Saturday, December 31, 2016

Rare Air

Lucas Sedlak
Tonight the Columbus Blue Jackets participate in hockey history, on the other side of the win-loss column.  Last year they participated in the loss column, setting an NHL record for opening the season with futility.  This year, they are participating in the win column.

Tonight the Blue Jackets, sporting a 14 game winning streak, play the Wild, sporting a 12 game winning streak.  Both teams have achieved significant accomplishments.  This is the first time (according to Elias Sports Bureau) that North American professional sports teams that both have at least a 12 game winning streak will play each other.  Hockey history on the eve of the hockey centenial.

Ironically, at this historic moment, the Jackets would be best served by maintaining their one game at a time approach.  But I also see this as a precursor to the pressure of the playoffs, the need to win or go home, without having to go home.  So win or lose it will be valuable experience for our cadre of young Blue Jackets.  Ironically, our cadre of  young Blue Jackets has great experience in playing with this kind of pressure, albeit in the AHL in their march to a Calder Cup Championship.  This is where Zach Werenski comes in.  Much as he made a good Lake Erie Monsters team a great team, he is having the same affect on the Blue Jackets. While the Wild and Bruce Boudreau, will have done their scouting, this is not a Blue Jackets team that they are used to playing.  It should be interesting to see how this plays out.

I understand from the reporters at The Dispatch that Torts wants his guys to revel in this game.  He has the right of it.  Much more hockey to be played, but you don't get to do this kind of thing, and the players should find a sense of joy in it.  Why?  Because you need that to have a long term sustainability for the players.  If you have your head down grinding towards the prize and all of a sudden it ends, you have to cope with that, win or lose.   Tortorella has taken pains to make sure this team is on a sustainable path, limiting rink time to set them up for the grind of the season that lies ahead.  To me, wanting his team to revel in this game is an extension of that path.

What, 47 more games to go?  This is just one game, but a glimpse at the pressure to come.  It is indeed, something for players, fans, and coaches to revel in, and enjoy to the fullest.  At its very worst, it is good experience for our young players.  I certainly plan on enjoying this game, and I am not afraid of them losing.  The CBJ have already staked themselves out a piece of history, and a loss can't take that away from them.

On the other hand, win a few more games and steal a record from a Divisional rival (need an 18 win streak to steal the overall record from the Pens), just to piss them off.  :-).  That's something worth winning tonight's game for!!!


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Pushing, Being Pushed, Hanging on for Thirteen in a Row

Matt Calvert Scored a Critical Goal
It all started with a cross check/boarding on Scott Hartnell that wasn't called after 2 minutes had gone by in the first period.  Hartnell laid there, unsuccessfully trying to draw the call.  He got up and started slowly up the ice.  Meanwhile, out by the blue line, his line mates had conspired to thwart Boston's breakout, and Lucas Sedlak walked the blue line and kept the puck in the offensive zone.  This put Hartnell in front of the play, on the door step of the goal, instead of behind the play, and Sedlak hit him for the easy goal.

Five minutes later, with the Blue Jackets power play expired, Hartnell laid a bunny pass out to Seth Jones from behind the net, and the big defenseman leaned into it for the second goal.  Less than a minute later, Matt Calvert intercepted a break out pass from Boston, charged the net, shot, collected his own rebound and shot again for the third goal.  Before 10 minutes had gone by, the Jackets had a handy 3 goal lead, and the third consecutive sellout crowd was rocking.

This, it seems, annoyed Boston.  And they pushed back hard.  Before three more minutes had passed, Boston had scored two goals to bring the score to 3-2 with 8 minutes remaining in the first period.  The Blue Jackets rallied to stop the bleeding, but the majority of the next 30 minutes of hockey were dominated by Boston, and the doubled up the Blue Jackets on shots on goal.  Finally, late in the second period, Boston scored to tie the game, and the teams entered the third period with the score knotted at 3 goals apiece.

In the third period the game tightened up, and the Blue Jackets finally broke through when Nick Foligno scored a power play tally of the greasiest variety, whacking twice at the puck to bounce it over Rask's goalie pads and into the net.  Then the Jackets tightened up their play, effectively killed a late penalty, survived the 6 on 5 with the goal tender pulled and salted away their thirteenth win in a row.  It warn't a purty one, but two more points in the bank.

After the game the coach opined that the game film would be burned, and that they needed to move on.  I think he has the right of it.  The only teachable thing would be to point out that they gathered themselves and held on under adversity.  They had difficulty dealing with Boston's size and strength, but the stuck with it, buckled down, and fought their way through it.  The combination of the power play and Bobrovsky sealed the win, and now they go to Winnipeg.

