Wednesday, December 9, 2009

10 Thoughts about Game 30: Florida

1. The Columbus Blue Jackets, fresh off of two days of practice, played a full 60 minutes of Hitchcock hockey in beating the Florida Panthers, 3-0.

1a. With the win, the Jackets (Salary cap hit: $48.538M) advance to 14-11-5 (33 pts.) and the Panthers (Salary cap hit: $54.989M) drop to 11-14-6 (28 pts.).

1b. Here are your highlights:

2. Most notable of the night is that goalie Steve Mason notched his first shutout of the year.  A shutout is never entirely on the goalie - good defense keeps the puck away from the net and minimizes the effectiveness of the shots that do reach the net - but Mason had a strong game, turning aside 32 shots.

2a. It's probably worth speculating if goaltending coach Dave Rook's comments to about Mason had some impact on Mason's play.  Seemed to me like Mase's ears were perked up for most of the night.  Coincidence?

3. A close second on the night's notables is the dramatic drop in penalties.  The Jackets kept players out of the sin bin until the 3rd period, and then "only" had 3 penalties.  The combination of Ken Hitchcock's extensive use of all four lines and the minimal penalty killing kept the Jackets fresh.

3a. Two of those penalties overlapped by roughly 30 seconds (Huselius-delay of game, Murray-hooking), leading to a 5-on-3 penalty kill situation that the Jackets snuffed with a little effort.  Fortunately, the experience didn't gas the team - and they had the horses to finish the game.

4. Raffi Torres has been noticeably quiet since the birth of his daughter.  Five bucks says that he's not getting much sleep right now.

4a. Saying that, he still punched the clock for an assist, a +1 rating and 9:30 time on ice.  That's a level of quiet I can live with.

4b. In contrast, captain Rick Nash had no goals, no assists and a zero plus-minus rating in 18:38 time on ice.  Should we start putting "Nash" and "slump" in the same sentence?  He's cooled off considerably since his torrid start to the season.

5. Derek Dorsett was a notable presence on the ice in his return following the suspension-worthy cheap shot by Dallas' James Neal.  He didn't register on the scoresheet but put in 10:21 and was +1 on the night.

6. The Panthers played like a sub-.500 team.  The only notable performance of the night was goaltender Tomas Vokoun (he of the clipped ear).  Vokoun had some nice saves.

7. Not a game note, but a note related to watching Center Ice after the game concluded: I really don't like Reebok's Edge jerseys from an aesthetic point of view.  They might function better, but they make many teams look like they have shirt-tails hanging out.  Give me a CCM classic any day.

7a. Another Center Ice observation: Gosh, Comcast SportsNet does a great job with their Chicago Blackhawks coverage.  The post-game interview on the bench with the game's first star - broadcast both on cable and in the arena - is a really nice touch.

8. As the Fox Sports Ohio broadcasting team reminded us ad nauseum, Derick Brassard had a big night - capped with a very pretty top shelf goal past Vokoun on a rush.  Brassard is gutting his way out of his sophomore slump and deserves a ton of credit for his effort.

8a. Another youngster who's performing really well is Jake Voracek.  Voracek was pushing the puck up the ice at nearly every opportunity and was a not-surprising +2 on the night.  He is the ideal young Hitchcock protege, he busts his rear, isn't afraid to put his body out there and has a great attitude.

8b. Rick Gethin's interview with Jake at The Hockey Writers (as a counterpoint to the goofball interviews given by Nikita Filatov since returning to the KHL) reinforces my feeling that the Jackets need to conduct some personality testing on the young Hitchcock "successes" like Jake, Derick, Dorsett and Mason and try to determine what it is that makes them survive/succeed in the Hitch system. Then, they should make their big draft choices take the same tests and compare.  Doing this would minimize the chances of getting another personality mismatch like Filatov appears to be.

9. Jason Chimera.  3 games, 3 goals.  I've been skeptical of his performance in the past, but his ever-emerging grittiness combined with his indisputable speed makes him a fun player to watch - and one tough hombre to defend on the ice.

10.  This was not a perfect game.  Not in the least.  There were still defensive lapses (Stralman looked shaky out there in spots, specifically, but the Commodore/Hejda pairing is looking better and better).  The top line has to shake out of their funk (10 shots from Nash/Vermette/Huselius combined?).  The CBJ was 0-2 on the power play.  Regardless, it was a win.  And a badly-needed one at that.

NEXT UP: No rest for the victors as the Jackets fly down to Nashville (Salary cap hit: $43.934M) for a game against the Predators in The Arena Formerly Known As The Sommet Center.  If you've been following my tracking of the Western Conference playoff picture, you'll know that the Preds have turned it on after a slow start.  Someone needs to remind Barry Trotz that his team has the second-lowest salary cap hit in the NHL - and that his team is supposed to stink, not be in 7th seed in the West!

Photos from Yahoo NHL.

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