Thursday, February 26, 2015

The Game Within the Game

Jarmo to Lou Lamarillo:  You call that a move
Lou?  Not only did I bury the Horton Contract
I got Dubinsky injured too!!
Tonight, the Columbus Blue Jackets subtly cost the Montreal Canadians millions of dollars of future contract money by allowing Max Pacioretty to score another goal, potentially crippling the Montreal organization for years to come on Pacioretty's next deal.  Pacioretty's agent: Heck, Max can score 20 goals on the Blue Jackets alone, imagine what he can do against the rest of the league!  Many Blue Jackets fans were concerned to see a superior Montreal team skate the Jackets off the ice.  They fail to understand the subtleties of the long game that Jarmo is playing (tongue planted firmly in cheek).

The more earth-shaking move happened right before tonight's game, when the Blue Jackets traded injured Nathan Horton for much maligned David Clarkson of the Toronto Maple Leafs.  I'm sorry, for as much joy as this causes the Leafs fans, this is a good hockey trade.  Toronto gets cap relief by putting a good Ontario boy, Nathan Horton, on long term injured reserve.  The money is no issue to them, and Horton was born and raised in the Welland, Ontario area, so he's a home boy.  As a small market team, we can't afford to pay Horton's apparently uninsured contract, and Toronto gets rid of the Clarkson contract, which will at least shift the scorn from the Toronto management to the CBJ management, a great deal for the Toronto brass.

Clarkson didn't work out in Toronto.  Based on what I've heard so far, he thinks he's a better fit here.  Sometimes, what you think is all that matters.  Hopefully he takes some time to jell, hitting his stride next year, rather than this year, when we are in the hunt to sink low enough for the number 5 overall pick (important!!).

There are moves of subtlety abroad on the table.  30 teams want to win the Cup.  Only a few will.  For now, don't judge this player until next year.  A stable environment and a crowd that is not actively hostile may go along way towards what he can do.  Our expectations of Clarkson are related to a guy who's career might be tragically finished.  That's a tad different than the expectations in Toronto.  All Clarkson has to do is bring what Nathan Horton could have brought.  That's not an unrealistic expectation for this guy.  So we'll see.

Right now we are picking 6th, a mere 1 point above Toronto.  Picking 5th would be huge.  All of a sudden Saturday is looming as a must lose game.  Yoikes!  The game is afoot!!

GO JACKETS!!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Ha Ha (Bart Simpson, Personal Communication circa 2002); Sucker Play!

Wennberg makes a play on Anton Forsberg in 2014
Development Camp
Tonight Columbus narrowly clung to its 6th overall pick by forcing the Buffalo Sabres to cough up a couple of points in the win column  on their side based on the strength of two rookie goal tending gaffes by the CBJ.  Anton Forsberg continued a harsh education in life in the NHL by letting one through that he had, and then by being overly aggressive, but not having the strength of will to continue the play.  It's one thing to over-commit.  Its another to change your mind half way.  That indecisiveness cost the CBJ the game.  This is not especially problematic in a rookie goal tender unless he proves himself unable to learn from the lessons.  

Strategically, however, this is huge.  The first period and a half could be characterized as 'mistakes in the net'.  The first two were soft/mistakes by the young goal tender.  The second two were on the team, where unchallenged players had open looks on a vulnerable goal tender.  Shockingly [sarcasm] those ended up in the net.  The good thing was that the players responded with anger and frustration, scored two goals, and pummeled the net with pretty good opportunities,   But Neuvirth, the Buffalo goal tender, given a new lease on life, responded with some nice stops.  But, back to strategery, the Sabres took two standings points from us, which helps to keep New Jersey and Ottawa to sinking to our level, and thus stealing a really good draft pick.  Toronto is a mere three points back in the suck column and they may yet do some stupid winning down the stretch, in spite of them being a basket case.

This is the type of game that good teams lose anyway.  First home game coming in off of a road trip is not often advantageous to the home team, and while the coaching staff correctly identified it as a trap game, it is only a trap game because a team with a horrible record is playing ok.  Much like ourselves, except not tonight.  Our team was willing to accept the mistakes by the rookie goal tender, but it was only after they hung him out to dry on brutal coverage mistakes that they got mad and really started taking their game to Buffalo, which resulted in numerous beautiful chances, as well as two goals.  However, Neuvirth was loath to surrender rookie mistakes, and that ended up being the difference in the end.

