Thursday, January 16, 2020

We Had A Perfectly Good Rubber Chicken Hanging in the Captain's Locker...

Elvis Merzlikens at the 2014 Development Camp
Tonight Carolina spoiled the old rubber chicken gag for a guy who can't score goals, when the Captain, Nick Foligno, potted the winner late in the third period.  It's been a career drought for Nick, but other than putting the puck in the net, he has been playing like a leader and a Captain, as the Blue Jackets continue their improbable climb up the standings. 

But tonight, let's think about the rubber chicken.  Back on the streets after all this time gainfully employed, and now what?  The late game winning goal undoing all that a rubber chicken can build.  It's kind of sobering, if you are in to stupid analogies. 

On the other hand, the Jackets skated away with a regulation win after a second period that Coach John Tortorella had a hard time describing in polite terms ($25k on the line every time till next December).  This is Blue Jackets Hockey the rest of the way, and the game delivered what you could have predicted with Carolina in town.  The sound of sticks clashing as both teams contested every move on the ice was palpable.  If we end up playing Carolina in the playoffs, it will be the first team to 14 goals advances.  I mean that with respect to the Carolina players and coaches.  Last year we played differently with different objectives.  This year, both teams are playing the same style of hockey, and these are highly competitive games.

I've got to tell you that as a fan, I have really enjoyed this season.  It is a radically different ride than last year, but on the other hand, we don't know that we will make it in.  So every game has that edge of trying to make the playoffs, compared to last year's expectation that we would make the playoffs.  In order to ratchet up this year's degree of difficulty, we have suffered a slew of injuries comparable to 2009-10, but instead of tumbling out of competition, our organizational depth has instead propelled us into playoff contention.  It is important to note that preseason, the CBJ organizational depth was rated very poorly, in what I thought was a pretty fair evaluation.  However, on the NHL stage, these players have solidified the definition of 'Blue Jackets Hockey', and reeled off a string of wins to propel the NHL team to playoff contention.  While the Calder Cup was a fantastic achievement for the Lake Erie Monsters, the string of games turned in by Messrs Stenlund, Gerbe, Peeke, MacInnis, and Lilja have to be the finest hour of the Cleveland Monsters.  In my opinion, the experience gained by these players (except the veteran Gerbe) will reverberate through the organization for years. 

Ironically, after losing all of the big names to free agency last year, this is a great time to be a Blue Jackets fan.  We are going to be in a race to the wire, to see if we make the playoffs.  Maybe we will, and maybe we won't, but as a season ticket holder and fan, these are the seasons you really enjoy.  I recommend jumping on the bandwagon, and riding it out to see where we take it.  There is only one guarantee.  It will be a lot of fun!


Friday, October 25, 2019

CBJ ride Has Been a Thriller So Far

Rocky (Cam) and Bullwinkle (Pierre-Luc) combined to score the winner in overtime last night
Like any good ride, the CBJ roller coaster of 2019-20 started with a sickening feeling in your stomach, and that thought that 'this won't end well'.  But after the first two games this team has settled down into playing tight, team hockey, and are getting used to playing in close games.  And as John Tortorella mentioned, they have shown a great deal of resiliency.

I got onto the Rocky and Bullwinkle gag because I'm an old fart, and I remember this kind of stuff.  But the word coming out of the locker room last night, when Pierre-Luc Dubois shed his defender like he was tossing away a dirty tee shirt, and then hit Cam Atkinson crashing the net for the winning goal, was that he was playing like a moose.  Boris and Natasha always called Rocky and Bullwinkle 'Moose and Squirrel", and I just couldn't get over that mental image when thinking about Cam and Pierre-Luc. 

Dubois has been playing physical hockey like he did two years ago when it took everyone by surprise.  I thought he got away from it some last year, but he is back to his strong, physical play again, and he looks very good in the way he is approaching the game.  This isn't the Tom Wilson 'crunch hit' physical, this is a 'move you out of my way' kind of physical that is very impressive in this young player.

Lots of good things happened last night.  Both Cam and Texier, who were overdue for goals scored, and Sonny Milano scored a beautiful goal, making up for a couple of gaffes earlier in the game that put him in the dog house temporarily.  Nonetheless, in spite of being down 3-1, the Blue Jackets hung tight, didn't quit, and tied it up.  They are figuring out overtime as well, having gone from losing 2 overtime games in a row, to winning two overtime games in a row.  As the youngsters continue to develop, this is going to be a low scoring team, but they have shown that they can play the team defense they will need to be able to play to win in that fashion.

