Friday, November 5, 2010

Game 12/Atlanta: My take

The Columbus Blue Jackets rolled into Atlanta for a match in front of 10,084 empty seats at the Philips Arena and, after slogging through poor ice conditions that made it hard for the players to get any type of rhythm going, emerged victorious, 3-0.

Let's start with the obvious Big Issue: Mathieu Garon got his second straight shutout.  He has officially become The Hot Hand in between the pipes.  I'm a Steve Mason guy, but even I can see the obvious.  Garon has to keep playing.  He's deserved that much, and the team is playing well in front of him.

The big reason why this game report is so late (well, besides the other thing that I've been working on) is that I wanted to make sure that I could get my mitts on this game video of the first liners' goal from last night:

I love this play.  I love that the three top line forwards are all around the net - and two of them are knocking on the crease's door.  I love that Rick Nash makes that awesome move with the puck to dish the puck.  And I love that it was driven home (in this case, by Brassard...but I wouldn't have minded if Voracek got the goal).

Despite the crap ice (and that was per Rick Nash's in-game interview with Fox Sports Ohio's John Michael), the Jackets held together quite well.  Offensively, they occasionally got into power play positioning while at equal strength.  And Atlanta was helpless to stop it for second after second.  When I tweeted this observation last night, The Hockey Writers' Jeff Little responded with the observation that the Detroit Red Wings had done the same to Columbus on so many occasions - and that it was good to see the Jackets finally doing the same.  True dat.

The defense was also strong.  Honestly, Garon probably was bored for a good portion of the evening.  And while it's becoming clear that the blue liners are starting to get the hang of the system, it's now time to ask the question: After recent wins against Chicago, Montreal and Atlanta - all of whom have been above the playoff qualifying line when the games were played - did these teams have bad nights (all three against the CBJ seems unlikely) or is the CBJ defense becoming good? This is one of those points where I really wish I had a better grasp on the intricacies of defensive statistics in hockey (and the time to crunch them).  One bad game by a quality opponent is one thing, but three really makes you wonder.

Which brings me to my last point.  Atlanta entered the game at 6-2-2.  The Blue Jackets came in at 7-4.  Considering the buzz around the Thrashers (I listen to XM Home Ice a fair bit, and there has been an undercurrent of "Hey, Atlanta must be pretty good!" going on in recent days.).  I honestly expected more from the home team.  With the exception of Dustin Byfuglien, who probably kept it from being 5-0 or 6-0 by himself, I didn't see much that impressed me.  Which is fine, seeing as the majority-empty arena indicated that Atlanta has much deeper issues than the product on the ice.  

Let's leave it with this graphic, a screen capture following the Jackets' win last night.  

That's right, the CBJ were tied in first in the Western Conference and holders of first place in the Central Division, for about 20 minutes last night.  Nice feeling!  

Next up: Minnesota at Nationwide on Saturday night.  It'll be interesting to see if the franchise-best start to the season is starting to resonate to the folks in Central Ohio.  There's some pretty good hockey being played right now...

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