Forty-nine games left to play.  Fifty-two points in the bank.  At this point Tortorella is right, is all they should be concentrating on is how well they play their game, and let the wins and losses sort themselves out down the stretch.  The CBJ keep their hold on first place for another day, and move on.

It was totally awesome to see the full barn tonight.  There was a really great turn out, and better yet, the Jackets won.  So the Jackets finish their 2016-17 series with Boston, losing 2 games to 1.  It will be good to not have to play them down the stretch.  We have plenty of other Metro games coming up.  But for now, out west, and Winnipeg, and then Minnesota, who has a 10 game win streak of their own.  There will be fun hockey to watch!!


Saturday, December 24, 2016

First Place for the Holidays

The Columbus Blue Jackets finished the run up to the Christmas Holiday with a bang, beating the second Eastern Conference Leader in two nights by holding on over the Montreal Canadiens 2-1.  It was kind of an ugly game, but winning ugly games is what gives you 50 points by Christmas.  It also gives you first place in the NHL over the Christmas break, and even the most fervent naysayer can take that away from them.

The defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins made it tough, by taking out their frustration on the Devils, to make sure that the Jackets needed to win if they wanted to be number 1.  But the CBJ took care of business, so here we sit for a couple of days, with an opportunity to bask in their early season achievement.  But there are still 50 games yet to be played, and next up is a Boston team that is responsible for 2 of our 5 losses.  So things get interesting quick after the break, because 3 games out the CBJ face a Minnesota Wild team with a 10 game winning streak of their own.  And, the Jackets will need to respond to the league wide bump in intensity that happens after the holidays

A word to Jackets fans frustrated by the 'Jackets will come to earth club'.  First of all 'they' may be correct.  Or, they may not be.  But a certain amount of their logic has a fundamental flaw.  Fully one third of the Blue Jackets defense is not represented in the statistical data bases that are used to conclude that the Jackets will regress.  If you want to make conclusions about Zach Werenski, you need to be projecting NCAA data up to the NHL level.  I don't think anyone is doing that.  More importantly, you need to be able to project AHL playoff data to the NHL, and I don't think anyone is doing that.  Finally, if you want to determine what average Marcus Nutivaara will regress to, you need an extensive data base from the Finnish professional leagues extrapolated to the NHL.  No one has that.

Yet this is the one third of our defensive pairings that transform a relatively slow, defensively oriented D-corps of 2015-16 to the swift, puck moving group of 2016-17.  Zach Werenski's contribution is significant enough that he has pushed Ryan Murray out of the top pair.  Marcus Nutivaara's contribution is significant enough to that it has pushed Ryan Murray to his backhand for the first time in his career.  This is not a bad reflection on Ryan Murray, it is a reflection of the magnitude of the impact these other players have had.  Zach Werenski basically jumped everyone on the depth chart.  Marcus Nutivaara jumped some pretty good defensemen to snatch the 6th spot from Dalton Prout.  And no one has any data to accurately project what these players can do for this year.  By next year, yes.

'They' repeatedly say that the power play will come back to earth.  No database exists that can tell you what the 'average' performance of a Zach Werenski lead 1-3-1 power play looks like, and anyone who tells you that it can't run at 25% success rate forever is just guessing.  Of course, anyone who tells you it CAN run a 25% efficiency is just guessing too.  That's why you play the games.

Or, as the DKM folks will tell you, it's :



Thursday, December 22, 2016

First Place

Hartnell Hatty
Whoa.  The first game in a best of eleven (4 regular season, 7 playoff) went the Blue Jackets way, as they pulled away to a 7-1 win, answering Sidney Crosby's goal when he was loose in the blue paint (bad idea) with 7 (seven) goals to please a partisan home crowd immensely.  I found myself being apologetic to a Pens fan.  Really?  I thought your team would show up in the third period.

For the moment, before the New Year, the Blue Jackets sit atop the NHL, in first place.  It is not necessary, or likely, for this state to remain.  But it is a huge compliment to the players and their ability to play as a team, to be in this situation.

I love Scott Hartnell as a player.  I realize the challenges he faces as an older player.  But I thought I would never see the day when he would beat someone wide, yet we saw that tonight for a goal that opened the flood gates.  Wow Hartsey.  Just wow.  That stuff makes me feel awesome as a fan.  I can't imagine that the Penguins game plan sounded like " we know Hartsey will have a hat trick, but we'll get them in the ...."

