Monday, December 28, 2015

To Fish or Cut Bait?

I think it's time to put the CBJ's end of the year streak last year out of our minds.  It is an illusion, a product of 60 games worth of practices before they finally got it right.  Once they got it right, they did show a lot of potential.  A 19-1-1 run is good anywhere.  However, the preseason does not last for 60 games, and the streak is unlikely to be duplicated during a meaningful time of the season.  If you eliminate that stretch, the body of work by this team is pretty brutal.

Many were deceived by that run, most assuredly myself, an avid Kool-aid drinker from Day 1.  But this is not about my deficiencies, it is about how a bunch of professional hockey players can make mistakes that a pee-wee team would make.  This is insanely frustrating, not just for me, but for all involved.  And with the normal over reaction borne of frustration, I began to mutter about blowing the thing up and going with the youngsters.  Which means making this team even younger, which won't necessarily scare the bejeebers out of the part of the league that is actually fielding a real NHL team.

And as I muttered about blowing it up and the trade deadline, the Predator-in-law (Mrs. Gallos' Dad, residing in the music city) began asking me rather piercing questions about what to do then?  Blowing it up makes you feel good as you are pushing the plunger, but what about the time spent picking up the pieces?   What does this team need most?  A cadre of NHL defenseman for one.  How doth one acquire such a thing?   In today's NHL there is a dearth of quality, mobile defensemen, and they are difficult to come by.  A guy like Christian Erhoff doesn't solve the serious problems with our defensive corps, though he would likely bring some offense.

So what do you do?   It is a commonly held belief that you can't really judge an NHL defenseman until he has played at least 200 games.  Other than Jack Johnson and Fedor Tyutin, the dean of the defensive group is David Savard, with 220 games played.  Just over the line.  Dalton Prout has 170 games, Justin Falk has 156, Ryan Murray has 116, Kevin Connauton has 124, Cody Goloubef has 69, and Andrew Bodnarchuk has 21 NHL games.   It doesn't matter how you cut it, these guys just need to play, and learn the lessons that all defensemen learn as they come into the league.

So it is important to remember that these players are still defining themselves at this level.  But the price for that experience is another lost season.  While it is true Bobrovsky erases some of the defensive short comings, they are going to remain for perhaps another year to year and a half.  Other young defensemen, such as Palliota, Werenski, and Heatherington will mature and take their places in line, learning the hard lessons.  Defensive help is thin on the ground in the trade market, and prohibitively expensive in free agency in today's NHL.    The only available course of action may be to grow our own.  Which takes time, and is a process fraught with uncertainty.

The Predator-in-law thinks acquiring some journeyman defensive help at or before the deadline will help settle things.  The biggest problem with that is our cap situation, and ultimately that you are taking games away from these young defensemen for a stop gap measure.  All that does is prolong the mediocrity.  The organization has to get serious about growing defensive depth at some point in its history, and that time is now.

So we truly know what it means to be caught on the horns of a dilemma, needing defensemen now, but being forced to grow them the old fashioned way.  And Tortorella is not done molding this group yet, not by a long shot.  A saying about teams is that there is a storming phase before forming, that some level of conflict is part of the team building process.  And it may well be that's where we are right now.  This group may be going through those forming pains before they can perform at a higher level.

The Stars come to town on Tuesday.  Time to start getting serious about defending the home barn.


Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Mother of All Brain Farts

You have likely read already about the 3 penalties in three seconds that the CBJ took while holding a 2-1 lead against Tampa Bay in the second period.  That translated to trailing 3-2 by the time the dust had settled, courtesy of Mr. Stamkos.  The only really funny thing about it is that little fluff in his goal total will probably cost Toronto $1 million per year for like 10 years.

I have seen CBJ teams that have looked this disjointed, but Nickolai Zherdev was roaming the friendly confines at that time.  Actually the defensive similarities are kind of sobering.  That's a long time for little or no progress defensively.

This team was able to put together a very cohesive stretch of play at the end of last season, yet that cohesiveness has vanished.  Ironically, the major difference was that a Captain was named.  It is difficult to believe that action would be a catalyst for dissension, yet there was a clear schism in the team during exit interviews about the need for a captain.  And now we have a team that can't seem to think, or have any poise.  It is perplexing.

I'm not sure what to think.  But Auston Matthews is at risk, and theoretically someone other than Edmonton can win a lottery.    So stay the course lads! Back at it again tonight against Gerard Gallant's red hot Panthers.


Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Merry Wiz-Miss

James Wisniewski, A Guy Who Came as Advertised
Merry Christmas out there in Blue Jacket Land from all of us here at the Dark Blue Jacket, DKM Hockey, the Cannon, BS Hockey, Section 212, and anyone else I am missing (Martini Hockey having stepped sideways)!  It is a lot of fun being involved in the electronic side of loving our team, and a lot of good people give there talent for it.  That's what makes it fun, which is why I am in it.  So Happy Holidays to you all.  I wish the team was in better shape at this break, but it's not.

One thing this post is not, is that it is not a 'what if' post.  But it is about exploring why we don't seem to have what we had.  My answer, as an amateur fan, is pressure on the points.  When James Wisniewski's big, often off target, slap shot was heading for the net, shot blocking was at your own risk.  You want to block Wiz' shot, you got to limp off the ice.  This attribute is now missing from our blue line, and it allows opposing forwards to challenge our defenseman at the offensive blue line with impunity.  With Wiz back there it was a calculated risk.

We got Wild Bill Karlsson in trade for Wisniewski.  In the long term, that is a winner I think.  In the short term, not so much.  Unless you take into account that Wisniewski is out for the year.  In that case, we are in the same place we would be in, but Karlsson won't be a rookie next year.  If we can find a heavy shot from the right point at low cost, we'll be back where we started, plus a young centerman.  Unless of course Wennberg hones that laser from that point, and it starts going in.  Dang I wish Wennberg would shoot.  But he usually sees the block, so he does the right thing most times unless he passes out of the slot, which he is prone to do.

So the trade is arguable.  I didn't like it at the time, because while we solidified defensively, we lost a huge offensive weapon.  James Wisniewski came as advertised.  He was gonna take some dumb penalties, he would get the odd serious injury, and he would pour in assists from the right point.  Oh yeah, and he was a bit weak defensively.  On the other hand, I wonder how he would do with Tortorella.  Be that as it may, we became defensively better when we traded Wisniewski.  And our blue line became offensively anemic.  In franchise history, James Wisniewski is 3rd in Points for Defensemen, 3rd in Goals by Defensemen, and 2nd in Assists.  His footprint on our record book is large.

I am aware that much of the big winning streak occurred after Wisniewski left last year.  But he had set the example about letting them loose from the blue line, and it was easy for people to follow in his foot steps last year.  It's a lot easier to be the guy with the second best shot on the blue line than it is to be the guy with the best shot.  This year, defensive scoring has totally tanked, and I think the lack of a threat on the blue line allows other teams to focus on the forwards.  There are other problems to be sure, but there is no offensive threat at the defense at this time. which causes collateral damage.

