Monday, October 4, 2010

Time to step up: End of training camp

After the Columbus Blue Jackets' 4-3 win over the (hapless) Atlanta Thrashers on Saturday night, the team boarded a 757-200 at Port Columbus airport and made the flight to Stockholm, Sweden to open the 2010-2011 National Hockey League regular season against the San Jose Sharks.  And with that, training camp and the pre-season functionally ended.

Sure, the CBJ will play an exhibition game on Tuesday at 1PM EST against the Malmo Redhawks, but it's hard to consider that game as an NHL-caliber pre-season game and thus won't be counted in my statistical analysis.  The game could have merit related to individual performances, player injuries (getting hurt, coming back from injury) or chemistry developments, not to mention the rumored yellow and red jerseys.  But let's keep it in perspective - it's not NHL competition, and it's not an NHL game.

I did a mid-preseason review after the first four games, and let's continue it with the last 4.  It's a mixed bag, to be sure, but I think I can offer some spots for optimism.

OFFENSE

Team Total Shots Total Goals Conversion % Shots/Game Goals/Game
10-11 CBJ - Full Preseason 247 25 10.12% 30.88 3.13
10-11 CBJ - Preseason games 5-8 112 13 11.61% 28.00 3.25
10-11 CBJ - Preseason games 1-4 135 12 8.89% 33.75 3.00
09-10 CBJ 2,338 214 9.15% 28.51 2.61
08-09 CBJ 2,490 217 8.71% 30.37 2.65
09-10 Washington Capitals 2,693 313 11.62% 32.84 3.82
09-10 Pittsburgh Penguins 2,688 249 9.26% 32.78 3.04
09-10 Phoenix Coyotes 2,502 211 8.43% 30.51 2.57

The obvious area for excitement is the conversion percentage - the percentage of shots that become goals. The Columbus Blue Jackets started the preseason with a conversion rate that, while not horrible, wasn't going to set the hockey world's hair on fire.  In the back half of the preseason, however, the conversion percentage hopped up a few points and rivaled the percentage of the most prolific scoring team in the NHL last season, the Washington Capitals.


The Jackets' problem in the last four games, however, was a lack of shots.  They put 23 more shots on goal in the first four games than the last four, a 17 percent drop.  That's not good, especially when you consider that the last four games were against the Minnesota Wild (twice), the Washington Capitals and the Atlanta Thrashers.  While the Wild once offered opponents stifling defenses, they've changed systems and are currently a mushy mess.  Thus, there really isn't much of an excuse for not taking more shots per game.    An average of 28 shots is just too low if you want to win consistently.  Note that none of the comparison teams - even the offensively-challenged Phoenix Coyotes - had over 30 shots per game on average.

DEFENSE

Team
Shots Against
Goals Against
Conversion %
Shots Against/Game
Goals Against/Game
10-11 CBJ - Full Preseason
237
28
11.81%
29.63
3.50
10-11 CBJ - Preseason games 5-8
126
12
9.52%
31.50
3.00
10-11 CBJ - Preseason games 1-4
111
16
14.41%
27.75
4.00
09-10 CBJ
2,511
246
9.80%
30.62
3.00
08-09 CBJ
2,272
214
9.42%
27.71
2.61
09-10 Washington Capitals
2,534
226
8.92%
30.90
2.76
09-10 Pittsburgh Penguins
2,340
225
9.62%
28.54
2.74
09-10 Phoenix Coyotes
2,420
189
7.81%
29.51
2.30

Here's something to hang your hat on - the improvement of the defense from the first 4 games to the last 4. Again recognizing that the opposition was pretty poor in the 3 of the last 4 preseason games, the CBJ went from an abysmal 14.41% opponent conversion rate to a very respectable 9.52%.  And the toughest opponent to defend on the back 4, the Washington Capitals, only got 5 goals on 38 shots - a 13.15% conversion rate from our bubble boys against their starters.  What I'm reading into this is that the Blue Jackets blue liners are finally starting to understand this new defensive system that Scott Arniel and Brad Berry are preaching and teaching.  They let 15 more shots in during the last 4 games as opposed to the first 4, so it's safe to say that this is still a work in progress (and perhaps more credit should be given to the goaltenders than I've offered thus far).

ROSTER

It's hard to do a training camp wrap-up without mentioning the roster.  None of the highly-touted prospects made the team other than Nikita Filatov, but I think it was safe to say that his place on the 2010-2011 Columbus Blue Jackets was predestined.  The question where where he would fit in, and his impressive preseason - punctuated by two goals from the faceoff circles in the closer against Atlanta - vaulted him into the top six forwards.  If he can keep his wits about him and continue this pace, Filatov will be a sight to behold all season long.

