Monday, February 28, 2011

End scene - and a preview of the second act

I was going to use some heroic shot of Rusty, but this
just tickled my fancy. (Photo from
Act 1, Scene 10

Columbus Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson officially closed the door on the first act of the Columbus Blue Jackets franchise in the midst of its 10th Anniversary season in trading "The Original Blue Jacket," defenseman Rusty Klesla, to the Phoenix Coyotes.

With that, Klesla's name and image now can finally retire to the glass cases around Nationwide Arena that celebrate past players like Odelein, Sanderson, Knutsen and Dineen (We can't forget Dineen!); team ownership and historic events in franchise history.  While he was a serviceable defenseman, he had ongoing injury issues in recent seasons that made his reliability questionable and greatly impacted his productivity.

Fare Ye Well Rusty!!

As many have reported today, Rostislav (Rusty) Klesla was traded to the Phoenix Coyotes for Scottie Upshall, a winger, and Sami Lepisto, a defenseman.  Lepisto's acquisition comes in handy as Puck Rakers is reporting that Anton Stralman will be out for 3-4 weeks.  This is better than sliding an unprepared Craig Rivet into the lineup in Vancouver.

Upshall has played well with Umberger in the past.  'Nuff said.

Rusty Klesla was the original draft pick of the CBJ.  I think he did well to overcome the trauma of his being thrust into the NHL prior to being ready (this would be like having John Moore up here because we had no choice).  He remade himself into a rugged stay at home defenseman under Ken Hitchcock.  Ultimately, I think Rusty has been forced to swallow too much losing in his years here.  This is a new chapter in Rusty's career, that he starts liberated from the CBJ's tawdry past.  I hope for Rusty's sake that this helps him to relax, play his game, and find continued success in the NHL. 

Favorite Rusty Moment: The 2008-09 playoffs, when Rusty Klesla played like an absolute demon.  He was one of the players who rose to the occasion in his only playoff appearance.  Here's wishing Rusty many more!

Games that matter, 2/28/11

YESTERDAY: If it could go wrong for the Columbus Blue Jackets, it did.  Every single game went against the Boys in Union Blue's playoff chances.
After the dust settled from all that carnage, the CBJ's playoff chances dropped by 9.4% to 19.6%.  Thanks for nothing, NHL War Room.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Game 61/Nashville: My Take

The Columbus Blue Jackets started the last significant western road trip of the season this afternoon in Nashville and the host Predators beat the CBJ, 3-2, in regulation.

There are 82 games in the season...there are 82 games in the season...there are 82 games in the season...

Now that I have that blood pressure-lowering Moment of Zen out of the way, let's proceed.  In my opinion, this game was lost on two plays:

The first is the easy one.  Derek Mackenzie followed up on an R.J. Umberger shot by slamming the puck in at the corner of the net for an apparent goal.  Or was it?

[Special thanks to @RyanReal for his letting me know about the television feed.  While it's choppy, it gets the point across pretty clearly.]

Shea Weber's Petticoats

Dirty, Dirty, Dirty play by Shea Weber at the end of the game against the CBJ and Nashville tonight.  The league needs to intervene.  Otherwise, its time to get Jody at the trade deadline, because we will need to police this. 

Weber gets checked when he is holding the puck in the waning seconds of a game we are trailing, by RJ Umberger.  Unfortunately, Weber cracks his face on the dasher as he goes down.  Umberger stays by the fallen player.  No penalty is called.

But no, we have soiled Mr. Weber's petticoats.  In spite of the fact that he is bleeding profusely, he refuses to leave the ice so he can cross check Fedor Tyutin twice, then sucker punch him.  Dirty play Weber.  Dirty play.  You won the freakin' game.  Are your petticoats that sensitive?  The linesman told him to leave the ice at the face off, and he refused.  He should sit for more than one game, because now its about Shea Weber's petticoats, and not the game.

You're a good player Weber.  Your team won the game.  Recall that Hedja took one in the face, and had the class to leave the ice and get stitched up, and didn't miss a shift.  But no, it's all about you being mad.  And that's all that counts Weber.  And that's why you and your dirty team are going to fold down the stretch.  Enjoy the golf in April Weber.  Because its too much about you for you to be a good team player.

The offseason is a good time to launder your petticoats.  Bush league Weber.  Real bush league.

Rant complete.

Games that matter, 2/27/11

YESTERDAY: You win one, you lose one.
  • Kings beat Avalanche
  • Stars beat Predators
One literally cancelled out the other as far as value to the CBJ was concerned.  Hence, the CBJ's playoff chances are still at 29%.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Jackets Acquire Craig Rivet - Going to the Well

The CBJ have acquired Craig Rivet off of re-entry waivers from the Buffalo Sabres (Scotty Arniel's assistant coaching gig).  With 1 goal and 14 assists, the coach acquires a veteran defenseman whom he knows from his assistant days and can help provide veteran leadership to the defensive corps.  This is a really solid pick up that ...SMACK!  OW!  Oh, I just got dope slapped by my buddy Bill.  This is a guy who couldn't crack the line up on his own team, another trash pick up by Howson.

OK, seriously, this is how I see it.  We have 3 players, Clark, Moreau, and now Rivet.  This is a 22 game sprint to the playoffs, and the last trip to the well for these guys.  They know it, we know it.  One last hurrah.  But what's the payback?

