Saturday, October 31, 2009

Thought-provoking Comment of the Day

Pulled from Puck Rakers, a perspective offered by "Evan" on Jared Boll that we may not always consider (offered in the context of Boll's starting against Pittsburgh over the scratched Nikita Filatov):
Gotta feel bad for Boll. Every time I think "maybe not, the kid's making a bunch of money to play the game he loves" I remember what might be happening to his brain every time he gets hit -- or takes a couple of head shots on a completely dirty play like Hordichuk's.
The kid is partly complicit given that he plays -- or used to be able to play -- an absurdly reckless style. As a friend once said "he checks himself into the boards more often than any opponent". But that's also how he's had to try and play to get and keep a job. He's also fought about twenty times each of the last two seasons: right near tops in the league. He used to be a decent middleweight. But trying to play heavyweight enforcer on a team without one has obviously been bad for his career. Let's hope not his long term health as well (read the recent New Yorker article on what hitting in football is doing to an increasing number of players' brains: alzheimers-type symptoms at forty). I'm actually a fan of hitting in hockey and also of some legit, fair fights. But the head shots have to stop. And unless and until the NHL seriously bans or deters fighting, it's better to leave the heavyweight role to heavyweights (which is why I voted yes in the most recent poll). Read an interview with Brad May the other day. Whatever you think of the guy, he's lasted til age thirty-eight in the league as mostly a fighter. Some of that might be luck. But he also knows what he's doing and can handle the role. Boll is in over his head. I used to think the Barch fight was an aberration and he'd bounce back. Doesn't look like it. What is he -- twenty-two or so years old?
Is Boll becoming a punch-drunk fighter?  Has he already become one?

Friday, October 30, 2009

Thursday, October 29, 2009

10 Thoughts about Game 11: Phoenix

1. The 6-4 Columbus Blue Jackets hosted the 6-4 Phoenix Coyotes last night at Nationwide Arena and played roughly 25-30 minutes of reasonably solid hockey.  The rest of the game made my nephew's squirt league look like NHL All-Stars. The Jackets lost, 4-1.

1a. It's been a tale of two seasons.  The Jackets built on the lessons learned in the brief playoff run last year and went 5-1.  They then lost Jan Hejda, lost their perspective and started sliding, going 1-4 over this most recent stretch.  With Pittsburgh and Washington, arguably the best two teams in a weak Eastern Conference, on the docket for Friday and Sunday, a 1-6 streak is very possible.

2. Contrary to a healthy portion of the CBJ fan base, I do not blame Steve Mason.  Let's analyze those goals, shall we?  (Seems fitting that the NHL posted the Coyotes feed...)

  • Goal 1 (video time: 1:35) - Hanzal grabs a rebound while rushing the crease.   Mase was on his knees and made the initial low block.  The short rebound went right in front of him, and he opened his legs up to grab the puck.  Hanzal dropped it in the slightly-ajar five-hole.  
  • Goal 2 (video time: 1:55) - Puck was shot wide, but Tyutin's skate ricocheted it back in behind Mason.  Not Mase's fault as he was in line with the shooter. 
  • Goal 3 (video time: 3:35) - Michalek uses the power play activity on the other side of the ice to his advantage, gets a pass from another 'yote, and drops it in behind Mason.  I think that was glove side high, which Mase left wide open.  Note that the shorthanded CBJ defense bit just like Mason did, offering no backside protection.
  • Goal 4 (video time: 3:55) - Mase got schooled by Lang.  Mase squared up, the angle was relatively challenging for Lang, and Lang blew the puck past Mason.  Given Mason's apparent state of mind, I'm going to guess that he mentally had punched the clock on the night.  

In my estimation, Mase was uniquely responsible for goals 1 and 4.  Goal 2 was a dumb fluke, and goal 3 was a defensive failing on the penalty kill.  With a 2-1 game, however, Mase's spirits would have been higher...and the Jackets sure had enough nice looks at LaBarbara to salvage a point if not win it outright.

2a.  If we take goaltending guru Dave Rook at his word and believe that Mason is technically sound, then the team needs to focus on the grey matter between Mason's ears and the defense that plays in front of him.  Is Mason going to win the Vezina Trophy this year?  Most likely not.  Will he be the cause for a team meltdown?  Without some help, it'll sure seem like it.

2b. I sincerely hope that Mason has shelved the idea of playing in the Olympics for Team Canada and is focussed on getting his game turned around.

3. On a team with fewer and fewer players who are positive in the +/- on the season, the Jackets had to send defenseman Mathieu Roy back to Syracuse because they risked exposing him to waivers if they kept him around too much longer.  This was a shame, as Roy was a reasonably solid d-man and would have been helpful.  

3a. This move also signals that Jan Hejda is coming back to the team soon, and that won't happen quickly enough.  The CBJ need that +8 on the season, with his settling influence, back in the lineup BADLY.

4. Kristian Huselius is a riddle wrapped in an enigma, but it's pretty clear that he doesn't have the chops to play Hitch-hockey.  That's a damning statement when you consider that he's the team's second-highest paid player with a cap hit of $4.75 million, eating up just under 10 percent of the Jackets' salary money for the year.  10 percent of the team's money going to player who plays as erratic as Juice?  Not wise.  

4a. As a counterpoint, Antoine Vermette, with a $2.7265 million cap hit, is really playing quite well.  He's driving to the net, working well with his linemates - especially Jake Voracek - and is around the scoring chances more often than not.  

5. Jared Boll made his obligatory appearance and got in a fight with a guy who had a longer wingspan.  Boll literally couldn't connect on nearly any of his punches, "lost" (if you really want to call it a fight), got a 5 minute major and was on the ice for a whopping 3:34 during the entire game.  Someone remind me why he's on the roster?

6. Derick Brassard started getting out of his funk - finally!  He netted a power play goal and got the CBJ out in front first for the first time in seven games.  He also had his motor running for much of the game, notching 10:20 in ice time and warranting a promotion back up to the top 2 lines.  Good to see on a whole number of levels.  I like his competitive spirit.

7. Anton Stralman put in another solid night, with 15:36 minutes on ice, a couple shots and both power play and penalty kill service.   And he comes across as eerily unflappable.  Methinks we have another Hejda in the making.

7a. Another D-Man, Fedor Tyutin, must be getting tired.  He was the Jackets' high minute player last night with 18:54 on ice, took 3 shots and only had a -1 on the night.  Almost makes the ricocheted goal excusable.  

8. I'm still not convinced that the team is missing anything significant with regards to skill or system.  More and more, I think that this is a matter of team maturity.  There is significant playoff/Stanley Cup experience on the team, but there's an even more significant number of young, young players on the squad.  Until the young players begin to realize that they need to play the system to win - and that might be subjugating themselves and their talents to play in that system - it just won't happen for the CBJ.  

8a. Even more importantly, there appears to be a lack of player leadership.  We all know that Rick Nash is the strong, silent type of captain, one who leads by example on the ice, right?  Well, leading by example last night equaled 3 shots and 2 minutes in the sin bin for 15 and a half minutes of play.  That's not good enough - he was virtually invisible!  He should expect more of himself, and he should DEMAND more of his teammates. 

8b. I won't call it a crisis in player leadership, but I won't place the blame on the coaches for what we saw last night.  Hitch has pulled rabbit after rabbit out of his hat to get this team moving in the right direction, and it's the players' responsibilities to do their part as well.  It's just not happening right now.  

