Wennberg love from me.  But tonight, it's all about the Wookie.  Way to go Dalton!

GO JACKETS!!

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Poor Systems Game

Stinger Looks Mean, So I'll Put Him in There
Tonight the Detroit Redwings waxed the Columbus Blue Jackets, 5-0.  The Redwings played the way Mike Babcock drew it up.  The Blue Jackets did not play like HCTR drew it up.  I'm going to pick on Brian Gibbons a bit here, but seriously?  You were brought in to compete for a fourth line spot.  You are playing on the top line because of your speed, and the incredible string of injuries.  Our coach says their defensemen are going to confront you, so get the puck deep in the offensive zone.  In the first period, you bring the puck across the blue line, stop, and fiddle with the puck.  Really?  Mentally, I even said to my self 'get it deep'.  Nope.  You had other ideas, Detroit came and took the puck from you, and before the scramble was over, Detroit was ahead 1-0.  WTf  Seriously?

Anyway, tonight was Detroit's night.  Since we've kind of owned them lately, and we are certainly down right now, it makes a certain amount of sense.  They beat us at our game, by winning the puck races, but played their system well.  Jimmy Howard made one brilliant save, a couple of pretty good ones, and the rest were routine to record the shut out.  The Jackets played HCTR's system pretty good in the first period, and then abandoned it for the quick shot, or the quick cycle out to the point for the open shot that Howard yawned before he stopped during the rest of the game.  Two players seemed to resolutely play the Jackets system, Boone Jenner and Alex Wennberg.  And Nick Foligno, of course.  And Hartsy, but he plays that a bit different, since his role is to get in front of the net.

Look.  You have these games in the season.  Detroit did their thing flawlessly.  In spite of my miserable record of prognostication, it's unlikely that Detroit can sustain that for the rest of the season.  But tonight was their night, and credit to them.  They were a step faster in all aspects of the game.  The score showed that.

The CBJ have now scored two goals in two games.  Take the Philly game out of the picture, and we are averaging less than two goals a game.  Other teams are saying, 'take Ryan Johansen out of the game at any costs, and we can beat the rest of those guys'.  We need to make other teams pay for that, but until we do, Joey is going to be shut down.

A response from the team to this game is critical.  They have gone through some tough times, but all they really need to do is respond to the loss with a win in the short term.  Over the long term they need to accumulate some wins, but that is not necessary at this juncture.  Playing .500 hockey is the immediate goal.  We'll save racking up wins for when we ice a reasonably healthy team.

So in the end it was their night, but that does not define our season.  Respond, win, and move on.  Start another losing spiral, and we'll start thinking McTank for McDavid.  But it's early for that yet, way early.

GO JACKETS!!

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Regarding Erixon

One of the positives of the brutal run of injuries the CBJ have faced early in the 2014-15 season is the play of Tim Erixon.  He was slotted as a bit of a 'tweener coming into this year.  Jarmo and company believed he was an NHL defenseman, and one of the ways they showed that was signing him to a one year, one way contract.

Erixon had yet to 'kick the door down' to the NHL, yet it was time, and this was to be a make or break year for him, much like it was for Savard last year.  While he looked sorta scrambley earlier in the year, he has settled down into his role as Wisniewski's partner.  Erixon has more of an offensive upside than does Murray, our young defenseman with the wonky knee, and I think he has now established himself in the lineup.  It is hard for me to imagine him coming out of the lineup when Murray returns after watching him on the power play with Wiz last night.  When those two are on the points, you have two defensemen with good shots, good puck handling skills, and a great deal of mobility.  They were pretty lethal last night,

So the upside to this whole injury problem has been young people like Erixon and Wennberg who have been thrown into the fire, and appear to be emerging on the other side.  The mistakes have been made, the lessons have been learned, and both are playing well right now.  This could get interesting as the season progresses.

Strangely enough, a win tonight would take a lot of pressure off the CBJ going forward.  They are not really that far out of being in the mix in the Metro.  The Sharks are a really good club, that we beat late on the west coast already this year.  They will be looking to make a statement.  This would be a really good time for the home crowd to behave like a 5th line, and try to make a difference in this game.  It's still early, but the hill that must yet be climbed has been defined.  So come out to the game and be ready to get loud, even if we fall behind early.  It's our chance to make a difference this year.

GO JACKETS!!

Friday, November 14, 2014

A Good Step

Nick Foligno
In a four point road game against a Metropolitan Division rival, the Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the Philadelphia Flyers by a score of 4-3.  Had Philly won, they would have been doubling up the CBJ point total in the 2014-15 season with 18 to our 9.  With tonight's win, they remain at 16, while we move to 11.  The CBJ have a lot of work left to do to reach a level of relevance in the Metro, but they have a lot of time to do it.