Tonight was a near perfect game by our squad, for their circumstances.  That is measured only in the outcome, because I feel confident that their plan was to lay an ass beating on Buffalo.  But the best laid plans of mice and men.....

At any rate, I have watched a lot of CBJ teams play out the string in Nationwide Arena.  I've been a season ticket holder since 2005-06 (next year is 10 years!).  There is some brutal hockey in that run, I can assure you.  This team does not resemble those teams.  There is an anger with tonight's game that is palpable even in the upper bowl.  I look at that as a huge positive.

This team is damn good, they are just in a really weird situation.  The whole trade deadline thing is, I think, hugely unsettling to them.  You don't win anything significant unless you have a little luck.  This team, this year, has none.  Next year is a reset, and look out.  This is a team that will enter 2015-16 with a chip on its shoulder, not with the satisfaction of achieving something significant for the franchise.  That will serve them well.

These losses at this juncture are huge, to keep us in position to restock with very good talent, while preserving the will and confidence of our players.  There has never been a more delicate stretch run in the franchise's history, and we have blown some of these opportunities with late runs.  A simple .500 record from here on out will do wonders.

This is a good team, with players that have a lot to offer.  But I wouldn't stand next to them in a lightening storm this year.  Next year is a new year, and I think we, as fans, will see something very pleasing.  But for now, it's picking 6th, with a lottery chance.  We want to preserve that, while preserving our dignity.

GO JACKETS!!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Proud, Yet Satisfied

Marko Dano
It was the weirdest of times, it was the even weirder of times.  Or something like that.  Last night a road weary Blue Jackets team got jumped early, but fought their way back to forge a tie.  Even better, we lost the skills competition to remain in the number 6 slot in the 2015 NHL entry draft.  There is going to be a REALLY GOOD player available at number 6 in this draft.  Fading to the 5th pick would be ideal, but Shanahan is going to keep kicking the Toronto players hard enough to make that unlikely, and anything earlier, bar the miraculous lottery win, is out of our reach.  There is going to be another Wennberg-like player available in this slot.  And yes, I will address the raging Dano versus Wennberg debate on Twitter in a bit.

This has been a tough year.  I am amazed, and really proud of our team for the moxie they showed last night to fight back into this game.  That kind of tenaciousness is a key ingredient for starting to make runs into the playoffs.  And if you have designs on a Cup, with Jarmo and JD certainly do, you need to have a team that can deal with the baggage of going deep, but not getting to the top of the mountain, and so turn around and do it again.  And for that, you need deep talent to go with your moxie.  Our ability to draft high in a very deep draft  this year could serve this organization well for years to come.  With the right core of veterans to teach the young talent well, you are laying a foundation for the type of success the Redwings have shown over the years (kudos to them, in all seriousness, I thought that playoff streak was toast this year.  Not so).  This year is a momentary set back.  There is no reason to think that organizationally  last year was an aberration, or that we will necessarily in the future enter the playoffs with a our 'gas tank empty'.  You have to punch your ticket to the dance, and we will not this year, but once you are there, you need to have more.  The 2008-09 team left it all on the ice to punch the ticket.  The 2013-14 team demonstrated that it had not, but was still to young to grasp the moment.  In spite of the injuries, and some horrifying losing streaks, this team has shown a lot of progress in the regular season in 2014-15, particularly against better competition.

Last night the Rangers didn't have an answer for our 'third' line in the second and third periods.  Our team was at its best last year when we were rolling three 'second lines' and a highly effective fourth line.  That has not happened this year except in a few instances.  Last night, we ended up with a match-up that the Rangers could not deal with.  Alain Vingneault is a hell of a coach, and he will have an answer for that match-up the next time we play them.  The rest of the league is studying the video.  They'll be ready with an attempt to answer that.  The match-ups are key.  The answer to containing the Foligno-Anisimov-Dano line might mean that the Hartnell-Johansen-Wennberg line wins it's match-up.