No.  The third period was perplexing.  As a team, we should exult in a curb stomping of a high powered opponent, but we need to recognize that they will not collapse late like they did tonight, every time we play them.  They will represent themselves better in the future.  And those will be really fun games.

I had an outrageously good time tonight.  This was an example of amazingly entertaining hockey.  Strangely, Pittsburgh seemed unable to sustain that level.  This is not what I expected, and the Jackets capitalized on it.  I expect Pittsburgh to sustain their level of hockey excellence for a longer period in their next tilt.  The result of that, of course, remains in doubt.


Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Cam Takes Home the Two Points

Cam Atkinson with 2 goals and a shoot out goal wins tonight.
Jeff Carter doesn't.
Should the Blue Jackets fans ever achieve the discipline necessary to not boo Jeff Carter every time he touches the puck, the Jackets will beat the Kings routinely.  There are few things on this planet that will actually engage the superb talent of Jeff Carter.  Getting booed is certainly one of them.

Make no mistake.  Jeff Carter is a better hockey player than Sidney Crosby.  If he chose to be better than Sid, he would be.  But he doesn't.  It's part of his make up.  Being superb at hockey has always come easy for Jeff Carter, so why ramp it up now?  And who's to argue?  He's got two Cup rings, same as Crosby.  It's early in the season, the Kings will ramp it up later.  It's who they are.  It's doubtful that they will miss the point they left on the table tonight.

The Blue Jackets, however, countered with Cam Atkinson, who is certainly maximizing his talent. He scored two goals like Carter, as well as the shoot out goal, like Carter.  But Cam and his mates came away with the two points tonight because the back up goal tender, Curtis McElhinney, played so well, and won the game in the shoot out to boot.

At the end of the day, the Jackets won their franchise record tenth straight game against the Kings, though they did surrender the charity point.  This sets up a cataclysmic clash of Metropolitan Division leaders on Thursday, as the Pittsburgh Penguins come to town, fresh off of a curb stomping of the otherwise Division leading New York Rangers.

In the greater context of things, I am fascinated to see how the Blue Jackets perform against the defending Cup Champions.  This is an early season measuring stick game for the group, and we will learn a lot about where things stand no matter how this game turns out.  This is the NHL.  The opposition will make sure you don't win too many games in a row.  So, its hard to see how things will turn out on Thursday.  On the other hand, it is really going to be a fantastic game to be at, and the atmosphere will be crazy.  I am really looking forward to the whole thing.

Since the Jackets started playing so well, I have had the upcoming game circled as one to measure their ability to respond to adversity.  I'm pretty sure the Pens plan on applying some adversity.  I'm also pretty sure that the Pens are not planning on the response I think they are going to get.  Which should lead to an interesting evening.

The Jackets split the season series with the Kings by winning tonight in a shoot out, 3-2 for their tenth (10th) straight win.  How awesome is that?


Saturday, December 17, 2016

Defense Wins...Well, Let's Not Get Ahead of Ourselves

Wennberg Cashes in his Lady Byng Trophy Chances 
The Blue Jackets pushed their customary third period dominance (did I just say that?) up to the second period last night in Calgary to pull away from the Flames for a 4-1 win.  Going into the game, the Blue Jackets had a Team Average Goals Against of 2.17, which is good for second or third in the NHL.  That number came down with last night's result.

And the Jackets put their defensive prowess on display in the third period last night.  It wasn't how they wanted to play, but it was how they needed to play.  They showed the 'stick with it' part of their character that Tortorella loves, and won their eighth straight game.

Now let's be frank.  Or, should I say, Bob, because it all starts with the goal tender.  Bob's post game comments all seem to have one theme, 'we work together, we win together' and they are really putting that together as a group.  There isn't just one defensive pairing that is getting the job done (see RE: Chicago), all the pairings are very solid.  Probably the biggest weakness of the group is the fact that Ryan Murray is only about a month and a half into the 'hey, you can play on the backhand in this league' experiment.  He is definitely getting better as he gains experience on the right side.  So if your weakest pair has a fleet footed Finn and a second overall pick on his backhand, you are in really good shape.  And the average of Goals Against shows that.  David Savard seems to be finding that offensive knack he showed two years ago, and now that he is appropriately slotted as second pairing with Jack Johnson, they are thriving.  Jack is having a great year, which I am really pleased to see, as he takes a lot of guff from people.

