Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Games 1-2: My Take

Game 1: San Jose Sharks 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 2
Game 2: CBJ 3, Sharks 2 (OT)

Is is OK to say, "Thank God, it's over," in relation to the Columbus Blue Jackets' NHL Premiere games in Stockholm against the San Jose Sharks?

I never had a good feeling about this whole trip.  Too much travel (and jet lag), a screwy preseason schedule to accommodate playing in Europe, so many potential distractions, inability to move/claim players easily...in my mind, opening the season this way was a recipe for disaster.

To be fair, the team wisely used the time as a chance to do some team bonding and apparently made the most of it.  (And, like most CBJ fans, I got a kick out of how Mike Commodore was apparently goofing around with Derick Brassard all throughout the trip.)  And perhaps the most valuable aspect of the trip was the international exposure that Columbus received.  It seems as if the local sports folks got that - for the sake of central Ohio's economy, let's pray that the local economic development folks did, too.

As for the games, the CBJ largely looked like a team that was learning a new system -- against one of the top teams in the league.  Oh, we were?  Huh.  Who knew?

Watching games with mobile young'uns running around as I was means that you get bits and pieces and often miss a spot here and there.  But as I saw it, that was the Jackets play on the ice...bits and pieces of solid execution and a few spots where they were lost in the Lutfisk.
What I did see from the Jackets that gave me reason to be positive, though, were three main things:

1. Steve Mason.  One crappy goal in two games.  A .921 save percentage.  An endorsement from head coach Scott Arniel that Mase was back to his Calder Trophy-winning form.  I'll give Arniel a pass on that one, because Mase already was back toward the end of last season.  This is such a relief, as it'll buy Arniel and Brad Berry time to get the sometimes-lost defense in order.

2. The CBJ's "Zillionaire Line".  Also known as the third line, perhaps the most expensive checking line in the NHL (Cap Hits: Pahlsson - $2.65MM, Umberger - $3.75MM, Moreau - $2MM), this crew clearly has found chemistry early.  Umberger scored in the first game, and Moreau scored the game-winner in overtime in the second.  These guys are checking hard, scoring as needed and probably having fun just going out there and kicking some butt around.  If they can keep this performance up for 82 games, Scott Howson's significant investment will surely be proven a wise one.

3. The Top Line.  Juice scored.  Nash scored.  Juice scored again.  Keep pumping out those goals, gentlemen - you're our thoroughbreds.  And not in a Mike Commodore kinda way.

The "Junior Woodchucks Line" of Derick Brassard, Nikita Filatov and Jake Voracek clearly has some work to do in order to find their way as a group.  But Filatov already has a couple assists, so there are even bright spots on this line.

I'll refrain from any detailed commentary on the defense until I get a chance to watch a game in depth.  It's not fair to them to start tossing players under the bus at this point.

All told, the Jackets left Stockholm with 2 of a possible 4 points against arguably the top team in the West.  (And the Sharks came out with 3 of 4, so it's not like they went home upset.)  Not a bad way to get the Scott Arniel regime off the ground.  If we can split the points with the monster teams like San Jose and grab the majority of our wins from our peer teams on the playoff bubble and those who are already waiting for next year,

The Jackets open at home on Friday night, and wouldn't you know - I'm going to be sitting in class in Athens. I'll try to catch a little here and there, but it's a tough course and demands attention.  Hopefully things will calm down for my Jackets viewing in the days ahead...it's awful hard to know that the turnaround is happening as I type when I'm unable to watch it like I'd prefer.

Regardless, I strongly suggest that you buy tickets for this game.  The team is looking better and better with time, and tickets are going pretty fast!  (Regular Tickets, Tim Horton's Jacket Pack, Pub Hat Trick Combo)

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