Sunday, November 1, 2009

10 Thoughts about Games 11 & 12: Pittsburgh and Washington

1. Following a rare film and team meeting day on Thursday (no practice time on the ice), the Columbus Blue Jackets appeared to return to early season form on home ice against the powder blue-uniformed (some would say "baby blue," but I'll be generous) Pittsburgh Penguins for the first 50-55 minutes of the game and then suffered a total collapse.  The Jackets regained a sense of composure in the overtime period and went to the shootout, missing all three shots and watching Sidney Crosby's shot, which Steve Mason initially blocked, dribble past the goalie into the goal.  Pittsburgh won, 4-3. Here are the highlights:

1a. Pittsburgh fans can crow all they want about their stylish powder blues, which made their debut at the Winter Classic in Buffalo, but the best powder blue jersey, bar none, is the third jersey of the AHL's Milwaukee Admirals:

Aye, mateys, I covets me a skeletal, peg-legged hockey jersey...

1b. The Hitch Speaketh, and he was pretty ticked at giving the game away to the defending Stanley Cup champs:

2. Smarting from the shootout loss, the Jackets boarded their plane for the nation's capital city on Saturday for a late afternoon Sunday game against the Washington Capitals.  The Jackets largely stuck to the game plan that kept them in control of the Pittsburgh game and, eerily, repeated their "50 Minute Men" performance  that let Washington seize control of the game with 3:30 left in the third period, 4-3.  Raffi Torres, however, dropped his 2nd goal of the game (6th goal of the season) in with :30 left in regulation to send the game into overtime.  The Jackets again held their ground in the overtime period, drawing a critical interference game at 1:33 of overtime.  Less than 15 seconds later, R.J. Umberger scored the game-winner with his 2nd of the game (4th of the season) on the Jackets' power play. Chew on these highlights for a few:

2a. In case you were curious, coach Ken Hitchcock appeared a little more pleased after the end of the Washington game but bristled at the "50 Minute Men" questions related to being unable to close the game out.  Paraphrasing, he said that "the bug guy" (Hejda, presumably) needed to come back to spread the on-ice minutes back down to reasonable levels that didn't wear out the defense as had happened the past four games.

3. Steve Mason, to be clear, has not yet returned to the 10-shutout Steve Mason of last season that won the Calder Cup.  He has, however, improved significantly since returning to Columbus from the most recent West Coast swing.   He blocked 29 of 32 against a Penguins club that was missing Evgeni Malkin and a few other starters.  He also turned away 32 of 36 shots against the Capitols.

3a. A rattled Alexander Ovechkin did not score for the 3rd straight game against Mason.  Never mind that Number 8 left the game after just under 6 minutes of ice time with an apparent shoulder injury early in the second period (Puck Rakers alludes to a punishing check from Raffi Torres) - AO is 0-for-19 on Mason.  PARTY NOW!

3b.  Anyone care to explain why Hitch temporarily pulled Mason from the Washington game for Mathieu Garon?  I have nothing against Garon, but Mase went back in within a minute of being pulled.  Must have had some strategic significance.

4. Rick Nash has picked up the pace once again as he is wont to do in big games against top-tier opponents. He had two goals on seven shots against Pittsburgh and a goal and 2 assists on 5 shots against Washington.

5. Personal note: I apologize for condensing the two games into one set of 10 Thoughts, but familial obligations got in the way of my full partaking of the Pittsburgh game, and schoolwork got in the way of parts of the Washington game.  First things first!

6. Post-Pittsburgh, Puck Rakers was filled with insane rantings suggesting that Hitchcock had lost the team and that he should be fired.

7. I think that the posters in question were just bitter that Nationwide Arena was about 40% filled with Pittsburgh fans.  What would you expect - between bandwagon jumpers for the reigning Stanley Cup champions and those who have loved NHL hockey since long before the Blue Jackets were a gleam in Mister Mac's eye...and couldn't bear to root for a team from Michigan, the team has reasonably healthy fan base in Ohio.

7a.  If there was a real Hockey God, he would create a division that included Pittsburgh and Columbus.  I honestly don't think the league recognized the level of natural rivalry between these two towns.  Detroit and Columbus, sure - the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry made that obvious - but gosh, those Blue Jackets-Penguins games are lively.

8. Two goals each for R.J. Umberger (who deserves every point he gets for being the consummate team player) and Raffi Torres against Washington....nice.  Strong secondary scoring from two of the team's hardest workers.