Our forwards as a group have always had a strong streak of defensive responsibility, and they don't mind buckling down in the defensive zone and getting to work.  And, they do a good job with getting the puck out of the defensive zone by supporting each other effectively, or using their speed to skate it out of the D zone.  Once they get across the red line, they have found scoring throughout the lineup.  These characteristics are sustainable over the long term, even though one would expect the occasional blip (see commentary from J F H Jacket on last post).

I'd like to see CMac get the net against Vancouver.  That is not a commentary on Vancouver, but it would give Bob a solid three days of rest before a stout week at home against teams that are leading the league.  I am definitely worried about the Kings game the day after travel from the West Coast.  Jeff Carter called out his mates for being fra-gee-lay earlier on their road trip, and I don't think Drew Doughty likes being called fra-gee-lay.  They beat the Pens last night 1-0.  That Kings game is one where the 5th line can't be afraid of losing a game. We need to come  with a purpose and make sure that it is a tough atmosphere on the Kings.  Please don't boo Jeff Carter.  It makes him play better.  Time to move past that.  Strap it on and come to cheer for our guys.  They have earned it.

The Jackets are on pace for 124 points right now.  That probably isn't going to happen.  That implies that they will lose some games in the latter two thirds of the season.  But if they stick with the way they are playing, they won't lose too many.

Vancouver at 4:00 pm tomorrow afternoon.  Should be a good one!


Wednesday, December 14, 2016

That Old Time Feeling

Can't talk old time till you talk Hartnell
It has been awhile since my cats have feared hockey on TV.  Last year they learned to sleep peacefully through western road trips, with the occasional comments of 'hmmm, nice' or 'that's unfortunate'.  Those peaceful evenings are gone, however, and when Calvert, Anderson and Karlsson combine for a crucial third period goal, they are subjected to primal scream therapy.  This makes them nervous when hockey games are on the tube, and they slink away to more favorable environs.  Such is life with this year's CBJ.

Formerly, when I was a tad less jaded than I am today, I could generate that visceral scream of joy with a Blue Jackets road goal.  The last couple of years, that simply hasn't been there, particularly last year.  The emotional commitment wasn't there.  That has changed with this year's team, as they skate in waves at the hapless opposition, and there is no containing the joy associated with those third period goals.  That is a gift that I celebrate, and appreciate, and have no intention of trying to contain as the season moves along.  Perhaps the future is full of woe.  You never know.  But I will celebrate that as much as their successes, because the impact of woe upon this team seems to be to harden them.

Ever since they walked all over Tampa Bay in Nationwide Arena, I have looked for how they would respond to adversity.  Pleasingly, they continually respond to adversity by identifying faults in their own game, and skating hard to correct them.  Seth Jones reaction to the erroneous 4 minute penalty assessed to Jack Johnson was 'maybe that will get us skating'.  This is healthy self assessment by the players, and both the players and the coaching staff deserve credit for their ability to make that kind of assessment.

I hear from the national pundits that the Jackets are merely lucky, and their PDO will regress, which will bring them woe.  I don't hear a lot about limiting your opponent to only one goal, I just hear how they will soon regress.  And indeed, this is possible.  But these kind of statistics have their basis in comparison of large groups of data, and the relationships between shots and success are developed on full seasons of data.  Comparing a half of a season to a long term average is dangerously cavalier with this type of data (see Behind the Net), yet we commonly see comparison on a game to game basis.

I watch all the Jackets games.  I see how tenacious they are on defense.  I see how selective they are on their shots.  Perhaps its luck, but when you have your toes in the blue paint, Nick Foligno, your scoring percentage may well be high.  If that is your shot selection, it is unlikely to regress significantly.  You have to get to the dirty areas to take the shot, if you don't make it there, the shot will not necessarily be taken.  It is okay to look at the underlying play, but that takes effort that is difficult to apply.  So people look at numbers, and make conclusions.  So it goes.  Often they will be right.  But not always.

Strangely, the national media do not seem to recognize that 3 key players from last years Calder Cup Champion Lake Erie Monsters (now Cleveland) made the NHL team this year, and they bring the same characteristics of play that were successful in the AHL to their NHL game.  Lead by Zach Werensky, Josh Anderson and Lucas Sedlak have brought dynamic games to the NHL in their rookie seasons.  There is no statistic available for these guys to regress to, because they are establishing those boundaries this year with their play.  And there are a lot of positives about their collective play, which seems strikingly similar to their play during Lake Erie's Calder Cup run.  So Sedlak is regressing to his average by scoring a couple of goals, his first in the NHL.  In short, there is no average for this team to regress to that is a valid comparison.  Last year's data is simply not applicable.