Marko Dano is going to be a good NHL player.  The Twitterverse was opining that we should have had Dano up all year long instead of Wennberg.  I disagree.  Wennberg should have been in the AHL all year, but the early season decimation of centers meant he needed to be up here, as we needed bodies.  Recall that Dubinsky, Letestu and Anisimov were all on injured reserve early in the season.  The sent him down briefly, but had to call him right back up when Anisimov tore a triceps muscle.  At that point, its better to leave him up than to bounce him back and forth.  Dano's development was better served by being in the AHL.  He is in that initial 5 game performance bump after being called up, so looks good.  Let's review Dano's play on St. Patrick's day, and then we'll know if he's better than Wennberg.  Wennberg has been in the NHL when he probably shouldn't have been, has taken his lumps, learned from them, and responded with steady improvement.  Once he gets over his rookie reluctance to shoot the puck, he is going to be really good.  I think Dano is going to be a very good NHL player.  I think Wennberg has a higher ceiling.  I wonder if we are going to see Rychal after the trade deadline?

I liked what I saw from our team last night.  I liked even better that we held our draft position.  Because this difficult time is a harbinger for great things to come.  And it is not far off.

GO JACKETS!!!

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Saying What You Don't Want to Hear

'You fight me, you fight the Tasmanian Devil'
Tonight the Columbus Blue Jackets lost to the Montreal Canadians 3-1 on the strength of 2 cross ice passes to Max Pacioretty in the first ten minutes of the game that gave the Habs a 2-0 lead that they never looked back from.  A greasy goal by the Jackets, an empty netter by the Habs, and the game is done.

The Jackets played well, continuing a good stretch of play by our hockey club.  It is very clear that this is a good team in a tough situation, with only being able to afford a handful of losses but 25 or so games remaining.  But realistically, at this juncture we have a very advantageous draft position in a very strong draft.  I would hate for a false and futile charge at this point to screw that up.  I love the team we have now.  They are playing hard and well, and I am proud of them.  But I have to confess to a certain relief with tonight's loss.

As much as I like this team, and the players on it, and as much as I know that they can do better than they have as currently constituted, this team is also going to get better with time on two separate fronts.  The first and most obvious, HOLY MOTHER OF GOD WHAT ARE THE KINGS WEARING??!!!  Those are vintage New York Knickerbocker uniforms, aren't they??  Are they retiring Ty Cobb's jersey tonight or something?  Wow!  That's a visual. Whew!

Ok, where was I?  Oh yeah.  Two fronts.  The first and most obvious is the influx of young talent in the form of Wennberg, Rychal and Dano.  Two of those three were in the lineup tonight, gaining valuable experience.  The other less obvious front, but almost as important is the continuing experience our core is gaining playing with one another.  For the most part, these guys have been together for 3 seasons now, and that stability is starting to have positive affects on their play.  We aren't blowing up the lineup every year now.  Assuming we can actually start a hockey season without a horrifying stretch of play, this is going to be a pretty good team going forward.

And there are more than the aforementioned three players in the pipeline.  Josh Anderson will play at the NHL level.  Oliver Bjorkstrand is currently pillaging Canadian major junior hockey like Attila the Hun, with goals in 7 straight games, and at least one 6 point game.  Sonny Milano is in the mix down there too, as well as some good defensive prospects like Mike Riley (sp?) and Dillon Heatherington.  The notion that we can backfill the prospect pool with very good talent from this year's draft means this team will be at an unprecedented level of organizational depth and strength.

This has been a tough year.  But I want us to pick at least at where we are sitting now, so good entertaining play, interspersed with stirring losses to maintain our draft position is the order for the rest of the year.  Then gather ourselves, and mess with some people's heads next year.

We have a good team having a tough year.  They played well, but didn't get the result tonight.  Perfect!