Past that, the other slam-dunk addition was Ethan Moreau.  Moreau, who was picked up on waivers by Scott Howson, clearly is making his mark with the team as he was spotted wearing the alternate captain's "A" on his jersey against Atlanta.  He's also picking up some positive reviews around the blogosphere for his on-ice performance.

The other two forwards to crack the roster and make the plane to Stockholm are Derek MacKenzie and Kyle Wilson.  MacKenzie is a great story of perseverance and, presuming he has sufficient skill, deserves a shot.  I know much less about Wilson (CBJ media types, can you fill in some gaps?) but am aware that he won two Calder Cups with the Hershey Bears over the last couple of seasons and signed on with Columbus because he wanted a genuine shot to make the big club.  He got it, and he did.

On the defensive side, former Ohio State Buckeye Nate Guenin signed as a free agent with Columbus after leaving Pittsburgh.  And goalie David LeNeveu also is making the flight to Stockholm as the number three netminder.

What is less clear is what will happen when the injured Andrew Murray, Kris Russell, Tomas Kana and Gustaf Wesslau come back from their injuries.  I think it's safe to say that the only way Kris Russell is going down to Springfield is for a conditioning stint, so does that mean Guenin has to do down to make room?  And where do Murray and Kana - who were in the mix for the final forward slots themselves, by no means sure things to make the roster - fit in with the Blundens, Bolls, Dorsetts, Wilsons and MacKenzies?

(And can someone explain where Chris Clark fits into the Columbus Blue Jackets' picture this season?  Is he destined to be 10-11's Christian Backman - sitting on the roster for a season to burn off his contract - and salary - so we can let him go at the end of the season?  Rumor has it that Clark is on the market...but the silence after that is deafening.)

As mentioned earlier, no prospects made the club.  And, truth be told, the final roster doesn't look like the shake-up that some may have hoped.  What I think we're seeing is the impact of one-way contracts.  Those who have 2-way deals are finding themselves on what appears to be a competitive Springfield Falcons team (good for Springfield), and those who have one-way deals are being kept in Columbus.  If that's the case - that contract form trumps merit - then it's safe to say that the roster was set the day that camp opened.

Lastly, you have to wonder about possible last-minute waiver wire and trade activity.  We learned today that Florida waived former Manitoba Moose right winger Michael Grabner, who potted 30 goals in 08-09, his last full season for Arniel in Winnipeg (Grabner split time between Vancouver and Manitoba in 09-10).  Do the CBJ want him?  Would Arniel and Howson make a roster spot available for one of Arniel's former players?  Can they even do so, considering that they're half a world away in Stockholm?  Who would they send home, and how?  And do they really want to fly a player over to Sweden for just enough time to screw up their body clock?

And then there's Sheldon Souray.  Aaron Portzline and Mike Arace at the Dispatch are doing their best to fan this speculation, but there seems to be no smoke...so is there really a fire?  The only rumors I see involving Souray never mention the CBJ as a potential suitor.  Now, the rest of the NHL doesn't pay much attention to Columbus (Thank you so much, Washington Capitals, for using the original CBJ logo on your on-screen score box on Friday night.  It was only retired in 2007.  So nice to know you're keeping up with the rest of the league.), but I'm still not optimistic that Souray will end up here.  Besides, Mike Commodore is back with a vengeance this season...do we really want to ship Commie off to Edmonton?

Realistically, the roster is set for the season (injury returnees excepted).  Howson can always pull an Anton Stralman out of the hat, but it's less and less likely the further along he gets in building the roster that he wants.

OUTLOOK

A 4-4 preseason, with two wins each against Atlanta and Minnesota, does not inspire awe and fear throughout the NHL.  It does, however, show that the Columbus Blue Jackets (and their prospects and scrubs) can beat the teams that they are supposed to beat.  The real question is whether that will get them enough wins to make the playoffs in the scrappy Central Division of the Western Conference, or whether they'll need to pull some rabbits out of the hat like they did in 08-09.

I'm going to stick with my ongoing prediction - the Jackets will be right in the playoff mix into the last week of the season.  They might get in, they might not, but it sure will be interesting (and indigestion-inducing!).

Now, go buy your tickets!

2 comments:

  1. loving the write-ups keep em coming

    ReplyDelete
  2. Good stuff!

    Also, for a look at the NHL as a whole, check this out: http://www.fromtherink.com/2010/10/4/1729235/seriously-the-nhl-pre-season-is-meaningless#storyjump

    ReplyDelete