Tonight's win, of course, broke the franchise record tying losing streak at 9 games.  Like last year, before they really started to win, the CBJ have been playing better, but yet losing.  Tonight they put together a fairly full game, and more importantly, played that distinctive brand of Blue Jackets hockey, with all lines working hard on puck possession in the offensive zone.  The third line of Wennberg, Cracknell, and Tropp was particularly disciplined and effective at this style of play, and it caused real problems for Philadelphia.  Over these last 3 or 4 games, and particularly in the last game, the light has gone on for Alex Wennberg, and he has figured out how to drive that type of play as a centerman.  He and his linemates were very effective tonight.

Finally breaking loose, and scoring more than 2 goals, the CBJ broke the trend from the losing streak of scoring 2 goals but giving up 4.  Both Wisniewski and Foligno scored twice, while Ryan Johansen had 4 assists in the game, a career high.  McElhinney looked much more comfortable in goal tonight.

It was a really great team effort.  Now they need to come back and face a San Jose Sharks team that is already in Columbus.  That should make for a really fun game tomorrow night.  I'm looking forward to it.

GO JACKETS!!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Hangover, Part IX

Hee, hee.  Couldn't resist.
I wasn't sure where I was going with this post when I found the picture from previous use.  It was downhill from there.  The losing streak is like a bad hangover, lingering long after it should have stopped.  The goal tending is a throbbing headache that seems to defy medication, the injuries are the unexplained black eye that greets you in the morning.  It will get better, but it will take some time, and until then its ugly.

And, like a bad hangover, the current state of the CBJ is something to be endured.  Fortunately though, the cure to all our problems becomes clear!  Hydrate, hydrate, and hydrate some more!  And while we're at it, forecheck, forecheck, and forecheck some more!!  OK, time to get a little more serious.

One thing I keep forgetting about the current crop of AHLers that occupy the lower lines of the CBJ, just about none of these guys (except Chaput) spent the year or two with Brad Larsen down in Springfield learning this system that last year's team had available.  The house afire alacrity that Derek MacKenzie always brought to a good old 'cycle down low' is something that this crop of players needs to learn.  The good news is that they showed last night that they are learning the lesson.  As the game progressed, they really started to play the unique Blue Jackets style that last year's team perfected, but has escaped these guys to date.

Late in the first period, already down 2-0 of course, Nick Foligno put on a real time clinic on puck possession below the other teams net.  Moving his feet, protecting the puck, making the opposition come to him.  And darn if late in the third period, there is Alex Wennberg doing the same thing, moving his feet, protecting the puck, taking the banging that it entails.  That, my friends, is good stuff.  Wennberg's skill is going to be there.  The will to play 'keep away' along the boards in the offensive zone of another NHL team is a learned attribute.  But it pays big dividends, which is why it's so hard.

I felt I saw some really good things in that Caps game.  Things you can build off of.  I'm not really seeing an end to this streak soon, and won't be surprised if it continues for a few more games.  I'm not being a negative nancy, just not being unreasonably optimistic.  They will emerge from this at some point; just as no team has won them all, no team has lost them all.  But the lessons the young players are learning from this will pay dividends down the road.

This current streak is something to be endured, like a bad hangover.  So you find the humor where you can, and soldier on.  Because the combinations are almost limitless in this situation.  McTank for McDavid.  McFlop for McDavid.  McDive for McDavid.  You could do that all day....

GO JACKETS!!!!

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Six Questions for Russian Machine Never Breaks

The guys over at Russian Machine Never Breaks (RNMB) approached us about swapping a Q and A session.  Unfortunately, life (i.e. work) got in the way, but I had already launched my questions.  Doug was kind enough to respond to my questions, even though he was unable to launch his own.  So we owe them one, and will reciprocate later in the season, when hopefully we have something to talk about other than injuries.

So here were my questions for RNMB:

1. We here in Blue Jackets land have been playing against Barry Trotz coached teams for our entire existence.  Those Nashville teams typically featured good goal tending and solid defense, as that's how the teams were constructed.  What has been Trotz' approach to a much different personnel set in the Capitals so far this year?

RNMB:  You put your finger on exactly why Trotz was brought on, and why so many people here are hoping against hope that we can turn this squad around this season. The Ovechkin-era Caps were from the start a reflection of Ovi and his play: explosive offense, wildly unpredictable, a bit shaky on defense. Those 2008-2009 Capitals? I've never seen such maddeningly exciting play.