8c. Do you think that Michael Peca would come back for cheap - say, Jared Boll's $743,333?

8d. To their credit, alternate captains R.J. Umberger and Mike Commodore both tried to get the team going.  Commodore ran Hanzal after the early goal (and got penalized), and Umberger picked a fight in the crease with one of the 'yotes.  There is veteran play, but are the youngsters catching on?  The lack of fight in the team after the Jason Chimera hit in Los Angeles was downright scary.  Where's the fire?  

9. I usually don't talk much about the other guys, but Jason LaBarbara was incredible out there last night.  As mentioned earlier, the Jackets had a handful of quality shots - all but one turned away by the Phoenix backup.    As we CBJ fans know what good goaltending is and haven't seen it on our side in a while, it's only fair to offer compliments where we see it from the other side.  

10. Recycling a post from just under a month ago, It's All About Desire.  For some strange reason, I think I'll be going back to this well a few times over the next month or two...

Next up, a Malkin-less, 10-2-0 Pittsburgh Penguins on Friday night.  I am on record with friends in predicting that the Pens will drop between 7 and 9 goals on the Jackets on the presumption that the Jackets won't get the Hitchcock gospel.  With Malkin out, I'm predicting between 6 and 8.  I'm not being an alarmist, but I sure am being a realist.  This is one tough team against which systemic damage can get repaired.  

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

HDTV - The holy grail of hockey?

That's what this reporter for The [Toronto] Star thinks:
High-definition television images are luring more American eyeballs to professional hockey and invigorating the NHL's prospects in the U.S., say leading sports industry experts.
"HDTV will have a greater impact on hockey than any other sport," says Matthew Pace, a lawyer with prominent sports law firm Herrick, Feinstein in New York. "You can follow the puck much easier (on HDTV broadcasts). The action is clearer. I think the television future of the NHL is bright."
From personal observation, I would agree.  Mrs. DBJ has made repeated mention of the fact that HDTV makes the game so much better to watch.  Strangely, she's a bigger football fan but almost never makes that comment about the pigskin.

The article also makes numerous references to the NHL-Versus contract for broadcasting national games of interest two nights a week, the All-Star Game, the draft, much of the playoffs and part of the Stanley Cup Finals.  The shame of the matter is that NewsCorp, which owns DirecTV, appears intent on muscling out Comcast, which owns Versus...or at least muscling it into a higher-tiered price category for DirecTV subscribers.  DirecTV largely promotes itself on 3 levels: 1. Movies, 2. Sports, 3. High Definition.  So not having hockey on DirecTV is a major stumbling block for the enjoyment of sports watchers and the growth of the NHL.

I am hopeful that DirecTV and Versus will get this straightened out in time for the playoffs.  I'm not particularly optimistic, however, as DirecTV has been giving discounted (sometimes free!) season packages of NHL Center Ice away to placate their angry customer base.  That doesn't sound like a company that's planning on bringing Versus back any time soon...

Scuderi fined by the NHL

The Los Angeles Kings' Jason Scuderi was fined, but not suspended, by the National Hockey League for his cheap shot hit on the Columbus Blue Jackets' Jason Chimera.  No word yet on how much the fine cost Scuderi.

Considering that the league sided with the Jackets and ruled that Derek Dorsett was on the ice as a result of a shift change and did not leave the bench to retaliate against Scuderi, and that the hit has been analyzed by those more knowledgeable than I and determined to be borderline legal/illegal, I'm OK with this.  I would have preferred a suspension, but the attention given to Scuderi's thuggish tactics and the fact that he was actually fined even out in my mind.

Of course, that presumes that Jason Chimera is still OK.  His neck bent in a really odd way when it hit the ice.  I really hope that he feels well.  I've grown to appreciate Jason this season as a real warrior, having already come back from a concussion resulting from the also-thuggish Belanger hit in the preseason.

Monday, October 26, 2009

10 Thoughts about Game 10: Los Angeles

1. I think I've calmed down enough to offer 10 rational thoughts.  Let's do the quickie recap: After falling behind to the Los Angeles Kings early in the game, the wheels came off the Columbus Blue Jackets toward the end of the first period when Jason Chimera was subjected to his second cheap shot of the season.  They lost, 6-2.  Here are the "highlights":

2. According to Puck-Rakers, three forwards and one defenseman were banged up last night...yet only Marc Methot was out of the lineup that coach Ken Hitchcock fielded for Anaheim.  The television announcers have said on a couple occasions that Methot is fighting the flu.  Thus, the CBJ put their walking wounded into the game.  I learned from what appears to be a reliable source on Twitter that one of the three is captain Rick Nash.  Every team gets dinged during the season, granted, but one wonders if this had a greater impact than we can appreciate.

2a. Anton Stralman may have become another member of the walking wounded when he took a blazing puck off the inside of his knee - an area that we viewers learned has little to no padding.  I can imagine that such a sore knee would hurt mobility and the ability to plant your leg for a shot - two attributes that would be useful for an offensively-minded defenseman.

3. Steve Mason needs to sit.  Readers of this blog know that I've been ambivalent on Mase since he stunk up the San Jose game, but last night's "2 shots - 2 goals" start and then proceeding to let 4 more goals in on 23 shots was just plain bad.

3a. The online game commentary was skewering him for poor positioning and rebound control, and I'll presume that's correct as I'm no master of goalkeeping skills.  Personally, I sense lethargy.  He doesn't seem to be playing with that tinge of fear that puts a spring in the step.

3b. The now-dog-eared book on Mase has everyone looking to shoot glove-side high.  And the shots are getting through.

3c. The new goaltending coach had best start earning  his pay, or this season will take a dive quickly.

3d. Mathieu Garon is not necessarily the answer (fixing the defense is the real answer), but he's good enough to give Mase some time for reflection and fine-tuning.

4. On the bright side, Antoine Vermette nabbed another goal.  Kristian Huselius snuck a power play goal past Jon Quick.  That Voracek-Vermette-Huselius line combination seems to be working real well.  Voracek and Huselius were -1's, and Vermette had a +/- of zero.  Considering the carnage that we witnessed, that's not horrible.

5. Rusty Klesla was the only Blue Jackets with a positive +/- (+1).  Hitch was totally on track when he pointed out that the defense is porous, letting in over 20 goals during the 4-game West Coast swing.

5a.  Psssst - The Penguins are coming to town on Friday night.  You guys think you might tighten up the defense by then?  Could come in handy.

6. The new 4th line of Blunden-Brassard-Filatov didn't have a lot of time on the ice, but they got a few shots off and appeared to be hustling.  Note also that all three had a +/- of zero.  I like this "kids table" approach to maturing the young players, especially if they don't let anything bad - like giving up goals - happen on their watch.

7. This team needs about 5 Jake Voraceks.  Points or no points, his motor never stops running.  He even got 2 minutes in the bin for "elbowing" Drew Doughty in the garbage time after the Chimera hit.

8.  The Fox Sports Ohio coverage has been, in general, lousy.  The sole bright star is rink-side host John Michael, whose professionalism is helping me overlook the loss of Jim Day.  Jeff Rimer is lifeless, Bill Davidge largely can't stop coach-speaking and Ray Crawford tries hard but needs a LOT more seasoning.

