Saturday, December 27, 2014

Thank You Santa, I Had No Idea I Had Been Such A Good Boy!

Dalton Prout gave Milan Lucic his shot.  A freebie.  Nothing coming back.  You, get a chance, to knock me out.  After all, back on November 21, Prout had dropped Lucic with one punch!  In that game, Lucic waited until Prout was restrained by a linesman before he threw his panties  glove at Prout.  Not this time.  Prout gave Lucic what he wanted, a free shot, then proceeded to lay it on him.  His teammates helped him, by piling on with a 6-2 ass whipping of the Boston Bruins.  Lucic talked big.  He failed to back it up.  So it goes.

More importantly, the CBJ harvested two huge Eastern Conference points on the home ice tonight.  From a broader perspective, they won against an 'elite' team, if you want to define an 'elite' team as a recent Stanley Cup winner.  That seems like a reasonable measure.  That puts the Jackets 3-1-1 against the 'elite' teams, Boston, Chicago, LA, and Pittsburgh this year.  The Jackets were swept in the regular season by these teams last year, but still made the playoffs.

This year, against frightful injury odds, that just got worse tonight with the loss of Atkinson and Skille to offset the return of Hartnell, the Jackets have made a step forward against the 'elite' competition.  My point is that this is overall progress against the backdrop of the injury chaos inflicted on this year's team.  Maybe we will make the playoffs, maybe we won't.  But the fans will not be cheated.  They WILL see an effort from this team.  It makes me proud of them.  Very proud.  And overall, the team is making progress.  The players and the coaches deserve accolades for this.  The trust that the organization has shown in these players is not misplaced.

Tonight, Mrs. Gallos and I were treated to having dinner with Ken and Connie, fans who had not been to a game for over 5 years.  I understand that.  We tried to let them know it's a new day.  The team did a much more emphatic job of proving us right.  I'm sure they'll be back.  That's how you recruit fans.


Note to Detroit Fans.  Yes, your organization has won a Cup within the time frames mentioned above.  You've also had a Hall of Fame defenseman retire, AND, in spite of the occasional blip, the CBJ have owned you of late.  So it is difficult to judge overall progress by our record against you.  Personally, I have great admiration for Mike Babcock as a coach.  I think he's holding your great players back.  You want to let him walk.  Trust me!  I know these things!


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Taking Stock at the Christmas Break

We here at the Dark Blue Jacket, and our comrades in arms over at DKM Hockey, would like to take this opportunity to wish everyone a Merry Christmas, and a happy Holiday Season!  It is a time for family, and while hectic at times, is an enjoyable season.  May you and yours have all that they wish at this time of year.

For the players, coaches, and other folks related to our favorite team, the Columbus Blue Jackets, I'd like to take this moment to thank them for the effort put forth so far in the season.  It takes great character to withstand the type of adversity the team and organization have faced in the first part of the season.  The players have rallied, and gotten back to playing 'Blue Jackets Hockey', in spite of a lot of line up changes.  The game that they played against the Blackhawks still resonates with me, but the next game against the Preds illustrated how much the emotional investment took out of the team.

The Blue Jackets at their most successful last year essentially rolled 3 second lines, and a highly effective fourth line.  With the brutal run of injuries, in many cases we are coming out with a second line, a third line, and two fourth lines.  Head Coach Todd Richards (HCTR) has often been reduced to dumping a hot player, or an experiment (e.g. Gibbons, for his speed) on the wing with his number one center, Ryan Johansen.  While it is our top line, it would be hard to call it a true number one line.  The fourth line has shown some brief flashes, but has yet to jell into the effective force it was last year.  The third line is a swirl of change.

The hard hit center position has been in flux all year.  If Nick Foligno had not stepped up in the fashion he has, moving from wing to center for the first time in his professional career, the season would be off the rails already.  As it is, the mountain yet to climb is steep and hazardous.  Two of the main teams we were chasing, the Rangers and the Capitals, went on streaks at the same time we did.  The result is that we still sit 9 points out of a playoff spot, with a rash of new injuries on the books, more than canceling out those coming back off of IR.

The injury situation is absolutely amazing.  If this season keeps on like it has, and for some unforeseeable (at this time) moment when our players are all healthy, I would hate to play this team. They are going to have some things to prove down the stretch this year, regardless of whether or not they remain in the playoff hunt, and are likely to make things difficult for other teams.   Which should make for some entertaining and compelling hockey.

If ever a hockey team needed a four day break, it is this one.  Very wise in team management, even if it comes back on us against Boston.  For now, take a deep breath, hug and cherish your loved ones, and enjoy the holiday.  We'll be back it at before we know!

Merry Christmas everyone!!  Happy Holidays!!  And....


Monday, December 22, 2014

Some Times You Feel Like A Nut...

Some times you don't.  Almond Joy's got nuts.  Mounds don't.  Tonight was kind of a Mounds night, cause the CBJ didn't have it.  A good start, a Nick Foligno goal, was wiped out by the 'situation room', when the goal was dislodged by Pekka Rinne going post to post.  When the goal tender dislodges the goal, it should be called like goal tender interference.  'Did it affect the play?'  In this case Rinne could have dislodged both sides of the net, and pushed it back against the boards, and Nick still would have scored, because he simply out waited the play.  I understand the letter of the law.  That reading didn't match the spirit of the law in this case.

So I'm at the game, all P.O.'d about this call, and into my head pops the image of a Jarmo monotone at the GM meeting ' and if the opposing goal tender dislodges the net, and it doesn't influence the play, it should be a good...'.  Whew.  Scary thought.  That's what pre-game Skyline cheese coneys will do to you.  Mild hallucinations are one of the many benefits of.... ah, never mind.  It was free food night.  You get the picture.

You think of things when you are getting ready to write on of these pieces.  And I was all ready to climb on Porty over at Puck Rakers for calling out the Hockey Gods, since we certainly didn't seem to get any bounces tonight, and I think they've got something going on that front, but.... Then I remembered that I pretty much stated that Boone Jenner wasn't having a sophomore slump.  Boom!  Two months on the IR.  In the immortal words of one Homer Simpson, 'Doh!!!'

Sigh.  It was Nashville's night.  Maybe with the early lead, we hold on to something.  But our guys left it all on the ice on Saturday, in a totally fantastic win.  Two days later, it was still out on Saturday's ice.  Good for the Predators, who look like they are putting together a really nice season.  Thank God for the Eastern Conference, and that we don't have to play them any more.

The good ship CBJ is being held together with spit, baling wire, and duct tape.  And yet, we are still fundamentally on the same pace as we were last year.  And, the theory is that people will start to get healthy eventually.  To be able to say these things is a minor miracle.  So tonight's game is one to wash away.  It means little in the context of the season, and we will have opportunities to pick up ground against less formidable opponents that Nashville.  So let it go.  And love being in the East.

Alexander Wennberg scored his first NHL goal tonight.  I am really happy for the guy.  He obviously has talent, has learned that board battles mean something, and makes rookie mistakes.  That first goal takes a lot of pressure off.  And it was a snipe, from the high slot against one of the best in the business this year.  Let's hope he starts to feel that for a bit.  A little scoring streak from him would really help the team now.

It's Christmas.  A time of miracles.  The Blue Jackets are in the playoff hunt, albeit with work to do, at Christmas time.  Given the way things looked at Thanksgiving, it is a miracle indeed.