8a. When Raffi scored his first goal, the thought that we would automatically win crossed my mind.  When he scored the second goal with less than a minute to go, I figured it was fate.  I know, stupid, but I'm so conditioned to seeing the Jackets win when Raffi scores!

8b. Jake Voracek called Raffi Torres "Tico" in the post-game interview in Washington.  Excellent Bon Jovi reference by the pop culture-savvy young forward.

8c.  If I was a creative business person with something fun to sell, I'd hire Jake Voracek to do my ads. Dude's personality veers WAY off the awesome meter charts.

9. Greetings to our friends from Fox Sports Ohio and the Columbus Blue Jackets communications office. Are you guys reading this blog?

9a. After my griping that Bill Davidge was using too much coach-speak (meaning the 'repetive cycle of "compete"-"effort"-"toughness"-"high expectations"'), I am not sure that I have heard Davidge use any of those words in either of the last two telecasts. Bill still has to dial up the enjoyment/fun factor, but he's becoming much more listenable (Is that a word?).

9b. After my suggesting that the then-injured Mike Commodore would make an awesome 3rd announcer in the booth, the Fox guys shared the mike with injured Freddy Modin for the 2nd period of the Pittsburgh game.  Freddy wasn't quite the TV personality that Commie was, but I applaud the effort on Fox Sports' behalf for giving it a try. Actually, Freddy's presence - unique as it was - gave an already big game a little extra luster.  Freddy's a big boy, too!

9c. Since I appear to have an audience in the ones, let me offer another observation: The Washington game was as much about what was happening on the benches, in the hallways and in the locker rooms as on the ice. Ovechkin's injury, the many injuries referred to by Hitch in the post-game press conference...these things should be covered live. John Michael is a sharp character who, presuming that he has time considering his many other obligations, could be positioned a la Pierre McGuire between the glass or perhaps in the hallways or behind the benches. These injuries were huge developments for the game, and live coverage of them as they took place would further enhance the game broadcast.

10. Let's close this omnibus 10 Thoughts with a Hitchism: Weightiness.  The Blue Jackets went back to playing a weighty game against two of the top teams in the (weaker) Eastern Conference and emerged with 3 out of a possible 4 points. Lots of checking, lots of puck possession, a stifling penalty kill and (reasonably) strong defense. As long as the team can stick with Hitch's program and a player or two (read: Jan Hejda) comes back soon, things will be looking up.

Next up: San Jose and their brutal scoring line of Dany "Hat Trick" Heatley and Joe Thornton invade Nationwide on Wednesday night. It isn't Hockey Night in Canada, but the game WILL be broadcast across the USA on the NHL Network. Should be an enjoyable affair; let's hope the boys in Union Blue (not baby blue) are up to the challenge!


  1. Absolutely great list and comments. I thoroughly enjoy reading this blog!

  2. Glad you like. Keep coming back now, y'hear?

  3. re: 3b
    The prevailing theory was that Hitch was just buying a few more seconds of rest for his skaters. Mase stood ready with mask on the whole time.

  4. Thanks, Red Dog. I also caught on Twitter that Garon is a faster skater than Mase, which could have helped him evacuate the ice for an extra skater more quickly.

    On that note, I think last night was the first time that I remember the "extra attacker gambit" actually work. Who knew?

  5. Your Friendly Pens FanNovember 3, 2009 at 7:38 PM

    Ok, we've already discussed the blue unis and the Admirals' blue jerseys and you know my opinions, but I just have to add this trivia. The Pens blue unis are actually their original unis. Well, maybe not quite exactly. I think the very first uni had a navy blue on it also, but the point being that the Pens were blue and white before they were black and gold. Not a lot of people know that. When the Pens petitioned the NHL to change their colors, the Bruins threw a colossal fit because they were already black and yellow. But, because the Pittsburgh Pirates (Pittsburgh's NHL team from the 1920s) were black and yellow, the NHL ruled that the colors were first used by Pittsburgh and they could adopt them again. What happened to the Pittsburgh Pirates you ask? Well, during the 1929 season they changed their colors to black and orange. After that season they moved across the state to Philly to become the Quakers. When the Flyers joined the NHL in 1967, they adopted the Quakers' color scheme. Ok, I'm done with uni and team trivia now. Thanks for listening!


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