Wednesday, November 25, 2009

The Hitch speaketh: Post-Montreal/"State of the CBJ" edition

Here's the video. Sadly, Fox Sports Ohio doesn't allow for embedded streaming links to their viewers. Probably something to do with Rupert Murdoch's hate of Google and all. But at least it's available in some form as it is must-see video.

Thanks to the Columbus Dispatch, here are a couple of the more choice quotes:
"We didn't manage the game -- that's the story of our season," said Hitchcock, whose team lost its third straight. "We had the game in control, we played two perfect periods and then we didn't manage the game.
"We forced pucks. We forced ourselves up ice from the back end and lost the game because of it."
"We have not got good goaltending the last two nights, it's got to be better," Hitchcock said. "You can't put in efforts like we did and then throw it away. We are not focused in the right areas to win hockey games.
"We want to play a different game than the one you need to play to shut a game down. We want to continually play in a track meet and that's what we did and we got burnt."
As you can tell without even looking at the video, the head coach is ticked.  And rightfully so.  We all know that the team, which is essentially the same as last year's Columbus Blue Jackets, can play the Hitchcock system of Defense First, check hard and get a goal only if it's available to you.  As you can see from his comments, this is something that Hitch is not seeing.

As I was carting the Dark Blue Onesie around this morning, I was listening to NHL Home Ice's "Hockey This Morning" show on XM.  I haven't been the biggest fan of the show since Scott Laughlin went to The Power Play show in the afternoons, but the guys had a very interesting point.  Ken Hitchcock is apparently a pretty vocal guy on the bench.  He also is a man with a system and reminds his players of how to play it at every possible opportunity.  There comes a point when a young player, full of confidence (having made the playoffs last year and all), just tunes the old coach out.  I'm not suggesting that the Jackets are at that point yet, but it makes sense that such a point could come.

What that means to Hitchcock is that he has a window - not sure how long or short - to reach the players and get them to commit to what it was that got them to the playoffs last year...and, to a lesser degree, what got them off to a 5-1-0 start on this season.  If he doesn't get through to them, in a way that makes them realize that the team defensive game is the foundation of the Blue Jackets system, the Jackets will struggle to get to the eighth seed in the Western Conference.

Hitch deserves a ton of credit for bringing the Blue Jackets around and making them a legitimate NHL squad. But he is also very aware of how hard this climb is getting:
"For me, I have really enjoyed building this team, but I'm also finding out, when you reach a certain level, the next step is the hardest one," Hitchcock said.
"Becoming a playoff team was a big step. But the next step to becoming legit night in and night out is a bigger challenge. That, to me, is the one we're going through right now."
And those very true words are playing themselves out, night after night...

I started by wanting to share the Hitch video from last night.  I ended with an indirect "State of the Blue Jackets" at the quarter point of the season.  So let's summarize: The talent is there - more than probably ever before - but their heads just aren't in the game. The question is, can the coach, his staff and the players get back on the same page?

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