Sunday, December 21, 2014

Pay The Extra Dime

Sergei Bobrovsky, Game Winner
Tonight, the Columbus Blue Jackets beat an unbelievably talented Chicago Blackhawks team in a shoot out.  We don't care about the charity point, as it lands in the Western Conference.  What we do care about is why we won tonight, and that is unarguably Sergei Bobrovsky, who was masterful in goal.  He is in a contract year.  He will get paid.  This is not a subject for debate.

The subject for debate is who will lurk at the end of the line, and skate up with a huge hug for the guy who bailed you out all night long.  Who does Bob want to see, as a reward for a great game played, in which he stole us a victory, much as tonight's tilt against a superior opponent?  It is my personal belief that the guy he wants to see is one Nick Foligno.

Nick is an interesting guy.  A career twenty-ish goal scorer, in a contract year on a pace for thirty-ish.  A guy who rose up when all was lost, dripping character all over the place.  Who does your franchise goal tender want to see at the end of the line when you win the Cup?

Pay Bob.  He's worth it.  The trickier question is what to pay Nick.  I say that Nick''s presence at the end of that line outweighs the statistics.  Nick should be given long term as a 20 goal scorer.  As the guys in the pipeline pass him in skill, this will start to look like an 'iffy' contract.  But you need someone at the end of the line when you win the Cup.  And what ever extra you pay Nick is worth that moment right there.

Bob stole one from the Blackhawks.  The CBJ are still photobombing the playoffs (personal communication, Puck Rakers, 2014).  Nick is at the end of the line.  And that, my friends, is worth the extra dime.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

Boone Down

Boone Jenner
Today the Columbus Blue Jackets announced that Boone Jenner would be out for 1-2 months with a stress fracture in his back.  This is both good and bad news.  The bad news is the horrifying run of injuries to this team continues.  Another key player injured for a significant period of time.

What good news could there be in this?  To me, I think about Nathan Horton.  How many undiagnosed stress fractures did he suffer as a player?  Now he is staring at a career ending injury.  These kind of fractures also ended Freddy Modin's career.  So good on the CBJ medical staff for diagnosing this injury.  

Now where do I find instructions for making sacrifices to the hockey gods?  This is getting a bit crazy.


Friday, December 19, 2014

Wennberg Called Up

The Puck Rakers are reporting that Brian Gibbons has been placed on injured reserve with a bum knee, and that Alexander Wennberg and Cody Goloubef have been called up from AHL Springfield.  In 6 games in Springfield, Wennberg was 0G-3A-3P and a +/- of +4.

Gibbons was injured in last night's game, and only skated a couple of shifts in the third period.  Gibbons was 0-5-5 with a +/- of +2.  So if you ask yourself what role does Wennberg need to fill, it's that of Gibbons.  Wennberg has speed, and in his previous stint in the NHL he was 0-3-3 (similar to Gibbons), with a +/- of -14 (not similar to Gibbons).  The latter number is a bit deceiving, as in the height of the injury problem he was thrust into the role of playing third line center as a rookie.  The return of Dubinsky has shored up the center position somewhat, and he will not face as much pressure as he did previously.  He may end up on Foligno's wing.

Here's my observation on Wennberg's play.  He was overwhelmed at times, no doubt.  But he was getting the hang of playing the possession game along the boards, and at times was quite effective at that style of play.  On Foligno's wing he faces no more pressure than Gibbons faced, and he may have a chance to thrive.  Wennberg can be a pretty versatile player, and I will be very interested in how he plays.  He wouldn't be the first one to decide he likes that Pros better than the minors, and is able to do something about it.

Goloubef was on a conditioning assignment in Springfield, and had to come up before the roster freeze takes effect at midnight tonight.  He joins a log jam at defenseman, that has a veteran, Jordan Leopold, sitting even though he has played very well.  A log jam of defensemen who can play well is a good problem to have.

Tomorrow night the Blackhawks come to town.  Brace yourself for a lot of Chicago fans tomorrow.  What should be fun is that they have never really experienced the full on C-B-J chant, as it really arose after we had played them last year.  Jackets fans will need to pin their ears back and come ready to get loud.  I expect a playoff atmosphere Saturday, much like it was at the last Penguins game.  I'd be really happy with a similar result.


Thursday, December 18, 2014

100. Chaput, Rinse, Repeat

Nick Foligno Maintains His Torrid Pace
Tonight the Columbus Blue Jackets succumbed to the motivationally advantaged Washington Capitals (damn you Trotz) 5-4 in overtime.  The cumulative weight of a schittload of shots finally bore Bobrovsky down, along with so-so legs on the home squad.  A point streak remains alive at 8 games, but the winning streak falls by the wayside at 7 games.  So it goes.

The CBJ could have lost 2 points of ground after a stinker of a first period, instead they only lost 1 point of ground.  For December, that's good enough, but with the Blackhawks coming to town next, getting back to winning ways is going to take better skating and better discipline than the Jackets showed tonight.  The Jackets didn't play well, but still eked out a point on a tough night against an opponent looking for paybacks.  That shoe now moves to our foot for the next tilt between the two teams.  I'm just loving Eastern Conference play.  It's just more natural, and resulted in a really entertaining game tonight.

Some really cool things happened tonight.  Nick Foligno scored his 100th, and 101st goals.  Jack Johnson got on the board early in the second to get the home squad rolling.  And Michael Chaput scored his first NHL goal.  Jeremy Morin got his first point as a Blue Jacket, and Kevin Connauton continued his strong play.  Newcomers and core players combining for 4 goals, which should have been enough to win this game, but wasn't tonight.

It's late, and I have to turn in cause tomorrow's another work day.  In summary, not our greatest night.  But we got a standings point when things weren't going well, and rallied after a real stinker of a first period.  We try that Saturday night, we might be down by 6 goals before the fans get a chance to buy popcorn.  The Caps were a step faster all night, and got the extra point they deserved.  Our guys showed resolve and battle when things weren't going their way.  These experiences will serve them well down the road.  It was a fun game to attend.


Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Thoughts Between Games

Fedor Tyutin back in the line up last night
OK, sorry for the little whimsical post last night.  The Jackets play a superb game and I'm off on some tangent.  But I guess you're used to it by now.  

But on a more serious note, if you want to look at a sophomore slump, look no further than Ryan Murray.  Yeesh.  What a year.  I really think that once he is fully healthy he should go down to the AHL to develop his game more.  We know he can play in the NHL.  At this point, why rush it?  But I digress again.

The CBJ are back to playing 'Jackets' hockey, and have started to play it with some consistency.  They are coming off two games against opponents at the top of the standings in which they played very well.  This winning streak includes both leaders of the Atlantic Division, and the leader of the Metropolitan Division.  Tomorrow we play a team we are chasing, sitting in the third place spot of the Metro.  Oh yeah, we will also be seeking to tie the franchise record for consecutive wins, set last season.

Much as it did last year, a significant winning streak has vaulted us up into the conversation for making the playoffs.  Last night's win allowed us to vault Philly and New Jersey in the Metro standings.  There is a lot of hockey left to play this year, and it is important to get these points while we are playing well.  Last night's game was a great exhibition of disciplined hockey by both teams, and was a really great game for a 0-0 game.

