Friday, April 6, 2012

Turning the page

Cam Atkinson seized the Columbus Blue Jackets scoring
mantle, at least for one night, against the Avalanche
Pushing aside the schadenfreude-laden glee of seeing the Blue Jackets end the Colorado Avalanche's playoff hopes for a moment, I thought it might be worth commenting on a little of the "inside baseball" that we witnessed last night in the course of the 5-2 CBJ thumping of the Avs.

That, of course, was the seeming transfer of the scoring torch that we saw on the ice.

It started as a mesmerizing contest within a game.  Cam Atkinson, the rookie trade deadline call-up from the AHL, scored first at 6:35 of the first period.  Captain Rick Nash answered at 17:29.  Nash then added number two on the night at 6:47 of the second, but Atkinson matched him at 11:51.

The race was on.  Who would get the hat trick?  Would it be the young buck or the Captain who doesn't want to play in Columbus any more?

As it turned out, the competition ended before it had a chance to heat up any further.  Nash tweaked his back and while he returned to the bench in the third period, apparently didn't touch the ice.

Atkinson, however, delivered this empty net gem with a hair over a minute to go in the game to ice it:

I can't get over the raw skill displayed in that final goal.  Atkinson chased a breakaway pass from his own blue line all the way to the Colorado goal line and faced two defenders desperate to save their fast-fading playoff hopes.  With no one coming to his aid, he took them both on and - passing the puck to himself between his legs - took the shot.  Goal.  Hat trick.  Game over.

I just had to watch that a few times on my DVR last night, and the above video got quite a workout as I tried to sum up what I saw.  This is one special kid, one who appears to have hockey sense coming out his pores.  It doesn't come as a surprise, seeing as he was leading the AHL is scoring when called up to Columbus.  In addition, Springfield Falcons uber-fan KatyLovesHockey has been telling me pretty much all season that Atkinson is one of the best players she's ever seen in her years of following AHL hockey out in the Berkshires.  In fact, Katy told me that the only player she's seen that rivals Atkinson was now-Flyer Danny Briere - a nice comparison indeed.

Atkinson's future appears to be bright as he only now appears to be getting his NHL sea legs after getting the call-up at the end of February.  While his start was slow, he's amassed seven points in the Blue Jackets' last five games (3G, 4A)...a 114-point pace if stretched out over an 82-game season.  That's one remarkable tear.

A final point on Atkinson: Note that when reviewing the entire National Hockey League, only the Penguins' Evgeni Malkin is over 100 points on the season right now.  (The top scorer on the CBJ, Rick Nash, has 58 points over 81 games.)  Now, I'm not suggesting that Atkinson could keep a 114-point pace up for an entire season, nor am I suggesting that his small frame is suited to survive a full NHL season with the big boys.  But I AM suggesting that his late-season pace is really something special.

Only now are we starting to figure out who will score on a team where
Rick Nash won't be one of the CBJ's three stars
Then there's the Nash side of the equation.  Readers of this blog know that while I appreciate Nash as a player and wish that he had not expressed his desire to no longer play for the Columbus Blue Jackets, I feel that the inevitable rebuild coming from this apocalyptic season has only been stalled by his presence on the ice and in the locker room.  And there's the little issue of scoring.  Nash has been the team's top scorer for years; who was going to replace his production on an already-anemic offense?

It's now come out that Nash has injured his back to the point that his status for perhaps his final game as a Blue Jacket is questionable (BREAKING: Max Mayorov just got an emergency recall from Springfield, suggesting that the Blue Jackets are seriously hedging their bets against Nash being able to play).  Just freaking great, one of my worst Blue Jackets fears is coming to pass (And why not?  Everything else this season has been nightmarish.).  I hope he gets well soon, both for his well-being and for the trade value that he has for the Blue Jackets.  This team desperately needs to maximize the return that a healthy Nash can bring on the market.  

But I digress.  Take a deep breath, step back and enjoy the big picture for a moment.

One must admit that there was a certain theatrical quality to the way everything happened last night.  With no $7.8 million cap hit Nash to turn to, the crown seemingly passed to the $875,000 Atkinson - if only for an evening.  The kid stepped up, giving the Blue Jackets a win and this blogger a glimmer of hope that this team might score a few goals and have some success in the not-too-distant future...that the team might actually might make it in a post-Nash world.

At this point of this season, hope is all we fans have.

[End scene]

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