So my buddy Bill noted today that Mike Reilly got sent back to Iowa by the Wild.  Hope you enjoy that AHL salary buddy.  It might make you better in the long run, and it might not, but you'd be playing on this roster.  And it is that kick in the pants to Jarmo and JD that really hurts this year.  Reilly was supposed to be the offensive threat from the blue line that was going missing, but he opted out to ride the bus down in Iowa.  Maybe the right thing for him in the long term, you never know.  And maybe he wouldn't have been ready for what we needed here.  So it goes.

Zach Werenski was named the Captain of the USA squad for the World Juniors.  Quite an honor.  Hey, make sure you make friends with Auston Mathews.  It is to be hoped you guys have a chance to be teammates at the NHL level.  Considering the situation with Reilly above, the CBJ are going to need to make a push at Werenski to go pro next year.  I think they are going to need him.

Merry Christmas Everyone!



Saturday, December 19, 2015


Ryan Johansen in Training Camp
Today the news broke in the Columbus Dispatch that Ryan Johansen's incident with a racing heart that resulted in a hospital visit resulted in serious disruption to his off season training.  This makes sense.  After an incident like that you back off for a bit, you don't go right back into 'elite athlete' training mode.  So yeah, that would be a disruption.

The Dispatch also printed an interview with John Davidson which is pretty good.  I really appreciate the good press coverage.  I'm an old school kinda guy who likes to sit down with his morning hard copy newspaper, drink a cup of coffee and eat my breakfast while reading the hockey news.  That's my idea of a game day Saturday morning.

So here we are, the Flyers coming to town, and easy game to get up for, ensconced in last place, with the Head Cop (Bobrovsky) out with an injury.  Although Curtis McElhinney got the win the other night against the Glendale Coyotes (for now), he really had a hard time with rebound control, and kept throwing the puck back into play with rebounds.  I wonder if they give Korpisalo another try.  Philly can hurt you if you play crappy, but they are no Dallas Stars either.  Maybe get the kid back up on the horse?

Been reflecting a bit on CBJ coaches.  There have 2 head coaches that had real hockey gravitas in the organization, Ken Hitchcock and John Tortorella, who both have that funny ring with all the diamonds on it that says 'Cup'.  I think Tortorella is going to get it done here.  JD was quoted today saying that yeah, he's a demanding coach, but the players like it.  This is not the talent/coach mismatch that was the case in Vancouver.

For me, Exhibit A for how well Torts is doing is Cam Atkinson.  Cam is starting to turn into a very solid NHL player, and he seems to know exactly what the coach wants from him.  There is no confusion in his game.  Here's a guy I would have thought would struggle with Tortorella, but conversely seems to be thriving.

So as stupid and sideways as things got early this season, I think this will turn around at some point, and it could be a lot of fun.  We'll know a bit more after tonight, as Steve Mason pitched a shut out in his last game, and the Coyotes goal tending was abysmal.  If we can ring up some goal against the Flyers, that will be a good sign.  I sure would like to see more than one goal.

Will be off the grid for a couple of days, but will check in again early next week.


Thursday, December 17, 2015

You're Our Only Hope, Obi-Wan Dubinsky

Leia looking like she's got a few miles on her....

On a night when Ryan Johansen is out of the line up for a bit of a 'reset' as the Coach called it, Savard is out, Jack Johnson questionable, and Justin Falk up from the Monsters, it looks like a different kind of a night for the CBJ.  Coach has a good day planned for Joey, it is to be hoped he'll see it that way.  In all walks of life, sometimes its good to step back for a minute, if you can, take a deep breath, and gather yourself.

If nothing else, its entertaining.  Twitter has Joey traded already, to those who can't afford Stamkos.  Twitter has Tortorella 'up to his old tricks', which couldn't be further from the truth, except for the shot he took at Pittsburgh, which is funny as heck.  I have come to the point where I find Tortorella's press conferences must see stuff.  I've been watching the post game ones, I might need to start watching the pregame as well.  There's some pith in his video.

Since I last took keyboard in hand, the CBJ played a stout first period against the Stars, got a little sideways against them in the second, and the Stars stepped on the gas.  That's what teams that are in first place in the league will do.  Lindy Ruff was pissed because the CBJ had pushed them around in the first period, and unimpressed that the Stars had done the pushing in the second period.  The CBJ gathered themselves, and more or less stopped the bleeding, but the offense just isn't happening, and they ended up with one goal again.

Tortorella is actually doing a really good job with this mess.  He kinda hooked me when he said the players had played with 'moxie' after the Stars game.  He didn't blast them for getting zipped by the leading point scorer in the league, who got some space and made them pay, a couple of quick rights to the jaw and the fight is over, whether the big lug goes down or not (to use a boxing analogy).  I expected him to be upset, but he wasn't.

Tonight's game should be interesting.  I'm looking forward to it.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Same as it Ever Was, Same as it Ever Was

Ok, Wennberg, all is forgiven.  But I still want those 2 goals!
Just wanted to take a minute to point out that we are 1 point off the pace of where we were last year in the 2014-15 season.  And we had a pretty rough 7 game losing streak at the end of January and early February of 2015  before going on the late season run.  These guys still have some winning streaks in them, but it sure is frustrating and difficult to see now.  But if we can avoid further losing streaks (like the one we are in now), then we can hang in there and pick 8th.  Or something like that.

At this time last year we were in the midst of a 10 -1 run, so some winning would be a good thing.  We have the powerful Dallas Stars tonight, so that is a real challenge.  We'll see how it turns out.


Monday, December 14, 2015

I'm Tired of Living in Mudville

Joonas Korpisalo played well enough to win.
Unfortunately, his team mates hung him out to dry.
As my compadres at DKM  Hockey remind me often, I am an old fart.  For those of you that don't recognize the tag line, it's from the old baseball poem 'Casey at the Bat'.  To make a long story short, the poem ends:

There is no joy in Mudville, mighty Casey has struck out. 

So, when Mrs. Gallos uttered those words on the way out of the arena, I had to use them.  For it captures the essence of Blue Jackets fandom.  Another season in the tank because they can't play to win.  Too many conservative, defensive minded coaches, making them afraid to make a mistake.

One lousy goal.  Dammit.  Korpisalo played plenty well.  It would be nice to see this team find a sense of urgency in, say, the first period, instead of the last 3 minutes when you are behind.  And its time to start winning the damn home games.  C'mon man!  This is lame.  Just lame.  Hang your heads in shame.  At home you are supposed to play to win, not play to not lose.  The crowd was behind you!  What gives??  Will you get mad enough to start winning if we boo you lustily?  That's the approach the Philadelphia fans prefer.  I'm not a fan of that, tell you the truth.

And I'm not a fan of 'pass it around the outside because I'm afraid to shoot' offense.  We had 15 lousy shots on goal deep into the third period until Wennberg coughed up his second gift of the night.  I love Alexander Wennberg, and I think he will be a great player, but hang you head in shame dude, because you gave this one away on a silver platter.  AND, lest you think I dwell on your mistakes, I wouldn't if you would use your copious offensive skills to actually win a game.  You are allowed to shoot the puck, particularly if you are walking down the slot with the puck.  But no, you pass it.  SO, as a huge fan of yours, you, personally owe me two goals.  And I want them damn quick.  Keep in mind I pay for tickets to every game, so I'm not in my basement writing this rant.  I just got home from the game, and I'm steamed.  PLAY TO WIN DAMMIT!!!


