Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Game 45 - Catching Lightning in a Bottle

The Columbus Blue Jackets welcomed the visiting Tampa Bay Lightning to the comfy confines of Nationwide Arena looking to do what good ol' Lou Brown would call starting a Winning Streak.  Tampa Bay was 5-3-1 in their last nine coming into tonight's contest.  For a change, Nationwide Arena was a strictly partisan crowd, with barely a smattering of Lightning Jerseys in attendance.  There was the occasional Stamkos jersey to be found, and why not - he's got a 40, 50, and 60 goal season barely 6 years in the league.  But tonight's crowd was all about the Jackets and the team did not disappoint by delivering a satisfying 3-2 win in regulation.

A friend of mine was kind enough to offer me his tickets in section 110. My son and I got to see Dan Kamal and Brian Giesenschlag do their thing all game, they were right next to us. My son even got a chance to chat up Dave Maetzold briefly - further endearing the prospects of sports journalism as a career possibility for my son.  After the novelty of the broadcast happening next to us wore off, we were focused for the start of the Jackets game.

The Jackets came out in the first with the ice tilted towards the Tampa Bay net.  I don't think the Lightning were expectig the game the CBJ brought early in the first.  The Jackets had plenty of scoring opportunities in the first 7 or 8 minutes of play.  Lots of pucks ended up on the ice between the crease and the slot, but the Jackets couldn't seem to put them in the back of the net.  Lindback wasn't necessarily all-world, the Jackets just couldn't seem to punch one through.  As the period wore on, you couldn't help but feel that those missed opportunities would be sorely missed later in the game.  To heighten the anxiety, the CBJ Power Play was rockin' a Club Tril t-shirt in the first period going 0 - for - everything.  The Lightning did an excellent job of putting bodies in the shooting lanes when the puck was high, and putting sticks in the passing lanes when the puck was low.  The puck movement wasn't crisp enough to confuse the Tampa Bay penalty kill and the Jackets headed to the locker room after one period with the score knotted 0-0.  Advantage, Lightning.  One thing really stood out to me in the first - Mark Letestu was going to get a goal.  He was in all the right places, he was doing all the right things.  The goalie was having to make saves on all his shots.

If Wisniewski isn't careful, he and his honesty are going to have to sit over in the corner with the DKM and DBJ crew at this year's Cannonfest. 

The second period saw about 3 minutes of scoring and 17 minutes of Bob being Bob.  The Jackets get one board at 3:47 on a Ryan Johansen slap shot from way downtown thanks to Umberger screening down low.  But in less than three shakes of a lamb's tail, the Bolts score a couple goals to take the lead 2-1.  Bob makes some tough saves look routine and keeps the Jackets in the game.  The Jackets play was not horrible in the 2nd, it just lacked the "hey, these guys look sharp" feel that the first period had.  And my, oh, my - Martin St Louis is good at hockey.  I would hate to have to play d-zone coverage with him on the ice.  Some guys are good with the puck, some guys have speed, some guys are sneaky.  St Louis plays so smart without the puck and away from the puck that I kinda wish most people noticed that.  *EDIT In 2002, USA did a puck possession study during they Winter Olympics.  Essentially, they discovered the worlds best players are on the ice  20 18 minutes a game and have the puck for less than 45 67 seconds.  Considering that information, the great ones HAVE TO BE smart away from the puck.  All those advanced stats account for 5% 6% of the time you're on the ice, but I digress.  Oh, and if you're Jarmo Kekalainen, you just sign Ryan Johansen to one year deals, right?  I mean what a contract season he's having, huh?  He puts on 20 LBs during the off season and becomes really good?  Re-verify range to target - One year extensions only, please.

One Ping Only

The third period of this hockey game was one of the most satisfying periods of Blue Jackets hockey I've seen in person for some time.  It was one of the rare moments when I stopped watching the Blue Jackets and started watching the Lightning try to contain the CBJ.  The Jackets go on the power play after Sylvain Cote (or whatever) goes off for hooking.  With Anisimov screening in front, everyone's favorite 20 goal scorer steps in from the left circle and buries a wrister inside the far post.  BOOM, Horton hears a PPG. The game is knotted at 2 less than 4 minutes into the 3rd.  I had no worry in the 3rd period - it was a peaceful calm I get sometimes coaching youth hockey.  You just know when the players are "on it" and all you have to do is sit back and make sure the clock doesn't get screwed up.  The Jackets just kept rolling, even on the PK.  The Bolts looked frustrated and couldn't get much going in the 3rd.  The Lightning turned the puck over A LOT and there wasn't a moment that I didn't feel the Jackets weren't in control.


I am a die-hard Blue Jackets fan.  The Blue Jackets are my favorite team in any sport.  The Red Sox are a distant second for personal reasons.  And somewhere between my well-documented transition of my relationship from the Bruins to the Blue Jackets in 2000, I had an affair with the Tampa Bay Lightning in the mid to late 90's.  And part of that sordid affair saw me take custodial ownership of a rare piece of hockey history, rather contraband - an early development of Tampa's initial third jersey.  The story goes that the owner and director of scouting each designed a third jersey and had a set made for the team.  The winner's would go on to be mass produced, the loser's design would be destined to a blog piece over 15 years later.  Here is a picture of the jersey that didn't win. 

courtesy of Mark Esposito
Can you believe this lost because it wasn't LOUD ENOUGH. This thing should come with an epilepsy warning. Could this be a jersey foul - a Blue Jackets blog posting a rare Lightning Jersey? We might need Puck daddy to weigh in. Seriously though, who's jersey do you think the owner chose, his or someone else's? Alas, this jersey may have been the coolest thing to grace the ice of any summer league team anywhere in the late 90's.  Oh, and he's the abomination that won...

