Monday, March 22, 2010

Game 72/Nashville: My Take

OK, perhaps I was a little harsh on the Columbus Blue Jackets the other night.  They did have a third period comeback - a rare one in a season of third period collapses (Yeah, Interim Head Coach Claude, I agree that conditioning has been a huge issue for this team this year....).  And they scored four straight goals on the Minnesota backup goalie to close the game strong.  So the Boys in Union Blue had plenty on which to hang their respective hats.  And, again, nice return for Rick Nash.

Whew, got that off my chest.  Now, let's talk about the Nashville Predators game.

It was a classic goalie duel.  Interestingly, Nashville clearly was up for this game, showing the Jackets their starting goalie, Pekka Rinne, instead of their backup like so many other teams have done of late.  Despite the fact that the Jackets just can't win in Nashville, this is a Rivalry with a capital "R".  And the Jackets took Team Trotz to the wire, losing 1-0 in overtime.

Rinne stopped 33 shots.  Steve Mason stopped 31.  Arguably, Mason had the more difficult night as the Predators' defense is much more stout than Columbus' duct-taped blue line.

Let's give Mase credit - that was a victory-worthy performance.  However, when you're taking solid shot after solid shot, how long can you stand on your head?  This isn't a Cirque du Soleil show, you know.  In many ways, this was a 60-plus minute version of the 12-round shootout that Mase had to endure in Chicago back in December.  He played up to the task, and his team (scorers in the Chicago shootout, scorers and defense last night) let him down.

While I could have easily picked any of a handful of outstanding demonstrations of Steve Mason's goalie skill following outstanding demonstrations of the ¡Ole! defensive strategy, I think the real highlight of this game was Mike Commodore - yes, Mike Commodore of the World Famous Quarter-Season Charley Horse - flying down the ice on a breakaway in the overtime, taking a laser blast of a pass from Kris Russell and.....getting his shot blocked by Rinne.

It was refreshing to see such spring in Commie's step, and his post-shot comment (I don't think it was "truck") pretty much summed up my feelings on the game.

So I sat there, half-playing with the Dark Blue Onesie and half-watching the game through the wax paper view that is a standard def broadcast on a high def television.  (Thanks for nothing, DirecTV, except for perhaps giving me an excuse to check out local cable options and ditch your overpriced service after way too long.)  And I once again reflected on this team and where it's at.  So pardon my diatribe, but that's what a blog is for, right?

First, the coaching situation.  The Jackets are 7-4-3 under Claude Noel.  That means 7 wins and 7 "losses".  (I know about overtime losses still getting the loser point in the standings, hence the quotes.)  The Jackets are playing slightly better than .500 hockey.

On the plus side, Steve Mason is playing a little better and Kris Russell especially is finding his stride.  Jake Voracek's working to broaden his game, and Derick Brassard still has a few assists in what can only be considered a very frustrating season.

On the negative side, the scoring is not coming in any consistent manner.  The blue line is not helping the goalies much at all.  And while the team may feel better about things in the post-Ken Hitchcock world, it's arguable whether that's translating to consistent on-ice performance.  I'm seeing a lot of sluggish hockey out there, especially from the top two lines.  Is it a result of playing with a Hitch-like roster, is it Noel's coaching style or is it something else?  Regardless, it is frustrating to see what I think it untapped potential go to waste.

I suppose Noel's done enough to warrant consideration after the end of the season, but I certainly wouldn't hand him the keys to the car until having kicked the tires around the league.  This team is on the cusp of a multi-year playoff run as their young talent is starting to emerge, but it'll take a good coach to keep the wheels on the track while the kids continue to mature.  It'll take a great coach to make some noise in the playoffs in the shorter term.

Second, I know a lot of people enjoyed that 1-0 overtime game against Nashville.  I didn't.  Understand that I like scoring, that I like fast action and moving up the ice.  The only times a goalie duel is good in my book are 1) If the goalies are getting peppered with shots and making acrobatic stops or 2) If the game has real consquence.  The goalies were good but not jaw-droppingly so the other night, and the game was only valuable to the CBJ insofar as they could contribute to spoiling Nashville's day.  That's not enough for me.

Third, it really felt like the season ended for the CBJ on trade deadline day.  Playing out the string sucks.  Big time.

The Jackets are in New Jersey tomorrow night.  It'll be fun to see Zach Parise - he really impressed me in the Olympics.

(Oh, did you hear that it's the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville now?  Good Lord, how much TV airtime can be spent on that train of dialogue?)

1 comment:

  1. Regarding your diatribe against DirecTV, I've had a great experience with AT&T UVerse, though it might not be available in your area.
    I think you're spot on regarding the young talent. I guess my concern with coaching is that it has more or less become a crapshoot trying to find a head coach that can lead you to success. Plenty of organizations have gone with re-treads and found great success, but there's also been plenty that went the same direction and floundered. The team could always go with a deserving assistant or minor league guy (I include Noel in this group), but the risk here is bigger, especially if you're trying to grow young talent.
    If my choices are limited to Murray, MacTavish, and Noel I guess I'd choose Noel. Frankly though, I'd hope there are more choices available to the Jackets and I'm curious to see or hear what they are.


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