Friday, December 11, 2015

Lake Erie Monsters on Fox Sports Friday at 7:00

From Fox Sports

FOX SportsTime Ohio_Vert

Lake Erie Monsters on STO Tomorrow at 7 p.m. and Saturday at 7:30 p.m.

SportsTime Ohio will be airing live the Lake Erie Monsters’ productions of the Monsters-Chicago Wolves games tomorrow and Saturday (Dec. 11-12). Puck drops at 7:00 p.m. Friday and 7:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Handling the calls will be Tony Brown, who is in his first season as the Voice of the Monsters. Brown will be joined by Cleveland hockey legend and Monsters assistant coach/Director of Hockey Operations & Team Services, Jock Callander. Veteran Cleveland sports broadcaster Kenny Roda will serve as rink-side reporter and intermission host.

Tune in to SportsTime Ohio Friday at 7:00 p.m. for Lake Erie Monsters vs. Chicago Wolves action!

Thursday, December 10, 2015

Too Many Soft Goals, But No Quit

Banged around a lot tonight
This is not a good time to write.  I'm bitter about the 6-4 loss tonight to Winnipeg.  It clouds my perspective.  Given our history over the last 3 years, the first game out after Bob goes down is a bit of an adventure, but having crapped the bed the first 8 games they don't have the leisure to lose games like this.  But it is what it is, now a quick little 2 game losing streak.  Haven't heard Torts yet, but I can assure you that the Kings are a much better team than the Jets, though I think Winnipeg matches up well against us.

I hated the easy goals early, though the Jets got the bounces for sure.  I liked the 'no quit' in the team, but down 2-0 is kinda late to start showing 'no quit'.  Grrrr.  Rookie goalie and its late in the second period before we even get 10 shots on him.

Gah.  I'm grumpy.  Stop the puck.  CMac often takes a game or two to get in the groove when Bob goes down, so I should be patient.  But having a hard time with that.  Winnipeg wins this series this year 2-0, and it wasn't even really close.  Good news is we don't play them anymore.  

Oh well.  Time to listen to Torts.  That should be awesome.


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Bob Down

Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch is reporting that Sergei Bobrovsky will be out for up to 3 weeks with a lower body injury.  For the third time in 3 years, the Blue Jackets have started poorly, ridden Bob like a rented mule trying to get back into things, only to have him go down with an injury in December.  At least this time we tried applying the rhetoric about a fast start before the season started.  McElhinney has performed reasonably well in these stretches, and the Jackets have even put together some streaks with him in the net during this time of year.

Perhaps the removal of that safety net the Bob provides will spur new heights from the rest of the team.  The first test will be in Winnipeg on Thursday, where the Jackets should be expecting a very physical game from the Jets.  CMac will rise to this test I think, and maybe Joonas Korpisalo will get his first NHL work, as he was brought up from Lake Erie as the back up today.

It is important to remember that the current situation is similar to where the CBJ was in December of the 2013-14 season when they last made the playoffs.  That required some crazy heroics down the stretch to achieve, but at least makes for compelling hockey.  We'll see how it goes.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Jackets Take Season Series From Kings

Bob left the game in the third period
The CBJ led the game late into the third period, 2-1, then Bobrovsky got injured, and then they gave up a late goal to send it to a 2-2 overtime.  The Kings prevailed in the last minute of 3 on 3 overtime to make it a 5 point season series.  However, the Jackets took 3 of the 5 points, we don't care about how the Kings finish in the Western Conference, and in the long run of the season this is an okay result.

This is a very powerful Kings team.  I have to wonder if the Blackhawks could have won the Cup last year if the Kings would have made the playoffs.  Certainly Quenville would not have been able to get away with playing 4 defensemen in a 7 game series against the Kings.  But, as Dandy Don Meredith always said, if "Ifs and Buts were Candy and Nuts we'd all have a Merry Christmas".  The Kings outplayed the Jackets for large stretches of the game, but the Jackets held the lead on a couple of opportunistic goals.  The Jackets held on based on the strength of excellent play by Bobrovsky.  But with 5 minutes left in the game he went to the locker room, and Curtis McElhinney came in cold.  CMac did well, but the Kings end up pulling it out.

In the 2013-14 season, Bob went down right about this time of year in a game at Phoenix.  The CBJ ended up making a strong run at that point in front of CMac, and ultimately made the playoffs.  We have been riding Bob like a rented mule.  When we do that, he gets hurt.  You just have to start managing his minutes better, resting him on back to backs, instead of playing him against Mason in Philly.  I don't blame Torts, he doesn't have the historical perspective, but this is like the third year in a row that Bob gets hurt in December.  Of course the last three years we have been behind the 8 ball by December already in every year, so the poor starts really hurt us there.

We will find out later how bad it is with Bob, but CMac will be playing for a bit now.  Time to get him some goals to work with.


Sunday, December 6, 2015

One, Not so Good, Second, Much Better

Not Liking the Nachos
A below average effort against Florida by the CBJ Friday night elicited a below average blogging response, the decision to write about two games at once later in the weekend.  On Friday night the Blue Jackets played a sleepy first period, and ended up losing in a shootout to Florida 2-1.  After the first period there were significant moments when the forecheck dominated possession, by which I mean playing 'keep away' along the boards.  However, the Blue Jackets did not generate much offense out of these instances of prolonged possession, meaning that their 'possession' statistics (e.g. CORSI) would suffer.  So it goes.

Importantly, Michael Chaput scored his first NHL goal, and Scott Hartnell was given a seat in the press box.  Hartnell was reported to be upset about the coaching move by the Puck Rakers.

The coach was not especially happy about the effort Friday night, and shockingly, was vocal about that.  The players seemed to take that to heart on Saturday night when they jumped the Flyers on their home ice, laying a 4-1 loss on Philadelphia.  Hartnell, back in the lineup and playing with verve, had a goal and two assists.  Foligno, recently released from the purgatory of a 20 game scoring drought, scored two goals.  Shockingly, the CBJ also got scoring from the defense, when an oft deflected snap shot from the point by Jack Johnson fluttered into the net.  It was good to see them have one of those nights where everything went right, and it was an important win over a divisional opponent.

Interestingly, Kerby Rychal and Justin Falk were both sent down to Lake Erie after Friday night's game, a function of other folks returning to the lineup.  They both had played well in their stint with the big club.  This is the normal developmental curve for Rychel, where he will be up and down.  He played well, and with energy, but in the long run we will need more from him.  So back down to Lake Erie to re-vitalize his scoring touch.  For that pick to be a successful one, we need more that a fourth line winger out of him, and he needs the time to develop to that top six winger who is difficult to play against.