I believe the CBJ have a decent chance of getting to the playoffs.  They are peaking at the right time, the chemistry is solid, and I think they can push their way in on what they have.  If we should get to the playoffs, these guys might really excel.  With 7 games maybe left to play in your NHL career, as a former captain, what are you going to do?? You are going to leave it all out there on the ice.  A chance to relive your former glory.  And who benefits the most??  The young guys that will form the core of the CBJ for years to come.  It means they build playoff experience into their resume.

Example:  How great for the organizations future would it be for Matt Calvert to gain playoff experience in his rookie year?
Answer:  The sky is the limit!


Games that matter, 2/26/11

YESTERDAY: With absolutely no help from the rest of the Western Conference, the Columbus Blue Jackets saw their playoff chances rise to 28.9% - at least in part due to that kid in the photo to the right.
  • Blue Jackets beat Coyotes
  • Wild beat Ducks in overtime
  • Blues beat Oilers
  • Sharks beat Flames in a shootout
Only the Sharks-Flames game was a wash.  The other two games hurt the CBJ, but nowhere near bad enough to overwhelm the 6.0% improvement that came from beating the 'yotes.

Seen on Twitter

From @RyanReal:
I know everyone's excited about the Boomer T-shirts, but let's not overlook this hero of  apparel. 


Friday, February 25, 2011

Game 60/Phoenix: My Take

The Columbus Blue Jackets left for a week-long road trip on the right foot, dispatching with the Phoenix Coyotes, 5-3, in front of nearly 17,000 fans at Nationwide Arena.

The obvious big story is that rookie Matt Calvert, in his 20th NHL game, dropped a natural hat trick on Phoenix goalie Ilya Bryzgalov.  That makes 9 goals in 20 games.  What more needs be said?  How about this picture...instead of a thousand words:

Hats rained onto the ice for minutes after Matt Calvert scored his third goal.
(Photo from the Columbus Blue Jackets)

Need some help

See this screen capture from tonight's Columbus Blue Jackets game?

I want to figure out how to get that t-shirt.

Lots of other people do, too.

If you know, please send me an email at darkbluejacket[at]sbcglobal[dot]net and pass along the particulars.  Or leave the info in the comments.

I'll post any information that I receive for the good of the public.


On Mike Commodore

Edwards at the Carry The Flag blog (yet another great entry into CBJ blogdom) posted some thoughts on Mike Commodore's current situation and how he got to that point. He's specifically asked me for my thoughts as his post grew out of an online dialogue.  Time is limited because I'm trying to shoehorn in some schoolwork before the Phoenix game, but I'll type fast.

Games that matter, 2/25/11

YESTERDAY: The Columbus Blue Jackets survived another night off without playing and, while the night was not perfect from their perspective, still saw their playoff chances rise by the slightest of margins.
  • Stars beat Red Wings 
  • Kings beat Wild
  • Canucks beat Blues
  • Blackhawks beat Predators
The only legit downer in the bunch was the Dallas win.  Regardless, the CBJ playoff odds are now at 22.6%.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Chemistry Counts - The Case for Standing Pat

"For the last time Porty, you may NOT borrow my blackberry!"
Scott Howson and Aaron Portzline at CBJ practice.
The trade deadline looms.  Its official, the CBJ are in the hunt, and they are buyers!  The wildest dreams of all fantasy hockey coaches are about to come true.  Lidstrom and Pronger for third and fourth round draft picks, with the other clubs left to fight out who gets the pickings!  Hmmm.  Well, maybe its not that easy.

I have two points to make about general managers (GMs).  First is that they have been active lately. As my buddy Bill likes to point out, there have been good hockey trades lately.  Value given for value, with the intent of improving the hockey club over the long term.  The recent trades between St. Louis and Colorado being a good example.  We are not seeing teams giving up assets to acquire a rental merely for a playoff push. Then there is Calgary.

Games that matter, 2/24/11

YESTERDAY: All told, a better than average day for the Columbus Blue Jackets despite not playing.
  • Lightning beat Coyotes
  • Sharks beat Penguins in overtime
  • Kings beat Ducks
  • Oilers beat Avalanche
The only bummer in that mix is the Sharks win.  Still, the CBJ playoff chances rose another .94% to 22.6% - can't complain about that!

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The search is over: My Mirasty jersey

[NOTE: There may be a little dramatic license taken in this post, but please don't let that get in the way of a good story.  Also, if you're totally turned off by fighting in hockey, move along.]

"We know what's coming," Hitchcock said. "We've got Darth Vader coming to town (tonight)."
- Ken Hitchcock, January 12, 2008

Among the many issues that Ken Hitchcock had to address
in taking over the CBJ, a lack of toughness - especially with
Nashville - was one of them. (Flickr image by Danielle Browne)
He was no dummy.  Ken Hitchcock knew that the Nashville Predators represented a mountain that the Columbus Blue Jackets would have to climb.  For years, the Preds had the CBJ's number.  Hitch put a face to that challenge, casting it in pure good versus evil terms that any North American who had seen a movie since 1977 could quickly understand (and has since spawned a virtual cottage industry for bloggers).  Vader was the bad overlord, hence his Blue Jackets squad took the role of the plucky rebel upstarts.  Of course, the upstarts win in the least in the movies.

