Thursday, March 31, 2011

Game 77/Washington: My Take

The Columbus Blue Jackets took their show on the road to the Verizon Center in Washington...taking the Eastern Conference's second best team, the Washington Capitals, to overtime before succumbing, 4-3.

With this loss, the Columbus Blue Jackets are eliminated from 2011 Stanley Cup playoff contention.

Rather than dwell on what we all knew was coming, think about this:
  • You're a professional hockey player for the Columbus Blue Jackets.  
  • You're fresh off of reading the newspaper article about how your owner is planning to do a long-overdue scrubbing of the franchise (Was it to stimulate season ticket sales, who knows?  All we know is he said it.)  
  • You learned that your captain and only recognizable player (at least for good reasons) is out with an injury.  
  • You know that tonight's game is one of the very few (only?) of the season on national television.  
What do you do?

If you're a Columbus Blue Jackets rookie, you decide to steal some spotlight.  Rookies Matt Calvert and Tomas Kubalik - playing in his first NHL game ever, mind you - each grabbed two assists on the night. Calvert's been a little quiet of late, but he's slowly getting his game back in gear for a strong finish to the season.  As for Kubalik, I had zero expectation for him tonight and am happy that he had a positive early experience with the Blue Jackets.

As for the rest of the team, you pretty much play like you're looking forward to perfecting your putts in a couple of weeks.  To be fair, I'll throw bones to Antoine Vermette, who again looked like he's giving it his all out there, and Fedor Tyutin, who seems to have figured out most of what Scott Arniel wants defensemen to do.  Scottie Upshall deserves props for keeping his nose to the goal.  I'll also credit Steve Mason for recovering from his (expected) mindless early game goal allowed and locking down in the first period to keep the CBJ in the game when the offensive support was missing.

Beyond that, however, it was Romper Room again for most of the first period for the CBJ.  I missed a fair bit of the second (family obligations), but it seemed like the Caps were content to sit on their one-goal lead and ride that to victory.  The Jackets tied it up on a couple of occasions in the 2nd but again proved incapable of sustaining a good thing, letting Washington score rebuttal goals within roughly a minute of each of those 2nd period scores.

I suppose it's appropriate to close this out with a discussion of the overtime goal:

Yeah, it had to be Chimmer to score the goal.  One of the "guys who got away," this time in a trade for the long-gone Milan Jurcina and expert healthy scratcher Chris Clark.  Good for Jason - he's a good guy, but it hurts to lose to one of our old guys.  Especially when he couldn't hit the broad side of a barn for us.

What burns me on this goal, though, is the defensive coverage.  Watch it again for yourself.  It was atrocious.  The CBJ were subject to a 3-on-2, with Kubalik (!) and Lepisto covering Carlson, Chimmer and Laich (I believe, but it might've been Alzner).  The puck was coming up the ice to Mason's left.  Kubalik was to the left, covering Laich.  Lepisto made a blocking play to the left.  Mase committed to the left.  Vermette was burned and threw himself - literally - into the play to try to break up a pass, but it was too late as the puck went right.  And who was lagging behind, standing roughly at the blue line as Chimmer tipped in the goal on Mason's mile-wide open backside?  Kris Russell.  U-G-L-Y.  

(And what was Kubalik doing out there in a 4-on-4 overtime, anyway?  Really, what was Arniel thinking?  Is he that desperate to send a message to his legion of protected, one-way contract players?)

NEXT UP: No rest for the weary, as the CBJ take on the Chicago Blackhawks at Nationwide tomorrow at 7PM.  The defending Stanley Cup champs, as I type, are in 8th place in the West and 3 points up on 9th place Dallas.  This could be some pretty good spoiler material.


  1. I don't really get your "mile wide backside" comment. Mason did what he is taught to do by skating out to cut down the angle. Can you really fault the guy for being positionally sound and then getting burned because no one covered Chimera and Lepisto did a poor job blocking the shot? It's not like if the play had continued towards the net, Mason would have been sitting in the high crease still.

    Even Portzline admitted to Mase getting a couple brutal breaks, like the first goal being deflected off a defenders stick or leg. Can you really fault Mason for committing to where a shot should and would be going without a bad block or deflection? Where was the defensive coverage on Carlson there?

    I just get tired of the same heat getting dumped on Mason. He made some brilliant saves to keep the game close. Columbus was lucky to head to the dressing room after the first period only down a goal, considering the shots were 15-4 at that point.

    I do like the credit given to Upshall. The guy keeps finding the net and has a pretty solid shot. Makes me wonder just how hard they'll push to get him re-signed this off-season.

  2. Let's try again:

    "And who was lagging behind, standing roughly at the blue line as Chimmer tipped in the goal on Mason's mile-wide open backside? Kris Russell."

    I don't disagree with your assessment of Mason, but he clearly has concentration/confidence issues that I presume will sort out with time/maturity.

    And it was not Mason's responsibility, in my opinion, to cover that backside when he committed to the left. It was his defenseman. You know, the one back at the blue-line, far behind the play.

  3. I think you're right about the confidence issues being a matter of maturing over time. He's been given a pretty hefty load pretty much right out of the gate and hasn't had much time to come into his own.

    I also believe those issues will sort out a lot of the rebounds he's been producing, where he thrusts towards the puck rather than trying to absorb it.. I really think picking up a better goaltender who can push Mase for the starting job might be the support/kick he needs to reach his potential.


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