Next up, the LA Kings.  This will be a good measuring stick game against which we can see how we handle a heavy, physical team.  It was good to put Friday night's lackluster game to bed with Saturday's win.  It will be good if the offense can start to blossom while retaining a tight defensive game.  We shall see.


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

The Bitterness Feels Good

Last night the Columbus Blue Jackets lost a tough road game to the league leading Montreal Canadiens 2-1 on a late penalty.  I fumed for a bit after that game.  Which is good.  Back in 2011-12, when Scott Arniel and the team put a season to bed before Halloween, I never felt this way watching a road game.  We were busy doing the 'Fail for Nail' thing, and my heart wasn't in the games.  I would just turn them off, or watch impassively.  The vibe this year is completely different.

Look, as a season ticket holder, one of my main goals is to have fun.  Winning is fun.  Let there be no doubt.  One of the beauties of the sport of hockey is that you have to learn to grapple with losing, because everyone does it.  Not even the Pittsburgh Penguins go undefeated, though you might not think it based on the attitude of their fans.  This is one of my problems with college football, this notion that you must be undefeated or you are nothing.  It's not realistic.  So losing is one of the things I like about hockey, even though it sucks.  Which is why I felt bitter about last night's game.  We lost.  It sucked.  I was bitter about a dumb penalty by a guy that has been a stalwart this year.  But dumb penalties come with the turf with Hartnell.  It's who he is, it's who he has always been.  He knows where to put that in the team structure.

No, the reason I am happy with my bitterness, is that this team is clearly improving.  They are making incremental progress every day they spend with Tortorella, and addressing the priorities as they come.  The power play has not been a priority, as D zone coverage, the breakout, and the penalty kill have been far more pressing issues.  They are starting to lose games now because of their ineffective power play, so I imagine it will work its way up the priority list.

Last night the Jackets went toe to toe with the best team in the league, yet 'found a way to lose'.  The coach sees this.  He'll fix it.  I like what Tortorella has going on here, and if ever there was a team built for him, this is it.  This is gong to be a fun year.  There's going to be some 'Hell Yes!!' moments, and some moments that suck.  But it's going to be entertaining.  There's a lot of hockey left to be played yet, so we'll see what happens.


Sunday, November 29, 2015

Battling for His Boys

Dubinsky was suspended for one game.
Coach John Tortorella is a fascinating character.  Earlier in the week he came down like a ton of bricks after a win in New Jersey.  After a tough loss last night in St. Louis I wasn't sure what we would get.  Instead he comes out defending his guys, and launches a scud missile at our increasingly bitter rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins.  Gosh I love being in the Eastern Conference.

Last night the Blue Jackets lost to the Blues 3-1.  Had the Jackets won, it would have meant that the CBJ had swept the Blues for two consecutive years.  If you asked me about that cold, I think I would tell you that outcome seems pretty improbable to me.  And as Tortorella described the game, it was tied at 1 early in the third period, a good road game.  They got a goal, the CBJ didn't (St. Louis added an empty net goal).  But all in all a good effort against a powerful opponent, but not the result you wanted.  The divisional game the night before was the more important game of the two, and the Jackets played an excellent, hard fought game for that win.

So I felt Tortorella defended his guys in the press conference, even thought he pointed out areas for improvement.  He's ALWAYS going to point out areas for improvement, but he was also effusive in his praise for suspended Brandon Dubinsky.

Then he called the Penguins whiners.  Dang did I laugh.  A classic Tortorella moment, always addressing the truth that no one wants to hear.  Last night Oduya cross checked Parise to the head, in a nearly identical play, as shown in this article by Sam Blazer over on Puck Drunk Love.  The sad truth is that Sam is right, there won't be any discipline for those offenses.  Nice work on that Sam.

At the end of the day, I wasn't sure what we were getting when Tortorella came on board.  But it is definitely growing on me.  Tough loss last night, but time to get ready for the Canadiens, probably the best team in hockey right now.


Saturday, November 28, 2015

A Wild One

Hartnell: Ha ha ha, I just love screwing with the Pens!
Why don't you score an OT goal Cam?
The faithful brought their mojo last night to Nationwide Arena to defend the home barn against the Pittsburgh fans who commonly descend on us for this game.  The Blue Jackets and Penguins held up their end of the deal, and played a fantastically entertaining hockey game that had a lot of texture (as Hitch would put it).  When Geno Malkin wasn't chopping sticks like a lumberjack, he was dropping the mitts with Jack Johnson, and scoring a go ahead goal.  Malkin played a 'complete' game.

The Blue Jackets played with verve and grit, and fought for a comeback, overtime win 2-1 that was one of the best games they have played this year.  Dubinsky was a force, and set up the winning overtime goal with a beautiful possession play.  At the other end of the spectrum, the Penguins started the game with a 2 on 1 breakaway that left the puck on the goal's doorstep until Bobrovsky kicked it away, starting a goal tending duel between Bob and Fleury that included sparkling saves by both goal tenders.  Ryan Johansen played what looked to be his best game of the year, including the tying goal late in the third period.

I've got to make this quick, and go strap it on for the OSU-Michigan game, which will be followed by the CBJ at the Blues at 8:00 tonight.  What a great day of sports!!!  The Jackets really need to string some wins together now (as they say it) if they want to climb back into this thing.  If they can take this game tonight at St. Louis, they win the series rather than just splitting it, which is an opportunity they missed with the Sharks.

What a good time last night, and the home team took home the win.  You gotta love that!


Thursday, November 26, 2015

Happy Uh-mer-cun Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving hockey fans!!!  I hope you all get some time with your loved ones this holiday and are able to celebrate another year.  I personally am thankful that you continue to read our musings about the hockey world that surrounds us.  I'm also thankful that the CBJ eked out a win in New Jersey, and am especially thankful that I got a chance to see Mount Tortorella simmering before it blows in last night's post game press conference.  The Coach wasn't especially happy, and indicated they'd won a game they didn't deserve to win.  If you take away the numbskull penalties, they played pretty good.  If you include them, the penalty kill won the game, by keeping New Jersey off the board.  So I am thankful for the win.

I'm also thankful not to be Boone Jenner in the next film session.  New Jersey's goal was scored on a sequence where pretty much everything went wrong for Jenner.  That's going to be a tough little time there for Boone, but I imagine he's no happier about it than Tortorella, so maybe I'm exaggerating .  I speculate that we'll see Justin Falk in the lineup for the first time, as Prout did not exactly distinguish himself last night.  

So Penguins on Friday, always a good time.  Come prepared to battle for the home turf.  I love watching Hartnell in games like this.  It should be a good time.

The holiday is always a good time to listen to the DKM hockey podcast (see link in right column), and hear Jar-moe read Joe's texts.

Happy Thanksgiving and all blessings to you and yours from us here at the Dark Blue Jacket and DKM Hockey!


Monday, November 23, 2015


Kerby Rychel has been settling in on the fourth line
Last night's 5-3 loss against the San Jose Sharks is the kind of game that happens to a team during a year of hockey.  San Jose was hot, and while they were coming off a back to back, the Blue Jackets were playing their third game in 4 days, and their fourth in 6 days.  So energy was a bit of a wash early.  Late in the third period a veteran team took advantage of a younger team, and before you looked around the Blue Jackets third period lead was gone.

