Two week vacations are a gift from God. If you ever can figure out a way to combine both the money and vacation time from your jobs, I highly recommend such a break. It's soul-cleansing. On a one-week vacation, you're travelling for two days and don't really start mentally "unpacking" from The Real World for a couple of days, so that means you only really get two - perhaps three - days of true relaxation. In a two-week vacation, you can add a whole seven days to the decompressed time. And it's really good...I find that you don't dread returning home after a two-week vacation like you do after a one-week vacation.
But enough of this self-indulgent crap. You come here to read about the Columbus Blue Jackets, not my ruminations on how long one needs to air out the mental dirty laundry. So let's catch up on what happened while I was away...
The most important thing in my mind is the team's on-ice performance. The CBJ went 3-1-2 since January 14th, with a regulation win versus St. Louis (5-2 - Nice!), overtime/shootout wins over Detroit and Florida, overtime/shootout losses against Detroit and Tampa and a regulation loss against Anaheim. I only heard/saw bits and pieces of the games - the wi-fi south of the border is rather choppy - so I won't comment on individual games or performances in any detail. Let the following brief summaries suffice...
- It was nice to see that the Blue Jackets took the Red Wings to overtime in both games...that's a significant sign of team maturity since the Thanksgiving weekend debacle.
- While it would have been nice on an emotional level to stomp on Guy "Sure, I stiffed Scott Howson - but I'll take advantage of meek, passive NHL reporters to not talk about it on the record" Boucher and his Tampa Bay Lightning, Tampa's in the East. Their success is largely irrelevant to the CBJ - they're only as important as the two points that a win over them gives. And the Boys in Union blue got one of two.
- The overtime winner in Florida is nice in that it was a back end of a double-header road trip and the team surely was tired. Gutting one out in OT again shows signs of toughness that we hadn't seen for a while.
- 5-2 over St. Louis in St. Louis. Suh-weet. I gather that a few CBJ fans went over to the game in That Other Arch City...surely they had a good time as the Blues likely reverted to form and Gooned It Up when they realized that they were getting stomped.
- With all of those good feelings, what's up with the home loss against Anaheim? Did the team mentally check out early for the All-Star break? When will these guys finish strong and not limp over the finish line, even a midseason break?
- Matt Calvert and Grant Clitsome, by Tweet, blog and "old media" reports, appear to be contributing to this turnaround. I was hoping for a lot more to break the complacency in the CBJ locker room than swapping Mike Commodore and Kyle Wilson for Calvert and Clitsome, but as the intelligentsia continues to remind us, "It takes two to tango."
- Clitsome's success - I guess he's been on the ice for all of the CBJ power play goals since coming to town - is a damning condemnation of the incumbent defensive corps...particularly Anton Stralman (who was supposed to be a power play QB) and Kris Russell (who was supposed to actually score goals with this new Arniel scheme). It's saying something when Fedor Tyutin, who wasn't supposed to be anything in this new system, can make the transition (or at least as best he can) while Stralman and Russell can't. We can only pray that Howson finds a much looser trade/free agency market for defensemen over the off-season (or that the kids in Springfield are ready to storm the NHL gates), as the incumbents are just not getting it done.
- Calvert, on the other hand, appears to be offering a little fire for a complacent forward corps. Isn't it strange how a kid can come in and, by his on-ice enthusiasm, spark his compadres to actually play more aggressively? That speaks well for Calvert, who apparently isn't interested in just fading into the woodwork. Let's hope that he can keep such an attitude over time. It won't be easy.
- By now, it's clear that anyone who thinks that Steve Mason will return to his Calder-winning form in this season is smoking heavier stuff than Fidel Castro's vacation-omnipresent cigars. When considering Mason, look to Montreal's Carey Price...whose development has taken a circuitous route. Price, however, occasionally gets defensive support - something Mason has not often been blessed with.
- The good news: The 3-1-2 record indicates that Scott Arniel and his coaching staff have accomplished an end to the post-Thanksgiving tailspin. Let's give Scott Howson some credit, too, as burying Mike Commodore's giant contract in Springfield surely was not an easy move to take.
- The bad news: It took a whopping six weeks to end the slide, and now the playoffs are looking unlikely. That doesn't mean that there won't be some good hockey to watch (and comment upon) between now and April. It just means that the good hockey will, in the end, be meaningless for purposes other than player development. Let's hope that Scott Howson appreciates the value of seasoning his rising stars in Columbus for the purposes of getting an early start on the 2011-2012 campaign.
- Speaking of meaningless, the NHL All-Star Game is tonight. Captain Rick Nash is playing. R.J. Umberger was not invited. I don't have Versus and won't break my back trying to watch. There are enough meaningful games in the regular season. But I wish a good time for those who will watch. And I hope those in attendance (like The Hockey Writers' Rick Gethin) have a blast, as this clearly is a spectacle more for the live audience than for those of us in the hinterlands.
- The regular season kicks in again on Tuesday night at Nationwide Arena against the Chicago Blackhawks. I'll be in attendance, a guest of Full Mental Jackets' (and The Fourth Period's) Greg May. I fully expect an intense competition in the Drinks on Goal category, and that Greg will swamp this observational amateur in the end.