The Jackets will need that discipline and effort, and more against the Capitals tomorrow.  They are already talking about getting in Bob's grill, and the best way to stop that will be to forecheck relentlessly in the Captitals zone.  I get the impression that Trotz's boys will be coming loaded for bear.  Plus, being on the losing side of a 20 round shoot out probably has them very frustrated.  We will need to work and be disciplined tomorrow to tie the winning streak.

Bob is on fire.  He has had a number of unbelievable performances in this streak, and rang one up against the Caps.  I don't think they liked it.  Should be a really fun game at Nationwide Arena tomorrow.  I'm really looking forward to it.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sophomore Slump

Boone Jenner
I think it is important for Blue Jackets fans to realize that young players often have what is known as the sophomore slump.  When they have a really good year, sometimes young players tend to regress in their second year in the NHL.  Fans need to be patient as they work through these growing pains.  It is not unusual for a player to spend some time in the minors as part of their normal growth.  

Jackets fans should remember that Boone Jenner is a very young player, and that his development should be given plenty of time.  Patience, patience, patience!  

As with his recent run of poor play, he ...... wait, what?  Penalty shot?  Shoot out winner??

Dammit Jim, he's only a sophomore, he, well...... Oh. 

Never mind!*

Ha ha!! Seven Straight!  OK, a serious post tomorrow.

Go Jackets!!!

*underlined italics is the official sarcasm font of the Dark Blue Jacket

Monday, December 15, 2014

A New Dynamic

I have been reflecting a bit on the new dynamic in the games versus the Penguins.  For most old experienced season ticket holders like myself, we carry scars of that game about 4 or 5 years ago, when the Blue Jackets were still playing in the Western Conference.  It was the first time that Pittsburgh had played in Nationwide Arena for several years, and the Penguins fans just took the place over.  Through an error, a Pittsburgh fan even rode the zamboni during the intermission.  It was a totally humiliating experience for a season ticket holder.

A big part of that was the crowd noise.  At that time, the main chant Jackets fans were using was the old 'Let's Go Jackets, clap, clap clappity, clap'.  And oldie but goodie that many teams use (e.g. the Red Wings).  During that game, when the Pittsburgh fans started roaring 'Let's Go Pens', all the Jackets fans had to respond was 'clap, clap, clappity, clap', which isn't exactly a visceral response.   The Penguins fans used their 'Let's Go Pens' chant to run the Blue Jackets fans out of the building (this is not an exaggeration).  It didn't help that the Penguins waxed the Blue Jackets on the ice.

However, late in the run to the playoffs last year, a new cheer arose from the depths of Nationwide Arena.  A homegrown (the best kind) cheer, a stirring chant of C-B-J repeatedly bellowed at the top of your lungs.  This cheer allows the fans to really bring the thunder, and anyone who experienced last year's playoff games will not easily forget that sound.  Scout around YouTube in those playoff clips.  There are some excellent examples.

So when a game like Saturday's game starts to come up, the old scars start to tingle.  The fear of being run out of the building lurks like a shadow.  But there is a new dynamic in these games.  The C-B-J chant is the exact same cadence as that 'Let's Go Pens' chant, and it gives the fan something that you can use to really respond.  So now in these games, when some knuckle dragging mouth breather starts yelling in support of his flightless sea birds, I promptly, and effectively crank up the C-B-J chant.  This gives the fans an ability to go toe to toe with the opposition, and contributes to the playoff-like atmosphere that we experienced on Saturday.  And you gotta love that.

C-B-J!!  C-B-J!!!  C-B-J!!!!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

What a Great Hockey Game, Thanks for Losing!

Classic 2013-14 Playoff Imagery
So quoth Mrs. Gallos, to a Penguins fan in the restaurant after the game.  'What a Great Hockey Game, Thanks for Losing!'  The guy's date was sporting CBJ colors, and he was wearing a Lemieux jersey, indicating a certain constancy of fandom, and he had the grace to be hurt by it and laugh at the same time.  That's the good stuff about rivalries.

The CBJ took a step forward tonight, beating the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 in a shoot-out.  The CBJ did not beat the Pens in the regular season last year, so the win represents an incremental gain for our battered team, and helps to erase a 6 game losing streak earlier in the season.

Nationwide Arena was absolutely rocking tonight, as the CBJ faithful did battle with a throaty Penguins contingent.  It was very much of a playoff atmosphere in the barn tonight, which seemed fitting for the level of hockey played.  Both teams brought their lunch bucket, and their brass knuckles, and proceeded to get it on.  It was a very intense hockey game, periodically interrupted by fights, including the semblance of a line brawl in the second period.  The best part was our players sticking up for each other.

Nick Foligno started the scoring with a power play goal, a tap in he kicked up to his stick, earned by camping at the edge of the crease as the man unmarked by the penalty kill.  That got the CBJ an early lead, and they really ramped up the pressure, skating hard and playing physically.  This was exemplified by a play in which Sutter was winning a board battle down low in our defensive zone, and Jack Johnson came from in front of the net to plant a shoulder into his chest that lifted him off his skates, and literally 'knocked him on his ass'.  (That one was a beauty, and really seemed to get Jack engaged in the game).

Friday, December 12, 2014

Ochovechkin Down, Geno to Go

Thank You Bob!!!!
Last night the CBJ stole a game from the Capitals, prevailing in overtime on Nick Foligno's second goal.  It was a '2' night for Nick.  2 goals on 2 shots.  The fancy stats folks will tell you that this is an unsustainable shooting percentage, and he will regress towards his average.  Ummm, yeah, 100% seems a little unsustainable.  He also had 2 hits, 2 takeaways and 2 points.  Since I wear a Nick's number 71 to most games, I am loving this.  I was especially pleased to see that Jarmo reached out to his agent about contract discussions.  Nick is having a really good season.

At any rate, in spite of losing big in the shot column, the Jackets somehow managed to come out on top of Alexander Ovechkin (or Ochovechkin as Mrs. Gallos likes to call him, since he wears number 8) and company.  When the fancy stats people tell you that shots, missed shots, and blocked shots (e.g. Corsi events) are a surrogate for possession, they are not lying.  Washington dominated puck possession, especially during the first two periods, with Ochovechkin taking a season high 9 shots.  But the Jackets came away with the two points, though they left the Caps with one, because this is where the conversation turns to Sergei Bobrovsky.

Bobrovsky has been on an unbelievable tear, posting crazy numbers over the last few games.  Let me check.  According to the lads over at Puck Rakers, Bobrovsky has saved 167 of 176 shots during the 5 game win streak, for a .949 save percentage.  Wowza.  Bob has been exceptionally sharp of late, which the team is going to need if it is going to climb back into the playoff race.  Interestingly, the team is actually very close to the position it was in last year at this time (based on number of games), but last year razor sharp Bob did not appear until January.  In short, the CBJ have about as good a chance of making the playoffs this year as they did last year.

Which makes us turn our attention to the Penguins.  The news, via Puck Rakers again that Crosby is out for the game, because he appears to have the mumps that is sweeping through the NHL is good for the CBJ.  However, we know too well that Evgeni Malkin is plenty capable of carrying the Penguins.  If you recall Geno pretty much single handedly punched us out of the playoffs with a hat trick in Game 6, so he's got the goods to make tomorrow's game very uncomfortable for the CBJ.

Last year we did not have much, if any, success against the elite teams during the regular season.  Even though the Penguins are somewhat battered, they are still a very good team.  A win would be a step forward in the grand scheme of things, and given the crazy injury situation seems a bit much to expect at this juncture in the season.  Thus, a loss tomorrow is no reason for worry, so long as we play respectably.  A win would be 6 straight, and would erase a previous 6 game losing streak, so would be mighty nice.  We shall see.