It wasn't that easy for the hockey team.  OK, I'll grant that they won the next night, 2-1 in a shootout.  But Columbus had a bit of a reputation as a soft team, something that has only recently started to shake off.  The Columbus version of Hitch Hockey was about strength, toughness, lines you don't let the other teams pass without extracting a price...and an occasional goal to grab the game away.  Scott Howson stocked the blue line with big, veteran, Hitch defensemen - Commodore, Tyutin, Hejda - to try to match talent to the scheme.

Game 59/Nashville: My Take

[This post was intentionally delayed to allow DBJ blog readers to enjoy Gallos' "The View from 207: Nashville" recap.  If you haven't read it yet, please do so.  It's really good stuff from the opposite corner of the arena (I sit in 220).]
The Columbus Blue Jackets continued their improbable post-All Star break run last night when they shut out their Central Division rivals, the Nashville Predators, 4-0 at Nationwide Arena.

So much to say about last night's game...this one's going to be all over the place.  Bear with me.

First, I would like to offer all sorts of respect to our compadres on the other side of the online aisle, the Nashville Predators' blog and Twitter fan base.  Unlike some fan bases (Hi there, St. Louis), I have found Preds fans to be willing to spar, jab and toss a haymaker...but not lose their sense of class in the process.  Yesterday was a terrific example, a fun day of pregame hype-building where they shared their expectations of victory and we shared our "Deliverance" jokes.  (And, yes, we caught Boomer jokes.)  But it was all in fun, and many of them were classy enough to congratulate Columbus - and its fans - on the win while not overlooking the rematch on Sunday.

I've noted a deep-seated animosity among some CBJ fans toward everything that is Nashville.  It is misplaced - perhaps out of envy at the Preds' relative success while spending less then our team does.  Don't hate them because we haven't been able to beat them consistently.  Instead, root for your team to win!  This Columbus-Nashville rivalry, if it becomes truly competitive, could be one of the great "after-game beer" rivalries in professional sports - one where we give up our allegiances yet can remain friends.  Yeah, I'm serious about this.  Thus far, the Preds fans I've come across are that cool.

Games that matter, 2/23/11

YESTERDAY: Not only did the Columbus Blue Jackets pull their weight (in fine form, wouldn't you say?), but they got some help from the most unlikely of places.  Let's recap:
  • Blue Jackets over Predators
  • Devils over Stars
  • Oilers over Wild
  • Sharks over Red Wings
  • Coyotes over Flyers in overtime
  • Avalanche over Blues
  • Bruins over Flames
Beyond the 4-0 stomping of the Preds, where did the playoff assistance come from, you ask?  The Eastern Conference, in the form of:

  • The New Jersey Devils, who at this point have to be kicking themselves for not having a real coach to start the season
  • The retooled Boston Bruins, whose Tomas Kaberle trade from Toronto along with another trade or two has the NHL intelligentsia thinking that Boston is positioned for not just a playoff run but a streak toward the Stanley Cup itself
The other help came from the Colorado Avalanche, who could be kicking themselves for all sorts of reasons, but we as Blue Jackets fans don't care as long as they keep kicking themselves....

So good for them, good for us.  Columbus will benefit from their win, tack on the glory of its own win and watch the Blue Jackets' playoff chance percentage rise by 7.4% to 20.9%.

[NOTE: The site I follow for this daily report, SportsClubStats, has the Boston-Calgary game listed as a Wednesday game. Hence, the .8% of value to the CBJ is not contemplated in the 20.9% statistic. I'm not going to make any changes myself to the number, but it would not surprise me to check out that link and see the CBJ approaching 22%.]

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The View from 207: Nashville

Rick Nash, at practice on February 21, 2011
What a fun time in Nationwide Arena tonight.  Pregame pepperoni and predator (tastes like sausage) pizza at the R Bar, and then settle down to a good Central Division tilt.  Through two periods, the teams traded pushes and shoves, rushes and blocks.  Both goal tenders brought their 'A' game.  One big change from past games against Nashville is that when the Preds shoved, the CBJ did not buckle, as they have in the past.  The Jackets just shoved right back, and played a very hard nosed brand of hockey.  That left us with a game that was tied at the end of two periods, 0-0, and the feeling that the first goal was going to change the nature of the game.  And that's when the Captain stepped up, and took it upon himself.

You gotta beat the good teams, Part Deux

In response to BZArcher's comment about the post-trade deadline Columbus Blue Jackets schedule, from the prior post I thought it would be interesting to see what the CBJ are facing from a "last 10 games" perspective.

The "last 10" comparison isn't quite as weighty in my mind for this post as the prior one because we're trying to extrapolate future expectations of performance against past results.  In the prior post, we looked at common results over the prior 10 games - much more of an apples-to-apples comparison.  Still, nobody can predict the future, so the past is all we have to work with.  And the recent past surely is a better point of comparison than an entire schedule that covers a team's performance from last fall through today.

So let's firmly affix our skeptics caps and proceed as if this analysis is really valid...and take this to its logical conclusion.  Following is the March/April schedule for the CBJ - all the games after the trade deadline.  It was easier for my data entry purposes to go in reverse, but the order of games isn't as relevant for this analysis.

