Sunday, March 27, 2011

Game 75/Vancouver: My Take

The host Columbus Blue Jackets avoided being the first team since the 1972-73 NHL season to endure three straight shutout losses at home by losing, 3-1, to the Vancouver Canucks at Nationwide Arena.

The tone for the late afternoon game was set in the pregame, where Fox Sports Ohio spent the first five minutes of their 30-minute show outlining how absolutely incredible the NHL standings point leaders were, including an interview of former Vancouver farm team coach Arniel on the awesomeness that is the Canucks.

The feelings of dread came early, and rightfully so.

As frustrating as it was to see the home team pregame show giving a big, sloppy, wet kiss to the visitors, Fox Sports Ohio was prescient.  I'll give the CBJ their due - they tried hard-ish.  They put 40 shots on goal.  Some of them weren't target practice shots at Cory Schneider (And did I mention how incredible Schneider is?  AMAZING! [eyes roll]).  They sometimes had the puck in the offensive zone with a semblance of strategy.  They sometimes kept the Canucks from swarming Mathieu Garon.

But the Canucks were too much.  They were calm and patient in turning back the CBJ rushes, perhaps because they knew that they were going to win.  It was just a matter of time.  And whaddya know, they did. From the opening puck drop (or perhaps the first five minutes of the pregame show), I don't think the outcome of this game was in question.  The only debatable points were how many (or few) goals each team would score.

The CBJ also appeared to enforce a new team rule: No Blue Jacket within 50 feet of Rick Nash.  The corollary being, if Nash is rushing, everyone must stay 50 feet behind him out of respect for his All-World Greatness.  Problem is, hockey is a team sport.  Nash was left out on an island all too many times, with his teammates watching on as he applied his considerable skill to no avail.

Nash sounded disappointed in the postgame interview when he said, "It's been frustrating for awhile around here, not just tonight." As streaky (ugh) as he's been, this was a game where you could see that he really was giving it his all. By and large, he had no meaningful support. I would be so frustrated if I was Nash - to have been sold a bill of goods by Scott Howson as the preface to his signing a contract that gave him the (currently) sixth-highest salary cap hit in the National Hockey League. The team - Howson's team - cannot have met any expectations that Nash may have had when signing on the bottom line. This team has been mailing it in, more and more, since losing to Edmonton twenty-four days ago.  If Howson does actually blow this team up in the offseason, I have to believe it will be at least in part to try to fulfill the implicit promises made to Nash.

But let's get back to the Canucks.  They're good.  Real good.  Their talent was demonstrably better than the CBJ (something I won't grant for most NHL teams, as I think the problems with the CBJ are more related to the spaces between their ears than their physical skills), and their on-ice professionalism made the Blue Jackets look like the well-meaning but undermanned group that they are.  The Canucks play a competent game with few mistakes.  In my opinion, the only thing they lack is a defining system a la the Detroit Red Wings - which is why I think that Vancouver will bow out in the Western Conference finals to Detroit.

At least the CBJ avoided the historical shutout with the R.J. Umberger goal in the 3rd.  So let's show him some appreciation by letting everyone recreate the moment, something that has become increasingly rare when it comes to the CBJ:

NEXT UP: Tuesday night, home against the Florida Panthers.  I shall watch out of loyalty and obligation to my team.  I root for them, win or lose.  And I continue to reserve the right to scorch them after the game is over when circumstances warrant. 

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