Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Game 26/Dallas: My Take

The slumping Columbus Blue Jackets welcomed the streaking Dallas Stars into Nationwide Arena on Monday night and overcame the Stars, 3-2, in a post-overtime shootout.

This was my second regular season game in my ticket package, so my review of the night's events will take on a different tone from having actually been in attendance.  As much as I'd like you to think that a recap based off of TV is the same as one based off the in-arena experience, it isn't.  So enjoy it when you can!

Mrs. DBJ and I bundled up and headed down to Nationwide very mindful of the Buffalo and Pittsburgh debacles.  Our mood heading in was, "Please, don't let it be that bad."  Yeah, the Kool-Aid is back in the fridge and likely will stay there for a while.
We hit our seats about 15-20 minutes before the puck dropped.  Looking around the arena, we were shocked at the visual impression that the light attendance made.  It doesn't translate at all to TV.  I appreciate that the weeknight crowd is, ummm, "late arriving," but WOW.  Fortunately for the CBJ, the announced crowd was 10,932 as the seats kept filling up through the first period.  Considering the overwhelmingly poor fan experience just two nights earlier, the team's slump, the fact that the game was on a Monday night and that the team was playing Dallas (Regardles of how motivated the diehards may have been about the game, Dallas is not a marquee team), 10,932 tickets sold for this particular game should be considered a victory for the business side of the CBJ house.

Onto the game itself.  The first period had a quasi-Philadelphia/Montreal/Chicago victory feel to it...the Stars clearly were not in their game, and I'm guessing that the CBJ game plan had something to do with it.  A speedy Kris Russell took a sweet dish from Jake Voracek and dropped the puck behind Kari Lehtonen to end the period 1-0.

Dallas got their 7-2-1 (in the last 10) act together in the second period and pretty much carried the play for the balance of the game.  My late father-in-law would say about football: "A quarterback can't complete a pass if he's lying on his back."  My hockey corollary is: "If you can't get the puck out of your own zone, you're not going to score goals."  That, my friends is pretty much what happened to Columbus until about the last 3-4 minutes of the game.  The CBJ were constantly on their heels, protecting starting goalie Mathieu Garon from some surprisingly poor Dallas snipers.  In the process, however, they slipped a few times and let two Dallas goals in.

I never thought I would say this, but the CBJ Game Ops was incredibly prescient in the third period.  After the CBJ played some version of the "bend but don't break"/"prevent" defense throughout, the screens lit up with a hokey "Every now and then comes a moment..." montage.  But the strange thing was, it WORKED.  The largely dead crowd woke up, and the team responded.  The puck actually made it past the Dallas blue line, and it was the Stars, not the CBJ, who were on their heels for the last four minutes or so of the game.

It seemed like too little, too late until Dallas' Karlis Skrastins (whoever that is) got tagged for holding at 18:10 of the third.  Yup, the last 1:50 of the game was a CBJ power play.

Is it possible for a fan's hopes to be lifted (Hey, we have a man advantage for the rest of the game!) and for their heart to sink (Oh crap, we're on the power play...) simultaneously?

Cue the Maalox.  And Tums.

Fortunately, Rick Nash threaded the needle from the dot at 19:13 and got it past Lehtonen to tie it up.  And while I didn't see it well from my seats, my post-game review of the goal video showed a look of relief on Nash's face that I can only compare to the look he had in 2009 when he scored the goal that qualified the CBJ for the playoffs for the first time.

And that's why they play games for all 60 minutes.

Dallas lost their mojo, and we were off to the overtime, where the high-flying Stars registered nary a shot on Garon and the CBJ couldn't get any of their four shots through.

The shootout was a hoot.  Nash kicked it off with a standard bull-rush goal.  Dallas' reprehensible coach, Marc Crawford, put his tainted young forward, James Neal, out for the first Dallas attempt.  Mrs. DBJ chuckled as I moaned (probably too loudly), "Noooo....not THAT [expletive]..."  Fortunately, Neal failed.  Nikita Filatov blew his shot - poor kid - and Dallas' Brad Richards got past Garon.  In a curious closing gambit, Arniel put Kyle Wilson out there...and Wilson promptly demonstrated the poise that comes with playing winning hockey and accumulating championships (albeit with the AHL's Hershey Bears) by beating Lehtonen.  Garon stopped Dallas' Jamie Benn, and that was that.

3-2, CBJ.  2 more badly-needed points in the standings.  In the end, that's all that matters.