Games that matter, 2/22/11

YESTERDAY: It was only one game, so the damage was minimized.
  • Blackhawks beat Blues
Tossing away a two-goal lead...that's why you're the St. Louis Blues.  I'm just surprised that they didn't Get Their Goons On.
Anyway, the Columbus Blue Jackets' playoff chances now rest at 13.5%.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Darth, Meet Matt

Dear Mr. Vader -

Love your stuff.  Especially that 'I am your father Luke'.  Great plot twist.  I especially like the way you have been able to reincarnate yourself as a hockey coach.  But Trotz?  I'd have thought Lord Commander Barick, or something like that would have been more your style.  Must have been the PR people. 

But hey, I wanted to update you on the little rebellion thing we have going on here.  You see, we have grown weary of the autocratic rule of those who have banners hanging from their rafters, and we have decided that we should rule our own destiny.  To that end, we have assembled a group of warriors who are undeterred by adversity, and they will triumph over your cloned 'offensive defensemen'.  And fresh from the planet Springfield, we have a young warrior named Calvert.  And the force is strong with that one.

You gotta beat the good teams

I am now convinced that this roster, as currently composed, cannot be expected to beat any good National Hockey League team with any regularity this season.
- DBJ, 12/23/10

That was my opening salvo, from before Christmas, that started this blog's drumbeat for a personnel shakeup to solidify the Columbus Blue Jackets and salvage their playoff chances for this season.  With a CBJ day off and all sorts of somewhat fact-based goofiness going around on Twitter, I thought it might be wise to revisit that statement in light of the recent streak of - at least record-wise - great Blue Jackets on-ice performance.

CBJ captain Rick Nash is doing all he
can to will his team to wins.  But is
his effort enough to put the club over
the top and into the Stanley Cup Playoffs?
Let's set some ground rules for this investigation.
  1. It's clear that the CBJ of pre-Thanksgiving is not the same as the CBJ of post-January 14.  The roster is different, albeit through scratches, injuries, callups and demotions instead of trades or waiver wire grabs.  And, blessedly, both of those CBJ teams are very different than the one that hibernated from Thanksgiving through January 13.  (Actually, this raises a totally different point about the evolution of the team this season.  If I have time, I might go down this road in another post...or save it for the season recap.)
  2. At the same time, the CBJ's opposition could make the same claims, but with different timelines.  Every team evolves over the course of an 82-game season.  So looking at long-forgotten games (OK, I haven't forgotten EVERY game...) is largely pointless. 
  3. I have to play the hand that I'm dealt.  By that, I mean that I have to look at the recent schedule and compare Columbus' performance against the teams that they've played.  To make a comparison of the CBJ against, say, today's Philadelphia Flyers team is silly.  In addition, I work with the stats that are easily available...the "last ten games" statistic is on every standings page of and requires minimal extra investigation.  
So we're going to look at the CBJ's performance in the last ten games, compare them against the teams that they played in their most recent ten-game spans (but I'll throw in standings info as well for giggles), and see if the Blue Jackets NOW can be expected to beat good NHL teams.  If that's the case, we'll look at the regularity of their wins.

Games that matter, 2/21/11

YESTERDAY: I think it's safe to say that, more or less, yesterday  stunk for the CBJ. Of course, we're bound to get that disappointment when we look to Eastern Conference teams to beat Western Conference teams. Don't take offense, East Fan...I'm still rooting for the Columbus Blue Jackets to mosey on over to the East and provide some much-needed competitiveness!
  • Blackhawks beat Penguins
  • Flames beat Canadiens
  • Red Wings beat Wild in a shootout
Blasted Pens - even in defeat, they provide nothing but frustration for CBJ fans.  Anyhoo, the Blue Jackets' playoff chances dropped to 13.6%.  Sigh.

TODAY: One 2PM Eastern...
  • Blues over Blackhawks
Considering what St. Louis did recently in trading with Colorado, I would not be surprised if the Blues actually took this one.  That Chris Stewart is a monster when healthy. Nash-like.  

It's probably good to only have one game to watch today...cleanses the palette for tomorrow night's throwdown with the Preds at Nationwide.  Clear the head, focus the energy...and get ready to bring the noise.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Dare we dream?

Big news out of the Hockey Night in Canada Hotstove segment from the Heritage Classic in Calgary last night - and no, I'm not talking about the rumored Kristian Huselius trade demand that both sides are denying.  No, I'm talking about the scuttlebutt coming out that the Atlanta Thrashers franchise is on life support (go to 3:04 of the above link to catch Pierre LeBron's comments and subsqeuent conversation).

As the panel discussed, the Atlanta Spirit ownership group has been looking for a buyer for the Thrashers for some time.  If they don't find a buyer within the next 6-8 weeks (and the National Hockey League is apparently pushing very, very hard right now to find a buyer), the speculation is that the League would likely move the Thrashers to Winnipeg, Manitoba...where an eager ownership group and a remodeled arena await.

Games that matter, 2/20/11

LAST NIGHT: On balance, the Columbus Blue Jackets fared pretty well in the games that mattered:
  • Islanders beat Kings
  • Canucks beat Stars
  • Blues beat Ducks
  • Sharks beat Avalanche
  • Coyotes beat Predators
The first three were positives for the CBJ, the last two...not so much.  As I said, though, the evening was a net win for Columbus, who saw their chances of making the playoffs rise by .7% to 14.7%.