In the grand scheme of things, this is a game to take lessons from, and get better.  With the NHL's current scheduling format, we play the Western Conference teams in a home and home.  Since the Jackets inexplicably won at San Jose on their last west coast swing, all the Sharks did was even it up.  Since the Jackets are looking up at a .500 record, this isn't exactly a death blow to their season.  If they can go through the year with essentially a .500 record against the Western Conference they'll be in ok shape at the end of the year.  A better record would be desirable, of course, and the albatross of a modern record bad start hangs heavy around the season's neck.  Nonetheless, you are going to have to do some winning in your own conference and division if  you want to be a playoff team.

It was a strange crowd yesterday.  Very quiet.  With the early start, I think there were lots of families there, and the crowd couldn't seem to sustain much energy, except in the second period when the Jackets were blowing the Sharks off the ice.  Problematically, however, the CBJ only scored two goals, and that wasn't enough to suck the life out of the Sharks.  Jack Johnson's shot off a post on the backhand was oh so close to going in, and if it does it might change the game.  The Jackets forecheck was on proud display in the second, and there was a period when we got a line change in while maintaining possession, and later we end up with a 5 on 3 power play.  You need more than two goals out of such a dominant stretch of play.  But its nice to see that they have that in them, and I think we are going to see more of that as the season goes on.

I find myself pretty compelled to watch Coach Tortorella's press conferences.  They are pretty insightful, and the dude is obviously very sharp.  It's going to be an interesting year.

Back in the conference Wednesday at New Jersey.  This would be a good game to win.


Saturday, November 21, 2015

Perdition for Predators

Bobrovsky get first shutout of the year
Much as Craig Anderson dictated the game Thursday night, Sergei Bobrovsky dictated the game last night.  It didn't really matter how much rubber the Nashville Predators sent his way, Bob was on top of all of it.  The Blue Jackets won their third straight game at home 4-0, a trend I would like to see continue.  It was a really fun game to watch, and it was nice to see Bob being Bob.  We are going to be needing that as the season rolls on.

Only 13,584 at a Friday game last night.  While I hope some of that is an influence of a huge Michigan State v. Ohio State game today, but I am worried that the early season losing is also something of an influence.  Nonetheless it was a fairly boisterous crowd, and a foundation for what I hope is stronger attendance going forward.  Sunday's game against the Sharks will be a big one, as lots of families will be out for the early start, and its a good way to build a new generation of fans.  In other words, its an important game to win.

Cody Goloubef and Fedor Tyutin were both injured in the first period, with Cody suffering a broken jaw.  The Jackets finished the game with Johnson, Savard, Murray and Connauton as their defensive pairings.  Coach Tortorella had high praise for this group, and Bob, in his post game comments, and they deserved it.  I wonder how much it helps mentally knowing that Joel Quennville won a cup at Chicago last year essentially playing 4 defensemen.  I wonder if it seems more normal to the players.  Of course when you have Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook it helps, for sure.  But our guys stood tall, with Savard and Johnson pulling down about 30 minutes of ice time.

A very solid effort by the Blue Jackets, helped immensely by the fourth line kicking in a goal right off the bat.  Gregory Campbell finishes, with helpers to Kerby Rychal and Josh Anderson at 2:35 of the first.  Two minutes later Johansen cashed in as Saad was flung into the net.  Of late the Jackets have played pretty solid when they get a quick two goal lead like that.  And Bob made it stand up.

A good rally game after a shut out at the hands of the Ottawa Senators the night before.  A good team win.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015


OK, so maybe it WAS a good move to trade for Saad
In a fit of petulance after the Blue Jackets lost an early season game to the Maple Leafs, I characterized the team as soft.  These things happen, and it was accurate at the time.  Of late they seem to have left that behind them, and last night I thought they deserved the moniker solid.  When the Blues got up early, they closed ranks and didn't allow another one, though I felt the Blues pushed to try to get the extra goal.  Then they went out and got two of their own, and shut the game down.  That was a sterling example of 'Blue Jackets Hockey' especially when they buried the Blues with the forecheck in the second period.  That was a thing of beauty, at least to some of us.

So the players deserves some props for listening to Tortorella, working hard, and trying to make what the coach is preaching happen.  Tortorella has done a great job, I think, and has the team in the right frame of mind.  The wins at home are a nice touch.  Problematically, a winning home record is an essential component of a playoff team's demeanor, not the occasional treat we have seen of late.  The team's home record kept them out of the playoffs last year, and they really need to chase those demons out of the barn for the rest of this year.

This last little run of play has been a good thing, but they are SO far behind, that it has done little but stop the bleeding.  They really need to play that way for an extended period now, which seems relatively impossible, but for a couple of things.  First and foremost, they've done it before.  Secondly, they got it over with quickly.  So, just sort of fussing around, let's set an interim milestone by which we can gauge progress.  Let's say that if they are at .500 before LA gets to town on December 8, they will have climbed back into this thing.  So, Remember Pearl Harbor is our goal for the interim.  Mind you, if they get to .500 by the end of December they are back in it as well.  Getting to .500 by December 7 would erase a lot of stink from the early season, and make you think they were the playoff team we thought they would be.  And, most importantly, it would make the rest of the season a lot more fun.

So Remember Pearl Harbor.  But don't Give up the Ship if they don't make it to that interim goal.  Close does count for that one.

The Blue Jackets play has improved.  Let's hope it continues!


Sunday, November 15, 2015

Well Gosh, That Sure Feels Better!!

Karlsson Scores 2 Goals to Continue a Solid Run of Play.
The sky is a little bluer, the sun is a little brighter, and the Jackets have put together a little 2 game winning streak.  This feeling is not a coincidence.  The Jackets played two feisty games against two opponents that were on winning streaks of their own, and ground out two victories.  With a 2-1 victory at Pittsburgh Friday night, and the home win (finally) last night against Arizona, 5-2 the Jackets remain in last place, but the vibe is quite a bit different, and they look like they are ready to start climbing.

Lots of scrums last night, with Boll, Campbell and Rychel leading the charge and Hartnell conspiring to keep the pot stirred.  This helped fuel a change in momentum late in the second period.  I had a lot of love for Mike Arace's comment over on the Columbus Dispatch, when talking about Ryan Johansen's game as a Jason Chimera hat trick, a goal, an assist and a stupid penalty.  I really like that Chimmer has found a home in Washington, I miss that infectious Chimera attitude, but I don't miss having to watch him every game.  But Johansen finally potted a goal, which was a beauty, Karlsson getting two contributed to an appropriate level of scoring for once.  The two goals at Pittsburgh were enough, but its awfully tough to win a bunch of NHL games if you are only scoring 2 goals a game.

