Monday, October 10, 2011

How's that pausey reflecty thing working out for ya?

OK, so we're two games into the season.  It hasn't started like anyone hoped.  I apologize for missing the games, but family matters (and my annual live fix of Fighting Irish football) got in the way.  I also got a look - from afar, but a look nonetheless - at the soon-to-be-opened ($50 million!) Compton Family Ice Arena, which already appears to be lining up as the Cathedral of American College Hockey.  It's a VERY impressive looking facility, almost looming toward the football stadium as if to say, "You'd best notice me."  And seeing how Notre Dame's hockey program is doing by comparison to its football program, that's a reasonable statement to make.

But enough of my alma mater.  We have NHL hockey to discuss, and that means the Columbus Blue Jackets.

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Catching up is critical right now.  In addition to hearing a fair bit of both games on the radio, I've had a chance to watch the Nashville game on GameCenter Live and also saw the third period of the Minnesota game.

Let's be fair on the Nashville game.  The Preds were a second-round playoff team last season, and their incredible defense and goaltending largely returned from last season.  Falling behind against Nashville by one is like falling behind against other teams by three.  The Preds get their lead and then lock down, daring teams to try bringing the puck into their zone.  And for whatever reason - the Preds defensive prowess or perhaps the CBJ's offensive ineptitude - the Blue Jackets largely appeared incapable of doing so in an organized fashion. 

The Minnesota game was much more disappointing.  It's one thing to lose to a playoff team, another thing altogether to lose to a non-playoff team with a new head coach.  The only good thing I can take from the game is that Steve Mason got pulled after the second period.  No, Steve, we're not going to wait for you to get yourself right.  Perform, or get on the bench.  And yes, Coach Arniel pulled you for an AHL lifer.

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While I was congealing my thoughts, I tossed out a request on The Dark Blue Jacket Facebook page for reader insights.  Here's what those fine folks had to say:
  • Reader Aaron: Came out swinging on opening night but ran out of gas. Minnesota just outplayed them and B├Ąckstrom came up with some big saves.
  • Reader Robert: Powerless powerplay, too many failed long stretch passes, and some pretty bad defense.
  • Reader Jill: Ditto to both Aaron & Robert comments. The Blue Jackets have a lot to bring together still.
  • Reader Jenny: Just hoping things come together quickly!
  • Reader Trevor: Chemistry is definitely building still. Some tired legs killed us on Saturday. Let’s get things together for tonight! Go Jackets!
OK, let's see.  Gallos has the defense matter covered.  Permit me to reinforce his comments with one statistic: With two games played (like 16 other NHL teams when I started typing this), the Jackets have already given up seven goals.  That's third worst in the league.  (On the offensive side, their four goals put the Blue Jackets in a five-way tie for 14th in the league.  That makes for a goal differential of -3, again tied for third-worst.)  

In my estimation, however, readers Jenny, Jill and Trevor perhaps touched on what I think is the larger issue, that of  chemistry.  Gallos, too, touched on the fact that every one of the team's offensive lines and defensive pairing have no experience together.

This makes perfect sense when you flip half of your roster in one offseason.  Things WILL be rough to get started.  It's the nightmare scenario for the CBJ ticket office, which surely has been praying for a fast start to excite the locals, but it's a fact of life.  These guys are still getting used to what each other wants for music in the locker room, not to mention their playing tendencies in pressure-packed game situations.  Throw in the 8-game James Wisniewski suspension, and Blue Jackets fans are looking at an even longer feeling-out period because the defensive pairing will be shuffled twelve ways from Sunday while the coaching staff patches over the absence of its number one defenseman.

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Many Blue Jackets fans, yours truly included, called for the terrifically underachieving roster of the past couple years to get blown up.  The Blue Jackets obliged came to the same realization as its fanbase.  We watched the Jackets tear their way through the preseason.  And before you suggest that preseason professional sports is meaningful, remember that the NFL's Detroit Lions were a perfect 4-0 in the 2008 preseason before going 0-16.

When the final roster was set, we paused and reflected on the incredible changes we had witnessed.  Did we forget about this whole "getting to know you" phase that can only truly take place when starters are playing starters in actual game conditions? I apparently did but now have my wits back about me.  More like shaken back into me after the first couple games of the season.  It just won't come easy in 2011-2012.

My conclusion: We won't know what this team really is until James Wisniewski comes back from his suspension.  It stinks to high heaven that we have to functionally throw a tenth of the season out the window, but chemistry won't happen until the team's major players are all on the ice.  Thus, I'm now thinking that October will be one long month on Nationwide Boulevard.

Maalox, anyone?  I think I have some leftovers from last season...

1 comment:

  1. Couldn't agree more, DBJ. I believe it will take time to gel and hopefully we will gladly exchange this year's October (compared to last year's) to get the flip of last year's December, March, and on...I've got some patience left, yet.

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