TODAY: As we know, the CBJ are off until Tuesday, so we get to enjoy Hockey Day In America (email me for instructions on where to mail the check, NBC/Versus) with definite rooting interests.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Game 58/Chicago: My Take

[Pardon the over 24-hour delay in getting this posted.  I've been struggling to get some schoolwork done on deadline (done), fighting yet another apparent sinus infection (sigh) and ended up hosting a friend's child while she ran down to the hospital to deliver a baby (wow).]

In a string of "must-win" games, none have been bigger than Friday night's Columbus Blue Jackets visit to the United Center to take on the Chicago Blackhawks, who were only one standings place and two standings points ahead of the CBJ.  While by no means dominating from wire to wire, the Blue Jackets fought it out and emerged victorious, 4-3, in regulation.

Start with this:

Everything else is gravy.

Games that matter, 2/19/11

Last Night: Largely propelled by their exciting win over the Chicago Blackhawks, the Columbus Blue Jackets had a very, very good night (considering where they started...).
  • Blue Jackets over Blackhawks
  • Blues over Sabres
  • Wild over Ducks
The CBJ and Wild win boosted Columbus' playoff chances to a smooth 14 percent.  And almost as good as the CBJ win, there were no three-point games among the games that matter!

Riding Stralman Like a Rented Mule

Down the stretch last night, Scott Arniel rode Anton Stralman like the proverbial 'rented mule'.  During a bench shot after a particularly long shift for Stralman, you could see him sucking wind.  He was out on the ice on the next line change.  Boy, oh boy if I only could have got some money down on that possibility a mere 6 weeks ago I could quit this blogging gig and move to...  Well, you get my point.

A huge, gritty win for the CBJ last night in Chicago, to vault them into a tie with Chicago, the reigning Stanley Cup champs.  I love playoff hockey.  I love the way the CBJ are playing right now.  Great heart, great grit.

Big credit to Scott Arniel for turning on what ever light needed turned on in Stralman's head, because he is playing fine hockey now.  The things we always expected to see out of him when he was first signed.  I've got to say I am happy for him, and for us.  It bodes well for the stretch run.

Go Jackets!

Friday, February 18, 2011

Games that matter, 2/18/11

LAST NIGHT: If it could go wrong, it did for the Columbus Blue Jackets' playoff hopes.  On the bright side, the relative value of the games was small.  To recap:
  • Sharks beat the Capitals
  • Coyotes beat the Thrashers
  • Predators beat the Canucks
  • Rangers beat the Kings in overtime
(The Rangers-Kings game was a wash - no effect on the CBJ.)

All told, Columbus lost a single percentage point of their playoff chances and are now down to 9.2%.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Maxxing Out

Ken Hitchcock was an interesting guy.  You could learn a lot listening to him.  On thing I remember him saying once, it must have been in the 2009-10 season before he was fired.  He talked about two of his teams; the 2006-07 team that he inherited, and the 2008-09 team that made the playoffs.  And I remember him saying, rather fondly, that those teams had 'maxed out'.  In other words, the players had given all they had to give.  And I always felt that Hitch had a lot of respect for those teams.

Scott Arniel is a pretty different coach than Hitch.  Ya think?!  But his comments as recorded in the Columbus Dispatch beat writers Puck Rakers column intrigued me.  He was quoted as saying:

Games that matter, 2/17/11

LAST NIGHT: Wouldn't you know, the one night that literally every other game that mattered went Columbus' way, the Columbus Blue Jackets can't maximize their opportunity.  To recap:
  • Kings beat the Blue Jackets in a shootout
  • Capitals beat the Ducks
  • Flames beat the Stars
  • Blackhawks beat the Wild
Even better, the Flames/Stars and Blackhawks/Wild games were decided in regulation - we as CBJ fans didn't really care who won, just as long as it wasn't a 3-point game.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Game 57/Los Angeles: My Take

The streaking Columbus Blue Jackets welcomed the streaking Los Angeles Kings to Nationwide Arena tonight and, in the first playoff-caliber game in a long while, lost in the shootout to the Kings, 4-3.

I'm a tad under the weather and will keep this short.  Perhaps Gallos, who was on hand, could add some thoughts in the comments.  Everyone else, you're welcome to contribute as well.
  • Rick Nash is a man possessed.  He is pulling every string possible to will this team to win.  Tonight, it wasn't enough.  Other nights, it will be.  All I can say to the rest of the NHL is "He's Rick Nash - and you're not."  
  • R.J. Umberger left the ice injured (a knee/leg on knee/leg hit), came back, and threw his body around like he was the only Blue Jacket on the ice.  Whereas Nash was flying high based upon skill, Umberger was on sheer will and guts.  Helluva combination.

Games that matter, 2/16/11

First, a quick recap.  Three games mattered last night, and some of the chips finally fell the Columbus Blue Jackets' way.  To summarize:
  • Oilers beat the Stars
  • Canucks beat the Wild
  • The Sharks beat the Predators in overtime
The Sharks' OT win (CBJ fans were rooting for the Sharks to lose - Are we capable of rooting for the Preds to win?) did not help, nor did the fact that it was a three-point game.  The improbable Oilers win, even against a slumping (fading?) Stars team, helped.  So did the Canucks win.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

The games that matter, 2/15/11

The Columbus Blue Jackets are in a nip-and-tuck stretch run. While the Jackets most directly can influence their destiny by winning, they likely will need help from other teams to get to the Stanley Cup Playoffs. It's that tight in the Western Conference this year.