8a. The one time that Davidge stepped aside from his repetive cycle of "compete"-"effort"-"toughness"-"high expectations" and stated the obvious - that the Jackets REALLY miss Jan Hejda on defense - Rimer slapped him down. As I said on Twitter, it was like we were in Bizarro World.

8b. Jim Day may have done something to tick off the Jackets, and Danny Gare was a goofball who couldn't run a telestrator, but both guys had a genuinely good time calling games.  When things got exciting, they got really excited.  When things were craptastic, they (politely) said so.  They were the viewer's tour guide through the course of the game.  I get none of that feeling from the current TV announcers, with the exception of John Michael on occasion.  To prove my point, take a look at this clip (and note how Rimer even raised his game in the presence of Gare...):

8c. John Michael has to stop interviewing the opposing players on the Fox Sports Ohio feed.  I couldn't give two craps how the other guys felt.  This is the Jackets' coverage for Fox Sports Ohio watchers, not a nationally-televised game - give us BLUE JACKETS!

8d. On the flip side, what I've heard from the radio team of George Matthews and Bob McElligott has been great.  If the satellite transmission was better synched with the radio, I'd just turn down the tv and listen to those guys. McElligott in particular was an awesome add.

9. Chimera.  Yeah, I waited to write this.  Let's start with the hit itself and discuss.  (And please pardon the LA Kings announcers excuses for Scuderi.  They are, in my estimation, full of crap.)

First, I gather that the hit could potentially be construed as legal under the NHL rules.  If that's the case - that a player can get up-ended on a shot to the knees, skid on his face for a few feet, bend his neck back on itself and stay down in obvious pain - with no penalty to the perpetrator, then the rules need to be changed.  Jason Chimera could have broken his neck, or died, on the ice last night.  I am not exaggerating.  Watch the video or look at these photos and tell me that it couldn't have happened.


9a. Aaron Portzline called for the CBJ to put an enforcer on the roster to curb the rash of cheap shots against the Jackets, something I heartily endorse.  The skill players are sitting ducks out there with noone to put the fear of God into the other team.  A commenter suggested bringing Jon Mirasty up from Syracuse, and that seems like a perfectly acceptable solution, at least in the interim.

9b. It should be noted that R.J. Umberger challenged Scuderi to drop the gloves in the third period.  Scuderi showed himself to be a gutless wonder by refusing to fight.  Kudos to R.J. for attempting to stick up for Chimera.  Derek Dorsett, too, who took advantage of the shift change to confront Scuderi almost immediately after the hit.

9c. I ask, only half-jokingly, "Does the NHL have some perverse deathwish against Jason Chimera?"  Let's not forget that Chimera has already been brutalized once this season.  (No, Mr. Bolanger, we still haven't forgotten that one.)   How many more bone-jarring hits does he have to take for someone in the NHL league office to notice?

9d. I don't understand the "instigator rule", but - again - the ability of a perpetrator to pull crap like that and walk away with no penalty or retaliation on the only enables the cheap shot artist.  The league might want to cut down on fighting to improve it's image, but how does a weekend filled with dirty hits make the league look any better? (And thanks to Puck Daddy for re-looking at the severity of the Chimera hit.  The first analysis did NOT sit well.)

9e. I want to see a fighting policy in the NHL that penalizes the people whose actions lead to and provoke fighting...and one that recognizes necessary on-ice self-policing by not crucifying those defend themselves and their teammates.  Simply put, I want to see rules that embody the spirit of, "I won't be the one to start a fight, but I'll be the one to end a fight."

9f. Let's hope that Jason uses his new position as Blue Jackets delegate to the NHL Players Association board to work constructively on this matter.  He's the perfect guy for the job.  I could see the NHLPA doing a lot of good for the game by addressing cheap shots and fighting.

10. Having watched nearly all of every game so far this season, I think I'm in a position to offer this overarching thought:  With the exception of the San Jose loss, the Blue Jackets have not been beaten by a superior team.  They have beaten themselves through poor execution, sloppy play and loss of composure, but they have the talent to beat just about anyone in the NHL.  The question is whether they have it in them.  For that, I refer to one of my first posts on this blog (I figured that would come in handy...)

Next up, Wednesday night at home against Phoenix.  The team can use a couple days to regroup, heal, calm down, and refocus on the Hitchcock system.  Let's hope they come out ready and firing!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

10 Thoughts about Game 9: Anaheim

1. Wash, rinse, repeat: The Columbus Blue Jackets trailed at the end of the first period, came charging back and held off a late Anaheim rally to win 6-4 in Anaheim and raise their record to 6-3-0.  The only question mark after seeing all of these games is whether our late-game collapse will be so significant that we'll lose it outright.  Tonight, it wasn't.  (Hmmm....that's a bit harsh.  I'll try to make up for it in the later thoughts.)

2. As I Twittered, this game perhaps had me more nervous than any other thus far this season.  After the ridiculous loss in Edmonton, Ken Hitchcock didn't wait the conventional wisdom's 20 games to reassess his team and the lineup.  He reshuffled the lines to try to get the team playing to its fullest potential.   More on some of the specific changes later, but let's agree right now that the most important change occurred when you saw the 5 win total rise to 6 after last night's game.

You see, in professional sports, coaches don't have a ton of leeway with the team.  When your players make as much or more than the coach, the coach generally is considered the expendable one when things go bad and changes have to be made.  Hitch is clearly a Hall of Fame coach; his resume, win totals and a Stanley Cup title put him in that eschelon of coaches.  But even Hall of Famers don't get leeway forever.  If the team had lost; if the players' confidence in the mad scientist of line combinations started to shake; if Hitch started the slow, painful process of losing the team....well, it could have been bad and the CBJ (re?)building process could have been short-circuited.  Wheels come off when things like this don't work.

Instead, the lineup shuffle paid off and the Jackets won.  Doesn't really matter if it was the combinations themselves or the wakeup call that the team received; they WON.  Hitch's reputation as a great coach survives intact.  The players might shake their heads and wonder what Ken's thinking, but they still have reason to buy into the program on a foundation of faith in their coach.  Hitch can only pull a maneuver like this once or twice in the season and still keep the team focussed, so let's all thank our lucky stars that it worked.  Individual win aside, this was big.  Really big.

3. The most active line on the scoresheet was the Vermette-Voracek-Huselius line, which Hitch already had patched together for Edmonton.  Two goals for Jake, a goal and 2 assists for Antoine...that makes for a fun evening.

3a. That Vermette pass from his knees to Jake for the goal in the 2nd was suh-weet.

4. Captain Rick Nash had two goals and an assist as well.  The second of the two goals was career goal #200.  Two hundred goals - stop for a minute and get your mind around that.  Incredible.

5. I'm sure that Hitch had no problem handing the crease back to Steve Mason after Mathieu Garon's performance in Edmonton.  (To Garon's credit, he would have had to stand on his head to win considering the lousy team play in front of him.)  Mase stopped 33 of 37, good enough to win but probably nothing that will get the Canadian Olympic folks excited.   Don't get me wrong, I want to see him do well and wouldn't mind his representing his country in Vancouver.  I just want to see him win some games for the team that's paying him.

6. OK, I'll be a man and admit it.  I crashed on the couch after the end of the 1st period and woke with about 6-ish minutes left in the 3rd period.  (Photo is not of me, but might as well have been...)  My 10 Thoughts clearly are affected by this fact.  I'm glad I DVR'd the game - the 2nd period appears to be when the real action took place.