We will learn a lot more about this team over the next 8 days, when they play 5 games.  At the end of that time is a back to back against Pittsburgh, defending Cup Champs, and a surly Montreal squad that is atop the NHL except for the setback in Nationwide Arena.  Perhaps the Jackets will buckle under the pressure.  Perhaps they will lose a game or two.  But I don't really feel that concerned about that potential eventuality.

My greatest area of concern for this squad is the goal tending.  Bobrovsky has been superlative, but over the next week the Jackets need McElhinney to win two games.  We will see what Torts does, but I would like to see CMac go against Vancouver and the Kings, which would give Bob a 4 day rest for the crucial back to back.  But that is Torts call, and I will ride with his decision.

Calgary Flames tomorrow night, another team on a 5-6 game winning streak.  It will be interesting to see how our guys face the adversity of the upcoming week.  Based on their performance so far this year, they will be fine.


Sunday, December 11, 2016

Uncharted Territory; Jackets Pelt Isles with JD's Bricks

Sedlak scores his second in game after scoring his first!
In the third period of a tied hockey game, the Columbus Blue Jackets used bricks provided by Jarmo and JD to pull away from their Metro Conference challenger New York Islanders.  Draft picks Lucas Sedlak and Josh Anderson scored, supported by produce from trades, Brandon Saad and Seth Jones.  This rapidly changed a tied game to a 6-2 thumping, to allow the Jackets to keep pace with the streaking Flyers, Penguins, and Rangers.

Currently the Jackets sit fourth overall in the NHL, and still sitting third in the Metro, with an outstanding 17-5-4 record.  Props to the players, coaches, and management for these achievements.  It's a good time to be a Jackets fan.

The Islanders came into this game on a roll, like all Metro Conference teams, scored first, and answered the Jackets comeback in the second to tie the game at 2-2.  Then the third period, where Josh Anderson, coming in off the bench, wades into a slap shot to beat Halak and give the Jackets a lead.  A relentless forecheck resulted in more goals, and the Jackets took control of the game in the third.

One of the things I really liked about the game was seeing the building pretty full.  Also, there was a ripple of the thunderous cheering that can happen in Nationwide, like the distant echo of an approaching summer thunderstorm.  It was good to hear, but there is more there from this fan base.   But it was really nice to see the Jackets take control of the game from a powerful opponent.  And I am really pleased with that.

Gosh I just can't get the vision of Josh Anderson galloping across the blue line to intercept that pass and charge in on Halak.  That goal started an avalanche of Blue Jackets pressure that yielded Saad's goal, and later Sedlak's.

This is uncharted territory for our team, fourth overall in the NHL standings, and locked in a race with other Metro teams that refuse to lose.  Someone is going to falter in this run, and I have to wonder if some of Tortorella's "innovations", such as no game day skate, will keep the Jackets stronger as we approach the grinding part of the season.

Past Blue Jackets teams have faltered at this point in the season.  Certainly this team is likely to experience a period of adversity. As is likely for all the other teams in the Metro.  There is a lot of hockey left to be played, but the Jackets seem to be managing the escalation of the level of play that comes with December.  Two more big bumps to go, January and the trade deadline.

The thing that is encouraging to me is that two of the most impactful players, Seth Jones and Zach Werenski are still learning, and that there is a lot of upside to their game yet that they have to find.  Seth Jones has the capability to take a game over, but I think he is just realizing that, and finding ways to fit that into his game.  So more to come on that front.

Teams have also seemed to zero in on trying to challenge Marcus Nutivaara and Ryan Murray (on the backhand) in hopes of putting pressure on the Jacket's D-Corps, but that tactic has seemed to open up space for Jack Johnson and David Savard, and they are finding ways to make life tough on the opposing teams.

Four points out of a weekend back to back.  Sweet.  Well done Jackets!  Out west now, for one of those road trips to the western edges of Canada.  Late nights, but there should be some good hockey.

That game left a glow for me, and a lot of fans last night.  I've seen these guys lose before, I have my head around that.  But it is pleasing to see them win one of those Saturday night tilts in front of a big crowd.  And to finish it in such a big way.  It's a good time to be a Jackets fan.


Sunday, December 4, 2016

Adjusting to a New CBJ Reality?