The crowd was good last night.  Smallish, as one ought expect from a team that is just winning its first at home, but game competitors.  The crowd dealt with the flat play that allowed the Coyotes to climb back into the game, but got rolling when the scrums and hitting ramped up.  It's a funny thing about the C-B-J chant that has developed over the last few years.  That's something that just has to be earned, and it won't flow from the crowd unless the conditions on the ice merit the response.  So it was interesting to hear Johansen's comment about it, that the players had missed it.  As we have seen often so far this year, its a double edged sword, as an opponent scoring two goals in about 20 seconds will shut that flow off in a hurry.

Which leads me to a different sort of observation.  I really felt this in watching the Pittsburgh game.  The Jackets were up 2-0, on a hard earned, a 'we're just going to keep throwing scoring chances at you until we score' goal, and a lightening strike from Saad dashing down the slot (#wickedbackhandshot),  But even though the CBJ had the lead, you could tell that Pittsburgh was thinking that they were only going to need about 20 seconds to tie it up.  Last night the Jackets responded with more scoring, and were able to pull away.  But they couldn't do that against Pittsburgh.  And this will be the Jacket's life for some little while as the season progresses.  Teams are going to think they will fold late, and the Jackets are going to have to amply prove them wrong before they stop thinking that way.

I am finding Tortorella a fascinating character.  His post game conferences are always interesting to watch in order to hear how he talks about the game.  But he has brought a lot of structure to defending, which is starting to take hold, and the players are executing much better.  Of course losing Brandon Dubinsky to injured reserve because he had to do too many push-ups in practice is a negative, but .....

The Jackets win a couple in a back to back.  Good stuff.  More adversity ahead, for sure, that's the NHL season, but it also looks like this can be an entertaining season.  If this team can establish a winning tradition at home, something it has not done successfully for the last two years, it could be a really entertaining season.  And I think Coach Tortorella has his sights on that home record, which portends better things.  It is still very early in the season, but the hole is deep.


Tuesday, November 10, 2015

So. Is Not Getting Booed at Home Progress?

Damn, those Sedins are quick....
Tonight the Columbus Blue Jackets got beat by the Sedin twins, 5-3.  Multiple defensive breakdowns on bang-bang plays by the Sedin line pretty much decided the game.  It is important to note that Henrik Sedin could hit the empty net on his back hand from behind the Vancouver Blue Line while Nick Foligno could not hit the empty net on his forehand from the left dot.

Bobrovsky played reasonably well tonight.  The goals they scored were undefended goals from prime scoring positions, or even the crease.  The bitter, vindictive part of me wants to say that this was the Sedin twins trying to prove to Tortorella that they are bigger than he is.  Keeping in mind my nearly 100% incorrect prognostications, I don't think this is a playoff team for Vancouver.  They had a goal tender coming up from the minors on a conditioning assignment (coming back from injury) that played out of his mind in the second period.  Problematically for the Blue Jackets, Vancouver simply pulled away in the second half of the third period.  While the CBJ lead momentarily on a beautiful short handed goal, the ice had already tilted, and Vancouver dominated the play for the rest of the way.

0-6 at home.  Pitiful.  Don't lay this at the crowd's feet.  When the crowd was loudest, the CBJ simply coughed up more goals on blown defensive coverage.  Mind you these are beautiful tape to tape passes, that the Sedins were making; slick, ethereal offensive plays.  But that's not a playoff team we lost to, and even if they do make the playoffs, they will be quickly eliminated because all you have to do is shut down one line.  The Blue Jackets were unequal to that task, and got the fate they deserved.

0-6 at home.  And attendance is already in the tank.  Don't worry about me.  I'm a die hard.  Heck, I renewed my tickets after 2011-12.  This is not a good situation for a cap team.  Not at all.  And I am frankly kind of scared about it.  I think this team is better than what they have showed, but they have burned every scrap of cushion that they ever had this year already.  For any kind of attendance uptick they pretty much have to go undefeated at home the rest of the way, and that's just not the way NHL hockey is.  Games like tonight, first game coming off the road from out west, are notoriously bad for the home team, and not just the CBJ.  It happens to other teams too.  However, other teams have not squandered the cushion that they have for games like this, or won games to counter balance this kind of loss.

Management was deluded by a defense that had 60 games to practice to be what they could be last year.  They haven't had 60 games of practice this year, and they look wholly inadequate to the task assigned to them as a group.  A good defense might be victimized by the Sedins for 1, maybe 2 goals.  They are good players, no doubt.  But that line is not going to go through the NHL scoring 5 goals a night, far from it.  And if they don't, Vancouver is not a playoff team.  Right now they are ahead of Anaheim and LA and San Jose.  It won't be that way at the end of the season.

This is a very troublesome result.  Yes, the CBJ have a long home stand in February and March.  But they may well be beyond redemption when they get there.

The Jackets didn't get booed on home ice today, as they folded in third period in spite of having a lead.  I suppose that's progress.


Saturday, November 7, 2015

Two out of California Ain't Bad

Hartnell a 'throwback player': Tortorella
Emerging from a tough road swing on the west coast, the Blue Jackets return home today with a 2-1 record against San Jose, LA, and Anaheim.  Very creditable.  They lost to a Ducks team that has had an even more improbably bad start than the Blue Jackets by a score of 4-2.  The game wasn't that close, except it was.  The Jackets kept answering goals by the Ducks, but couldn't crack Andersen for the extra goal.  What I liked was the ramp up of the pressure when the Jackets pulled the goal tender.  THAT's what is supposed to happen, not to meekly surrender an empty netter, which was what was happening in the awful first 7 (AF7?).  The teams ended up trading goals, which ultimately sunk the Jackets, but the late goal made things interesting.  The Ducks got sterling goal tending tonight, with Andersen edging out MacElhinney in the number of truly crazy stops you can make.  CMac came out and performed admirably on the second night of a back to back.

A .667 winning percentage that they showed over last week will get the job done.  Keep winning at that clip and this thing is doable.  Stretches of .500 play don't hurt you except to burn the clock on the season.  Stretches of sub .500 play will sink you fast.

I attempted to watch every game of this road trip.  I actually successfully watched the Anaheim game.  Those late nights are tough.  But one thing became abundantly clear on this trip.  Scott Hartnell is at the top of his game, and is a real force to be reckoned with.  He is tied with Boone Jenner with the team lead in goals at 7, and looks to be a boulder gathering momentum as it crashes gleefully down the mountain side, wrecking havoc on all it touches.  When Tortorella called Hartnell 'a throwback player' I think that is the highest praise he could offer to Hartnell.  This is the Hartnell that I hated in Nashville and Philadelphia, but am coming to love with the Blue Jackets.  In the last two games he has drawn 8 minutes in penalties through behavior that has emphatically stated that he owns the opposition's crease, and you better bring something if you are going to come take part in that discussion. These are penalties that don't hurt your team.

The team is starting to play with a tenacious work effort, and a stiff back bone.  They took some real shots from the Ducks, but kept at it, and pressed until the final whistle in the game.  If they keep doing that, they are going to win some games.


Monday, November 2, 2015

Is it OK to boo?