6a.  These western swings just stink.  I'm just useless the next day after these late games.

6b. I have this dream that the Islanders will give up on the Lighthouse project and move to Kansas City.  The Red Wings won't be allowed to leave the Western Conference because 1) The teams in the East are a bunch of pretty-boy sissies and would be scared to play the Winged Wheel night in and night out, and 2) Chicago will continue to exercise its functional veto of a Wings realignment.  Thus, the Blue Jackets would move to the Eastern Conference and the CBJ would tear through the East in a manner similar to last year's 13-3-2 record versus the East.  And I would go to bed before 1AM on a consistent basis throughout the NHL season.  Hey, a guy can dream, right?

7. Sammy Pahlsson was en fuego in his return to Anaheim, where he played on the Stanley Cup-winning Ducks team.  Dude did not see a faceoff that he couldn't win.  What a great, great pickup by GM Scott Howson!

8. Some gaudy plus-minuses on the stat sheet.  Vermette & Tyutin with +4. Voracek with +3.  Nash, Commodore (welcome back!), Huselius and Stralman with +2.  That's what we like to see!

9.  Fedor Tyutin is living proof that sometimes just shooting the puck toward the net gives you a goal.  Doesn't have to be perfect, doesn't have to be pretty, just has to be a puck moving in the direction of the net.  (And, yes, I was awake for this one.)

10. Let's close it out with an awesome summarizing comment from "David" in the Puck-Rakers game recap: "After the Jackets surrendered the 2-goal lead it could have went either way. Then the Jackets started digging out the puck in those hard areas away from center ice, in the corners, behind the net and one-on-ones. Nasher elbowed the puck away from a Duck in our attack zone and when that guy went flying the Jackets were on the way to a victory."  This speaks to the Jackets - top to bottom - recommitting to the Hitch system...something that needs to happen each and every night.

Tonight's game is a rematch against the Los Angeles Kings, this time at the Staples Center.  A win tonight, and the CBJ are .500 on the road trip - my working definition of a good swing.

Thank God it starts an hour earlier...

Friday, October 23, 2009

Left-wingers, all of 'em!

This paragraph from the Columbus Dispatch's awesome Columbus Blue Jackets coverage was not reprinted online today, so I'll post for posterity:
The Blue Jackets are the NHL's only club with two goaltenders who catch right-handed.  It's no big deal on the surface, but it bugs the Blue Jackets' shooters, coach Ken Hitchcock said.  "They get used to shooting blocker side on our own guys in practice, and that has them shooting glove-side in games."  The club is making plans for a left-handed-catching practice goalie to work with then next month.
The Edmonton Sun adds a little more:
"I think we have to bring a guy in, we have to look at bringing a guy in," Hitchcock said.
"That's the reality of the situation we're dealing with it. Players are talking about it and when you think about it, when you have two lefties here, it is a little confusing."
The Blue Jackets would not have to concede a roster spot to a new goaltender that would simply be used in practice.
He would, however, take away some practice time from their two other puck stoppers.
"We talked to (GM) Scott (Howson) about it this week," Hitchcock said.

At least no roster spot will be taken.  At the same time, Garon likely will lose some practice time.  Realistically, can you see Mason getting his practice minutes cut so the forward can shoot at a right-handed target goalie?

Credit to Hitch and the staff for identifying yet another issue and trying to address it.  One wonders if the front office even considered this issue when they signed Garon.  CBJ GM Scott Howson's a bright guy, and I won't put anything past him, but this is one strange issue to have to address.

10 Thoughts about Game 8: Edmonton

1. After giving up a goal in the game's first minute at Edmonton's Rexall Place, the Columbus Blue Jackets settled down, regained their composure and dropped 4 straight goals on the Oilers over the back half of the 1st period and the front half of the 2nd.  They then forgot that it wasn't Eastern Standard Time and went to sleep.  The team awoke to find that they lost the game, 6-4.

2. The league's number one penalty killing team gave up two goals on power plays tonight.  The streak of consecutive penalty kills died  at 29, apparently only 2 short of a team record.

3. Marc Methot apparently has come down with the flu and played like it when letting the first goal past him.

3a. The rest of the team would be well-suited to use the flu excuse for last night's performance.

3b. Methot's illness makes me think that Mike Commodore, who warmed up as Methot was a game-time decision, will get playing time in one if not both games in Southern California over the weekend.

3c. Mike Commodore's intermission interview on Fox Sports Ohio makes me wonder why the Blue Jackets didn't loan him to FSO as a second analyst during this injury break.  Mike's got great camera presence and would offer a terrific insight for the Blue Jackets fans.  I bet he would have enjoyed it, too.

4. I'm not sure what's more surprising: Raffi Torres scoring a goal and the Jackets NOT winning the game, or Kristian Huselius scoring at all.

4a. Huselius scored twice, by the way, clearly celebrating his move to the second line.  He seemed to have decent chemistry with Jake Voracek, who had assists on both goals.

5. Nikita Filatov played 5:42 on the right wing.  He had one near-breakaway that was stuffed by an open-ice hit around center ice.  He played no worse than Jared Boll in my estimation, and his upside is infinitely higher.  I'd keep playing him.

6. As the Jackets only showed up for half a game, I'm only doing half of my 10 Thoughts this time.  Jackets, go sit in the corner and think about what happened last night.  AND NEVER LET THIS HAPPEN AGAIN.

7. Ever.

8. Ever.

9. Are you hearing me?

10. That was Edmonton for Pete's sake!

Next game is Saturday night on the Pond in Anaheim.  If the Jackets are to go .500 on this road trip, they have to win both weekend games in Southern California.

This effort would be helped immeasurably if Captain Rick Nash actually took a shot on goal, something he didn't do in Edmonton.  

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

10 Thoughts about Game 7: Calgary

1. The Columbus Blue Jackets made a spirited mid-game comeback to overcome a 3-1 deficit, but they lost, 6-3 to Calgary in the Pengrowth Saddledome.  This probably wasn't one that the CBJ were supposed to win, seeing as Calgary has a history of owning the Jackets when north of the border.  Still, it's nice to see a little spunk out of our boys in blue, especially on the much-improved power play that provided 2 of the 3 goals.

2. Rick Nash continues to awe and inspire.  Scoring on a 3 on 5 (yes, I typed that right) as he did is ungodly.  I can't find a video posted online, but I'll keep looking so we can post it for posterity.

3. Steve Mason - I'm trying real hard to stay on his bandwagon, but performances like last night don't inspire confidence.  To paraphrase Coach Ken Hitchcock's post-game presser, taking only 20 shots from Calgary and letting 6 through is not good.

3a. I suppose the big question is whether this is Mason's fault or the fault of a defense that's missing 2 of its top 3 players?  If it's the former, he needs to right his ship quickly with his goaltending coach.  If it's the latter, then he's a Hitchcock system goalie and probably should be happy to be cocooned in Columbus - regardless of how much or little that he's being paid over the years.

3b. Let's be fair to the guy.  As I Tweeted last night, "Mase isn't Jesus."  That being said, the Phaneuf goal was inexcusable.

4. As mentioned above, I'm of the feeling that the CBJ's duct tape job on defense in the absence of Jan Hejda and Mike Commodore was exposed last night.  You can get away with the smoke and mirrors against lesser opponents, but not against what I consider one of the top two teams in the Western Conference (San Jose being the other).