GO JACKETS!!!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

James Wisniewski Suspended for 8 Games because Crosby Punched Dubinsky

Dubinsky - Too Smart to Punch Crosby
Tonight, Brendan Shanahan, President of Hockey Operations for the Toronto Maple Leafs, announced he was suspending James Wisniewski for 8 games because Sidney Crosby punched Brandon Dubinsky.  Shanahan observed that Wisniewski was lucky that Dubinsky was too smart to punch Crosby, and that as a previous offender he deserved everything that Crosby had coming to him.  Besides, Shanahan observed, this move (suspending Wisniewski) has worked well for him in the past.

In trivial hockey news, not really significant to hockey pundits, was the fact that the Columbus Blue Jackets moved to 2-0 on the season series with their Metropolitan Division competitors, the Pittsburgh Penguins.  This was attributed to solar flares, and other inexplicable natural phenomenon, because everyone knows, including the fourth string announcers that NBC used for this game, that the Pittsburgh Penguins are a really great team, and ready to drive for a Stanley Cup any time, in spite of their interim general manager and coach.  The preceding statements do not apply to Blake Comeau, who is  a good dude and deserves everything he earns with Pittsburgh, and that we really could have used what he offers at a lot of times in this season, but I didn't really want to go there.

Meanwhile, Mrs Gallos observed that the Wisniewski gag was going to get really old at some point in time, that was rapidly approaching.  To which Gallos jauntily retorted that you can't make up stuff this stupid, and that history was my protector..... or something dumb like that.

GO JACKETS!!

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Give Ian Clark a Raise

Ian Clark coaching up Jeremy Smith.  "this means
get me outta the game!!"
Curtis McElhinney set a career mark in saves last night, and is looking very solid in the absence of the Number 1 goal tender, Bobrovsky.  In last night's win against the Flyers, CMac made an unbelievable cross crease glove save on Jake Voracek to preserve a fragile lead.  Even then, the Flyers pushed back to a tie in that wild second period.

What is clear is that McElhinney is playing at a level that represents some of the best play in his career.  Why then, at this point?  Getting routine work contributes of course (taking notes Richie?).  There is something to be said for not riding the number 1 goal tender like a rented mule.  McElhinney is playing for a contract, and if this team is going to make any noise next year it HAS to have a solid back up.  I think Forsberg is going to be a very good goal tender, but he does not seem ready to be number 2, and contracts don't come much cheaper than McElhinney's.  You could give him a nice raise on a 1 year deal, and be VERY cap friendly.

To me, a prime reason why McElhinney is playing so well is Ian Clark.  Once he came in as a full time goal tender coach, the position has steadily become of  position of strength.  Getting Bobrovsky of course was a key, but someone needs to keep Bob at the top of his game,   But is that Clark?  Well McElhinney has definitely come around.  Mike McKenna did well in relief of both Bob and McElhinney, and realistically, Forsberg hasn't played that poorly, but he definitely has drawn some games where we ran into a buzz saw (Lightening, Islanders).

In my opinion, Clark is slowly but surely turning the goal tending position into a position of strength for the organization.  If we ever want to make some real noise in the playoffs, real depth at the position will be necessary.  We seem to be on the right path, so let's make sure we keep this guy!

GO JACKETS!!!

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Gaining Perspective

Tanking is a risky business, just ask Edmonton
Last night's third period was difficult to stomach.  That's part of the reason I put off this post until now.  I needed to shake off the anger born of competitive spirit, and try to put this game in perspective.  I have stated previously in this blog that I thought this year's CBJ were last year's Islanders.  Last year, the Islanders were picked to play well, their goal tender got injured, and down they went.  They profited from that by solving their goal tending problem with Halak, and solidifying their blue line in free agency.  The result is a very good team that has been building for years.  The only thing that the CBJ lack looking to next year compared to this year's Islanders is that first overall draft pick. [cut to commercial]

If you are paying attention Mr. Bettman, Conner McDavid would MAKE THE NHL A BUCKETFULL OF MONEY playing in Columbus [citation needed], so when you are putting a decal on the ball with the magnet, make it the CBJ.  He would not make the NHL any more money playing in Toronto because the NHL is wringing as much money as they can out of that area short of bringing in the Mets, er, I mean, another franchise.  And this is a real threat, as Untersee Kapitan Shanahan has sounded the Klaxon horn to dive the U-boat Maple Leafs, and a scorched earth rebuild looms in Ontario.  [now back to your regularly scheduled programming]