Now, for the other game thoughts:

1. I counted at least 4 Pittsburgh Penguins jerseys in the house.  (That stung.)  And 1 Dallas Stars jersey.  All the rest were CBJ.

2. Remember what CBJ tape-to-tape passes looked like?  You'd better break out the bootleg copies of old games, because that puck was flying all over the ice last night...often to the CBJ's ghost 6th skater.  Never mind that Anton Stralman was having trouble all night at the point on the power play...it was an adventure every time someone passed him the puck or a Dallas player tried to clear the zone.  Passing drills need to be a standing item on the agenda for team practices for a while to come.

3. $8 beers.  $6.50 hot dogs.  Shameless, to be sure, but I suppose that the team has to make their money however they can...  (Except on the $2 Tim Horton's coffee and hot chocolate! Win!)

4. The new CBJ 3rd jerseys are quite popular with the weeknight diehard fans.  Many, many people wearing them and proudly.  I suppose that I shouldn't have been so surprised by that, but I was.  And they look better up close.

5. The CBJ gear concessions has gone 3rd jersey-centric.  And, again, it's a nice look that's growing on me.  What's the word I'm looking for - dignified?  Sure, let's go with that.  It's a more dignified design than the past uniforms (though I prefer the current flag/star combo the most) and translates really well to the t-shirts, sweatshirts, hoodies, pullovers, hats, etc.

6. The absolute classiest piece of "new CBJ 3rds" gear, however, is not available in the Blue Line.  It's not even sold by the CBJ (directly).  The CBJ Foundation is selling an awesome ball cap with a simple star on the front and stripes on the bill, with a CBJ logo on the back with the Foundation logo and "Hats for Heroes" as well.  Everything is in the new CBJ 3rd jersey color scheme.  $20 for an unsigned hat (which I bought - an incredible deal in my book), $25 for a player-signed hat (and they have hats signed by EVERY player) and $50 for the Rick Nash-signed hat.  So not only are you getting a great-looking hat, at a reasonable price, but you're also supporting the Foundation's admirable efforts to fight pediatric cancer.  Go to the link at the beginning of the paragraph, or swing by the Foundation's kiosk in the arena lobby outside the Blue Line and grab one in person.  Win for you.  Win for the Foundation.  Win for the kids who need your help.

7. While there were no fights, it was pretty clear that the two teams did not care for each other.  Derek Dorsett and James Neal never tangled, which I reluctantly conclude was for the best.  But when Derick Brassard started getting into it (with Dallas' Brenden Morrow, I believe), I had panicked (muttering, "No, not Brassard....") flashbacks to last season:




That was the fight where Brassard wrecked his shoulder...and his season. On the same night that Dorsett was KO'd. A horrible night, one that I (and Ken Hitchcock, for that matter) would not want to relive.

8. When I talk about wanting actual WINNERS in the locker room (as opposed to leaders), I'm talking about the Kyle Wilsons of the world.  Wilson has been part of a consistently winning organization in the AHL Bears, having won two straight Calder Cups.  He's been through the grind of the season and knows what it takes to pull wins out of your - ummm - ear.  He can quickly transition from being a fourth-line center to a game-closing shootout winner.  Because he understands winning, and what it takes to win.  The Wilson signing, in hindsight, was yet another Scott Howson ninja GM move as it surely has rattled any complacency in the bottom of the roster.  Wilson's not a top six talent as best as I can see, but he clearly has an all-star head for the moment and what it takes to win.  If Howson is going to make any personnel moves, I hope this is the direction in which he goes while shoring up positions and perceived skill deficiencies.

9. Scott Arniel made some notable changes in the lineup: Brassard moved back to centering the 4th (or was it 3rd?) line, Fedor Tyutin scratched(!), Antoine Vermette moved up to the Nash-Voracek line, Wilson and Nikita Filatov back into the lineup, and Garon in net.  While this was a win - and I will NEVER spit on the two points that it affords the CBJ - I still saw too much shaky play (from lack of chemistry or confidence, I'm not entirely sure...probably a touch of both) to relax and say, "This roster will get us to the promised land."

10. Even at half-filled, Nationwide is just one incredible place to watch a hockey game.  What a gem.  We in Columbus are so, so lucky.  I just love going to games there.

Whaddya know - an actual live game experience resurrected the "10 Thoughts" format of last season.

NEXT UP: The CBJ travel to St. Louis to take on the Blues in what probably will be a grudge match for the other guys after being the victim of Possibly The Greatest CBJ Game Ever.  The gloves - err, the puck - will drop at 8PM Eastern.  Hang on tight, and don't forget your foil.

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