5. What baffles me is that despite the defensive staffing problems, the CBJ penalty kill shut down the Calgary power play on all 5 opportunities.  Maybe we should have Nash play defense until Commie returns.  (JOKING!)

6. Brassard gets his first goal of the season.  Stick with it, Derick.  You're playing with the big boys, and the goals will eventually start flowing.

7. Sammy Pahlson was the ONLY Blue Jacket to have a +/- higher than zero (+1).  Boll was the only zero but played only 6:32.  Everyone else was a minus.  Hockey is a team game, and they all fell together, more or less.

8. The Calgary fans were sitting on their hands more than I ever recall seeing.  That's a tribute to how hard the Jackets played last night.

9. Kristian Huselius, the CBJ's second-highest paid player, laid an egg in Calgary last night.  His lousy offense was only overshadowed by his lousier defense.  When you're a budget (salary-wise) team like the CBJ, such lack of performance can't be taken lightly.  Juice, step it up.  NOW.

10.  After all that, the CBJ are still tied for 6th in the Western Conference - only 3 points behind conference leading (!) Colorado.  All is not lost, not in the least.  I expect things to pick up once the defense gets healthy.

Looking ahead: A good road trip in my mind is one where the Jackets get at least half of the available points.  That means they need to claw out 4 points between Edmonton, LA and Anaheim.  Not that it would have been considered easy in Calgary, but I don't see it being incredibly easy in SoCal, either.

Thus, the win and resulting two points in Edmonton on Thursday night is a near-necessity.  It will be an interesting game, seeing as Garon and Filatov will both be in the lineup.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Changes of scenery

Honest, this post started mulling around in my mind last night as I was watching the Vancouver-Edmonton game on Center Ice. I was performing the obligatory check-in on former Blue Jackets and, not knowing he was out with the flu, spent a lot of time looking for, and thinking about, Gilbert Brule.  But there ended up being more to this story.


For the recently-arrived to Columbus Blue Jackets fandom, Brule was the first-round draft choice of the CBJ in 2005, the 6th pick overall. He arrived in town with all of the hype that former Jackets boss-man Doug MacLean could muster ("another Bobby Clarke").  Sadly, things didn't work out that way.  Over 3 years in Columbus, Brule played in 146 games, had 12 goals, 20 assists and a +/- of -27.  The Edmonton Journal sums up Brule's early career nicely:
He was rushed into the league by the Columbus Blue Jackets way too soon because he was a first-round pick, and maybe there were tickets to sell and points to be made with the scouting staff. He got hurt, got frustrated, got a lot of time on the bench, then got traded for Raffi Torres -- a project (Torres) for a prospect (Brule).

As much as Dustin Penner has been a revelation, finally showing some of the same stuff he had in Anaheim with Ryan Getzlaf and Corey Perry, Brule has done a bit of everything. You want goals, he has four of them. You want a guy who gets important goals, he's got two game-winners. You want to win faceoffs, he's close to 50 per cent(won 30, lost 32). You want a guy to fight, he's your man. Jannik Hansen broke three fingers on his head in the pre-season, but Brule got his licks in, too.
He looks like an NHLer--maybe for the very first time, and he's now played 164 games.
Google around, and you'll find that the words "Gilbert Brule" and "change of scenery" are almost synonymous.  The poor kid had to leave town if his career was to amount to anything, and the Jackets gained nothing by keeping him around.  The change did him good.


Anton Stralman, the newest Blue Jacket, has his own tale to tell on this front, coming from Toronto via Calgary.  It was wonderfully told in the Columbus Dispatch:

In Toronto, he was caught behind Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina last season, and then in general manager Brian Burke's demand for "truculence" and "pugnacity" when he rebuilt the Maple Leafs' roster this summer.
Stralman, a 6-foot, 193-pounder with a soft voice, is neither truculent nor pugnacious. (For that matter, neither are the 0-6-1 Leafs).
"Last year, (Toronto) wanted me to change my game a little bit," Stralman said. "They wanted me to play more intense and tougher. That's something you can't change right away."
That didn't work, so the Leafs traded him to Calgary.
Stralman landed on a Flames club loaded with defensemen who possess power-play skills: Jay Bouwmeester, Dion Phaneuf and Mark Giordano are the top three.
With roster cuts looming at the end of training camp, the Flames decided to trade Stralman rather than risk losing him on waivers.
"I would have been in the third pairing for sure," Stralman said. "I had a good (training) camp. I think I would have been in the opening night lineup."
He's in our lineup now, and I think he likes it.

"It feels great to come here (to Columbus) and know they want me to play the way I've always played," Stralman said.
"It feels great to play for a team that believes in you and gives you an opportunity to show what you've got."

Then, seemingly out of nowhere, we get word that Stefan Legein has been traded to Philadephia for defenseman Michael Ratchuck.  Legein is an interesting case; of all of the players that CBJ General Manager Scott Howson has shipped out since coming to Columbus, he hasn't pulled the trigger on one of his own draft choices.  Until now.

Legein was Howson's second round pick in the 2007 draft.  His career with the Jackets was largely unspectacular as he mostly grew into the adult pro game with the Jackets' AHL farm team in Syracuse.  Then, on August 20, 2008, the strangeness that has become Legein's pro career began:
I don't even know how to categorize this one.  A young player burning out?  A once top-of-the-heap kid realizing that he was now going to have to work to deserve the place he thought he owned?  Both scenarios are very reasonable as I think we all can agree that the near-professionalization of young athletes leaves them with precious little time to, well, be kids.  No time for that with travel teams, 5AM practices, etc.

But Legein got his taste of the Real World and realized it wasn't for him.  So he traded the anchovies, mushrooms and green peppers and came back to Syracuse.
By all accounts, Legein's play in the 2009 Blue Jackets training camp was strong.  He made it to the second to last round of preseason cuts, hanging with the big club until September 28.  In six games in Syracuse, he has 2 goals and an assist.  I haven't heard anything -- ummm, odd -- out of Syracuse since his return to professional hockey.  Yet, borrowing a Rachael Maddow phrase, there's the taste that lingers.

Scott Howson summed up today's trade with Puck-Rakers:
[Howson] agreed that Legein could benefit from a fresh start in a new organization.
"Stef never asked to be trade, to his credit," Howson said this morning in Calgary. "But I think he felt somewhat ... leery of how his teammates and the organization felt about him because of what he did.
"This is something that he probably feels will be good for him."
Changes of scenery often do, Stefan.  Just ask Gilbert Brule and Anton Stralman.

Monday, October 19, 2009

The radio feed of the "Miracle on Ice"

Sure, it's not the Blue Jackets, but it IS perhaps the most important hockey game in U.S. history.

I just found out about this video, which matches the ABC Sports radio announcer's commentary to the television coverage. The excitement builds over the course of the video...incredible ending. A fresh look like this reminds you of how cold the Cold War was, and how excited we were as Americans to get a win, any win, over the Soviets.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Hitch Speaketh: Post-LA edition

Sorry this is late, it's been a crazy weekend.

Interesting comment about the changes to the penalty kill philosophy. Good to hear the well-deserved appreciation of Steve Mason, too.

Bring on Calgary!

Western Conference playoff race, 17 October edition

Hello, Colorado!  They've played 8 games already (compared to Columbus' 6), but their 13 points is nothing to sneeze at.  I think no one saw it coming.  Maybe 2 or 3 people saw Phoenix at 10 points after 7 games.  But who forecast Anaheim, Vancouver and Detroit ALL below the playoff qualifier line of 9 points?