I was pretty impressed with the Islanders last night.  A very physical team, with a fair amount of skill.  They have it all going for them this year, their last year on Long Island before the move to Brooklyn, and after a very long dry spell that's appropriate.  The CBJ have any thing but 'it all going for them' this year  But despite their lowly place in the standings, I like what I saw from the CBJ last night.  The fish mongers put their foot on the gas early and late, and shaped the game with their physical play (which was impressive).  The CBJ fought back, and had the game tied 3-3 going into the third period.  In a road game, that's what you want, a chance to only have to win one period to win the game.  It didn't happen last night, but the CBJ still put themselves in a good position with a dogged level of fight that was pleasing.

I've watched many a lost season for the CBJ.  As a consequence of that, I've watched a lot of bad hockey, and know what it looks like.  This team is not playing bad hockey.  They make mistakes, yes and there are some holes in the line up that the young talent in Springfield may fill next year.  Which brings up its own issues, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it.  The even better news is that this years draft will provide another restock of talent, so what we pull out of the system for next years team, is going to be replaced from the bottom.

So I want to win this year, but I want to do it in a fashion to maximize our draft position.  The reality of the situation is that in spite of my gnashing of teeth in the third period last night, the Islanders helped us out in that regard.  I know many of us don't like that at all, so I want to leave you with something I observed last night.

In our game last Monday, LA's Jeff Carter was motivated by the boos raining down on him from the CBJ faithful.  Since Carter was actually trying for once, he pulled some pretty slick moves out of his pocket, and twice he took shot on goal right from the face off.  Both Johansen and Wennberg went against him in the face off circle, with not real good results.  Last night I saw Johansen step through a face off and unload an excellent shot on net.  My point is that he learned that, and all of a sudden we see him taking that lesson and putting it into his repertoire.  Likewise for Wennberg, last night's game was physically 'rich' for him at times.  He has shown a marked tendency to take those lessons and apply them in later games, and he'll be stronger next year.  These lessons may seem hard bought at this juncture, but they will pay off down the road.

Last night an excellent Islanders team pulled away from the CBJ.  But the core of the CBJ looks good, and they showed moxie in coming back to tie the game late in the second.  These things will pay off down the road.  With a bit of perspective, I am content with the result.

GO JACKETS!

Saturday, February 14, 2015

Hey Ref! The Trailer Park Called, and They Can't Find Their Trash!

No Sir.  I can't explain why it's goalie interference on you
and not on them....
One of my great hopes as a long term Blue Jackets fan is that some day I will abandon the notion that it is plausible to communicate on a one on one basis with the referees from the upper bowl.  I'm pretty sure that this notion is stupid, but I can't say that I'm a true believer.  Nonetheless, it remains an elusive area of personal improvement, and when confronted with situations like tonight's game it must be confessed that my fall is rapid and complete.

When faced with a personal failure of such magnitude, it is important to rapidly deflect and or assign blame elsewhere.  Here 'Hockey Bob' comes to my rescue.  Hockey Bob, as quoth his jersey, was apparently an old Chill fan, and in the early days when our tickets were still in section 210 Hockey Bob and his minions were still bellowing 'give him a groin injury!!' with all the wrong inflection.  A personal favorite Hockey Bob chant of mine was ' We Want...Free Beer'!!!  Well duh!  That will make an entertaining hockey game!  Then one memorable day I was to receive a copy of his list of 'cheers'.  Many of them were too long to be effective, but the title was one that seemed relatively pertinent.  And here I was tonight, quizzing the ref on waste disposal once more.

This all seems ungrateful for a team that tied the game late, then won it in overtime.  The CBJ were able to rise above the officiating by making 'no-doubt' goals to tie, and then win the game. The officials may have had a less than stellar outing, but it didn't decide the game, which is all you are looking for in some ways, unless you are old and cynical fans, and then you assume the worst anyway.

The CBJ were somehow able to overcome several institutional (the Flyers) obstacles and non institutional obstacles (the Referees) to gain a victory.  But that doesn't mean I didn't take the opportunity to attempt to advise the non-institutional obstacles of their personal inefficiency.  But that is a personal problem.  The important thing for tonight is an Eastern Conference win.  It wasn't easy, but that is what overtime is for.  Well done to the CBJ for closing that deal!!