The Blue Jackets have fallen to a record of 2-10-0 and the chorus of boos was raining down upon the team from the rafters of Nationwide Arena following their 3-2 home loss to the Winnipeg Jets.  The preseason hype has long since faded and the team that finished last season on a 16 game tear has fallen from memory.  The team’s struggles are as much a surprise to the fan base as I’m sure they are to the Blue Jackets organization.  The Jackets have fired mild-mannered Todd Richards and replaced him with the fiery John Tortorella as head coach.   The Jackets started the season 0-7-0 under Richards and are now 2-3-0 under Tortorella.  Frustrated fans are at odds with each other as they look for ways to cope with the team’s 0-5-0 record at home.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Here We Go Again

Better get used to a Hartnell picture here.  Dude's got it going.
Dang.  Another season in the tank before Halloween.  Their play is coming.  The CBJ are still making mistakes, but it was a better effort across the board.  I was impressed with Winnipeg.  When break downs, such as bad line changes, give opponents time and space, they are putting the puck in our net.  Beautifully placed, far side, just inside the post shots, that are messing with Bob's head.  So it goes.

In the grand scheme of things, a team that will almost certainly be playing better later in the year needs to go up to Winnipeg and get a win to cancel that one out.  Then you are .500 for Winnipeg, a dramatic improvement from where we are now.  Since we play every Western Conference team twice, you have to at least try to come out at .500 for each of those match-ups.  As this team slowly finds its way under the new coach, these are the things that we need to focus on, evening up the losses from early in the season as a way of climbing back into this thing.

I didn't boo last night.  I felt the effort was there, they capitalized on our mistakes, and put them in the net.  We were unable to force a good team into the same number of mistakes.  That's gonna happen to you in a hockey season.  Unfortunately, when you have an 0-8 start, you can't afford to have those things, but it's the reality of the situation.  I booed when I felt they had tossed in the towel, I didn't feel that way about this game.  So it goes.

Young Ryan Murray was calling for a little more loyalty from the home fans, perhaps rightly so.  What he doesn't understand is how hard this calls the shade of Scott Arniel, and the time I posted a 'Fail for Nail' blog before Halloween.  Young Ryan doesn't understand just how hard this is on the fan base, and how many times we have walked this road.  I don't want to be talking about top draft picks before Halloween.  I want to enjoy some competitive hockey while the pressure is on, not when the pressure is off.  And I'm not trying to call out Ryan Murray here.  He's a good player, a young player, and he has a right to ask for that.  What I am trying to say is that the fan base thought we had buried that when Lori Schmidt 'piled on' Arniel by asking a simple math question, and finally exorcised that demon.  Now here we are staring it in the face once again.

Definitely a good thing for the new coach to be on the road, even though it is a tough west coast swing.  There will be a less hostile crowds, as those crowds are focused on their own teams, and not ours. Last year, this team's home record was nothing to crow about.  Its one of the easiest things in hockey to fix, is that atmosphere, and the well has already been poisoned this year.  This start is going to haunt this organization in a big way at the ticket booth.  And for the second time in franchise history, when we put a cap team on the ice, the coach gets fired.  Oy.

But, hockey's a funny sport, and its a long season.  Right now the team needs to keep improving and see what they can come up with.


Wednesday, October 28, 2015

An Interesting Observation: 3rd Periods

We now have a 10 game sample to examine the Blue Jackets performance. While the advanced stats continue to get more advanced, one thing holds true - goals against.  Despite the Blue Jackets losing, they were still scoring goals.  This was a positive sign, however something was wrong with the defense, and something was wrong with the goalie leading to a lot of pucks in the net. What's even more fascinating is the timing of when the goals were allowed.

It's a little early to be comparing the 7-game sample of Coach Richards with the 3-game sample of Coach Tortorella, but one thing has definitely stood out for me and that is the 3rd period. If one were to buy into the notion that most people are as lazy as they can get away with, then the 3rd period is when tired legs start to lead to goals against if not held properly accountable.

Many believe that Coach Tortorella is able to demand more out of players, and to get them to play to at a high level even while fatigued. So while the men in Union Blue allowed an average of over 2.5 goals per 3rd period under Richards, they have only surrendered 1 goal under Tortorella in the 3rd. The one that they did allow was near the end of the game with a 3 goal lead.

We shouldnt forget that it's only been 3 games. So while John Tortorella is currently the winningest coach in Blue Jackets history, let's not erect a Broze statue outside of Tim Horton's just yet. It's just an interesting observation, and something I'll enjoy watching unfold as the season goes on.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

I Knock You Down, I Take Your Puck, and I Score a Goal

Scott Hartnell checks lead to goals 2 and 3.
This was a game Ken Hitchcock would have loved.  Lots of texture.  It wasn't a 'hitting' game, with wild, big hits, but it was a very physical checking game.  In stark contrast to the first 7 games, the Blue Jackets resolutely refused to give New Jersey time and space, in spite of what Coach Tortorella described as 'heavy legs' in his post game interview.

The Blue Jackets were explosive tonight when they finally found a crack in the Devils' armor, and they did it by maintaining a high level of physical play.  This, my friends, is what Blue Jackets hockey looks like.  I'm happy for the team that they can find this.  Over the last two years this team has shown a tendency to be streaky.  All Tortorella needs to do is rein in the losing streaks, and these guys will be okay.

Two big road wins, as the team gathers itself after a very rough start.  I highly recommend you seek out and watch Coach Tortorella's press conference, as it is informative and entertaining.  I would think the CBJ would have it posted soon.  Anyhow, the coach takes the blame for the heavy legs and credits the team for battling through it.  The team certainly battled, but whether the legs were because of the onslaught New Jersey hurled at the players or because of the coach remains to be debated.  New Jersey was the home team, with a four game winning streak.  I thought they had a lot to say about the play, especially in the first half of the first period.  But the Jackets just pinned their ears back, and battled, and I think you really have to like that.

In spite of a raging text message debate as to whether the Jackets would break 10 shots, they established their forecheck in the third period, and finally cracked a darn good New Jersey defense for a goal with 9:03 gone in the third, when Boone Jenner jumps a rebound and pumps it home past Schneider, with assists to Clarkson and Campbell.  Thirty seconds later Scott Hartnell lays a solid and effective check behind the net, the puck comes out to Dubinsky, who finds Atkinson crashing the net, and in 35 seconds the Jackets suddenly lead 2-0.

Five minutes later, New Jersey swings the puck from behind their net out to the half-wall, and Scott Hartnell knocks down the New Jersey player, skates away with the puck, then scores on Schneider all in one play to give the Jackets a 3-0 lead.

With 2:28 remaining, the Jackets make a tentative line change on the penalty kill, and with their goalie pulled, New Jersey scores on the 6 on 4.  But that was the end of the heroics, and the Jackets took away a hard fought 3-1 win.

Bobrovsky made one really unbelievable play, and several other really solid stops, that will help him to settle down and be Bob the rest of the way.

Tortorella has the whole team playing better, and I think he's just getting started.  Cool stuff.

Two game winning streak.  Make it an 8 game streak, and put us back in this thing, eh?