Minnesota is in transition and now is suffering from injuries.  Nashville apparently is just bad.

And the Blue Jackets sit comfy and cozy in 5th seed with their 10 points, the only Western Conference team to be above the qualifier line with less than 7 games under their belt.  Let's Go Jackets!!

10 Thoughts about Game No. 6: Los Angeles

1. A bit of a surreal game.  The Kings, who have been having a decent run to start the season, looked lifeless (I was unaware that they were ending a long road trip).  The Jackets, who have also been having a decent run to start the season, looked...OK, but not like the Jackets that we quickly have come to adore.

1a. Regardless, the Columbus Blue Jackets won, 4-1.  That alone speaks volumes about how far the team has come under Hitchcock and Howson.

2. Mason stops 27 of 28 with a slightly more porous defense.  I actually liked that Mase got a workout.  He appears to still have that magical "it" that great goalies have.

3. Rick Nash is still working on his television camera presence.  Mrs. DBJ watched the game (and postgame) with me, and she saw John Michael's interview of the Captain and commented, "Someone's been training him in public speaking, don't you think?"

3a. Further proof of the increasing GQ sophistication of Nash is his shaven face and haircut.  Teddy bear cute, I tell you...

4. Oh, Rick still plays a wicked game of hockey - all aspects.  I particularly enjoyed his serving as decoy for Jason Chimera's goal.  Imagine that 900 lb. gorilla coming toward you...WITHOUT the puck!  What would you do as a goalie?

5. Class move by the Blue Jackets to put Ryan Salmons' jersey behind the bench on Hockey Fights Cancer night.

6. Jake Voracek got a goal - FINALLY.  I have so enjoyed him this season, barrelling down the wing with the puck time after time, ready to dish the puck off and....the other liners don't follow closely enough.  So he cycles, takes an awkward shot, etc.  The goal, an empty netter at that, was a little gift from the hockey karma gods for his tireless effort.

7. Marc Methot and Matthieu Roy have really stepped up in the absence of Jan Hejda and Mike Commodore.  Almost makes it look like Hitch and Howson knew what they were doing!

8. 15,000+ at the game.  Not great.  Apparently the upper bowl was full-ish.  The lower bowl, the expensive seats, weren't so much.  Does scheduling a home game on the same day as an Ohio State football game (an away game, granted) impact it?  What of the economy?  Other factors?  I just don't sense the apathy in the's probably the economy, which is just sad as the Jackets finally are worthy of the incredible support that Columbus has shown it over the lean (team performance-wise) years.

9. Sammy Pahlson has been a great pickup.  That third line is just awesome.

10.  Lastly, Raffi Torres scored.  After that happened, I honestly figured that the Jackets were going to win.  I don't believe that they've ever lost a game where he scored.  Sure, it's probably coincidence...but Raffi's streak is getting long, isn't it?

Next game: The second West Coast road trip kicks off Tuesday night in Calgary.  I just love watching games in Calgary.  The whole arena experience up there, from the flames in the scoreboard to the frothing-at-the-mouth fan base, is just awesome.  Here's hoping the Jackets channel the excitement and do us proud!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Thoughts on the Blue Jackets' defensive quandry

As followers of the Columbus Blue Jackets are well aware, two of last year's defensive leaders and stars are injured.  Jan Hejda has a sprained MCL from the Calgary game and will be out 4-6 weeks, meaning he is projected to return sometime between November 10-24.  Mike Commodore has been out for some time, first with the flu and now with a sore groin.  His return is expected in the next week or two if all goes well.

Rather than look to the marketplace or make a trade to fill the rather large hole left by these two defensemen's absences, it appears that the Jackets will look inside the organization for the solution.  Fortunately, there is some depth on the team - something that could have been said even a year ago.  The current starters - Tyutin, Klesla, Russell, Stralman and Methot will be rejoined by Matthew Roy, the Syracuse Cruncher who started the season in Columbus due to Mike Commodore's injury and just can't seem to play poorly enough to get kicked back to the AHL.  (Roy's actually a pretty good all-around player.)

It's not a premier defensive lineup, but it's a serviceable one.  It also is predicated on the imminent return of Commodore to the lineup.  Commodore's back on the practice ice, but he's not yet skating with the team.  Coach Ken Hitchcock says that they will put Mike through some game simulations to see how the groin responds before reactivating him.

If Commie can't come back soon, and/or - God forbid - if the Jackets sustain another key injury on the blue line, I wouldn't be surprised to see some serious trade discussion heat up.  The Blue Jackets organization is deeper than it has been, but I'm not sure that it's THAT deep.

Jackets - Kings on Saturday night.  The 4-3-0 Kings currently are tied with the CBJ with 8 points.  When are these games going to get easy again?  When's Minnesota coming back to town?

Blue Jackets love from Up North

Gotta love this little profile of the Ken Hitchcock and the Columbus Blue Jackets from the (Toronto) Globe and Mail:
You hear it all around the NHL these days, mostly wherever there is a team off to a slow start, with a new coach trying to sell players on a system of play. 
All the hopeful words you hear - from coaches such as the Calgary Flames’ Brent Sutter or the Toronto Maple Leafs’ Ron Wilson or the Boston Bruins’ Claude Julien - centre on how difficult is to get the message through to their players and then have it be digested and implemented on a consistent night-in, night-out basis.
They talk about systems; they ask for structure, but what they really need to do is to illustrate what a player buy-in looks like is to show a little video of the Columbus Blue Jackets.
Hitch then goes on to explain how the CBJ have implemented the Hitchcock system.  It apparently has been a slow process, one player at a time.  And now it's finally paying off!

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

The Hitch Speaketh: Post-Calgary edition

Out Leader seems pleased with the state of affairs in the postgame presser. Hitch makes a great point about having played in a number of tense games and persevering. That's an acquired skill, and the preseason and early season has been particularly valuable in that respect.

Also, I'm guessing he's unaware of the situation with Jan Hejda at this time. Either that, or he's bluffing like you can't believe.

10 Thoughts about Game 5: Calgary

1. Let's start by closing the loop on yesterday's fear and loathing post. Calgary looked OK, but they didn't have guns-a-blazing. The CBJ looked remarkably composed for such a big game. The 2-1 score was indicative of both teams' games. Calgary had a little juice, but the Blue Jackets had a little more.

2. Tough game. Lots of hard checks and scrums in/around the crease. It was indeed a weighty game.

2a. Not having Commodore in the lineup was a major hurdle to overcome...and the Jackets did.

3. I still like Stralman's shot. He comes across as such a cool character out there, and the power play has settled down, too. Coincidence?

4. Mason, Mason, Mason....hmmmmm. I knew that I shouldn't have watched the NHL Network's highlight package and commentary before offering my thoughts. Larry Murphy and Kevin Weekes thought that Mason was great when he needed to be (only 22 shots by Calgary), making specific reference to his ability to control rebounds. As I was watching last night, I was concerned about just that -- rebound control. My heart also palpitates with his puck-handling, even moreso outside the crease. (OK, his dump up the middle against St. Louis last year is still in my mind...) But the NHL Network analysts like him - Murphy's a legend to me, and Weekes is a recently-retired goalie. What do I know? Am I going too hard on Mase?