So I'm going to try a new, (hopefully) daily post called "The games that matter". These will be games, identified by Sports Club Stats, that will impact the Columbus Blue Jackets' playoff odds. No huge detail on these posts - check out the link if you want to dig deeper - just the games.

With no further ado, here are tonight's games that matter (and the teams you want to hold your nose and root for):

Observation from practice

For the first time in way too long, the Dark Blue Toddler and I ventured down this morning to Nationwide Arena to check in on the Columbus Blue Jackets' open practice in anticipation of tomorrow's tilt with the streaking (7-1-2 in their last 10 - Yow!) Los Angeles Kings.

When reached for comment about practice,
the Dark Blue Toddler stopped on the stairs to say,
"Up! Up! UP! Down! Down! DOWN! Hockey! Boom!"
The visit was punctuated by a pre-practice breakfast with DBT at the Arena District's Sunny Street Cafe on Nationwide Boulevard, where we redeemed a Groupon and he gnawed on perhaps the largest "dinosaur" pancake that I've ever seen.  (They apprently pour the batter into a 8-inch long dinosaur mold, kinda like a cookie cutter for pancakes.)  Of course, the DBT is the discriminating type, so he ate my home fries instead.  At least I got coffee.  And Sunny Street is a great way to kick off your CBJ practice morning.  Nice folks, fast service.

As for practice, I got pretty much what I've come to expect with the little man.  DBT runs the stairs and the rows nonstop (only stopping to tell me what row letter I've parked in to monitor him while he tears around sections 114 and 115), and I get about 15 minutes of actual observation during a one-hour practice.

Most notable from practice was who was NOT out there: Steve Mason.  We now know that Mase has bronchitis and a "minor" pulled groin (how such a muscle pull can be "minor" is beyond me).  With that, and no goalie callup from Springfield, we were treated to the CBJ equipment manager in net.  I think I got a taste of what the diminutive Darren Pang would have looked like between the pipes for the Blue Jackets.  Actually, the guy did OK considering they weren't pushing him too hard out there.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Big CBJ Question

As I mull over the incredible start, gut-wrenching tailspin and heroic recovery of the 2010-2011 Columbus Blue Jackets, I keep coming back to the same question:

Was the 2009-2010 season a one-year interruption in CBJ general manager Scott Howson's (re)building plan, or was it a demonstration that the pieces in said plan can't get the CBJ to the promised land?

Somehow, I think that Howson is wrestling with that very question in the run-up to the 2011 trade deadline.  (And the latest on-ice run isn't making it any easier to figure out the answer!)

I don't have an answer right now.  What do you think?

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Game 56/Dallas: My Take

The Columbus Blue Jackets paid ethically and perhaps legally-challenged coach Marc Crawford and his Dallas Stars a visit on Sunday afternoon and walked away with a 2-1 win in front of a half-empty arena.

As the saying goes, it wasn't even that close.  The Blue Jackets looked remarkably poised through most of the game, and the Stars honestly didn't look like they had their legs.

Steve Mason was on his game, stopping 29 of 30.  I need to do a home/away comparison on Mase because it seems as if he plays a simpler game on the road - like most of the team.  Simple isn't bad, though, when you're Steve Mason.  It's generally quite good.  Like today.

Oh yeah, Rick Nash had one of his "I'm Rick Nash and you're not" goals:

Insanity reigns

First, we get this:

The result? 346 penalty minutes. Two Islanders were fined - for 4 and 9 games, respectively - and the Islanders as a franchise got slapped with a $100,000 fine. Stick that in your Lighthouse and smoke it.

As for the Penguins, their enforcer, Godard, got a 10-game suspension for leaving the bench. And that's where sanity ends.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

What do I coach?

The folks at CBC's Hockey Night in Canada put together this really, really cool tribute to the late NHL coach, Pat Burns, tonight with a wonderful reflection on coaching in general. The recording isn't the best (looks like someone had a hand-cam trained on his TV), but it'll more than suffice for you to get the message and see the montage.


An Open Letter to Ken Hitchcock - Time to Re-Invent

Dear Coach Hitchcock,
Ken Hitchcock busy cleaning up the oil spill, back in year 1.
I am a big fan of yours.  I will always appreciate the stability you brought to Columbus, and the way you laid the foundations for a winning attitude.  I think that will be a lasting legacy in Columbus, and I hope that we as fans never forget what you sacrificed for our team. 

But now we need to move on to more important things, your next coaching interview.  This is kinda tricky, because there isn't a really big market out there in the NHL for defensively minded coaches who have won Stanley Cups.  Its all about the Oh-fence (ah-fense to us Yanks) these days.  So to be successful in your next job interview, I'd like to suggest that you 're-invent' yourself as an offensively minded coach.  And they guy I'd suggest you model yourself after is a guy named Ken Hitchcock.

Friday, February 11, 2011

The curse is broken - the gestalt version

the hat of victory - a new trend?
Greetings folks.  Fortunately I don't have to actually speak this, as I left my voice in the arena.  Analytically speaking, this is probably a result of counseling Peter Budaj that Matty Garon was coming down the ice after him, and that he should just let the puck in for the general interest of humanity.  I am not sure he took me seriously.

