Friday, November 25, 2016

The Start is in the Books, The Grind Begins

The Goal; Playoff Ice at Nationwide Arena
Now that American Thanksgiving, and a normal Thursday in Canada, is over, the start is officially in the books.  The Blue Jackets managed to book end an atrocious, record setting, start last year with one of the franchise's best starts for the 2016-17 season.  A 10-5-3 start has the Jackets with 23 points and sitting 4th in the Metropolitan Division.  Savor that for a bit.

Ok, done.  Now two things happen.  The grind starts, and the intensity of play ramps up a notch, the second of about four informal intensifications of the level of play in the NHL in any given season.  The start of the regular season is one, December/Thanksgiving is another, the beginning of the new year in January is another, and the Trade Deadline and the run to the playoffs is the last.  These milestones represent times when the league starts to separate the pretenders from the contenders by escalating the level of play, and to date the Jackets have successfully weathered only one of these milestones.  There is a lot of hockey to play.

Today Tom Reed has an excellent article in the Columbus Dispatch about how rookie phenom Zach Wereneski is feeling the pace.  He is getting hit more often, and is playing more games in a shorter period of time than he has ever played before.  It's a journey, Werenski has the proper attitude about it, and he should be fine.  I also liked Tom's quote of John Tortorella.  It's not that you are going to have bumps in the season, you are going to have them no matter who and what team you are.  It's how you respond to them.

In 2011-12, new coach Scott Arniel had the Jackets flying with the best start in franchise history, in first place in their Division in the Western Conference, and facing the Red Wings in a matchup for the Division lead about this time of year.  The Jackets lost that game, didn't respond well, had a ~8 game losing streak in December, and couldn't really rally until the New Year, and by that time they were chasing the pack.  After a decent January, they faltered at the trade deadline, and missed the playoffs again.  I have called this the December swoon in the past.

My point is that the Jackets do not need to light the league on fire over the next month or so, they just need to not have a catastrophic losing streak.  If you can answer your losses with wins over this next month, they will be fine.  Anything over .500 over the next month is pure bonus, as our young team tries to adapt to the intensification of play.

Tonight the Jackets face the Tampa Bay Lightening in a 7:30 tilt in Tampa.  This team has recently gone to a Cup final, and understands well the road ahead of them.  We will start to see the intensification of play tonight.  How our young team responds will be key, and I am looking forward to enjoying the game.

The good start has given us an opportunity to be competitive in the Metropolitan Diision.  So long as the Jackets continue to respond well to adversity, this should be fun to watch.   I think Torts is making sure he that their heads are in the right spot.  Here we go.....


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