And again, the injury bug has bit us.  The bad news, brought once again by the Puck Rakers, is that Scott Hartnell has a broken finger, and is on injured reserve.  Let's see, that's Boone, Bob, Wiz, and Hartnell who have all experienced a broken finger.  Gee whiz, when is it gonna stop?  Apparently Kerby Rychal has been called up from the AHL to fill the vacant forward spot.

The hits just keep on coming.  But the team is hanging in there.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Eastern Conference Hi-Jinks

RJ Umberger as a Blue Jacket
Interesting game tonight.  We hosted a couple of Flyer Fans which made it a little crazy, but fun.  Which is what this whole Eastern Conference gig is all about.  These games just feel so natural.  The Flyers are a bit of a train wreck, and the CBJ express is rumbling down the rails leaking steam and sparks in all directions.  It made for a fun hockey game.  In some ways this is still the age of innocence, where the CBJ have yet to punch some of these teams out of a playoff.  That bad blood is earned, and we haven't done it yet.

Perhaps we have a teeny bit of bad blood with Pittsburgh, but who doesn't?  In that regard, this is all still new to us, and these games are really fun. The CBJ <we interrupt this statement to point out the redundant use of the word 'fun'.  The office of redundancy office deplores this fan boy schilling to the powers that be because it implies that cynical bashing might be slightly out of style> prevailed tonight 3-2 in overtime on an improbable breakaway feed from Ryan Johansen to Kevin Connauton for the winning goal.  Once again the CBJ  went into a defensive shell to try to preserve a 2-1 lead late in the third period.  With about 5 minutes left in the game, and the CBJ going on the power play, the power play strategy appeared to be to play the old basketball 4 corners stall.  The Flyers ate it up, spending the bulk of the power play in their offensive zone, overwhelming our five gliders with 4 skaters.  This gave the Flyers momentum going into the last minutes, and once they pulled the goal tender, they were able to draw even.

The Flyers carried the momentum into the overtime, but Ryan Johansen, at the end of a long shift ended up on a 2 on 1 breakaway with Kevin Connauton, in which he delayed and put the puck right on Connauton's stick, and he beat Steve Mason for the winner.  This play resulted in a pile of exultant players on top of Connauton, as he scored his first goal for the CBJ, a game winner.  Cool stuff.

Other interesting story lines in this game was the return of RJ Umberger to Nationwide Arena as a member of the Flyers.  He got a brief mention on the jumbotron (he did ask for a trade after all) and Scott Hartnell got on the board with a goal, while Umberger was pretty invisible in over 15 minutes of ice time.  It is important to keep in mind that the value of this trade needs to be evaluated in the long term, as both players have several more years on their contract, but in the short term this trade is tilted decidedly towards Hartnell.

At the end of the day, this is the fourth straight win for the CBJ.  They are making progress towards erasing the recent 6 game losing streak, but the 9 game losing streak still lurks on their record.  It's not the end of the world if they lose a game, but they cannot afford any more losing streaks.  They are making the baby steps they need to climb back in it, and have lulled the other teams to sleep.  We'll see if they can sneak back into it.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Elevating the Commentary, Dubinsky returns

I thought I would go to the well with the Obi-wan Dubinsky gag again.
Today the Blue Jackets announced that Brandon Dubinsky would make his season debut against the Flyers, as part of his comeback from abdominal surgery during training camp.  It may be weeks before we see the old Dubinsky, as he plays his way into shape, but his return is important for the team.

As you may have noticed, I have been having a bit of fun with our lowly standings position over the last few weeks.  Before I go further I would point out that we have bottomed out at some point in each of the last two years, so that this happening early in the year is no big shock.  Anyway, on our last post I got a comment that I thought was worthy of drawing up into the space for those that don't read the comments, because I think it is pertinent.  So, without further ado...

J F H Jacket  December 7, 2014 at 10:05 PM
The Jackets aren't a Canadian team or a franchise in desperate need (read Chicago/Pittsburgh) of saving. Therefore you are correct, they would not win a lottery draw, weighted or not. As for the "generational talent" a certain publication continues to fawn over; allow me to say we've had enough D**n losing in this franchise. The current management has worked hard to get rid of the country club atmosphere that permeated Nationwide. If the Jackets play well enough to be in contention, but fall short, so be it. If they make the play-offs, anything can happen. This team has quality minor league players who are currently showing what they are and aren't yet able to do. As for the draft, let the Oilers draft first again and see how long it takes for ANOTHER can't-miss prospect to wither on the vines.

There are a lot of things I like about this comment, particularly the part about the minor league players.  I think that is right on point, and as far as talent evaluation, this is as good as it gets for a GM.  The thing about the last game is that a lot of young players felt for the first time what it is like to really play Blue Jackets hockey.  Its not very easy to do, it hurts a lot, and there are a lot of very natural barriers to playing that style.  It takes a certain level of desperation, and we have not seen that kick in over the last two seasons until the team bottomed out in the standings.

At any rate, I think we are in for some very interesting hockey over the next few months, and barring injury at the goal tender position, this team has a shot at being in contention by the All-Star break.  Which would be really nice, I have to say.  We'll learn a lot about this tomorrow night when they play Philly.  They will need to duplicate the type of effort, they had against Tampa, and we will learn a lot if they are able to do so.  History indicates that it is not the end of the world if they can't, but they will need to have a level of desperation on more nights than not for the rest of the season.  And the Flyers are a good place to start!


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Two Shutouts - One Preserved

It was a big night for Columbus last night.  The Columbus Blue Jackets and their sterling goal tender, Sergei Bobrovsky, carried a shutout into the final minutes of their tilt with the Eastern Conference Leading Tampa Bay Lightning.  On the other channel, the Ohio State Buckeye football team preserved its shutout of Wisconsin to earn a Big Ten Football Championship.  Good stuff on, and good story lines on both fronts.

But this is a hockey blog, so we'll return to the fastest game on earth.  Last night the Blue Jackets prevailed over the Bolts 3-1, in a game that wasn't that close.  The Blue Jackets skated with purpose, finally worked their forecheck hard for 57 minutes, and consequently dictated the pace of the game.  Surprisingly, the CBJ looked like the faster team last night, as Tampa Bay has abundant speed.  Once Tampa pulled Bishop, the CBJ kind of sat back, couldn't hit the empty net, and Tampa was able to break the shut out.  But it wasn't really that close.

Head Coach Todd Richards juggled his lines significantly.  Erixon and Tropp were both back into the lineup, and Nick Foligno was moved to center of the top line.  Ryan Johansen was dropped to center the third line with Kerby Rychal and Jack Skille, giving him plenty of speed and grit on his wings.  HCTR has had some issues with Joey's play, but part of this move I think was to create match-up difficulties for Tampa Bay, which seemed to be a successful strategy.  When the CBJ were at their best last year, they were rolling 3 'second' lines, and somewhere in there you get a match-up advantage.

The addition of Gibbons to the Foligno, Hartnell line gave that line a burst of speed, and Jenner's line with Calvert and Atkinson seems to be really settling in as an effective line.  They gave Tampa fits last night, with Jenner scoring the first goal on a rather improbable shot.  Most importantly though, they kept their feet moving, and got back to playing "Blue Jackets Hockey".  It was a good thing to see, and they were rewarded with their third straight win.

