Tuesday, December 22, 2009

10 Thoughts about Game 37: Phoenix

1. The Columbus Blue Jackets strolled into Jobing.com Arena last night, and then strolled right out - having lost 5-2 at the hands of the Phoenix Coyotes.

1a. With the loss, the 15th in the last 17, the Jackets fall to 14-16-7.  Still at 35 points, Columbus sits in 14th spot in the 15-team Western Conference.

1b. Here are the highlights:

2. The Grand Goalie Experiment didn't get the desired result - coach Ken Hitchcock's proclamation that the CBJ no longer has a #1 goalie and that Steve Mason and Mathieu Garon would need to win to get the next start saw Garon get shelled for 3 goals on the first 8 shots.  In the end, he saw 23 shots and gave up 5 goals, a .782 Goals Against Average.

2a. While goalie play hasn't been great, I'm not sure it is the biggest problem facing the Columbus Blue Jackets.

2b. I guess this means we'll see Steve Mason in goal for the next game.

3. The most recent change in line combinations didn't set the world on fire.

3a. The Nash-Vermette-Voracek 1st line tallied a goal and an assist (Vermette's goal, Voracek's assist).  They had a combined 7 shots on goal.

3b. The Umberger-Brassard-Chimera 2nd line put up a goal (Brassard's) and 6 shots.

3c. The Huselius-Pahlsson-Modin "Ikea" line also gave us 6 shots.  It also provided much levity as Huselius did the bare minimum defensively to keep from getting scratched for the next game.  Sadly for Juice, his turnover propensity didn't help his case.

3d. The Torres-Blunden-Boll line put 3 shots on goal and showed a fair bit of spunk.  Blunden particularly stuck out to me as a player who was at least hustling.

4. I'm genuinely happy for Derick Brassard on his goal.  As I believe I've mentioned in recent 10 Thoughts recaps, Brassard is having a tough go this year.  Unlike his Russian counterpart, Derick has gutted it out, is working on his game and has risen from exile to the 4th line all the way back up to the 2nd.  Adding goals to the mix should help his confidence.

5. I was able to watch precious little of the 1st period, but the 2nd showed a team that was really trying to play Hitch hockey.  I saw reasonably disciplined defensive positioning, players making efforts to swat the puck away, outlet passes...the things you need to see from a team that plays defense-first hockey.  And a little energy, too.  The 3rd period was largely a God-awful mess as the team lost their confidence and clearly just wanted to get out of dodge.

6. Brassard's goal excepted, the bright spot of the game was Jared Boll's beatdown on Martin Hanzal. I swear I heard Boll say, "Sorry, Hanzal, Happy Pony is on. And I'm not going to miss Happy Pony," prior to rearranging Hanzal's face...

6a. Gotta hand it to Hanzal...he actually returned to play after getting a medical check following the brawl.

6b. I guess this is the "Fight Club Thought," so let's squeeze in a mention that Marc Methot partially redeemed his (again) dismal on-ice performance via a tango with the 'yotes' Paul Bissonnette.  To Methot's credit, the fight was sparked by Bissonette's really hard hit on Derick Brassard.  Marc had enough of that, and he -- ummm -- tried to let Bissonnette know.

6c. Scraps like this tell me that there (literally) is still some fight in the Columbus Blue Jackets.  The losing is starting to hurt.

6d. This fight obviously was a violation of the instigator rule, and Methot was then bounced from the game.  For sticking up for his teammate.

6e. Tampa Bay Lightning coach Rick Tocchet is right - the Instigator Rule has to go.
"Players out there know nothing can happen to them," Tocchet said. "Those are the guys who increase the percentage of head shots. I'd like to see the players control that. You have somebody out of control, then the player is going to have to pay the price."
7. I really, really, really didn't like the play-by-play and commentary from the Fox Sports Ohio guys last night, but I'll give them a mulligan because they had to cover a game that was really, really, really bad.  I don't know if Gary Thorne and Bill Clement could have made that game exciting.

8. Perhaps the most disturbing scene from last night came after the game.  Ken Hitchcock, in his postgame press availability, looked genuinely sad.  (Link to the video - Fox Sports Ohio doesn't allow for embedding like the rest of the world...grumble grumble)  There wasn't a lot of fight left in the General last night.  The losing streak clearly is getting to him.

9. This is a team that has been operating under Murphy's Law for way too long.  What can go wrong, does.  Players are pressing.  They're getting down on themselves.  They're getting sloppy.  It's just snowballing.

9a. I spent much of the 3rd period wondering where the spark was going to come from to snap this team out of it.  I'm not seeing a clear answer.  I suppose my HOPE would be that Mason or Garon can stand on their head for a couple games and, in the process, build a little confidence for the rest of the team.  Nobody else (Rick Nash included) seems to have a clue on how to dig out of this mess.

10.  On the bright side, there were only 9,348 fans in attendance and apparently no coverage on local TV in Phoenix (I didn't see Fox Sports Arizona coverage on Center Ice, and the Cavs were playing the Suns in NBA competition at the same time).  And the game started late for Columbus, so relatively few people witnessed the game.

NEXT UP: The Jackets lumber into Big D to take on the Dallas Stars (15-10-11, 41 points, $50.2 million salary cap hit, Financial Acuity Index score +13).  If memory serves correct, the CBJ played a decent game in Dallas earlier in the season - so who knows, maybe returning to a place of past success will help.  (Not that it helped in Phoenix...)

Photos from Yahoo! NHL.

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