So as of now, the Blue Jackets sit two games over .500, and are definitely in the hunt.  There is a lot of hockey to be played, but these last few games have been highly entertaining, and its always good when we win.  Keep in mind that fundamentally, the core of this team are the same guys who ripped off a 16 game winning streak while allowing a goals against average during that time of less than 2 goals per game.  If your GAA is less than two, it means you won a lot of one goal games, and threw in a few shut outs too.  But the Blue Jackets are playing that type of hockey again, which they had a hard time doing the last few years.  But I think they are going to be a good team this year.

It's early times, but this looks like it has the makings of a real fun season that will go down to the wire.


Friday, October 4, 2019

Please Keep Hands and Feet Inside CBJ Ride, Until it Comes to a Complete Stop

Hi folks!  The Columbus Blue Jackets 2018-20 Roller Coaster will start tonight against the Toronto Maple Leafs.  It should be a heckuva ride this year, and we don't really know where it's going.  Personally, I think its going to be a lot of fun.  But expectations are low.

Which is funny, because my buddy Bill always says these seasons never turn out the way you think they are going to.  Realistically, I didn't think I would ever see that last year's team would fear for making the playoffs, and they were nearly diva'd right out of the dance.  Our poor showing after the trade deadline had a lot to do with our diva weight last year, weight that we shed over the off season.  So I like our chances to finish about where we did last year, but who knows?  Have fun with it folks!  New story lines, and new and interesting players should make it a fun year.

Terms of Service
I am a solo blogger, and I do this for fun.  That makes for a certain amount of intermittancy in my posts, as my time may get sucked up by being a working stiff.  I pay for my tickets, I go to the games, and I share my opinion, no matter how misguided.  There's a lot of good stuff out there on the blogosphere to keep you busy reading.  Thanks for taking the time to check in once in a while.


Saturday, August 3, 2019

Old School Blue Jackets Approach is New Again

Alexandre Texier
The Columbus Blue Jackets will be faced with an interesting season this year, and one way to view it is as an old approach made new again.  But there are some stark differences in the approach this time around.  In the early days of the franchise, the CBJ often relied on newly drafted young players coming into the lineup to provide a hope for success.  This was due mainly to the paucity of talent in the organization (a dramatic contrast to the Golden Knights).  Derick Brassard is an example of a player that came into the CBJ lineup without a stop in the AHL.  Our desperation level was high at that time.  Sometimes the players fared well in spite of the complete lack of development, e.g. Rick Nash, Brassard, Jakub Voracek.  Other times they didn't, e.g. Alexander Picard.  Nonetheless, these players were looked to for advancing the team's fortunes.

Fast forward to the upcoming 2019-20 NHL season, and the Blue Jackets will once again be looking for young players to advance the team's fortunes, but with some huge differences.  Whereas in the past many of the young players WERE the talent, in the upcoming season they will be surrounded by relatively proven talent.  There were no players close to Seth Jones or Zach Werenski on the old teams, or forwards such as Cam Atkinson, Josh Anderson, Pierre Luc-Dubois of the newly added Gustav Nyquist.  These players are backed with proven veterans such as Boone Jenner and Nick Foligno, so the supporting cast is orders of magnitude stronger.

Emil Bemstrom
The other major difference is that the young players have not been rushed to the NHL, but their development has been allowed to run its course.  It is entirely possible that Alexandre Texier and Emil Bemstrom are not ready for the NHL.  But their development has not been rushed, and it is the right time in their development curve to attempt to take that step.  They will get a chance to prove in training camp that they are ready.

Of course, the biggest story of looking for young players to step up is in the net.  Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikens will man the net for the Blue Jackets this year.  I have always liked Elvis' game, and way back in early development camps I thought he showed he was a great prospect.  Personally though, I am very bullish on Joonas Korpisalo.  Several years ago a read a lengthy article about goal tender development in Finland.  It was in part VI of that article where I learned that Finnish goal tenders tend to have a later development curve.  In other words, they just seem to mature later in contrast to Canadian players.  The takeaway lesson was to be patient in developing your Finnish goal tenders. 

To me, Joonas Korpisalo is at the sweet spot of his development curve, and this is a nearly perfect time for him to ascend to a number 1 net minder.  Keep in mind that while Joonas' stats are not sparkling (2.95 GAA; .897 SV%), his record was 10-7-3.  Keep in mind that if the Blue Jackets back up goal tender doesn't have a winning record, they don't make the playoffs in the tumultuous 2018-19 season.  This is the best record ever for a CBJ backup (McElhinney's 2015-16 record of 12-14-2 is closest) as it is a winning record.  Joonas is going to be ready, and I think he will surprise some people.  And I think he is ready for this.  He has learned all he can ever learn from Bobrovsky.  Now its time to put it to use.