Finally, there is Sergei Bobrovsky.  He has been extremely sharp these last two games, flashing his Vezina form.  If he stays healthy, and plays this way, the CBJ are going to win some games.  Personally, I think <McDavid> they have dug a pretty deep hole <Eichel> to climb out of, but I don't think the players are listening to my subliminal <McDavid> advertising <Eichel>.  Today they sit 8 points out of third place in the Metro with 3 and a half months of hockey left to play.  If they make it interesting down the stretch, I will be content.  They weren't gonna win the damn <McDavid> lottery <Eichel> anyway.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Dropping Like Flies

Mark Letestu
Oh my.  I was not ready for the news today that Mark Letestu underwent surgery to repair his wonky groin.  Now he is out for 6 more weeks.  One of the takeaways from the Puck Rakers article is that a chronic condition was also addressed.

I saw a couple of comments asking why this wasn't done in Columbus.  My response would be that this is the surgeon who detected and repaired a chronic groin problem for Marion Gaborik.  Gabby has been injured a couple of times this year, but not his groin, which was wonky for close to a decade before this Doctor worked on him.  I think the CBJ brass were impressed.  And I think that Dubinsky had  lingering problems repaired as well.  His recovery seems on track, and he is close to returning.

I have to wonder if at some level all NHL players have bad groins.  The level of work and effort demanded by our situation and our system may be revealing  or exacerbating existing weaknesses.  It is to be hoped that these are repaired once and for all, and barring crazy circumstances, will not re-occur.

At any rate, if any of our players were looking at elective surgery, now seems like a good time to get it done.  Sheesh.  Get well Mark.  We miss you, and look forward to when you are healed and can rejoin the team.

Meanwhile, I will keep a <McDavid> stiff upper <McDavid> lip without any <McDavid> gratuitous references <McDavid> to generational talents <McDavid> available in this year's draft <McDavid>, particularly without <McDavid> using subliminal <McDavid> messages <Eichel>.

GO <McDavid> JACKETS!! <Eichel>

Thanks, I Needed That

Big win last night for the CBJ, if only to reward them for the effort, break the skid, and for Kerby Rychal to get his first NHL point.  All good stuff.

I liked JD's comments yesterday.  They have the right of it, we've been dealt a bad hand.  I like to joke about McTanking for McDavid, and the notion of a generational talent coming to this franchise makes me drool uncontrollably, but it's not the be all end all.  We've got a good bunch of players here, and they will find their winning ways before this season is over.  Unfortunately, that is unlikely to be enough for a return to the playoffs.

Last year, in January we were able to put together a franchise record winning streak.  This coincided with Bobrovsky's return from injury, but that run of play that vaulted us back into playoff contention was also the only stretch where we had a relatively healthy Nathan Horton, and his emotional and moral impact on the team was huge.  Horton's current situation is a cruel blow to all involved, and at this point, all I hope for him is freedom from pain.  But we can't realistically look for that spark this year.  True, that we finished off the season, and the playoffs without him, but the direction change that yanked us from a .500 team to a winner coincided with Horton's presence.

We have a team that knows how to win, its just incredibly beat up right now.  Case in point, Mark Letestu.  Keep in mind that Letestu lead the team in points during the strike shortened 2012-13 season.  He has a big impact on this teams ability to score.  He will return to health some day, and it will help our play.

Anisomov's loss is another tough turn of events.  We just have to keep rolling with the punches, and ride this out.  Our prize for not shrinking from this task may well be a generational talent.  So there's that.

But, nonetheless, a good feeling to be back in the win column.


Sunday, November 30, 2014

Life as a Bottom Feeder

Adjusting to Life as A Bottom Feeder
Last night's game in Nashville was eerily familiar to the 2009-10 games played during the great December swoon.  A good effort against a good team at the top of its game and a goal tender who is trending Vezina, lost in the end on a crazy jam play at the net.  What lessons can we draw from that familiar feeling?

The first lesson is that the start of the season doesn't count for that much.  The 2009-10 team had a franchise record for success by Thanksgiving, faltered hard in December, and within two months, Hitch was gone.  The second lesson we could learn from that 2009-10 team was loving our young talent too much.  In this, Jarmo fell into the same trap that Scott Howson did.  We let MacKenzie and Comeau walk so we had room for our young players.  We didn't force our young players to kick the door down with their play, we gave them spots.  History repeats itself.  Dang.  I'm not saying MacKenzie and Comeau would have saved our season, they would probably be out with an injury the way this season has gone.  My point is that it is a mistake to 'leave room' for young players.  We should 'force unproven NHL players to beat proven NHL players' before they move up from the AHL.  In the playoffs against Pittsburgh, our comparative strength was in the bottom 6.  Put this year's team in the same match-up, and I don't think you can say the same thing.  And MacKenzie and Comeau had a lot to do with that.

The third lesson from the 2009-10 team is the, at the time, acknowledged weaknesses of the team, which were at center and in defense.  We were 'set' in goal with Mason.  We had scoring punch with Nash.  We didn't want to pay Manny Malhotra what he thought he was worth at center, and he walked, leaving us weak up the middle.  How does this help us now?  Look who is still on injured reserve.  Two of our best centers, two of our best defensemen.

The return of Dubinsky and Letestu will have a real impact on the team.  Unfortunately, it may not be felt for several weeks after their return as they get back to playing shape.  I think the loss of Fedor Tyutin is greater than we think, and Murray was one of the best defensemen on the team last year.  BTW Jarmo, Murray should definitely start out with a rehab stint in the A before he comes up to the big club.  We all know he can play at this level, but he is still very young, and some time down in the A wouldn't hurt his development at all.

What is the take away lesson from all of this?  Sometimes you just have to take the punishment like a non-gender specific humanoid with the male characteristics of gritting your teeth and "not sayin' nuthin" no matter how much it hurts.  The problems of the 2009-10 team were inherent in it's structure.  The problems of the 2014-15 team are due to injury, not the team structure (for the most part).  This year's team is going to play some good hockey before it's over.  Unfortunately, a lottery pick seems a certainty at this point.  Keep rubbing that rabbits foot Jarmo.  We finally need a little luck at the draft lottery.

These are tough times in CBJ land, but there is a lot of entertaining hockey left to be seen yet this year.  How it looks on paper now is not necessarily how it is going to play out.  That's why you play the games.  The problems with this team right now are not in its structure, it is in the circumstances of the situation.  Right now they are learning some bitter lessons on how hard it is to win in the NHL.  Those should pay dividends down the road.


Thursday, November 27, 2014

Keep Calm and Carry the Flag

Yesterday in the Columbus Dispatch Mike Arace opined that the Blue Jackets need stirred up.  I agree with him on that assessment.  However, I disagree with him on his suggested method, which was a trade of some kind.   I think the impending return of Brandon Dubinsky will stir things enough to make a trade unnecessary.

Strangely enough, the best quality Jarmo Kekalainen could bring to his job now would be patience.  If this season goes off the rails, all you have to do is look at the injuries.  This team has shown that it can win with the people we have, we just need to get them on the ice.  The story of this season is not yet written.  We are still in 'Book I' where the seeds of the tragedy are sown.  How the rest of the story plays out remains to be seen.  Now is not the time for action for the sake of action.  The pot will be stirred whether we will or no, at a pace dictated by the healing of Dubinsky's groins.  If they keep working, they will be okay.