Fortunately, the CBJ did not rely on that type of claptrap for the result of this game.  They tried playing  Colorado's game, which resulted in an early 1 - 0 lead in favor of Colorado.  Then for inexplicable reasons (?perhaps related to my taunts from the upper bowl regarding their captain?), they decided to try to physically take the CBJ out of the game.  This was ill advised.  I would be willing to concede that they won the fights.  Boller went twice, against guys with greater reach.  He did not dominate.  But his teammates seemed unimpressed by the fact that maybe the Colorado kids won their fights.  They ramped up their game, and won the second and third periods rather decisively.  Yes, Dorsett (Doors) went as well, with about the same results.  But the CBJ were unimpressed.  They had trust in their boys, confidently killed penalties, then went down and scored goals.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

It's Time to Break the Curse of Hat Night

A collection of hats from hat night at the CBJ
Over the years, the BlueJackets have passed out some really nice hats to fans on hat night.  There is only one real problem with this.  The CBJ ALWAYS lose on hat night.  This must stop now!  Darn it, we are in a playoff race!  We need to have this game against the Avs, and we can't afford to let the curse of hat night take it from us.  All of you, please call on what ever deity, spirit, saint, druid, clergy person, or Hockey Jobu that is in accordance with your personal beliefs, and beg them to lift this awful curse!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Game 54/San Jose: My Take

The San Jose Sharks, currently in 4th place in the NHL's Western Conference, came in to Nationwide Arena and outlasted the Columbus Blue Jackets, 3-2 in regulation.

This was a pretty simple game to break down.  When both teams had their legs, the CBJ were skating stride for stride with the Sharks.  The Jackets even played a tad better than the Sharks in the 1st, leading to a 2-0 intermission lead.  Then the Boys in Union Blue got complacent/tired in the second and third and let the lead slip away despite dropping a whopping 44 shots on goal and solid special teams (the two CBJ goals were on power plays).

Both teams were on their second game in two days (with travel in-between), so it's not like the CBJ can fall back on the "We were tired" excuse because the Sharks were in the same boat.  But dare we dredge up the conditioning question again?  Is there a good reason why the Sharks had their legs in the 3rd and the CBJ didn't?

Regardless, I'm not panicking over losing this game.  As I was reminded tonight, the Blue Jackets "only" need to win two games for every one that they lose down the stretch to have a reasonable shot at the playoffs.  They weren't going to win them all.  That being said, a home win against a good team would have been very exciting.  Ah well.  The CBJ still have a 7.5% chance (as I type) of making the playoffs.

On the Cooke cheap shot

I neglected to mention Matt Cooke's hit on Fedor Tyutin in last night's game recap.  Apparently I was the only person in North America to do so.  Never one to shy away from the big topics, however, I'll dive in (belatedly) and offer my $.02.

First, why didn't I mention it?  Two things:

  1. I was distracted at the time - taking care of the Dark Blue Toddler - and did not see Cooke leave his feet.  If I had seen it, I probably would have boiled over as well.
  2. More pertinent to my thinking, however, is that Tyutin got back up.  Tyutin not only got up but kept playing, finishing both the shift and the game.  That suggested to me that the hit wasn't THAT bad. Strapping Young Russian Bear, he is.
I know my logic is a tad twisted and seemingly rewards the drama queens among the NHL elite, but that's how I looked at it at the moment.  Honestly, I was more concerned that Derick Brassard was going to pop his shoulder out again in the post-hit scrum between Brassard and Cooke.  The perils of distracted hockey viewing...

As for the hit itself, I think the photo above says it all. Cooke launched himself off the ice and into Tyutin's numbers.  You don't do that.  You especially don't do that when you have The Taint as an NHL cheap-shotter.  

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Game 53/Pittsburgh: My Take

The Columbus Blue Jackets paid their first regular season visit to the shiny new CONSOL Energy Center and didn't bother to wipe their feet with a 4-1 victory over the host Pittsburgh Penguins.

Pens fans will suggest that their missing superstar players, Sidney Crosby (concussion) and Evgeni Malkin (knee), played a major factor in the loss.  It's possible.  But the rest of the NHL doesn't care, nor did they tie up $17.4 million in cap space on two players like Ray Shero did.  Losing both of these players at the same time is armegeddon for Pittsburgh, and that's sad for the Pens because the rest of the league has a stack full of IOU's to collect upon with the league's Golden Children.

But enough about the opposition.  This is a Blue Jackets blog, and we're going to talk about the winners of tonight's game.

Big night

I'll tolerate the low risk of jinxing anything by writing about tonight's game.  Not like the CBJ players actually read what I write, so I think the likelihood of my words forcing stick grips to tighten is rather low.

OK, tonight.  Like every other game between now and the end of the season, tonight is a "must win".  I say that for a couple of reasons.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Foppa Come Home!

Peter Forsberg (Foppa) is coming back to the Colorado Avalanche.  Currently, Yahoo Sports (via Puck Daddy) is reporting the Forsberg's return is being held up by red tape.  As a Bluejackets fan, I am really excited about this development.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Game 52: Edmonton - Recap

It was really nice to see a good loud crowd in Nationwide last night. I confess to be a bit surprised but pleased about the sellout. And the boys did not disappoint the fans.

Quickly, Edmonton jumped up 2-0 early on goals by Paajarvi and Penner. A bit of air went out of the house. But they've been here before, eh? The CBJ went to work, and brought it back to 2-1 on a goal by Umberger, with Dorsett lurking in Khabibulin's kitchen looking to clean up any messes. That got the crowd going.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Game 51/Detroit: My Take

The Columbus Blue Jackets traveled to Joe Louis Arena on Friday night and, to the surprise of many, put together a compellingly solid all-around performance in shutting out the NHL Central Division-leading Detroit Red Wings, 3-0.

