Tuesday, January 27, 2015

No Car Tonight Ovi

Curtis McElhinney got the job done tonight
On the first night back from the All-Star break, Columbus did not show the same level of love for Alexander Ovechkin, a member of Team Foligno, as it did during the All-Star Game.  Ovi had his chances on the power play, often damaging Blue Jackets laying in the path of his shot, and one time sounding like he permanently marred the boards with a wicked heavy shot.  But most importantly, Curtis McElhinney kept Ovechkin off the board, and the Blue Jackets prevailed 4-3.

HUGELY important for the stretch run was the fourth line getting on the board early, with Mark Letestu getting a goal off a good hustle feed from Corey Tropp.  The Jackets scored again off a wicked one-timer from Ryan Johansen on a sweet feed from Kevin Connauton.  In that case, Connauton had jumped up on the play, and Joey was playing the point, a little role reversal that fooled Holtby, the Washington goal tender.  Joey put some sauce on that shot though, to be sure.  After that point, the Jackets and the Capitals counter punched, with the Capitals scoring promptly after each Jackets goal, but never really closing the gap to a tie.  Atkinson got the game winner on a blast from the high slot.

I liked the Blue Jackets game tonight.  They did a lot of things to really flummox a well coached (damn you Trotz) and talented team.  The last two, well actually three, goals the Jackets scored came off of sequences where the Jackets puck possession got the Capitals chasing the puck, and never catching up.  There were several really good sequences by the Jackets that the Caps couldn't solve.  On the other hand, when the Caps pushed back after a goal, they pushed back hard, and the Jackets seemed unable to organize themselves against it.

All in all, a huge two points against a Metro opponent.  It would have been really bad not to win in regulation to night, and the Jackets did a good job of closing out the game.  I thought Alex Wennberg had a really strong game tonight.  True, it was mostly defensively, but in the NHL, you have to play defense if you want ice time (unless you are Ovi), and he is starting to be an impact player defensively.  The offense will come with more chances, you get more chances by being an impact player defensively.  No worries about this kid.  We may not see the offense this year, and maybe not next year, but for sure the year after, barring unforeseen circumstances.  He grows with each game, and is poised to really make a difference in the stretch run.  If he got a goal or two and got hot, I could see him on a little push that might make a difference in this stretch run.  We'll see.  No worries if he doesn't, but he is going to be getting ice time by earning it.

A really good game by the Jackets, coming off the glory of the All-Star game.  One thing that may well arise from that event is a huge surge in confidence by Nick Foligno and Ryan Johansen.  And that could be trouble for the other guy down the stretch.


Monday, January 26, 2015

Why We Boo Rick Nash

An All-Star Arena Saturday Night
I've seen a lot of reaction on the twitterwebs about the booing that Rick Nash received at the All-Star game.  Let me reassure you folks, we boo him because we love him.  Yeah some people are bitter about the way the whole break went down.  They boo him out of an emotion that I don't identify with, but that's okay.  I boo him/cheer him to make some noise, to let him understand that I'm paying attention that he's out there.  He's a Ranger for gosh sake!  I'm supposed to cheer him?  Nah!

I am happy for Nash.  I really am.  He's in a better place for him, and it is really showing this year.  I'd much rather Nash win the Rocket Richard trophy than someone else.  It is not uncommon for a hockey player to have to go somewhere other than where he was drafted to achieve his ultimate potential.  Ilya Kovalchuk couldn't drag the Thrashers to the playoffs on his own.  Nash managed to climb that mountain once, in 2008-09 with the Blue Jackets.  That speaks to his character.  But in the end, there was no sense in him trying to pull along another rebuild.  And the assets from his trade changed the dynamic for the CBJ, which was badly needed at that time.  What we had wasn't going to be able to work.

The reason it is not uncommon for a player to go elsewhere and find his ultimate success level is because of the expectations that come with draft picks, especially for an expansion organization where the dearth of talent is keenly felt.  Derick Brassard and Jake Voracek are a great example of that.  Fan expectations (mine included) were that they would automatically turn in to Toews and Kane, and when they weren't, these unrealistic expectations were not met.  Brass and Jake are not Toews and Kane, and never will be.  They are always going to be Brass and Jake.  Voracek has reached a high level of play this year.  Jackets fans would never have been content to wait this long for Jake to get there.  That is not to suggest that Jake is unduly late in finding success, it is to suggest that the expectations for that timing were unrealistic.  Derick Brassard is starting to round into the center we always thought he would be for the Rangers.  I'm not sure he makes that here.  He is in the right place for his development in New York.

