Wednesday, October 22, 2014

West Coast Cross Roads

I've been on the road all weekend, so didn't really get to stay caught up with the Jackets.  I was in west-central New York, which is Sabres territory, and people aren't paying a whole lot of attention to hockey at this time.  Lots of driving and limited communication.  As I was leaving Columbus I got to listen to the first period of the Calgary game on the radio, which I later learned the CBJ hung on to win.

Then there was the Ottawa road game, which they lost.  Judging from the post game interview, or the little I saw of it, Head Coach Todd Richards (HCTR) was ok with the effort, they just didn't get a good result.  That will happen to you on the road in the NHL.  I heard about the McElhinney injury which leaves our margins in goal tender pretty slim, facing a classic West Coast battle against 3 really good teams.

And then I see that Aaron Portzline over at Puck Rakers is reporting that HCTR is skating the Wennberg-Calvert-Atkinson line in practice as the second line.  I think this ought to be very interesting.  I though this line looked very dynamic.  In the preseason.  Against Carolina.  Soooo...

The Sharks, Ducks, and Kings on the road seems like a very different type of challenge for this line.  However, if they can hang on in the face-off circle, and defensively, it can be very dynamic offensive line.  They all seem to be on the same page in how they think the game in the offensive zone.  And since there is always a need for secondary scoring, if this line can produce at a modest pace, it will be a very good thing for the Blue Jackets fortunes.

Which would be a good thing, because I think the early season is at a bit of a cross-roads.

When I got back from my short sabbatical, and started scanning the newspaper (hard copy, old school) and looking at the standings, I found that the Jackets 6 points to start the 2014-15 season were looking a little puny compared to the other teams.  Yeah, it's okay in the East, but not so in the Western Conference, and I find it a bit concerning.  To be sure, the Jackets have played just about the fewest games so far in the season, and they will be playing some catch up over the next few days, but the opposition constitutes one of the toughest 3 game runs in the league.  We very definitely need at least one win out West, and more points would be better.  Should the suddenly very battered Blue Jackets have a tough road trip, we could be looking at the up hill climb again, or worse.

Lest I be considered a panic monger, the worst that can happen out of this trip is that we will find out how far along Alexander Wennberg has progressed in the task of becoming an every day NHL player.  So that line of Atkinson, Calvert, and Wennberg will need to produce over these next 3 games AND play solid defense against some of the deepest teams in the league.  Measuring stick time!!

The other things that I see from this team Morgan mentions in his post concerning the 5 dysfunctions of a team.  We see HCTR exhibiting trust ("I'm not worried about Wennberg"), and you see a high level of self accountability among the team.  Nick Foligno had no excuses about running into McElhinney, only that he had knocked him out of the game.  So the framework is sound and people are conducting themselves like this is a high functioning team.  So even if the worst happens out west, this group will simply have to stage the comeback they have already been able to repeat.

The team's depth is being tested way more than anyone wanted to see it, but it seems to be holding up okay.  So looking at this upcoming series of road games, it seems unlikely that this team will take the wrong fork at the cross roads.  Even if they suffer defeats at the hands of powerful teams, the structure remains intact for them to be successful.

Which means all we have to do is fans is enjoy watching the games.  Which is not such a bad thing (except for the start times)!


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