The late Jeff Little used to like to say, "hope is not a strategy".  Unfortunately, hope is all the Blue Jackets had available in the early years.  This time around though, the CBJ have done their due diligence on the development side of the ledger, and have several young players that are ready to take the step to the NHL as a natural progression in their development.  Their level of success can only be gauged in the crucible of play in the best hockey league in the world.  Likely some will succeed, and some will need more time.  However, I hope they all succeed beyond our wildest dreams!


Monday, May 6, 2019

Ya Gotta Score a Goal

Tonight, the Columbus Blue Jackets fell to the Boston Bruins 3-0.  Shut out in game 6.  That hurts.  But there it is.  The better team won.  Now we move on.

This was the most successful team in the history of our franchise.  Never lose sight of that.

This is a veteran Boston Club, and the window is closing rapidly on them.  Give them credit for playing like playoff veterans.  We didn't score.  That's a statement on their part.  It wasn't because we sucked.  They were the better team and they deserved to win.  Play better in the regular season, come through the Metro bracket, and this match-up might be in the Eastern Conference Championship.  No slight to Carolina meant.  That's totally on us.  Personally, I'm planning on being a front-running jerk for the rest of the playoffs.  But that's just me.

Congratulations Columbus Blue Jackets!  It was fun to root for you this year.  And we are looking at a tumultuous off season, so we'll have a lot to talk about.  Love you all.

So ends the best season ever for our young franchise.  It was a beauty.


Saturday, May 4, 2019

Locked into a Real Series

For the first time in their history, the Columbus Blue Jackets are locked into a real playoff series.  This is a team that has never experienced a game 7, and the odds seem to be that they are looking to add this to their resume soon.  Certainly Boston will not be alarmed if they lose one of these next two games, as their veteran attitude came out in a big way in Game 4.

Tonight's game 5 will be an interesting test for the CBJ.  There are some improvements they need to make in their 5 on 5 game as has been well documented, and need to stay out of the penalty box.  As has been shown in this series, and against Tampa, and really against Washington last year, the fates of the team are fairly closely tied to their power play success.  So here's hoping that Cam has a blistering night on the power play.

I'm looking forward to seeing how this all plays out.  For us, we will be trying to re-capture the taco magic from Game 1 against Tampa.  It's a long story, but it worked. 

Congratulations to Carolina for advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals.  That is a really good story. 

Big game tonight in Boston.  We have to take at least one game on the road if we want to advance.  I'm looking forward to it.


Thursday, May 2, 2019

5th Line Fizzle

Game 3, 2014, when real crowds graced
Nationwide Arena
That was, bar none, the worst playoff crowd to ever attend a game in Nationwide Arena.  Needy, apprehensive, the crowd allowed the Bruins to take them out of the game.  The CBJ did not have the puck luck tonight.  That's hockey.  The crowd needs to rise above that.  They didn't.

Telling the refs they suck is a truism.  Of course they do.  A lightning quick game, played with different unspoken rules than the regular season.  Even the CBJ's lone goal was on a bad call.   Hello folks.  One goal is not enough. 

Tuuka Rask was the better goal tender tonight, or perhaps the luckier one.  We put plenty of good chances on him.  He held his early lead.  This was a predictable performance by the Bruins, and if we want to advance, we now have to win another game in their barn. 

This was a real solid mid-March crowd.  Got some momentum by the third period, left for their cars when the Bruins put the game away.  Really?

I feel bad for the players.  It didn't go their way tonight.  That's hockey.  You have to grapple with defeat.  This is not like college football where you have to be perfect.  No one goes undefeated.  That's why you have to win a 7 game series.  They didn't bank on having a lame crowd tonight. 

It's time to look in the mirror, so-called 5th line.  What do you really want?  Historic playoff crowds have cheered louder when things went bad.  That's our advantage.  It wasn't present tonight.  No wonder we lost.

Bullschitt performance by the CBJ crowd tonight.  The players will respond.  Will you?


Sunday, April 28, 2019

Dubi Calls Me Out; Bread Delivers

After last night's thrilling overtime win in Boston, Brandon Dubinsky was asked about the atmosphere in Nationwide Arena he expected this coming Tuesday.  His response was something to the tune of 'It will be a hell of a lot louder than it was here'.  Challenge accepted Dubi.  Game on!

Second round playoff hockey comes to Nationwide Arena on Tuesday for the first time ever.  It will ooze awesomeness.  I am already getting pumped up.  You don't get that many kicks at this can, and my head is right to leave it all out there Tuesday night.  So thanks Dubi.  I can relax, and let it flow now.

Last night, Artemi Panarin scored two goals.  One of them truly sublime to tie the game up in the third period.  Overall, he played a very good game, but dang, on both of his goals all of his skill was on display.  I'm keeping the blinders on, focusing on this chance in the playoffs.  The Jackets were able to gain a split on the road, and now come home for the next two games. 