But that's clearly not been enough. When Boudreau was jettisoned, the squad veered into "Hunter Hockey" - where they tried to reign in this team's natural scoring skill and turn it into something it just isn't. Hunter and Oates always felt like trying to squeeze the square peg into the round hole. So far, however, it seems Trotz has started to find the right balance between respecting what the core of the squad is and adding D to it, rather than shaving away the O.

2.  How do you see the relationship of Trotz and Ovechkin?  I think it's fair to say that Trotz never had a player like that in Nashville, so it must be a novel experience for him.

RNMB: I think it's fair to say there haven't been many players like Ovi anywhere, so any coach coming in was going to have that. Ovi is the tent-pole in this circus; everything else frankly hangs off that; including, it seems, the coaches. When each of our last three coaches left, there was all sorts of murmuring about whether Ovi had anything to do with it, or if he simply quit on his coach. I'm really not convinced about any of that, especially anything malicious, but Ovi is a force unto himself, and converting him into something else may just be a fool's errand.

Right from the get-go, Trotz has both worked to build good communication with Ovi, and the rest of the team, but not at the expense of making clear who's in charge. I think it's very possible one or two of our recent coaches were more focused on the latter than the former. One thing that is notably different so far, however, is how assertive a coach Trotz is during the games. He clearly sees his job as coaching every minute of play, and does not shy away from doing his job from the bench. Most important, I think, is that the entire team, Ovechkin and every one else, is ready to listen and follow Trotz, and he's highly respected by the entire organization.

3. Jason Chimera was a much loved player here in Columbus, and a lot of us were unhappy to see him go in the trade for Chris Clark.  How is he doing?  Does he meet fan expectations?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Looks Like I Picked A Bad Week To Quit Sniffing Glue

The classic Lloyd Bridges line from the old Airplane movie summed up how it felt to be at the wedding reception, pop open the CBJ app, and see it 2-0 before the game was even 10 minutes old.  Down 4-0 at the end of one, I was fortunate to be in a place well supplied with strong spirits.

Go ahead.  Go through any NHL roster, scratch out 3 of the top four centers, and their starting goal tender, and you are looking at a squad in trouble.  Injuries are not an excuse, this is true.  They are a reason.  I am reading in other blogs that defensive coverage was not good.  But this is a pretty darn good Tampa team, and if I read the score sheet correctly, it wasn't so much Stamkos, a bona fide sniper tearing us up, it was further down in the lineup, where the injury losses are more significant.

I like the fact that the team pushed back.  That's a good sign.  But at the end of the day, it's not such a stretch to think that a Tampa squad hitting on all cylinders might beat an uninjured CBJ team by 2 goals (discounting the empty netter).  Giving up a touchdown is a whole different thing.

These are grim times in CBJ land.  It looks like we have another week to ride before reinforcements arrive.  Time to pin your ears back and dig in.  Probably not a good week to start some self-improvement project though....

GO JACKETS!!

Saturday, November 8, 2014

This is How the NHL Wanted It

No, they didn't want Columbus to McTank for McDavid, they wanted games ended in overtime.  The combination of an untimely penalty and the long change from switching ends conspired to do in the CBJ in overtime, as they lost to the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2, to be a mere point ahead of lowly Buffalo for last place in the NHL.

A quick thought before I bail, as this is a crazy weekend, and I will be on the run.  The old school philosophy for building a competitive team in the NHL is to build up the middle, starting with goal tending, and then centermen.  Who remains on IR for this team?  Goal tenders and centermen mostly.  Until the middle of the ice is beefed up, it's going to be tenuous.  On the other hand, we now have the annual 'drop to the bottom of the league before running to the playoffs' out of the way, and we can focus on the running to the playoffs part of the equation.

Gotta run.  Big night tonight for Columbus on a lot of fronts.

GO JACKETS!!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Why the CBJ Misses Derek MacKenzie

DMac in 2013-14 Training Camp
The CBJ have no running game.  That is because we no longer have a center who understands the value of the running game, and was willing to do the things necessary for a good running game because of their intrinsic value.

But hockey doesn't have a running game!  Well yes, and no.  My Dad is a sports nut.  Loves football, baseball, and college basketball.  Hockey is okay live, but he doesn't live in Central Ohio like I do, so is pretty ambivalent about it, and doesn't understand the game well.
Last year I was talking to him about hockey, and about cycling the puck deep in the offensive zone.  And the analogy I used to explain why that deep cycle was good, was the running game in football.  They are very similar.  If you want to possess the puck and cycle it behind the other team's goal, than you had better be prepared to work darn hard, and be pretty physical.  Our fourth line last year was exceptional at establishing this type of possession (which tends to yield no Corsi advantage), and Derek MacKenzie understood and drove that type of possession game.