Rick Nash spent his formative years pulling this franchise along.  He lead the team to its first playoff appearance, but the wheels came off after that.  Ken Hitchcock has commented that the 2008-09 Blue Jackets team was one of his favorite teams, because it maxed out.  They gave him every ounce of what they had.  To be successful in the playoffs, you need much more than that, and you can't have left it all laying on the ice just to get there.

Nash's trade gave Columbus the building blocks that they needed to stabilize the center of the ice.  So even in leaving, he did Columbus right.  So we boo him.  To let him know we care.


Sunday, January 25, 2015

A Great Event

The 2015 NHL All-Star game, held in Columbus was nothing but a really good time.  I felt our City showed itself off really well, and a lot of people got a chance to experience what the Arena District has to offer.  In terms of a celebration of hockey, this sure felt like a good one.

I was treated to an interesting anecdote tonight at the game.  Some friends of ours, a younger couple, season ticket holders, have a six week old new born.  The announcement of the rules, early in the week, stating that such newborn had to have a seat, and a ticket, according to NHL policy put some of our ticket holders in a bind.  According to our friends, the CBJ basically said, 'yup, that's the policy', then proceeded to pay for the infant's ticket themselves, absorbing any extra ticket costs owed to the NHL.  I love seeing our organization take care of its fans.  I understand where the NHL is coming from on this.  They love our organization for making it a non-issue for them.

I went downtown this weekend to enjoy the All-Star game.  It fulfilled my expectations in spades, in terms of it being a REALLY good time.  One of the things I liked seeing the most was the level of professionalism showed by the people who were working this event.  Anything this big is going to have its situations, and SNAFUs.  From what I was able to observe, those were few and far between.  I mean, you have to assume that there were some screw-ups.  But I didn't see any.  The event seemed to come off without a hitch.  Thanks to all of you for working so hard to represent the City I love.  It was a really great effort on your part.

Come Tuesday, the regular season starts again.  Ovi, it was great having you on Team Foligno.  But you get demoted back to the Caps tomorrow, and we promise to treat you accordingly when you return.  Thanks everyone for such a great weekend!


Saturday, January 24, 2015

So It Begins

Fan Fest At The Columbus Convention Center
The Fan Fest sneak preview last night, the blogger happy hour at Bernard's Tavern tonight (stick tap to @redditcbj for showing), the swirl of fun that is the All Star Game has arrived in Columbus.  It is SO cool.

I am really looking forward to enjoying myself this weekend.  The notion of 'Team Foligno" gets me fired up just thinking about it.  I've been wearing Nick's number to games for 2 years now, and it is just beautiful watching him have fun in this role.  It's awesome!

Stick tap to Mark from Memphis on fun conversation at Bernard's Tavern tonight.  Meeting people from all over is the big part of this weekend.  It's so fun.  I'm looking forward to the whole experience.

Our friends have graciously allowed us to move into their downtown condo this weekend.  We move in tomorrow, for the duration.  How cool is that?

Enjoy our All Star Game Columbus!  Get out there and be a good ambassador to our City.  It is such an easy sell!


Monday, January 19, 2015

Back to the Future

Wiz Scores His 50th Career Goal for the GWG
Big road win for the CBJ tonight, beating the Minnesota Wild, 3-1 in their barn, as Columbus warms up for All-Star weekend.  The Jackets outskated the Wild in the first and third periods of the game, and endured through the second period to earn the road win.  The bad news is that Johansen's 13 game point streak comes to an end because Calvert missed an empty net late in the game.  So it goes.

On the plus side, our top 5 power play continued to score, which is a really good thing going forward.  We got some good vibes from the officials who waved off a Wild goal because, well, it's complicated.  It was our night tonight, and a well earned win.

