Sunday, October 25, 2009

10 Thoughts about Game 9: Anaheim

1. Wash, rinse, repeat: The Columbus Blue Jackets trailed at the end of the first period, came charging back and held off a late Anaheim rally to win 6-4 in Anaheim and raise their record to 6-3-0.  The only question mark after seeing all of these games is whether our late-game collapse will be so significant that we'll lose it outright.  Tonight, it wasn't.  (Hmmm....that's a bit harsh.  I'll try to make up for it in the later thoughts.)

2. As I Twittered, this game perhaps had me more nervous than any other thus far this season.  After the ridiculous loss in Edmonton, Ken Hitchcock didn't wait the conventional wisdom's 20 games to reassess his team and the lineup.  He reshuffled the lines to try to get the team playing to its fullest potential.   More on some of the specific changes later, but let's agree right now that the most important change occurred when you saw the 5 win total rise to 6 after last night's game.

You see, in professional sports, coaches don't have a ton of leeway with the team.  When your players make as much or more than the coach, the coach generally is considered the expendable one when things go bad and changes have to be made.  Hitch is clearly a Hall of Fame coach; his resume, win totals and a Stanley Cup title put him in that eschelon of coaches.  But even Hall of Famers don't get leeway forever.  If the team had lost; if the players' confidence in the mad scientist of line combinations started to shake; if Hitch started the slow, painful process of losing the team....well, it could have been bad and the CBJ (re?)building process could have been short-circuited.  Wheels come off when things like this don't work.

Instead, the lineup shuffle paid off and the Jackets won.  Doesn't really matter if it was the combinations themselves or the wakeup call that the team received; they WON.  Hitch's reputation as a great coach survives intact.  The players might shake their heads and wonder what Ken's thinking, but they still have reason to buy into the program on a foundation of faith in their coach.  Hitch can only pull a maneuver like this once or twice in the season and still keep the team focussed, so let's all thank our lucky stars that it worked.  Individual win aside, this was big.  Really big.

3. The most active line on the scoresheet was the Vermette-Voracek-Huselius line, which Hitch already had patched together for Edmonton.  Two goals for Jake, a goal and 2 assists for Antoine...that makes for a fun evening.

3a. That Vermette pass from his knees to Jake for the goal in the 2nd was suh-weet.

4. Captain Rick Nash had two goals and an assist as well.  The second of the two goals was career goal #200.  Two hundred goals - stop for a minute and get your mind around that.  Incredible.

5. I'm sure that Hitch had no problem handing the crease back to Steve Mason after Mathieu Garon's performance in Edmonton.  (To Garon's credit, he would have had to stand on his head to win considering the lousy team play in front of him.)  Mase stopped 33 of 37, good enough to win but probably nothing that will get the Canadian Olympic folks excited.   Don't get me wrong, I want to see him do well and wouldn't mind his representing his country in Vancouver.  I just want to see him win some games for the team that's paying him.

6. OK, I'll be a man and admit it.  I crashed on the couch after the end of the 1st period and woke with about 6-ish minutes left in the 3rd period.  (Photo is not of me, but might as well have been...)  My 10 Thoughts clearly are affected by this fact.  I'm glad I DVR'd the game - the 2nd period appears to be when the real action took place.

6a.  These western swings just stink.  I'm just useless the next day after these late games.

6b. I have this dream that the Islanders will give up on the Lighthouse project and move to Kansas City.  The Red Wings won't be allowed to leave the Western Conference because 1) The teams in the East are a bunch of pretty-boy sissies and would be scared to play the Winged Wheel night in and night out, and 2) Chicago will continue to exercise its functional veto of a Wings realignment.  Thus, the Blue Jackets would move to the Eastern Conference and the CBJ would tear through the East in a manner similar to last year's 13-3-2 record versus the East.  And I would go to bed before 1AM on a consistent basis throughout the NHL season.  Hey, a guy can dream, right?

7. Sammy Pahlsson was en fuego in his return to Anaheim, where he played on the Stanley Cup-winning Ducks team.  Dude did not see a faceoff that he couldn't win.  What a great, great pickup by GM Scott Howson!

8. Some gaudy plus-minuses on the stat sheet.  Vermette & Tyutin with +4. Voracek with +3.  Nash, Commodore (welcome back!), Huselius and Stralman with +2.  That's what we like to see!

9.  Fedor Tyutin is living proof that sometimes just shooting the puck toward the net gives you a goal.  Doesn't have to be perfect, doesn't have to be pretty, just has to be a puck moving in the direction of the net.  (And, yes, I was awake for this one.)

10. Let's close it out with an awesome summarizing comment from "David" in the Puck-Rakers game recap: "After the Jackets surrendered the 2-goal lead it could have went either way. Then the Jackets started digging out the puck in those hard areas away from center ice, in the corners, behind the net and one-on-ones. Nasher elbowed the puck away from a Duck in our attack zone and when that guy went flying the Jackets were on the way to a victory."  This speaks to the Jackets - top to bottom - recommitting to the Hitch system...something that needs to happen each and every night.

Tonight's game is a rematch against the Los Angeles Kings, this time at the Staples Center.  A win tonight, and the CBJ are .500 on the road trip - my working definition of a good swing.

Thank God it starts an hour earlier...

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