5. Methot and Dorsett are 100% pure awesome. Grit and sandpaper at both ends of the ice. Dorsett on the checking line was another genius move by Hitch. No other Jacket gets in the craw of the opposition like Dorsett.

6. The officiating was not the best. That's putting it lightly. The disallowed goal by Vermette when Kiprusoff clearly didn't have possession of the puck (yet got the official's whistle) was unexcusable. The Methot goal in the first...well...more on that later. At least Calgary got ragged treatment, too; the refs were equal opportunity offenders.

7. The Rogers Sports Net (Calgary Flames) feed on Center Ice was interesting. Highlight: Showing Darryl Sutter flinching when the cannon fired after the second CBJ goal. Odd sideshow: seeing former CBJ boss-man Doug MacLean on the intermission show, taking credit for all the good personnel moves that the CBJ has ever had.

7a. On Dougie Mac: I didn't see much of him in Columbus as I haven't been in town since the start of the franchise, but he comes across to me as a sad man. He clearly loves the game of hockey, so much that he'll do intermission commentary on RSN just to stay involved (and pay bills). But he had his shot a literally running a franchise and, by most accounts, failed. Now he can't land a job. The guy even put down his spears against Jim Balsillie and signed on as Jim's GM if the Coyotes went to Hamilton. So now he's on the outside, and his CBJ performance was so lackluster (and Howson's cleanup job so good by comparison) that he's probably not coming back in any time soon. As I said, sad.

8. Losing Jan Hejda for 4-6 weeks to a sprained knee is not good.  Not good at all.  Get well soon, Jan!  We need you!

9. Jared Boll...just over 7 minutes of ice time, and a needless fight that negated the Marc Methot goal. (And he lost the fight, too, looking none too good out there.) Is there no one who could better fill that roster spot? And what's with Hitchcock praising Boll, saying that they've stopped trying to coach him and just turned him loose? Maybe they're just polishing him up for a trade like they did with Zherdev?  A guy can dream, right?

10. Oops, can't offer a 10th thought. The whistle already blew.

Next up, home against the red-hot LA Kings on Saturday night! Pack the house, Jackets fans!

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

The Hitch Speaketh: Pre-Calgary edition

60 minutes.....60 minutes.....60 minutes.....

My abbreviated CBJ-Flames preview

I know it's early in the season, but I have a sneaking suspicion that this will be a fairly big game in the season - if not the life - of the Columbus Blue Jackets.  I'll pass on discussing the lineup changes as they are none too significant against recent lineups.

Calgary rolls into town as the number one team in the Western Conference.  Columbus dropped from number two to number six through not playing since Saturday, but a win tonight could possibly get them back into second seed.

Calgary is coming off what must be a deflating loss in Chicago - 6-5 in overtime - where they let a 5-0 lead get away from them.  This is the second game in two nights, and the Flames are on the road.  One of the biggest questions, then, is what type of Calgary team comes out to play the game.  Will they be an angry, "truculent" team, one that wants revenge on the world for having been humiliated in front of God and everyone (except DirecTV viewers) on Versus last night?  Or will they simply be tired, exhausted by the travel, a long game last night and a bit demoralized from blowing it against the Blackhawks?  My guess is a little of both.  They'll likely be looking to prove a point early in the game, but a feisty CBJ defense (which isn't a given as Mike Commodore is still out) and healthy forecheck could potentially wear the Flames down over the course of the game.  Don't get me wrong, my limited exposure to Calgary this year tells me that they are one of the best teams in the Western Conference.  This will not be easy, regardless of how they feel.

The Jackets are in the exact opposite place.  They are coming off a 2-1 west coast swing of "home openers," having acquitted themselves quite well.  They are rested if not entirely healed.  But are they sluggish from the extra day off?  Recall, the extra day off prior to the San Jose game didn't do anything to help the Jackets against the Sharks (who are my other top Western Conference pick, FWIW).  They're also happy with where they're at thus far, potentially lacking a little of Calgary's fire.  This Jackets team is a young team attitudinally, and they have to keep the urgency up throughout the season.  They're still in the world of emotional peaks and valleys.

Lastly, Steve Mason.  I'm not going to get into the "Is Mathieu Garon the better goalie" or "Should Garon keep starting" stuff because, frankly, it's irrelevant.  Steve Mason is Columbus' number one goalie until he loses the job.  His performance against San Jose was bad, granted.  Right now, however, we can look at that as an aberration.  My concern is that he bounce back strong and make a strong performance tonight to quiet the chorus and keep his confidence strong.  It's possible that the extra day off could be a benefit to Mase, who now has a genuine goalie coach to help with bumps in the road like this.  Anyway, this game is big for Mase beyond beating Calgary.

No predictions on the night.  If the Jackets come out strong at Masonwide, it could be fun regardless of Calgary's frame of mind.  If they come out flat (and let's be honest, we know that such potential is still in the Boys in Union Blue), it'll be a quick night.  If they come out strong and "weighty,"  I'll pop an extra bag of popcorn for everyone.

The Hitch speaketh: Post road-trip edition

Our Leader doesn't look back, only forward. Bring on Calgary!

Seriously, I share his concern that Calgary is one of the toughest teams to play.

More on Calgary from me later...

Sunday, October 11, 2009

10 Thoughts about Game 4: Phoenix

1. I was genuinely concerned about this game. Phoenix had been playing decently, it was the Dogs' home opener, insanely cheap seats ($25 for the lower bowl, $15 for the upper bowl) in a desperate attempt to squeeze a sellout crowd out of an apathetic metro Phoenix and a whiteout with t-shirts and pom poms. OK, the poms don't scare me...but the hype factor of all of the above made me this that this was a trap game. That the Columbus Blue Jackets won, 2-0, is really impressive. The odds were not in their favor.

2. Rick Nash's second goal of the year was beautiful. Brassard, on the rush, drops it to Huselius who zips it over to The Captain, who was parked perfectly at the edge of the goal crease. It was smooth like butter. Great to see the first line work so well...and, I presume, a huge confidence boost for Derick Brassard.

3. Backup goalie Mathieu Garon got the shutout. Is it because the Coyotes are not as good as advertised (possibly), because the Blue Jackets' defense was inspired to play tough after the San Jose loss (probably), because Garon is pretty good (appears so) or because the Hitchcock system of hockey seems to produce a greater propensity of shutouts - regardless of the goalie?

3a. Considering the thought about the Hitchcock system, I'm glad that Garon is on the roster. If Mason comes back to earth, the Blue Jackets will need a firewall.

3b. OK, Mase's performance in the San Jose game raised my eyebrow.  I'm nowhere close to off the Masonwide bandwagon, but Garon's presence is SO reassuring...

4. Are lots of penalties OK when your team plays with a little more passion than the previous game? I'm inclined to say yes, as long as the penalty kill is solid.

5. Speaking of, the penalty kill was out of sight. Killing two 5-on-3's and a four-minute double minor...and not just killing them but making the Phoenix power play look like the keystone kops...that takes some discipline and skill.

6. Anton Stralman needs to work on his defense. That's kind of important for a defenseman. I still like his shot, though.

7. Marc Methot is getting spunky. I suggest that Derek Dorsett is rubbing off on him. That's not a bad thing, as we need some more attitude on the blue line. Mike Commodore can't carry the entire load on that front.

8. 3 road games in a row, 4 points accumulated. I think that just about anyone would consider that a successful west coast swing.