We saw flashes of it against the Bruins, bigger looks of it tonight against a lesser opponent, where the CBJ had that look of rolling 3 second lines, and a fourth line, like we did last year.  Alexander Wennberg continues to take huge strides each game.  I think Ryan Johansen has taken a step here lately too.  He is looking more energetic and stronger then he did in December.  Both of these players are key for the franchise going forward, and watching Wennberg take strides every game he plays is very pleasing.  Keep in mind we are duplicating scenarios from last year's successful season without key players, such as Artem Anismov and Boone Jenner, not to mention Ryan Murray.  I don't know how things are going to turn out this year, but this looks an awful lot like a damn good team next year.

It will be interesting watching Josh Anderson over the next few games.  He has helped to be able to create that line of Dubninsky, Hartnell and Anderson, which has caused real problems for the opposition over the last two games.  It is fairly normal for someone coming up for the first time to have a couple-three good games, and then plateau hard as the adrenaline of getting called up for the first time burns off.  It is very normal for young players to fade after the first few games, and it is no shame to Anderson if he gets sent back down.   We will see how he continues in the next few games.  If he can maintain the level he has shown in the last 3 games, he is going to be in the NHL for a long time.  Good stuff.

Winnipeg up next, and then the All-Star Game.  Good times in CBJ land!!


Do Unto Others...

Matt Calvert Gets on The Score Sheet
Sorry for a bit of a late post here, but I wanted a bit of time to reflect on the win over the Bruins.  They are who we are chasing now, and they are a mere 13 points ahead of us.  Ugh.  On the positive side, the CBJ take the season series against Boston, 2-0-1, which is a real step forward four our group.  Yes, perhaps Boston is having a bit of a down year, but we're not?  So real progress there.

The best part of it was that we beat Boston at their game.  When the Bruins are at their best, they'll keep you close in a tight, hard fought game, then break your back late in the third period.  Been there.  Seen it done.  It hurts, with Lucic often scoring late on a physical drive to the net.  This time is was the CBJ sticking one in late, on a real nice, very determined play by Cam Atkinson, moving into the slot to make the first shot that solved Rask, but barely.  Calvert got to the tap-in before the Boston defender could get there, then followed up with an empty netter to ice the game.

One of our readers asked me if I thought Head Coach Todd Richards was the right guy to be coach.  I think yes, and here's why.  The injuries have been brutal, and they are not on the Coach's list of responsibilities.  Filling in with the best AHL guy will only take you so far, and when you are using 5 of them, other teams will take advantage of it.  This is the NHL, and they care naught for your weaknesses, they just want to beat you.  But my argument isn't that it's not his fault.

My argument is more about how he managed the lineup in the last two games, a loss and a win.  HCTR assembled the line of Foligno-Johansen-Hartnell and it has been productive for several games.  Then Jarmo reached down to Springfield and pulled up Josh Anderson, a weighty young lad who we hope has a great future in the league.  So for the New York game, Richie tossed Dubinsky into the doghouse for a brutal gaffe in the Montreal game, and demoted him to the fourth line.  He also pushed Wennberg up to the 2nd line, a place he will ultimately play long term, along side Calvert and Atkinson.  That is a very fast line, which is a good thing to roll out against the high flying Rangers.  Anderson went in on a third line that with Dubinsky playing on that line at times, which ended up being pretty stout.  Although that game did not end well for us, Richie did a good job matching personnel to the opponents and we only lost 2-1.  The Rangers laid 5 on Pittsburgh last night, so holding them to 2 whilst having momentary brain cramps isn't so bad.

Against Boston, Richie broke up the successful Johansen-Foligno-Hartnell line, by moving Morin up to the line, and creating a Dubninsky, Hartnell, and Anderson line.  This line caused Boston all kinds of trouble, because it is a very Boston-like line, a good combination of size and skill.  Anderson's speed really helped this line.  Playing the Wennberg-Atkinson-Calvert line again, made enough of a speed match-up problem for Boston that they could not capitalize on the youth of the center (Dubinsky was still on the ice when Atkinson and Calvert did their thing to win the game, however).  This game of course, was a nice win.

So my point is that so long as he is not holding a hand of AHL deuces, Richie does a pretty good job of arranging his line up to create match-up problems for the other team.  I think that's what Jarmo and JD saw when they extended his contract.  So yeah, Richie is the right guy for this group I think.  It's been a tough, and unlucky year for our bunch.  But as they get healthier, they are going to get better, and it will be rough on the other teams to have to play our guys down the stretch.  For what that's worth.