McElhinney shone in OT for the win.
These last two games the Blue Jackets have looked like itinerant tool grinders getting paid by the piece, as they furiously ground away at their opponents in the third period of road games in which they trailed on the scoreboard.  The have kept at it with admirable steadiness, and have been able to shrug off adversity.

If they can sustain these qualities as the season moves forward you have a chance to be pretty good, because you are never out of a game.  And after basically having their way with Tampa, I was curious to see how they would respond to adversity.  And I have to confess they did much better than I expected them to do, and I am very pleased with their performance.  The cool thing is that steadiness is something that they have control over, so it is a foundation piece that will serve them well over the season.

This team plays pretty good defense, with a young mobile bunch of defensemen that are forging an experience of effectiveness together.  It helps that Werenski is truly a really good player, and that Seth Jones is an absolute stud.  What a player!  With those two seizing the top pairing, they have forced some pretty good players down in the line up, with the result that we have 3 pairings that are very solid.  Marcus Nutivaara is a revelation, as well as a 7th round pick making good.  As the sixth defenseman, its hard to say he is the weakest link in the unit.  This is a solid foundation thing, that is likely to pay dividends over time.  And you notice that I did not even mention Murray.  This group is strong.

Before the 2015-16 season Jarmo was on record as believing in the defensive corps, and it really didn't work out that well, as we know.  But the defense of today is a far cry from that unit, which is a reason that one can think this change is of a long term nature, particularly as it has a foundation based on speed and mobility.  Zach Werenski and Seth Jones now fill the spot occupied by Ryan Murray and Jack Johnson, and they occupy that spot at a very high level, despite the pairing getting younger by the switch.  It is going to be very enjoyable watching those two develop.  The height of their ceiling has yet to be determined, but it could potentially be lofty.  The injection of speed is palpable.

Likewise the forwards got a healthy dose of speed when Josh Anderson and Lukas Sedlak made the lineup out of training camp.  Josh Anderson has been excellent, and Sedlak has played his normal defensively oriented game, in spite of his goal outburst in the AHL playoffs last year.  He has yet to find the net, but he keeps getting opportunities.  A guy who can resonate an F-bomb through a cavernous Colorado Avalanche arena so loud that the TV mics can pick it up, after hitting the post with an open net, is going to get there at some point.   We definitely know there is a lot of pent up energy behind the quest for that first goal.

Regardless of Sedlak's vocal prowess, the speed and defensive reliability he brings pushed veteran Gregory Campbell out of the line up.  And the whole team got faster.  Josh Anderson pushed several veterans out of the lineup as well, and brought an explosive speed that the team hasn't seen since Jason Chimera was here, though Josh does seem to use his speed to greater purpose.

The increase in team speed is a strong foundation.  You don't coach speed, but you can use it wisely, as I believe Coach Tortorella has done.   It is interesting to wonder if the Coach is a foundation piece.   I think he coaching this team very well.  He basically forced the team to learn to play his system with nothing left in their legs in training camp.  But they learned how to play the way they need to play when they had nothing left in the tank back in training camp. The third period of a game is a lot easier than that.

I thought Tortorella's commentary after last night's game was great.  He liberated the players from a pretty stinky second period to go out and win the game.  Having that turn into a winning experience is a well you will be able to return to in the future.

My point is that there is something solid in their winning ways right now.  They will encounter adversity.  Every team does, every season.  And Tortorella's approach takes this into account, and the team looks well positioned to deal with adversity.  However, adversity is relative.  Try punting your season in 8 games.  That's adversity.  A few losses in a competitive season isn't really adversity compared to that.  And except for the youthful infusion of speed, all of these players experienced that last year.  So to me, there is no real reason to expect this team to fold right now, as they have done in Decembers past (see re: 2009-10).

It is a very nice thing to have a competitive team.  I am finding this season quite enjoyable for a couple of reasons.  Foremost, we are in the hunt.  The games mean something.  Last year wasn't too fun.  But that was last year, not this year, and I am looking forward to watching some really good hockey this winter.  CBJ hockey is pretty fun to watch now.

Maybe this will not turn out well.  This is the NHL, and its the best hockey in the world, and if you have a weakness, teams will exploit it if they can.  On the other hand, this year looks like it could be a pretty wild journey.  And I am looking forward to that extremely.

So I guess I am saying that I am letting go of the baggage of last year, and embracing this group for who they are.  And I think I am going to get rewarded for that.  The Jackets are going for their 500th win tomorrow night, according to the scribes at the Dispatch.  That should be some fun.  I am already getting stoked.  It's been awhile since that happened, but its good to feel it again!