I am pleased for Matt Duchene, who I think has played well in this second round.  I think all the players have had some struggles at times in this series, Boston is going to do that to you.  They are a very solid team.  There is a lot of hockey to be played yet in this series, but once again the Jackets are coming home and playing with house money.  This is going to be fantastically fun.

Meanwhile, kudos are due to the Cleveland Monsters as well, who advanced to the second round of the AHL playoffs.  The parent club has pulled a lot of talent from there on this run, its good to see the depth that we have down there.  Liam Foudy scored two goals to help advance the Jackets.  That's really good to see.   Jarmo moved a lot of assets to vault the parent club forward, but the Monsters have played tough down the stretch, and done well so far.  Here's hoping they can keep it going forward.

Second round action comes to Nationwide Arena on Tuesday.  It will be awesome.


Tuesday, April 23, 2019

How the Open Scrimmage Helps me Gird for the Second Round

Jarmo Kekalainen's suggestion to open the scrimmage to the public yesterday drew about 5,500 CBJ fans.  I had intended to take some vacation and go; my wife already had the day off.  But I hurt my myself (upper body, day to day) and couldn't go.  But this break, and an event like that are helping me to get my edge back as a fan.

You see, I let it all hang out in that series against Tampa.  The notion of cheering hard when the least little thing went bad meant nothing to me.  The funny part of game 4, is that I don't even remember Tampa tying the game, we were cheering so hard.  Ears pinned back, letting it loose, particularly when things looked like they were going sideways.

For you see, no one could do anything to me that hadn't already been done in an opening round of the playoffs.  The precision of the Detroit sweep, the angst of the Penguins, the crushing losses to Washington, there just wasn't much that I hadn't seen.  The pundits predicted another Detroit-like sweep.  So I had nothing to lose.

But when the CBJ swept Tampa, I was hit with this overwhelming sense of joy and relief.  And I have struggled since then to regain my edge.  I now feel I have something to lose again in this next round, and I have to find a way to let go of that if I'm going to be the fan I need to be in this upcoming round. 

So the rest and recuperation has been helpful for me, after a trying season of fandom.  But I can feel it coming back now, the edge and the excitement.  I'll be ready to take on any disappointments with aplomb, keep my head in the game, and make Nationwide the most competitive environment I can.  I'm ready for it now, and we just need to get this Boston-Toronto game 7 out of the way so we can see ahead.

We pushed hard on Tampa, and they did not have an answer.  Our second round opponent will not be hampered by that problem, and will respond when pushed.  Likewise, we will be called on to do the same.  It is going to be fantastically fun, and I am really getting pumped.  But I needed the break for this one.  So thanks for sweeping them boys!

Round 2 starts later this week.  Uncharted territory.  It should be awesome!

GO MONSTERS!! (up 2-0 in their own playoff series!)

Monday, April 15, 2019

Stage Set for Another Epic Game 4

The Columbus Blue Jackets have a somewhat checkered
Seth Jones
playoff history.  But one thing you CAN say about their playoff history is that they produce epic Game 4's when they are in the playoffs.

Game 4 against Detroit in our first ever playoff series, when they came back from multiple deficits.  The too many men penalty at the end that sealed the sweep for Detroit, and the shower of beer cans that followed.  That's called real time performance feedback folks.

The epic game 4 against the Penguins, with Dubinsky's late tying goal, and Foligno's overtime winner replaced the Detroit game as the best Game 4 ever.  What a game that was, and what a moment.

Last year's game 4 saw Columbus waste a pretty good performance by Bob because the scoring had ultimately dried up.  Washington evened the series at 2 games apiece in that one, as their march to the Cup was just getting started.

This year's game 4 may prove epic as well.  The Jackets come into this game with 10 players having scored in the series.  It is to be hoped that the well of scoring is far from dry, and my personal hope is that Texier gets his first playoff goal to add to the list of scorers.   A dangerous and talented Tampa Bay team will come into this game looking to win a game and stay in the series.  For the Blue Jackets, the 4th game is the hardest game to win in a series.  We will get to see if they can rise to that occasion.  A win would be epic, to say the least.

Oh, by the way. There haven't been any epic Game 3's, as our Game 3 misfortunes have usually set the stage for an epic Game 4.  Until last night of course. 

Big game coming up tomorrow, should be awesome!  Maybe even epic.  We'll see where this takes us.

Before I finish, I wanted to note that the Cleveland Monsters have clinched a spot in the Calder Cup playoffs!  Well done Monsters! 

Tomorrow the Blue Jackets go for their first series win.  Fans need to come prepared to battle for this one, I don't think it will end easy.