"I have worn arguably some of the ugliest third jerseys in the world, and Tampa Bay's, it was better".
Seriously, Silliger wore this, the Vancover abortion, and the Flying Duck 3rd. Yeesh.

Ok, back to the CBJ...  with just under 3 minutes left to play in the 3rd and some tweaking on the back end of the PP unit, James Wisniewski, I mean Jack Johnson, I mean MARK LETESTU tips in a beaut to put the Jackets on top for good.  And in the closing moments of the game, the Jackets were ALL OVER the Lightning.  They didn't go into a "play not to lose" retreat to the neutral zone prevent defense.  They pinned the the Bolts in their own end and everyone in Nationwide was on their feet for the final two minutes of the game.  The Lightning had to pull Lindback with the puck still in their own end to get the extra attacker onto the ice.  That's how unrelenting the Jackets were in the closing moments of the game.  It was a quality win for the Blue Jackets.  The Jackets owned the tempo in the first, leaned on Bob in the second, and brought their A game in the 3rd.  I noticed a little less MStL in the 3rd.  Coincidence, I think not.

The Jackets have their first four game winning streak of the season and let's hope they have a few more left in them this season.  There's all this buzz about the Metro division the last couple days.  Well there's a log jam between 2 and 7th place which makes for a compelling playoff story line the next 3 months.  Let's face it, it's boring to talk about who's going to make the playoffs in the West.  But in the Metro, it changes day by day.  It will be fun to watch how the Metro division shakes out over the next 90 days and the Jackets will be right there in the thick of things.  Does that mean the Metro is better than the Atlantic?  I don't know.  Does it mean one division is better than the other if both Wild Card teams come out of it?  No.  But the Jackets have to keep the 'above .500 pace' if they want to make the playoffs.  That sounds painfully obvious to some, but gone is the old playoff format - where some times the 6th seed in the East is better than the 3rd seed thanks to the former Southleast division.  It should be clear that every point counts and the slow start the Jackets got off to can only be overcome by above .500 hockey the rest of the way.  Dear lord I can't stand the three point games.

And back to what first got me into blogging two years ago this month:  right now, what you're experiencing as a Blue Jackets fan, is the minimum you should be willing to accept from this team.  If you can get past the portion of fandom that makes you feel like you're a part of something, you are investing your time and disposable income into the Blue Jackets.  Does this mean you get all ragey when the Jackets lose two in a row?  No.  Does it mean the ownership group is tasked with staffing a front office who can assemble a competitive team year in and year out?  Yes.  This feel good sensation we have right now as CBJ fans is the minimum threshold of expectation any fan should have.  So don't rip the casual or bandwagon fan for not coming out until the team starts winning.  These aren't your kids out there playing house select, this is the NHL where a decent seat to the game starts at $55 a pop.  It's an investment of time and money.  I'm at the rink 4 days a week September thru February as it is, so the precious few times I make it to the arena I want to see a competitive game.  I want to know that the Blue Jackets, aside from the occasional stinker every team has, is competitive in 85% of their schedule.  And you know what, with 14,000 in attendance tonight at least 5000 of them were 'bandwagoners' and you know what, everyone was engaged all game.  The arena felt great in the 3rd period.  If Grant Clitsome is to be believed, it's not always fun playing at home in Nationwide Arena, the crowd can be docile.  But the crowd was INTO it tonight and it really felt good.  We cheered the kill, booed good calls, booed bad calls, and the place went nuts on a close offsides!  SO MUCH FUN.  We need the casual fan if we want Nationwide Arena to be rocking.  Dear lord knows we need the casual fan if we ever want to try and host a Winter Classic at the amateur football stadium here in town.

And I like the tone I got from Head Coach Todd Richards in the bits of the post-game presser I heard.  I've always believed that when the team is struggling and can't get over the hump, so long as the effort was there, you nurtured and mentored the team as a coach.  And when the team is hot and playing really well, you ratchet up the reasonable expectations on your group of players.  You don't become a tyrant, but you don't allow the the intensity, preparation, or focus to slip one bit.  And I got that tone from Richards in his post game press conference and I liked it. The power play needs work.  No matter weather they are starting the cycle down low, setting up an umbrella from the points, or flooding an overload from the half boards, the puck movement has to be much quicker.  You need deception and movement to confuse the PK that hasn't been there lately -  The whole room knows it.  I don't expect these next three practices before Friday night's game against the Capitials to be cake walks.  Look for high-tempo practices for the players and some film study on the Washington PK by the CBJ Staff.

Game in one Haiku:

What a feel good game
I broke up with the Lightning
Nationwide was home

I remember this jersey fitting much slimmer
15 years ago...  SELFIE TIME

1 comment:


    Columbus Blue Jackets shall be there!

    - Joe in V


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