Friday, January 16, 2015

We Are Last Year's Islanders

Last year the Islanders were widely predicted to be a successful team.  An injury to their goal tender took their season off the rails, and the analogy is not dissimilar to the Blue Jackets experience this year.  The Islanders ended up needing to make a goal tending change, signing Halak from the Blues, but the reality is not that different from the CBJ season.

Bob went down early.  Both the team and he recovered, and put on a good streak to try to get back in the race.  However, both the Rangers and the Capitals put streaks on at the same time, so we did not make up any ground in the playoff race.  It is their year.  I never had any qualms that our team could beat the Rangers last year. Since the beginning of November, I have never been confident that our battered team could beat this year's Rangers.  It's just the way it is.  The Rangers are not dramatically better, they just have it going on all cylinders at this moment in time, and are playing with a lot of confidence.  Next year is another season, and we will see.  But for now, they've got it going.  The person I am most happy for is Rick Nash.  He labored on inadequate teams for so many years here.  Now he has an opportunity on a good team that has it going.  Rock on buddy!  I'm confident that Slats will blow it up in the wrong way in the long term, so will get my paybacks then.

I am happy with the way our guys played tonight.  I am happy that they tried to play a speed game against the Rangers.  They weren't successful, and lost on the odd man rushes a speed game give up.  With Wennberg and Anderson up, the team speed looked good.  It is way too early to abandon that style of play.  While we may amass a certain amount of evidence that we are not good at playing a style of game that takes advantage of our team speed, we have at least acknowledged that team speed does nothing for you when you are collapsing on the net.  Speed vs Defense is an age old quandary in hockey, and we are feeling our way through the growth period it takes to play with speed using young talent.  I like that.

This is not our year.  Last year was.  Next year may well be.  But this, the 13th year of NHL hockey played in our fair City, has not been kind to us.  So it goes.  It remains to be seen what this season can bring.  I will embrace and enjoy the All Star game we are blessed to have with every fiber of my being.  And trust me, I have a lot of fiber!

I am content with the effort.  The players care, and they are trying.  The results just are not gonna come, not with a crippled line up.  I think that is a short term issue, not a long term issue.  Bob hates to lose.  That will take us a long way.  Other than that, it is what it is.  While hope is not a strategy, as Jeff Little so aptly points out, it is associated with Conner McDavid.  Which would be cool, no matter how improbable.

A good game tonight, against a very good opponent.  In the third period, we tried to match speed with speed.  We did not fare poorly, though it had no effect on the outcome.  That is an experiment to continue, particularly this year.


Thursday, January 15, 2015

Josh Anderson Recalled

Josh Anderson
I just saw on the crawler on the NHL network that the CBJ have placed Jack Skille on injured reserve and called up Josh Anderson from Springfield.  I like this move.  If one of our young players is going to develop into a replacement Nathan Horton, Josh is the one I would pick.  He's got some size, he's got some skill, and I think he will be a good addition to the lineup.  Youthful legs for a 3 games in 4 days stretch.

I thought Josh had one of the better training camps among the young players, but he was one of the first to be sent down.  Josh has 4 G - 7 A for 11 P in 37 games in Springfield.  Not lighting it up, but its still a good idea for him to get his feet wet up at the NHL.  I will be highly interested to see how he does tomorrow.


Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Where Do I Begin?

This Photo is titled "Anger"
From the perspective of a fan who watched the game from the arena tonight, I question some of the calls by the refs Jean-Caude from Montreal, and Jean-Pierre from Montreal.  The phantom boarding penalty against Dubinsky behind the play that set up the winning goal perhaps I will be able to see on the game video.  Certainly no dives embellishment penalties were called.  However, the winning goal was scored with a relatively uncontested shot from below the hashmarks in the slot.  If Pacioretty would have missed that shot he should have been demoted to the AHL.  Certainly, Montreal did not give up that type of shot to the CBJ the whole game.  With the shot totals showing 31 to 16 in favor of Montreal, it is a small wonder that the CBJ carried a 2-0 lead early in the third period.

So what is different this year than last year?  First the opposition, all across the board is playing better.  Both New York teams are playing better, the Capitals are playing better, and New Jersey, the CBJ, Philly and Carolina are fading.  We don't like to talk about it, because it is so painful, but at this time of the year, Nathan Horton returned to our lineup.  In what may have been his last bout of professional hockey, his spirit and presence on the ice helped to propel the team to one of its 10 win months.  That is not going to show up this year, and we miss it sorely, though we don't talk about it.