Having your fourth line play 'keep away' below the red line in the offensive zone is very analogous to the running game in football, and conveys the same benefits.  It is hard to do, so you are accomplishing something when you do it.  You make your opponent expend extraordinary amounts of energy recovering the puck, and that has a cumulative effect in a game.  And their offense doesn't have the puck.

The 2014-15 CBJ like to get the puck deep, but then tend to cycle it back out to the points for a shot that is often blocked, and possession goes the other way.  Last year, when the chips were down in a game like last night, DMac and company would come over the boards, and start to play keep away.  And more often then not, that lead to penalties, or other momentum changers that would allow the CBJ to get back in the game when they were being out skated.

While Chaput has done very well, he has more of a scorers mentality, when we need our fourth line center to embrace the cycle game, and use that to drive momentum.  You want to know if Jared Boll is being a successful player?  It's if he can get with his linemates, get the puck down low, behind the other teams goal, and play 'keep away'.  If they can't learn to do that this year, it will be an important indication that one of the factors that allowed us to make the playoffs last year is missing this year.

We need to get our running game back on track.  And is starts with Chaput and the fourth line.  Derek MacKenzie had the right appreciation for the value of this, and made choices as a center to drive that grinder possession game.  And we don't have that right now.  But we need to get it.

GO JACKETS!!

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Uh-Oh

No Caption Necessary
Tonight's Officials were Greg Kimmerly and Tim Peel, and they were absolutely brutal.  Your job boys, is not to be right all the time, which is impossible, but to be consistent.  If the hit on a chip and chase is interference in the second period, it needs to be interference in the third period.   Piss poor job boys.  Hang your heads in shame.

That, however, had little to do with the extent that the Hurricanes outplayed the Blue Jackets tonight, as they prevailed 4-2.  Out shooting the CBJ 37-19, the Hurricanes deserved the win.  Nick Foligno personally dragged the Jackets back into the game, scoring both goals, but the 2 goal clip that the CBJ have been scoring these last 6 games, all losses, ain't gonna get it done in the NHL.  McTanking for McDavid is all of a sudden a very real possibility for this team.

As is often the case in a death spiral such as this, individuals are trying too hard, Jack Johnson, and thus breaking down the system.  When we need to play a tight cohesive system in the face of injuries and adversity, players that care become a liability when they try to do too much.  Which pretty much sums up the last, empty net goal.   Everyone trying to do too much individually, which results in poor team play.  The Hurricanes at least played a team game, and all of a sudden are playing well and with confidence.  The Blue Jackets confidence is shaky at best.  Curtis McElhinney has been poor in goal.  I think HCTR needs to give the net to Forsberg until Bob returns, or CMac wins it back some how.  Or sign Marty Brodeur to be the back up.  He's looking for work.  CMac is just not looking solid early in the games, and it's costing us.  We score 2, his GAA is above 4.  Do the math.  It ain't working.

There is a lot of season left.  I really like how Wennberg's game is coming along.  I think he has made real strides in the last two games.  He really needs to pot a goal to get him going.

Joey needs to get used to the Nash treatment.  Other teams are gonna put 3 guys on you until we make them hurt for it.  A 6 game losing streak means they ain't hurting.  If you want to be worth $6 million, you have to learn to play through that.  I think you can, but dogging it back up the ice after they put 3 guys on you isn't playing through it.  Yeah it's hard.  Duh.  That's why they put 3 guys on you.  That means someone else is open though, and you have to learn to make them pay for that.  Nash never resolved that, and finally settled on the butt first move off the boards that would allow him to at least get to the middle of the ice one on three.  A crappy shot usually resulted.  Better to find the guy who they are leaving uncovered, which is a hell of a lot easier said than done if you are covered 1 on 3 I might add.  Easy for me to say, but I ain't making $3 million this year.  Bah.  Enough of that.  You'll work through it Joey.

We are not a good team now.  This does not mean they will be a bad team all season long, but it does mean that we have to start playing like a team.  We are not passing well now.  That's a symptom of the jumbled lines, and poor team play.

Classic line from my Buddy Bill:  You're never as bad as you think you are when your losing, you're never as good as you think you are when you are winning.  Probably true.

This team needs a win in the worst way right now, but it looks a long way off.  Last year, the Islanders suffered an injury to their top goal tender, and it cost them a playoff spot.  That's looking eerily familiar right now.  Not sure what else to say.

GO JACKETS!!