Thanks for taking the time to read our blog.  We here at the Dark Blue Jacket wish all of you a happy and prosperous Thanksgiving!


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Scientific Method

The Captain?
Last year, our President of Hockey Operations, John Davidson, and our General Manager, Jarmo Kekalainen often stated the opinion that the Columbus Blue Jackets had plenty of leadership in the locker room, and that naming a Captain was premature.  Let me be clear, I do not doubt their judgement in that.  For last year.  But for this year, I wonder.

There is a funny thing about science.  You have those hypotheses that you are able to advance prior to your experiment.  Those are called by a funny Latin term, a priori.  Those that you are unable to formulate after you have conducted your experiment are called by a funny Latin term, a posteriori.  See what happens when your parents pay for an education?

Scientific method calls for you first to identify a null hypothesis.  This, in laymen's terms, means you are an opinionated schitt head person who doesn't know what you are doing.  So, for the purposes of our current discussion, I postulate a null hypothesis that the Columbus Blue Jackets do not need a captain.  That the current leadership in the room is adequate to get the job done.

Scientific method also calls for you to articulate an alternative hypothesis.  This, in laymen's terms, means you are an opinionated schitt head person who actually knows what they are talking about.  For the purposes of our current discussion, I postulate an alternative hypothesis that the Columbus Blue Jackets should name Brandon Dubinsky their Captain, and that he will drag them into the battle whether they will or no.

As my first piece of evidence, I offer the goal scored by the Winnipeg Jets 9 seconds into tonight's contest.  Since we only score 2 goals per game, I suggest that giving one up in the first moments of the game is not such a good thing.  I postulate that Dubinsky will not tolerate that.  Therefore, he should be named captain.

In order to test my hypothesis, the CBJ's record after Dubinsky returns should be carefully scrutinized.  The record BD (before Dubinsky) and AD (after Dubinsky) should be evaluated by every fancy stat the league has available to see if he makes a measurable difference.

My a priori alternative hypothesis is that Brandon Dubninsky makes a measurable difference in CBJ performance as measured in the win column.  If the data supports such a notion, he should be made Captain.  End of discussion.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Wisniewski Suspended 8 Games Because Lucic Can't Cope

Today James Wisniewski of the Columbus Blue Jackets was suspended for eight games by the Department of Player Safety.  NHL spokesman Steve Questor noted that Milan Lucic's inability to cope with negativity was becoming a serious embarrassment to the NHL, and that the Department of Player safety felt that suspending Wisniewski was a reasonable response to the problem.

In an incident last year, Lucic made a death threat against a victorious Montreal player in the handshake line after the Bruins loss.  Last week, Lucic vowed to get revenge after Dalton Prout dropped him with one punch, stating 'the next time a linesman is holding Prout I'm going to throw two gloves at him!'

Questor said that it was time for the Department of Player Safety to act.  "By suspending Wisniewski we feel we can really send a message to Lucic that his continuing petulance is an embarrassment to the league, distasteful for the advertisers, and an affront to the ticket holders and must stop."  Questor noted that the Department of Player Safety had experienced great success with suspending Wisniewski.  Questor noted "Just look at Shanny!  He's President of the Maple Leafs!  I figure if I suspend Wisniewski, I can be President of Hockey Operations in Edmonton inside of two years.  It's a great career move for me."

When asked his opinion of the issue, Kris Pronger, newly minted member of the Department of Player Safety said 'Did you see that!  Prout dropped him with one punch!  Hell, they should have given Wisniewski 10 games because Lucic couldn't get his left glove off while he charged Prout.  It looked like he was trying to get a ball point pen to work!!  He didn't want to fight he said.  Ha, ha, ha, what a sucker play.  I love that kind of stuff.  But I'm a consensus building kind of guy, so I decided that 8 games was punishment enough for Wisniewski!"

John Davidson, when reached for comment, uttered an unintelligible remark while gazing to the heavens.  Puck Daddy commented thusly.  Yup.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Awww, Did Wittle Wucic Get His Feewings Huwt??

Dalton Prout and Cam in 2013 Development Camp
In today's Columbus Dispatch Aaron Portzline dropped this article saying Milan Lucic has vowed to get revenge on Dalton Prout for dropping him with one punch.  More antics from Lucic, to go along with threats to kill another player in the handshake line after a playoff loss, which he seems to feel is perfectly in line with hockey's 'code'.  Right.

Okay, let's be up front.  I never 'played the game'.  Rather, I'm a season ticket holder, dropping good coin to pay for your occupation Lucic.  You're a good player.  I can understand harsh words in the emotion of the moment.  I'm not one to be calling the kettle black.  But when you come at a guy, grab him by the collar, and he drops his gloves, just what did you think was coming??  Given your history, I can understand whey another player might not believe you when you say 'you don't want to fight' as you grab him by the collar.  Really?  Maybe you should try the code of 'keeping your mouth shut', like you suggest in the Puck Daddy article above?  Sheesh.

These antics, while entertaining, tend to overshadow the Blue Jackets continuing lack of cohesive play.  That wouldn't be so bad, but the 5 point gap to third place in the Metro has now stretched to a 7 point gap.  Which is still not that daunting with a little over 4 months remaining in the season, except that we have to try to jump over ALL the teams, not just A team.  I'm not really surprised by the 4-2 loss to Philly last night.  We aren't really playing that well, and I just couldn't see Philly losing 5 straight games.  I've seen some of the ones Philly lost on TV, and they just aren't playing that bad.  And then there was the GM, Hextall, going all Doug MacLean on his players.  Pretty funny really.  Honest, and genuine in Hextall, but ill-advised and funny.  So after a tough shoot out loss the night before, I just wasn't that surprised that CBJ didn't have a lot in the tank.

The Blue Jackets are having serious trouble scoring.  They really tend to score just 2 goals a game, and our defense on most nights is not good enough to turn 2 goals into a win.  We have Winnipeg, Vancouver, and Nashville this week.  They need to win two of those three games to keep from losing much more ground.  The CBJ haven't shown they are playing well enough to beat Pekka Rinne, so it would be good to head to Nashville with 2 home wins under our belt.  But we'll see.  We'll have a better feel of our status as a 15th place team (real or imagined) by the time next week is over.  I have an uneasy feeling about the answer we are going to be staring at as we launch into December.


Friday, November 21, 2014

Let the Wookie Win

Dalton Prout
In the strike shortened year of 2012-13, a classic DKM hockey podcast was attributing Star Wars names to CBJ players.  Naturally, Dalton Prout was dubbed 'the Wookie".

Tonight, in a 4-3 CBJ shootout loss to the Bruins, Milan Lucic of Boston ignored the sage advice offered by C3PO to R2D2....Let the Wookie Win.  Nope, Lucic had to do his thing, so suffered a one punch loss in a fight well chronicled in this Puck Daddy article.

Not wishing to risk his precious hide, so he could kill certains habitants later in the year, he waited until a linesman had Prout wrapped up before he managed to take a swing.  Manly Lucic.  Manly.

And totally worth the price of admission.  Boston played a classic Bruins game, and came out with the 2 points.  Our guys played well, didn't close the deal, but came from behind to tie it.  Not what we were looking for in the third period.  Tomorrow, you'll have to put up with more Wennberg love from me.  But tonight, it's all about the Wookie.  Way to go Dalton!