9. This is a celebration-worthy win, but don't party too long, Jackets. Conference-leading Calgary is coming to down on Tuesday night. This shapes up as a key early-season game for the Blue Jackets...a CBJ win will do wonders for the team's confidence.

10. OK, the pom poms were silly.

Here are the highlights:

NHL Western Conference playoff race, 10/11/09 edition

Note that Dallas, Anaheim and Vancouver are all playing later today, so this is slightly incomplete. [UPDATE: Points updated.]

Point-wise, it appears that Calgary is the cream of the crop. Their visit to Masonwide to take on the Central Division-leading Columbus Blue Jackets (How cool is that?) on Tuesday night is shaping up as a key early season game.

Friday, October 9, 2009

10 Thoughts about Game 3: San Jose

1. It was San Jose, where the Blue Jackets have won ONCE since the club's inception.  It was the home opener for the Sharks.  The Sharks hadn't been playing all too well.  And they beat the CBJ, 6-3.  Is anyone really surprised?

2. Dany Heatley was one incredible pickup for the Sharks.  Hat trick and +6 on the night?  No wonder Rick Nash had so much fun playing with him at the World Championships.  That top line of Heatley, Thorton and Setoguichi is something to which the CBJ can aspire.

3. I saw a very profound insight on Mason's gradually crummier performance online, and I'll paraphrase it here: He lost his composure after getting run into the sidebar of the goal.  Up until that point, he was hanging in there.

3a. If we had last year's goalies, Hitch would've made Mason gut it out.

4. Klesla...sigh.  Let's hope it was "one of those days".

5. Anyone think that the extra day off between games had something to do with this loss?  The fact that they played well up front and tapered off at the end tends to make me think otherwise, but it's worthwhile conversation.  I personally would get sluggish if I was hanging around in a hotel for an extra day.

6. Rick Nash's post-second period interview was amusing.  Rick, it's OK to look at the interviewer when answering his question.  This isn't a glamour shot session - no need to mug for the camera.  (But Nasher is getting much more comfortable with the cameras, that's for sure.)

7. There are at least two bona fide warriors on this team, each in their own way.  RJ Umberger took hit after hit from the heavy-checking Sharks, limping off the ice, forcing Aaron Portzline to got check on his condition and then returning again and again.  He's all man.  And then there's Derek Dorsett, who put a couple shots on goal and wasn't backing down from anyone:

8. Managing the youth on the team while posting wins will be Hitch's biggest challenge.  This is a young, young team that jettisoned a lot of veterans in the offseason to make room for the whipper-snappers.  (And then there's poor Freddy Modin, who keeps getting injured...sigh.)  Young players have lots of skill, but their confidence can get paper-thin and that affects the outcomes of games.  What a balancing act for our Leader.

9. Me likey Stralman's right-hand shot.

10. We were never expected to go 82-0. We ARE expected to split our points when on the road. We've got 2 out of a potential 4, now onto a tough game in Phoenix's home opener. More on that game later...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Darcy Hordichuk got slapped on the wrist

As we Blue Jackets fans are aware, the Vancouver Canucks' Darcy Hordichuk took a cheap shot at CBJ forward Jared Boll that kept him out of the Vancouver game and threatened his participation in future games.  In case you haven't seen the hit, here it is:

Luckily, it appears that Jared's OK and will be back soon.  Thank God for small favors.

In addition to the two-minute minor assessed during the game, the NHL fined Hordichuk $2,500 for the hit.  $2,500 for a hit on a defenseless player who had already been checked, a hit that made CBJ fans think that the team had to suffer through yet another concussion (see Chimera and Sestito from the preseason).

So what is $2,500 in the grand scheme of things to this guy?  I looked around the web, ran some calculations based upon what I learned and came up with the following:

1. Hordichuk played in 73 games for the Canucks 2 years ago.  (Last year, he played in 3 games...I doubt that will be the case again so I used the higher number.)
2. Looking at his minutes this season, he's playing an average of 7.4 minutes per game...commensurate with a fourth-liner.
3. Extrapolating that out over the course of a  73-game season that means he will likely play 541 minutes this season.
4. His salary is $750,000 per year.
5. The $2,500 fine is .33% of his salary.
6. .33% of his 541 minutes is 1.8 minutes.

That's right, his fine is roughly equivalent to a two-minute minor penalty.  Now, THAT will surely grab his attention and serve to deter him from making future cheap shots, right?  Right?

Come on, stop laughing...

Interior remodeling

Just a quick note to let everyone know that I rearranged the blog a little...moving from a two-column model to a three-column model.  Doing this allowed me to put the schedule calendar up higher and add dynamic feeds from my favorite other Blue Jackets blogs - done in the same vein as the Blue Jackets news feeds.  Like the news stories, each blog entry offers a direct link to the sites in question.  Click on the link, and you'll see what's on the bloggers' minds.

All this should be pretty cool - The Dark Blue Jacket compiles your up-to-date news and blog commentary on the Columbus Blue Jackets in one place.  I hope it makes your reading that much more enjoyable!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

10 Thoughts about Game 2: Vancouver

1. Here are the highlights, in case you chose to sleep. Silly people....sleeping.... (yawn)

2. Rick Nash with 3 assists. His captaincy pervades the team. He makes everyone around him better.  And he's SO frakking good.

3. Steve Mason taking 43 shots and turning away 40 of them.  That's a .930 save percentage.  By comparison, he was at .916 last year.  His 3rd period saves as the Nucks were pressing ... well, they were epic.

4. While we're talking about Vancouver, Steve Yzerman and the Canadian Olympic Team management are going to have a hard time saying, "No" to Mase for a spot on the team in the February Olympics in Vancouver if he keeps this up.

5. 3 goals in 3:44.  Un-freaking-believable.  When this team clicks on offense, it's truly scary.  We can score with anyone, and we can defend anyone.  (Until Ovechkin proves me wrong...)

6. 3 goals in 3:44.  And with that, we chased all-world goalie Roberto Luongo to the bench and opened up a rich vein of fear, angst and self-loathing in the Vancouver fan base (see below for more on that).  I gather that Luongo had a near-breakdown after giving up 7 goals to Chicago in the last game of their playoff run last year, and that he's not been up to speed since.  While I feel for a guy who's clearly meant enough to his team to get the Captain "C" as a goalie, I have no problem with shooing him off the ice after 25 minutes of game playing time.  It's all friendly competition, Luuuu...

7. RJ Umberger had, what, 3 breakaways last night?  3rd line be damned, this man will get the puck, drive the puck, and get his shots.  No goals last night, but breakaways like this help rattle the opposition something fierce.

8. Jared Boll got cheap-shotted on the SECOND hit while he was up against the glass.  Hordichuk (or whatever his name is) should be required to sit until Boll returns.  Totally uncalled for, and classless.

9. Speaking of classless, booing your team after game 3 in their home opener is telling.  I'm talking to you, Vancouver Canucks "fan."  Your bellyaching all day on NHL Home Ice on XM was pretty funny, too.  IT'S ONLY THREE GAMES!

10.  Some nights are better ones to make a statement that is picked up by the larger hockey world.  This game was one of them.  Only one other game was on, and that ended before ours began.  The (awake) hockey world had nothing else to watch, and the CBJ obliged with a statement game.  We're for real, even if you don't want to believe it.

Next up, San Jose on (late) Thursday night!  Do you think I can catch up on my sleep by then?