GO JACKETS!!

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Time to Celebrate

Tomorrow we celebrate Scott Hartnell's 1000th game in the NHL, which he played Monday night.  The Flyers, where he played many of those games, are in town for the festivities.  That should be fun.

Hartnell has been a solid acquisition for the CBJ.  I always like Umberger, but he made his choice, and that's fine.  Hartnell was a good swap, and a solid veteran presence in a locker room of young players.

But mainly I wrote this because I was tired of Carter's smug-a** face on our blog.  That's a good reason for a post as any.  Tomorrow will be a fun game.

GO JACKETS!!!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Why We Boo Jeff Carter

The Gatsby of Hockey.  Jeff Carter in 2011.  Could be the best
player in the game.  Not interested in trying to be that.
Blue Jackets fans and Jeff Carter have a hate:hate relationship that goes way back.  Fundamentally, Blue Jackets fans value effort, and if you try your best, but can't do it, we tend to be good with that.  Jeff Carter may never have played his best.  He is a sublime talent, a superb, effortless skater, and he is used to getting by on his talent.  So to him, effort is optional.

It's a risky business booing Jeff Carter.  It is one of the few things on this earth that seems to get his attention.  We saw that tonight, as he was greeted with a warm round of boos every time he touched the puck, and proceeded to have a goal and an assist on the Kings first three scores.  Darryl Sutter kept throwing him out there, because for once in his coaching career he had an engaged Jeff Carter.  Sutter is too smart to waste that opportunity.

I have a good friend from North Bay, who doesn't understand the booing, and thinks it bush league.  Well, yeah, he's right.  As a fan base, we are pretty much in the unruly teen years (15).  So we are going to do things like that.  I can live with that.  In fact I embrace it.  This fan base will continue to boo Jeff Carter because he represents every thing we loathe.  First of all, he rejected us as a fan base.  Howson made the decision to bring him here, even though Carter didn't want it, the first domino in a disastrous set of moves that set the franchise back 5 years.  Carter never wanted to be here, and never really tried to even put the happy face on it.  As a group, the CBJ fans don't deal with rejection well.  Tonight was clear cut evidence of that.

The other reason that CBJ fans boo Jeff Carter, is because he has the talent to be the best player in the league.  I'm not a big fan of Sidney Crosby by any stretch, but at least he works.  Carter is handicapped by a silky smooth, effortless skating stride, that allows him to go really fast without appearing to try.  He has sublime hands, and great ice vision.  And he only uses these assets to get by with the least amount of effort possible.

Jeff Carter could be the best player in the game today, if he chose to be.  He doesn't choose to be.  And for that choice, CBJ fans will continue to disdain him, and boo him regardless of the cost.

The defending Stanley Cup champs looked the part tonight.  The pretending CBJ also looked the part tonight, being thoroughly outclassed, in many instances, except for those few ill-advised efforts to pick a fight with Boll.  All that considered, the CBJ still made them sweat a bit down the stretch, and the end of the game was entertaining.

Once when he played for the CBJ, Jeff Carter got a hat trick on the road in the first period against the Predators.  They won that game late, and they said in post game that they knew Carter wouldn't score again.  He did his gig, then quit trying.  Tonight's game was a bit like that.  He got booed, got an assist and a goal, and was done for the evening.  He didn't need to do any more.  He played a lot, and the CBJ struggled to contain him.  That's who he is.  And he schooled Joey and Wennberg on a couple of face offs for sure.  But those two will remember it, and learn from it, and it was Stoll taking those defensive zone face offs late in the game when the goal tender was pulled, even though Carter was on the ice.

The better team won tonight.  These Kings are still a really good team.  I think they will pull it together to make the playoffs.  But what then?  Does Carter wait till its too late to start trying?  It should be entertaining to watch.

Jeff Carter could be the best player in the NHL.  He chooses not to be.  So we boo him, and to hell with the consequences.  And that's the way it should be.

GO JACKETS!!!!