Friday, March 20, 2015

Late Night Twofer; Capra hircus Line Rolls

Dano on an amazing roll
Capra hircus is the scientific name for a goat, a new twist on the old gag of a 'Goat Line', with two kids and an old goat playing on the same line.  The Hartnell-Wennberg-Dano line has continued to play fantastic hockey, going 4G-4A=8P, through two late night tilts on the West Coast, as the Blue Jackets beat the Oilers 4-3 in a shoot out two nights ago, and beat Vancouver 6-2 last night.  A lack of stamina and conflicting priorities were among the reasons that I was unable to watch all of these games, catching the first period in each game.

In both games, the faint hearted (moi) would have gone to bed early, thinking the late season tank job was in good hands.  Against Edmonton, an early 2 goal lead looked like it had been squandered, but a quick goal by Letestu set up the eventual shoot out.  The late charge last night was a surprise for this morning, and would have been fun to watch except for the lingering effects of the earlier OSU and Cincinnati games.  So it goes.

No matter the outcome of this season, or the draft, we have seen a steady progression from Dano and Wennberg as they improve.  And for Scott Hartnell, I am really happy.  It had to be a tough off season for him, but he has responded with a really good season.  He's keeping it simple, going to the net with his stick on the ice and Dano and Wennberg keep finding him.  Against Vancouver, this line was 4G-2A=6P, which would mess up any team in the league.  This all came in the second half of the game, after the mid-point of the second period, though I thought Dano looked dangerous in the first period when I was watching.

I know the folks over at @PlanetCBJ are blasting me (and I mean this in a good way, seriously) for weaseling on my McTank for McDavid stance, but I was finally able to find the Dave Lozo article that made me think twice about it.  That article was written about the Carolina Hurricanes, but it is really apt for the CBJ as well.  It took two GMs and a complete roster turnover to eradicate all signs of the 'country club' atmosphere that was reputed to exist in Columbus, and you just don't want any of that to creep back into existence.  The injuries are record shattering, but this season's outcome cannot be regarded as acceptable in any fashion.  So seeing a couple of good games like this doesn't bother me as much as it did a couple of weeks ago.  I want to see these players play well, because I expect to see them play very well next year, and to become a force to be reckoned with in this league.

This is part of the problem with Edmonton.  Losing became an acceptable approach as part of their 'rebuild' attempt.  The players who have come to understand that losing is an acceptable approach, are having a hard time with the 'OK, its not acceptable to lose anymore' change.  That is not something you just switch on or off.

Ken Hitchcock once said about the 2009-10 Blue Jackets, during a vicious December swoon, (following the then best start in franchise history), 'this team will never compete effectively until they learn to hate losing more than anything else'.  The implication was that team was able to see losing as an acceptable outcome.  Since no one goes undefeated in the NHL, everyone has to grapple with losing.  And you want to have players that burn to flip it around to the winning side.  After torching the roster that quit on Ken Hitchcock, the CBJ now have several players who have that burn, and who will lead/drag the team into the battles necessary to get the wins.  The problem for this year, is that is was hard to get those players on the ice due to the injuries.  But the foundation is there, and you never want these guys to think that losing is an acceptable situation.

Fortunately, we have some good things in play.  First of all, the players themselves know the situation.  At this time last year, Nationwide Arena was building up toward a deafening crescendo of noise that peaked in the playoffs.  This year, its a pretty quiet place, urged on by a dismal home record.  The CBJ road record is actually quite respectable.  Perhaps the easiest thing to fix in hockey is your home winning habits, and I expect that to change next year.  If your home record is all you need to fix to make the playoffs, you are in pretty good shape, and I think big picture wise, that's where we are.

We are going to get good players in this draft that are going to help us for the next several years, and we have a reasonable chance for a lightening strike.  Given that, protecting a culture of winning is perhaps the highest priority down the stretch for the CBJ, followed closely by a priority on developing the young players.  It could be a lot worse than this.


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