Thursday, November 5, 2009

10 Thoughts about Game 14: San Jose

1. The Columbus Blue Jackets manned up and played the San Jose Sharks to a 2-2 stalemate with stout defense, physical play and quality goaltending through 3 full periods and the 5 minute, 4-on-4 overtime period. They came up short on the shootout but still gained a point in the standings.  The CBJ currently sit in 9th place in the Western Conference with 16 points, only 1 point behind Calgary and playoff qualification.  Here are the highlights:

2. Let's get this out early: If anyone had told me ten days ago that the CBJ were going to play the Penguins, the Capitals and the Sharks in succession, take ALL of them to overtime and get 4 out of six possible points, I'd be thrilled. With the way the Jackets had played during their most recent road trip (or not played, depending on how you look at it), I never would have expected such a remarkable turnaround.  I know that the Jackets dropped off against the Pens and Caps, letting both teams back in during the third periods of those games,  but consider the radical turnaround in team attitude and performance over this murderer's row of a scheduling job.  Unbelievable.

3. Let's pile on a little.  If anyone had told me that the CBJ would take the Sharks, arguably the best team in the NHL right now, to overtime while keeping Mike Commodore, Derick Brassard, Andrew Murray and Kristian Huselius out due to injuries - AND welcoming Jan Hejda back after an abbreviated, injury-related, absence, I'd be thrilled.

4. I guess I kinda previewed myself with #3.  WELCOME BACK, Jan Hejda!!  The Big Guy (Hitch's phrase, post-Washington) logged over 22 minutes of ice time in his first game back in three weeks, got a shot off and (sadly) logged a -1 on the night, dropping his +52 over the past two years down to +51.

4a. More important than the +/- and shots was the settling effect Hejda had on the CBJ defense.  Remember, these guys were missing Mike Commodore, and Hejda probably had some rust to shake off.  Still, the Jackets locked down on defense and gave up one fluke goal (off a skate) and one power play goal.  That, my friends, is Confidence (with a capital "C").

4b. Don't forget that The Big Guy was supposed to be out 4-6 weeks.  He came back a full week earlier than the doctors and trainers projected and then led this incredible charge.

5. Steve Mason turned away 36 of 38 shots in regulation and overtime, a .947 save percentage against the same team that lit him up like a roman candle in game 3 out in the Shark Tank.  Whether it's the home cooking of Masonwide, the presence of a real goaltending coach in Dave Rook or the calming (and I mean this in the best possible way) effect of Jan Hejda's return - or probably a combination of all three - Mase appears to be getting his groove back.

6. The Canadian Olympic team's management of Steve Yzerman & Co. was in the building and saw one heck of a heavyweight bout by two tough teams.  They also saw Rick Nash get a fantastic power play goal on pure grit...and saw Steve Mason pull off some incredible saves.

7. Who is this man, and what have the Columbus Blue Jackets done with Jared Boll?

"Down, boy! When you're done licking my skates, go lick Li'l Russ's skates, too! And say, 'Thank you, Mr. Boll,' when you're done!"

Seriously, it looks like the Boll of old is back. If that's what we can expect out of Jared, I say keep him around. But once is a surprise, twice is nice, and three times is the beginning of a trend. Keep it up, Jared.

8. There perhaps is no better summary of Nikita Filatov's performance in the Sharks game than what Michael Arace said in his Puck Rakers game summary:
"Nikita Filatov had 11:33 of ice time, a modern Russian record for the Jackets. (Tyutin doesn't count because he married a Canadian)."
Classic.  Seriously, Filatov was not only given ice time, but he got ice time deep in the third period when the Jackets needed to hold onto the tie first and look for the lead second.  He also got a chance to play the hero in the shootout, but I think the nerves seemed to take hold.  Not nerves about the crowd or the shootout but rather the nerves about pleasing Coach Hitchcock so he can get more ice time.

8a. If you can't tell, I think that Hitch has seriously embedded himself in Filatov's head.  That's for better and worse.

9. In my media critique segment, Fox Sports Ohio is noticeably improving its coverage.  (Funny how things turn so optimistic when the CBJ are playing well!)  Jeff Rimer is calling a reasonably even-handed game considering he's broadcasting to Ohioans.  Bill Davidge is only occasionally lapsing into coach-speak ("This is the time when you look inside yourself and dig deep...").  John Michael is keeping his composure while interviewing Sammy Pahlsson and getting sprayed by a pre-game snow shower.  Nice to see things clicking.  Given alternatives, I probably would swap out some moving parts of the broadcast team (Why oh why did they not make a move on Darren Pang when Panger left Phoenix?).  But this team has improved, so let's give them their due.

9a. The strong Fox Sports Ohio performance is also notable because their feed was broadcast nationally over the NHL Network.  Kudos!

9b. FSO also is hyping their "All Access" game over the weekend, when the CBJ takes on Carolina.  Cameras everywhere, 'sounds of the game,' the whole shootin' match.  Good to them for trying this out - hopefully this live test of broadcasting capacity gives them some nuggets that they can integrate into their broadcasts on an ongoing basis.  I'm all for innovation, if you can't tell.  But remember, guys, the focus should be on the team and the action on the ice - not the broadcasters!

9c. FSO, if you do ONE thing, please give John Michael a shot at doing some in-game 'sideline' reporting.  There's a lot happening on the benches and in the locker room, and sharing those stories would be a terrific improvement in coverage.

10.  1-0-2 over the last three.  4 out of 6 points.  I still like that A LOT.

Next up: Tonight in Atlanta against the Thrashers, who are on a two-game win streak.  Mason apparently has the night off (a good thing), and we can keep our fingers crossed that Brassard and Commodore will be back.  (Commie must've had one heck of a charley horse!)

[UPDATE:  I can't believe that I forgot to mention that I noticed Jason Chimera's growing a mustache of Parros-ian proprtions!  Silly me...]

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