A couple immediate thoughts on this game:

First, I suggest you go back and look at Gallos' terrific post about meaningless games.  Then try to tell me that this game did not have a very striking resemblance to the 8-2 CBJ pasting of the Wings that Detroit coach Mike Babcock used to such great effect in the 2009 Stanley Cup Playoffs first round.  (Now, just imagine if the CBJ can put together a string of wins to get themselves back in the playoff picture to the point that they would play Detroit again.  Wouldn't THAT be something?)

Thursday, February 3, 2011

On the Moore Call Up

Ok, work with me folks. Still mastering this. But the Cannon 
is reporting that John Moore was called up.

I like this. Moore has speed, and the CBJ have been susceptable to speed teams. We'll get a true sense of what this means against Edmonton in the Nationwide barn on Saturday. They burned us with speed last time we played them.

There will be doubters, but the NHL game is different than the AHL game, with speed being the primary difference. If Moore can adapt, he will be able to stick.

Two Points Off the Pace - Seriously!

I was trying to get a handle on this season, and really struggling. After watching Stralman miss the net with that bunny from the slot during an ice storm, I was wondering where this was all going. Some bloggers cough LTL cough have declared this to be a failed season already. History may well show them to have an uncanny grasp of reality. But, as executive optimist, I felt I owed it to myself to see what the numbers were really saying. And the only numbers that really count, are the true baseline for the CBJ, the 2008-09 season, when they made the playoffs.

What I found when I looked at the month by month point totals, is that this years edition of the CBJ are only 2 points off the pace from 2008-09. At the end of January that year, they had 53 points. At the end of January in the 2010-11 they have 51 points. Looking at the graph, with apologies for the quality of my printer, in 2008-09 the team picked up the pace in February, and acquired points at the greatest rate so far in the season. They held that pace through March, before tailing off at the end, and thus drawing the Redwings in the first round.

It is quite obvious that they need to kick it into gear to make the playoffs. The season that they made it, they were able to accomplish that feat. If I remember my history correctly, that run included some very improbable wins in a row, a win against San Jose, a win against Boston, and a win against Pittsburgh, all of who were either number 1 in their conference or the hottest team in hockey at the time.

To do it this year, the Jackets need to perform a similar feat, starting with a win at Detroit on Friday. From here on out the CBJ need to win 2 for every 1 they lose, or better. They just lost the one. On a positive note, they seem to play much better when Arniel has practice time with them. But I think it is premature to call the season, one way or the other at this point.

Go Jackets!! oops, forgot to shout. GO JACKETS!!!

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A hit worthy of its own post

From last night, R.J. Umberger lays out Brent Seabrook:

WOW.  What else can be said?

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Game 50/Chicago: My Take

A staggering 12,568 people risked life and limb in the midst of a still-ongoing (as I type) ice storm to cheer on the Columbus Blue Jackets as they came out of the All-Star break in the unofficial start to the "second half" of the season.  Go figure...St. Louis postpones their game because of bad weather, and Columbus has one of the best home turnouts of 2010-11.

The Blue Jackets rewarded their somewhat insane fanbase with an equally staggering loss to the Chicago Blackhawks, 7-4, at Nationwide Arena.

Let's quickly cover the CBJ game and then get to the important stuff.

DBJ's Midseason MVP Award (and runner-up)

Not a ton of time to post, but I wanted to get this out before the game tonight.

First, I think it should come as no surprise to my readers that I have found the post-Thanksgiving Columbus Blue Jackets to be a fantastic disappointment.  And, sadly, any positive momentum on the ice from the outstanding opening has been more than overwhelmed by what we've seen since that home-and-home with Detroit.

To that end, I suggest that no Columbus Blue Jackets players are worthy of a Most Valuable Player least at this point of the season.  Therefore, here are my awardees:

MOST VALUABLE PARTICIPANT: The Columbus Blue Jackets fans - The bloggers, the fanatics and the charitable

The Bloggers: It started in the off-season as Light The Lamp was castigating General Manager Scott Howson for not making any significant personnel moves.  It's time to face facts: LTL was right.  We had largely the same roster, and we got largely the same result.

Beyond LTL, there are countless other bloggers - and seemingly more as the season has moved on - offering their analysis, thoughts and support for the team.  Many of them are listed in the blogroll on the right-hand column.  These folks show up day in and day out, filled with dedication and (pragmatic?) hope.

12 Games

After the exhilaration of the 2010-2011 Columbus Blue Jackets season up until Thanksgiving...

After the bitter disappointment of the tailspin from Thanksgiving until mid-January...

After the Tums-popping play to reverse that slide since January 14...

The playoff lives of the CBJ essentially come down to 12 games.

Those are the number of games until the February 28 NHL trade deadline for the 2010-11 season.  If the Blue Jackets perform well in those 12 games, perhaps they can angle back into the Western Conference playoff picture in a meaningful way.  Considering that the team is only five points behind the 8th place team, one would think that there's plenty of reason for optimism.  At the same time, they're tied for 13th place.  That means that the CBJ have to leapfrog five teams to get to 8th.