Friday, January 18, 2013

Join the Battle: 2012-13 Season Starts!

At last it's here, and I am pretty excited about finally seeing some NHL hockey played.  Tomorrow night the Columbus Blue Jackets take on a Central Division nemesis at the Nashville Predators.  We will find out a lot about the team in this match.

This is a Blue Jackets squad with perhaps the deepest defense in franchise history.  It seems unlikely that anyone will unseat Jaroslav Spacek as the all time leader in defensive assists in this shortened season.  But Jack Johnson, James Wisniewski, Nikita Nikitin and Fedor Tyutin have it in them to be collectively in the top 5 in the league in defensive assists if they play to the level they have shown before.  They are backed up by veteran Adrian Aucoin and youngster John Moore who played well in the role of 'last man standing' last year before fading late (not uncommon for a young player).

There are a couple of things I want to say about this group.  Tyutin and Nikitin are probably the shut down pair.  How well they perform in that role is yet to be seen, but they have a significant offensive upside, with the bonus of knee high heat from Niki 6 (see DKM hockey).  One thing I can get my arms around with this group is that we will definitely lose at least one game when Johnson gets burned on jumping up on the play, and someone like Toews goes in on a break away to score a late goal.   And we as fans will howl, and the Twitterverse will explode with criticism of JJ's defense.  But there will also be games where we are trying to protect a lead, and he will skate it out of the defensive zone and attack the opposing goal when everyone on the other team is trying to crash our net, thus taking the heat off and preserving the win.  I think our power play will finally be something to be scared of, instead of wanting to decline the penalty, we are going to want to watch it.  With an abundance of forwards who will crash the net, Wiz's slap shot is going to get a few tips into the net.  JJ has a perfect skill set to set up Wiz's slap shot, which we did not see used to full effect until late last year.  With Tyutin and Niki 6 on the second unit, we have good point men there as well.  The power play should develop into something solid as the season progresses.

Artem Anisimov
The forwards are intriguing.  The line I think I like the most is Prospal - Johansen - Foligno.  I think Vinny Prospal and Nick Foligno are kindred spirits.  I think their veteran presence will help the youngster Johansen.  If Ryan is not going to play center, then he should be sent down to Springfield to play big minutes at center.  That's where he is going to end up eventually.  This line is not too bad defensively, and while it is listed as a third line, has a deceiving amount of offensive pop.  Foligno has really soft hands, and his shots seem to always find the net.  In the right circumstances, those will be goals.

I think we are going to like the Anisimov line with Dubinsky and Dorsett.  I know a lot of people wonder about putting Dorsett on that line.  Some are downright critical of it, and I understand that as well.  But Dorsett has very good 'hockey sense' and will put himself in a position where he can score, and where he is available for the puck at the right time.  Unfortunately, he has some unquestionably Duran like qualities (as in Roberto Duran and 'hands of stone').  He has also worked hard to overcome those tendencies, and had a career scoring year last year.  Great potential for this line to surprise people as well, but  the line is also very defensively responsible.

The 'top' line of Umberger - Brassard - Atkinson ought to be able to have some good chemistry early.  Hopefully Brass is ready to emerge from the role of  'the guy that sets up Nash' and uses his very good shot more often.  This line has good balance as well.

Finally, there is the goal tending.  I think Detective Bobrovsky is going to unseat Mason (aahhhh, I can't get these numbers out of my head!!!) as the number one goal tender.  Hopefully he can flash the kind of numbers he showed over in the KHL.  In this shortened NHL season, any team is a hot goal tender away from being in the mix for the playoffs.  Mason (Viktor Resnov was my friend!!) is fighting for his NHL life.  He seems to be resolved to go down swinging.  Very good goal tending could become the price for keeping the net.  Or, if they both ring up numbers like they had last year, its gonna be a long, short year, but we have 3 first round picks in the draft.

We will find out a lot about these lines tomorrow night at Nashville.  I'm excited to see what they can do.   If this team can maintain a .500 pace through the early going, to allow the new comers to gel into the team, they have a chance to cause people some real problems.  However, tomorrow is only round 1 of the 18 round slugging match that is the Central Division.  We'll check in again after the first round bell.

GO JACKETS!!!

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