Friday, September 30, 2011

Preseason game recap: Minnesota Wild

Oh.  It's YOU again.
I had a sneaking suspicion that tonight was going to be an atypical preseason game, and that proved to be the case.  The evening was dominated by the matters of training camp - building chemistry, evaluating talent/fit, getting (near-)NHL game experience, etc. - but you would have to be blind not to notice the punchiness in the arena when the Minnesota Wild and their jerk forward Cal Clutterbuck played the Columbus Blue Jackets at Nationwide Arena.

The Jackets kept their cool and exacted revenge for the baited hit by and subsequent suspension to James Wisniewski, smoking the Wild with a three-goal second period en route to a 4-2 win tonight.

The second period barrage was especially notable in that the CBJ kindly held off on scoring until they were right in front of my new ticket package partner (Chris) and me, perched over them in section 223.  We enjoyed seeing Fedor Tyutin blast one in from the point ("We're allowed to do that?"), a genuine Rick Nash goal and a Jeff Carter power play goal that was, simply put, a thing of beauty.

I had to bail out after two periods, so my recap is incomplete.  Still, I saw enough to offer quite a few cogent thoughts.

In my pre-game post, I mentioned a few things that I would be looking for:
  • The Umberger-Johansen-Brassard line - I found my eye being drawn to Ryan Johansen.  Keeping in mind that the quality of play isn't entirely up to NHL standards, Johansen did not look out of place.  I especially liked seeing how he kept his composure when he lost his stick in the second.  
  • The Nash-Carter-Kubalik line - Great, bordering on dominant. These guys have puck magnets on their sticks.  Pass-pass-pass-shot-rebound-pass-goal.  Kubalik camps in the crease, allowing Carter to roam the short-distance sniper position.  Nash hangs at the wall and backstops the blueliners as needed.  This line alone would make the regular season fun to watch.  It'll be interesting to see if Kubalik sticks, and whether he sticks on that line.
  • Steve Mason - Solid.  Square to the puck.  Used his glove properly.  Got a little help from his defense.  I missed his third period highlight reel save, but I gather that was a goodie that got George Matthews out of his seat.
  • The bubble blue liners
    • John Moore & Nick Holden - OK.  Nothing they did stood out.  That's saying something for Moore, seeing as he got more time on ice (18:58) than Savard (17:22) and Holden (13:47).
    • David Savard - The only bubble defenseman who I felt added to the equation by his presence.  He was fully engaged and took control of the puck.  I swore he had a couple shots from the point, but the score sheet says otherwise.
    • Johnson - Didn't play.  
    • Interesting stat note: Holden and Moore essentially had zero power play time while Savard had no short-handed ice time.  Not sure what to make of that.
  • The fighters
    • Boll - Didn't play.
    • Dorsett - Seems to be developing an offensive game.  Had a nice wraparound attempt.  Still not sure he has enough to stay afloat in this camp.  But Arniel had nice things to say about him below, so what do I know?
  • Clutterbuck - Booed.  On the ice for Nash's goal.  Otherwise, he pretty much kept his head down.  Which was wise.
Other things I noticed:
  • Game Ops - Definitely different from past seasons.  Very professional.  Not objectionable.  Nice music mix.  I have a feeling that, by putting those horrible "photos" of CBJ players on the corner-angle displays on the center ice scoreboard, new Game Ops guru Derek Dawley is lobbying for a new scoreboard. And while I don't adore the new goal song, I don't find it as objectionable as "Seinfeld's" Cosmo Kramer when hearing "Entertainment Tonight's" Mary Hart on TV.
  • Fedor Tyutin - Big Russian Bear blasted a goal and takes no crap all night long.  Spent a couple of stints in the box, but the team needed penalty kill practice anyway.  I still am impressed that he is basically the only Hitchcock defenseman holdover to thoroughly make the transition to Arniel's very different defensive philosophy.  
  • Arch City Army - They've got the right idea, just need some more numbers in the seats. They knew when Clutterbuck was on the ice. +1
  • Max Mayorov - Didn't play poorly but was nothing close to the revelation that I had been reading about.
  • My new seats - They rock.  Men's room right around the corner when you get onto the concourse.  Closest concession stand has Montgomery Inn BBQ.  The view from the seats allows for near-perfect ability to follow plays and especially special teams setup.  
  • Cam Atkinson - Has a motor that won't quit.
  • Ken Hitchcock - Observed in the owner's box.
  • Crowd size - Announced at 11,700.  RIGHT.  It'll turn around as the town learns how talented and entertaining this team is.  Which requires all of us who write and read obsessively about the CBJ to tell our friends, co-workers, neighbors...
  • Fit with Arniel's system - This has improved by light years over last season.  Whereas I was harping last season about square pegs and round holes, the combination of new acquisitions and young talent bubbling up has pushed the team much more closely to what I think Scott Arniel is trying to do in Columbus...and the results show on the ice and on the scoreboard.
Lastly, consider the score sheet: Tyutin and Atkinson, 1G 1A each.  Carter and Nash, 1G each.  Kubalik and Vermette, 2A each. Prospal and Martinek, 1A each.  Young and old, forwards and blue liners.  Not sure it could look any prettier.

Chris and I agree: This has the potential to be a VERY entertaining season.  I'm looking forward to seeing if the dominant competence of the preseason carries over into the regular season when the temperature is turned up a little more.

Let's close it out with the coach's thoughts:

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