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Poor Systems Game

Stinger Looks Mean, So I'll Put Him in There
Tonight the Detroit Redwings waxed the Columbus Blue Jackets, 5-0.  The Redwings played the way Mike Babcock drew it up.  The Blue Jackets did not play like HCTR drew it up.  I'm going to pick on Brian Gibbons a bit here, but seriously?  You were brought in to compete for a fourth line spot.  You are playing on the top line because of your speed, and the incredible string of injuries.  Our coach says their defensemen are going to confront you, so get the puck deep in the offensive zone.  In the first period, you bring the puck across the blue line, stop, and fiddle with the puck.  Really?  Mentally, I even said to my self 'get it deep'.  Nope.  You had other ideas, Detroit came and took the puck from you, and before the scramble was over, Detroit was ahead 1-0.  WTf  Seriously?

Anyway, tonight was Detroit's night.  Since we've kind of owned them lately, and we are certainly down right now, it makes a certain amount of sense.  They beat us at our game, by winning the puck races, but played their system well.  Jimmy Howard made one brilliant save, a couple of pretty good ones, and the rest were routine to record the shut out.  The Jackets played HCTR's system pretty good in the first period, and then abandoned it for the quick shot, or the quick cycle out to the point for the open shot that Howard yawned before he stopped during the rest of the game.  Two players seemed to resolutely play the Jackets system, Boone Jenner and Alex Wennberg.  And Nick Foligno, of course.  And Hartsy, but he plays that a bit different, since his role is to get in front of the net.

Look.  You have these games in the season.  Detroit did their thing flawlessly.  In spite of my miserable record of prognostication, it's unlikely that Detroit can sustain that for the rest of the season.  But tonight was their night, and credit to them.  They were a step faster in all aspects of the game.  The score showed that.

The CBJ have now scored two goals in two games.  Take the Philly game out of the picture, and we are averaging less than two goals a game.  Other teams are saying, 'take Ryan Johansen out of the game at any costs, and we can beat the rest of those guys'.  We need to make other teams pay for that, but until we do, Joey is going to be shut down.

A response from the team to this game is critical.  They have gone through some tough times, but all they really need to do is respond to the loss with a win in the short term.  Over the long term they need to accumulate some wins, but that is not necessary at this juncture.  Playing .500 hockey is the immediate goal.  We'll save racking up wins for when we ice a reasonably healthy team.

So in the end it was their night, but that does not define our season.  Respond, win, and move on.  Start another losing spiral, and we'll start thinking McTank for McDavid.  But it's early for that yet, way early.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Regarding Erixon

One of the positives of the brutal run of injuries the CBJ have faced early in the 2014-15 season is the play of Tim Erixon.  He was slotted as a bit of a 'tweener coming into this year.  Jarmo and company believed he was an NHL defenseman, and one of the ways they showed that was signing him to a one year, one way contract.

Erixon had yet to 'kick the door down' to the NHL, yet it was time, and this was to be a make or break year for him, much like it was for Savard last year.  While he looked sorta scrambley earlier in the year, he has settled down into his role as Wisniewski's partner.  Erixon has more of an offensive upside than does Murray, our young defenseman with the wonky knee, and I think he has now established himself in the lineup.  It is hard for me to imagine him coming out of the lineup when Murray returns after watching him on the power play with Wiz last night.  When those two are on the points, you have two defensemen with good shots, good puck handling skills, and a great deal of mobility.  They were pretty lethal last night,

So the upside to this whole injury problem has been young people like Erixon and Wennberg who have been thrown into the fire, and appear to be emerging on the other side.  The mistakes have been made, the lessons have been learned, and both are playing well right now.  This could get interesting as the season progresses.

Strangely enough, a win tonight would take a lot of pressure off the CBJ going forward.  They are not really that far out of being in the mix in the Metro.  The Sharks are a really good club, that we beat late on the west coast already this year.  They will be looking to make a statement.  This would be a really good time for the home crowd to behave like a 5th line, and try to make a difference in this game.  It's still early, but the hill that must yet be climbed has been defined.  So come out to the game and be ready to get loud, even if we fall behind early.  It's our chance to make a difference this year.


Friday, November 14, 2014

A Good Step

Nick Foligno
In a four point road game against a Metropolitan Division rival, the Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the Philadelphia Flyers by a score of 4-3.  Had Philly won, they would have been doubling up the CBJ point total in the 2014-15 season with 18 to our 9.  With tonight's win, they remain at 16, while we move to 11.  The CBJ have a lot of work left to do to reach a level of relevance in the Metro, but they have a lot of time to do it.

Tonight's win, of course, broke the franchise record tying losing streak at 9 games.  Like last year, before they really started to win, the CBJ have been playing better, but yet losing.  Tonight they put together a fairly full game, and more importantly, played that distinctive brand of Blue Jackets hockey, with all lines working hard on puck possession in the offensive zone.  The third line of Wennberg, Cracknell, and Tropp was particularly disciplined and effective at this style of play, and it caused real problems for Philadelphia.  Over these last 3 or 4 games, and particularly in the last game, the light has gone on for Alex Wennberg, and he has figured out how to drive that type of play as a centerman.  He and his linemates were very effective tonight.

Finally breaking loose, and scoring more than 2 goals, the CBJ broke the trend from the losing streak of scoring 2 goals but giving up 4.  Both Wisniewski and Foligno scored twice, while Ryan Johansen had 4 assists in the game, a career high.  McElhinney looked much more comfortable in goal tonight.

It was a really great team effort.  Now they need to come back and face a San Jose Sharks team that is already in Columbus.  That should make for a really fun game tomorrow night.  I'm looking forward to it.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Hangover, Part IX

Hee, hee.  Couldn't resist.
I wasn't sure where I was going with this post when I found the picture from previous use.  It was downhill from there.  The losing streak is like a bad hangover, lingering long after it should have stopped.  The goal tending is a throbbing headache that seems to defy medication, the injuries are the unexplained black eye that greets you in the morning.  It will get better, but it will take some time, and until then its ugly.

And, like a bad hangover, the current state of the CBJ is something to be endured.  Fortunately though, the cure to all our problems becomes clear!  Hydrate, hydrate, and hydrate some more!  And while we're at it, forecheck, forecheck, and forecheck some more!!  OK, time to get a little more serious.

One thing I keep forgetting about the current crop of AHLers that occupy the lower lines of the CBJ, just about none of these guys (except Chaput) spent the year or two with Brad Larsen down in Springfield learning this system that last year's team had available.  The house afire alacrity that Derek MacKenzie always brought to a good old 'cycle down low' is something that this crop of players needs to learn.  The good news is that they showed last night that they are learning the lesson.  As the game progressed, they really started to play the unique Blue Jackets style that last year's team perfected, but has escaped these guys to date.

Late in the first period, already down 2-0 of course, Nick Foligno put on a real time clinic on puck possession below the other teams net.  Moving his feet, protecting the puck, making the opposition come to him.  And darn if late in the third period, there is Alex Wennberg doing the same thing, moving his feet, protecting the puck, taking the banging that it entails.  That, my friends, is good stuff.  Wennberg's skill is going to be there.  The will to play 'keep away' along the boards in the offensive zone of another NHL team is a learned attribute.  But it pays big dividends, which is why it's so hard.