The other thing we sorely miss is Ryan Murray.  This came to me as I was watching young Cody Golobef pass the puck to Tyutin.  Cody can play in the NHL, for sure.  It's going to come.  He is a good young talent, and Jarmo and company are smart to not try to push him through waivers, because he will be claimed.  So what does Ryan Murray bring that Cody doesn't, pretty much nothing, except for a calming effect.  Murray had the uncanny ability to take a hurried, off balance pass, settle it, and make a good pass from there.  Excited, off balance passes come in, calmness and accuracy goes out.  That calming effect is sorely missed when the pressure is on, as the plays that arise after the calm, accurate pass tend to be better overall.

Last year we rolled three second lines, and a third/fourth line.  Derek MacKenzie and company won their matchups most nights out.  Currently, our fourth line is inferior to most other teams.  It is an adventure to roll them out on the ice.  Yes, there was one series where they did a really good job of possessing the puck in the offensive zone.  That was one shift out of the game.  They need to do that for more shifts than not, but they disappeared after that one shift.  Richie keeps putting them out there, but they keep underperforming.  Our third line is little better, but has the redeeming value that Wennberg continues to amass NHL experience.  That is going to pay off down the road.

This three game losing streak has a lot of potential to spiral on us.  One thing for sure, it is not the effort, desire, or want of the team.  The injuries have made real holes in the team, but that gives Jarmo and Company a barometer of how they handle duress.

Make no mistake, the better team won tonight.  I have a serious attitude about that, and am hoarse from yelling at the refs.  But that doesn't mean I'm correct.  But as a fan, I don't need to be.  As a fanboy blogger I don't need to be either, but it's nice to have a tiny bit of credibility.  But I suspect I blew that in the first paragraph.  C'est la vie, eh?


Editors Note:  I love what Hartnell brings to this team.  It's gonna pay dividends in the long run!

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Stability In The Midst Of Chaos

Bobrovsky Signs Extension
As we sit in limbo between the naming of the All-Star team, a high flying New York Islanders team that visits tonight, and my angst concerning last night's performance against Toronto, I have finally realized what I think is going on around us.  Our team has staged a stirring rally on the back drop of a horrifying injury situation.  But this is not last year.  In spite of their play, they are simply unable to make any headway in terms of closing the gap between us and the playoffs.

I look forward extremely to the rest of this season.  Our squad is going to battle all the way, that's how they are wired.  They had a rough period on the road against a team that pulled out all the stops in terms of motivating the players.  They fired the coach, got a talking to by the President of Hockey Ops, who can definitely decide who stays and who goes.  Good Lord, there is nothing left in the playbook short of canning the GM.  So my level of angst about last night's game is more related to my expectations, and my desire for them to lay the wood to Toronto, and not about the actual situation the respective teams were in, and how they might react to that situation.  I think Richie appreciated that situation better than I did.

Keep in mind that this is a roster that has seen 95% turn over since the 2008-09 playoff team.  Change has been the reality of this organization for the last several years.  Take a moment, and ask yourself how many Cup winners underwent radical change before their run to the Cup?  It's not the norm, certainly.  We have changed this team since it last experienced a level of success (not counting last year).  This group has demonstrated an ability to rise from adversity not once, not twice, but three times.  So what do we see.  A stream of contracts locking the core of this team up for the long term future.  This is the core stability that you need for the run.  Central to that run is goal tending.

We have good talent in the pipeline.  We have unexpected talent in the pipeline (Oliver Bjorkstrand, I'm talking to you), and we have a core of experienced, yet young players.  I do not have a good feeling about tonight's game.  I think that in spite of our climb in December, we are not going to be able to close the gap enough to make the playoffs this year.  I KNOW I am going to have a blast going to games for the rest of this season, and fully plan to let my hair down on All-Star weekend.  And I hope that whatever little lucky charm Jarmo keeps is on a roll when they pop the ball to see who gets McDavid.

The future of this group is bright.  We may be looking at some short term pain here, but the long term looks good.  Jarmo has provided stability to this group.  They will respond to that, it's who they are.  And Bob is the ringleader.

It's all good.  I'm looking forward to a fun night tonight, regardless of the outcome.