I felt I saw some really good things in that Caps game.  Things you can build off of.  I'm not really seeing an end to this streak soon, and won't be surprised if it continues for a few more games.  I'm not being a negative nancy, just not being unreasonably optimistic.  They will emerge from this at some point; just as no team has won them all, no team has lost them all.  But the lessons the young players are learning from this will pay dividends down the road.

This current streak is something to be endured, like a bad hangover.  So you find the humor where you can, and soldier on.  Because the combinations are almost limitless in this situation.  McTank for McDavid.  McFlop for McDavid.  McDive for McDavid.  You could do that all day....


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Six Questions for Russian Machine Never Breaks

The guys over at Russian Machine Never Breaks (RNMB) approached us about swapping a Q and A session.  Unfortunately, life (i.e. work) got in the way, but I had already launched my questions.  Doug was kind enough to respond to my questions, even though he was unable to launch his own.  So we owe them one, and will reciprocate later in the season, when hopefully we have something to talk about other than injuries.

So here were my questions for RNMB:

1. We here in Blue Jackets land have been playing against Barry Trotz coached teams for our entire existence.  Those Nashville teams typically featured good goal tending and solid defense, as that's how the teams were constructed.  What has been Trotz' approach to a much different personnel set in the Capitals so far this year?

RNMB:  You put your finger on exactly why Trotz was brought on, and why so many people here are hoping against hope that we can turn this squad around this season. The Ovechkin-era Caps were from the start a reflection of Ovi and his play: explosive offense, wildly unpredictable, a bit shaky on defense. Those 2008-2009 Capitals? I've never seen such maddeningly exciting play.

But that's clearly not been enough. When Boudreau was jettisoned, the squad veered into "Hunter Hockey" - where they tried to reign in this team's natural scoring skill and turn it into something it just isn't. Hunter and Oates always felt like trying to squeeze the square peg into the round hole. So far, however, it seems Trotz has started to find the right balance between respecting what the core of the squad is and adding D to it, rather than shaving away the O.

2.  How do you see the relationship of Trotz and Ovechkin?  I think it's fair to say that Trotz never had a player like that in Nashville, so it must be a novel experience for him.

RNMB: I think it's fair to say there haven't been many players like Ovi anywhere, so any coach coming in was going to have that. Ovi is the tent-pole in this circus; everything else frankly hangs off that; including, it seems, the coaches. When each of our last three coaches left, there was all sorts of murmuring about whether Ovi had anything to do with it, or if he simply quit on his coach. I'm really not convinced about any of that, especially anything malicious, but Ovi is a force unto himself, and converting him into something else may just be a fool's errand.

Right from the get-go, Trotz has both worked to build good communication with Ovi, and the rest of the team, but not at the expense of making clear who's in charge. I think it's very possible one or two of our recent coaches were more focused on the latter than the former. One thing that is notably different so far, however, is how assertive a coach Trotz is during the games. He clearly sees his job as coaching every minute of play, and does not shy away from doing his job from the bench. Most important, I think, is that the entire team, Ovechkin and every one else, is ready to listen and follow Trotz, and he's highly respected by the entire organization.

3. Jason Chimera was a much loved player here in Columbus, and a lot of us were unhappy to see him go in the trade for Chris Clark.  How is he doing?  Does he meet fan expectations?

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Looks Like I Picked A Bad Week To Quit Sniffing Glue

The classic Lloyd Bridges line from the old Airplane movie summed up how it felt to be at the wedding reception, pop open the CBJ app, and see it 2-0 before the game was even 10 minutes old.  Down 4-0 at the end of one, I was fortunate to be in a place well supplied with strong spirits.

Go ahead.  Go through any NHL roster, scratch out 3 of the top four centers, and their starting goal tender, and you are looking at a squad in trouble.  Injuries are not an excuse, this is true.  They are a reason.  I am reading in other blogs that defensive coverage was not good.  But this is a pretty darn good Tampa team, and if I read the score sheet correctly, it wasn't so much Stamkos, a bona fide sniper tearing us up, it was further down in the lineup, where the injury losses are more significant.

I like the fact that the team pushed back.  That's a good sign.  But at the end of the day, it's not such a stretch to think that a Tampa squad hitting on all cylinders might beat an uninjured CBJ team by 2 goals (discounting the empty netter).  Giving up a touchdown is a whole different thing.

These are grim times in CBJ land.  It looks like we have another week to ride before reinforcements arrive.  Time to pin your ears back and dig in.  Probably not a good week to start some self-improvement project though....


Saturday, November 8, 2014

This is How the NHL Wanted It

No, they didn't want Columbus to McTank for McDavid, they wanted games ended in overtime.  The combination of an untimely penalty and the long change from switching ends conspired to do in the CBJ in overtime, as they lost to the Carolina Hurricanes 3-2, to be a mere point ahead of lowly Buffalo for last place in the NHL.

A quick thought before I bail, as this is a crazy weekend, and I will be on the run.  The old school philosophy for building a competitive team in the NHL is to build up the middle, starting with goal tending, and then centermen.  Who remains on IR for this team?  Goal tenders and centermen mostly.  Until the middle of the ice is beefed up, it's going to be tenuous.  On the other hand, we now have the annual 'drop to the bottom of the league before running to the playoffs' out of the way, and we can focus on the running to the playoffs part of the equation.

Gotta run.  Big night tonight for Columbus on a lot of fronts.


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Why the CBJ Misses Derek MacKenzie

DMac in 2013-14 Training Camp
The CBJ have no running game.  That is because we no longer have a center who understands the value of the running game, and was willing to do the things necessary for a good running game because of their intrinsic value.

But hockey doesn't have a running game!  Well yes, and no.  My Dad is a sports nut.  Loves football, baseball, and college basketball.  Hockey is okay live, but he doesn't live in Central Ohio like I do, so is pretty ambivalent about it, and doesn't understand the game well.
Last year I was talking to him about hockey, and about cycling the puck deep in the offensive zone.  And the analogy I used to explain why that deep cycle was good, was the running game in football.  They are very similar.  If you want to possess the puck and cycle it behind the other team's goal, than you had better be prepared to work darn hard, and be pretty physical.  Our fourth line last year was exceptional at establishing this type of possession (which tends to yield no Corsi advantage), and Derek MacKenzie understood and drove that type of possession game.

Having your fourth line play 'keep away' below the red line in the offensive zone is very analogous to the running game in football, and conveys the same benefits.  It is hard to do, so you are accomplishing something when you do it.  You make your opponent expend extraordinary amounts of energy recovering the puck, and that has a cumulative effect in a game.  And their offense doesn't have the puck.

The 2014-15 CBJ like to get the puck deep, but then tend to cycle it back out to the points for a shot that is often blocked, and possession goes the other way.  Last year, when the chips were down in a game like last night, DMac and company would come over the boards, and start to play keep away.  And more often then not, that lead to penalties, or other momentum changers that would allow the CBJ to get back in the game when they were being out skated.

While Chaput has done very well, he has more of a scorers mentality, when we need our fourth line center to embrace the cycle game, and use that to drive momentum.  You want to know if Jared Boll is being a successful player?  It's if he can get with his linemates, get the puck down low, behind the other teams goal, and play 'keep away'.  If they can't learn to do that this year, it will be an important indication that one of the factors that allowed us to make the playoffs last year is missing this year.

We need to get our running game back on track.  And is starts with Chaput and the fourth line.  Derek MacKenzie had the right appreciation for the value of this, and made choices as a center to drive that grinder possession game.  And we don't have that right now.  But we need to get it.