Monday, October 26, 2015

The Dark Blue Jacket's Definitive History of the CBJ, Part XI: A Requiem for Richards

Head Coach Todd Richards
It is fitting that Todd Richards's name be mentioned in the titles of this history; he is the winningest Coach in Blue Jackets history in terms of Blue Jackets games won, and represents an era in Blue Jackets hockey history.  My perception from my seat in the upper bowl is that Richards was responsible for stabilizing a situation where a hockey club was on the rocks, getting things turned around and taking the club to the highest heights it has ever seen.  With the inexorable spiral of a Greek tragedy the whole thing fell apart swallowed by a wave of injuries and expectations.

As of this writing, the Blue Jackets are the proud possessors of the most awful start since World War II, and are yet to win in the 2015-16 NHL season. Editor's note: They finally won!  Todd Richards has been relieved of his coaching duties, to be replaced by John Tortorella.  How did this come about?

CBJ M.A.S.H. Unit

 I last left this space in a state of exultation over the playoff performance of the 2013-14 CBJ, and how far we have come.  The offseason after the playoffs started strangely, with RJ Umberger asking to be traded.  Given the decline in his play, it seemed at the time that the CBJ might buy him out, but Jarmo Kekalainen pulled off an interesting trade when Philadelphia decided to move Scott Hartnell in spite of his no move clause.  So far this trade has tilted in the CBJ’s favor.  Sonny Milano was drafted, to further build the pipeline, along with Ryan Collins, Elvis Merzlikens, Blake Sibenaler, Julian Pelletier, Tyler Bird, and Olivier LeBlanc.  Blake Comeau and Derek MacKenzie were allowed to walk, and the shock waves of the loss of the latter still reverberate through the organization.  Brian Gibbons was signed as a free agent, and Jack Skille was picked up off waivers after signing with the Islanders.

Summer progresses, Cannonfest moves to Strongwater, and then some ugly news starts circulating about the condition of Nathan Horton’s back.  On top of that, Ryan Murray’s surgically repaired knee is not at all responding to therapy, soon the CBJ groin shredding factory would open for business.   The hits just kept coming in terms of injury news, and during the course of the season both Boone Jenner and Sergei Bobrovsky would suffer a broken hand by being struck by a puck in practice.  By the end of the 2014-15 season the Blue Jackets had lost a stunning total of 508 man games to injury, which is basically having 6 players out of a 23 man roster injured for every single game.

However the overriding issue as training camp approached was the fact that Ryan Johansen had not signed a contract for the 2014-2015 season.  This issue loomed over training camp like a cloud until October 6, when Johansen agreed to a 3 year contract.  The puck finally dropped on the 2014-15 season, and while the Jackets started out okay, the tide of injuries just kept riding.  By the end of October we had a first line, and a fourth line, and everything in between was a mess. 

October ended and the CBJ had a record of 4 wins – 6 losses – 0 overtime losses and a decimated squad with a backup goaltender preparing to face the November schedule.  It was in these dire times that one of Todd Richards’s best attributes shone through, the ability to maintain an even keel in spite of all the adversity.  At several times during the season this attribute was tested, as an inconsistent and beat up hockey club ripped off several impressive winning and losing streaks.  Richards’s ability to maintain an even keel, through winning and losing, allowed the players to gather themselves when the chips were down, and slowly turn things around.  These streaks reached a crescendo at the end of the season, when a finally healthy hockey club ripped off a torrid 16-2-1 stretch to end the season with a confidence formed of team self discovery cushioned by Richards’s calm demeanor.

As it so often happens, a strength can be a weakness as well, and faced with an inexplicable 0-7-0 start to the 2015-16 season, Richards was unable to generate the push on the players in response to the emergency because it was contrary to his nature.  In retrospect we will probably trivialize the nature of the emergency as a mere 8 games (~10%) in an 82 game season, but it appears that heroic efforts are in order for the rest of the way to sniff the playoffs.  In that regard, to the fans, it appears to be another season down the tubes 8 games into it (the new coach lost one of the games).  I’m not saying how this will end, but anyone who wanted to make the case that we were already out of the playoffs would have a pretty good argument.  So at this point in time, this particular 7 game losing streak (ultimately 8) assumed franchise rattling proportions.  Since Todd’s nature is to maintain an even keel in these times, it became apparent that another direction was needed, as rather than responding to the long leash, the team became more dysfunctional. 

It bears repeating that during that 7 game losing streak, Richards had two (2) practices to try to right the ship, while losing to a Toronto team that had 7 days off before they played the CBJ, and a Minnesota team that had a game every 4 days to start this season.  However, you can’t have a good Greek tragedy without some weird circumstance intervening to amp up the pressure, and the NHL schedule makers did their part. 

Todd Richards leaves the CBJ as the winningest CBJ coach in franchise history.  He finishes with a CBJ record of 127-112-21 after serving has head coach from January 9, 2012 until October 20, 2015.  He has recorded the only two playoff wins by a Blue Jackets head coach, but was dogged by slow starts in every one of the years he coached.  Blue Jackets hockey is not easy to play, and it is difficult to instantly ramp up from training camp, where you don’t want to play that way for fear of injury, to regular season form.  Indeed, his teams seemed to need their back against the wall before they could really play the way they needed to experience success. 

Todd Richards was the coach this franchise needed when he was hired.  He stabilized play, and got the team to be more defensively accountable.  He laid the foundation for future teams, and it is hoped that success will flow from this foundation.  It will be interesting to see where he lands after this, as I don’t believe he is done coaching by any stretch of the imagination.

2014-15 Summary

As noted above, October and the regular season started slowly, and went downhill from there with the injury news.  After starting October 4-2-0, the injury machine got rolling, and the CBJ lost the next 9 games after Bobrovsky went down with a broken hand and McElhinney came back too quickly after a concussion.  By the end of October, their record had sunk to 4-6-0 with more losing on the agenda.  Veterans Day rolled around in November, with a November record to that point of 0-4-1.  With 2 wins to mark the middle of the month, the CBJ proceeded to lose the next 6 games, to finish November 2-9-2 for an overall record of 6-15-2.

December rolled around, and the pendulum slowly swung back the other way.  December started with a win, a shootout win, another win, 2 overtime wins, and 2 shootout wins before an overtime loss ended their winning streak, but kept the point streak alive.  The Jackets ended December with a 10-2-1 record and an overall record of .500 at 16-16-3 at the end of the year.

January was mostly back and forth, win a few, lose a few, but with a 4 game losing streak tucked into the middle of it, all against Eastern Conference teams, and ended up January with a 5-8 record, losing ground on a .500 pace.  This left them 21-24-3 at the end of January.  February saw them continuing the trend of win a game or two, lose a game or two, until they ended up the month in the midst of a 5 game losing skid.  February’s record was 5-7-1, with an overall record of 26-31-4, losing ground on a .500 pace.

March rolled around, and the team began to get healthy, and began to play at a torrid pace.  Finishing off the 5 game skid in early March, the team went 11-2-0 the rest of the way in March, for an overall record for March of 12-3-0, climbing above .500 by the end of the month with a 37-35-4 record for the season to date.

In April, the team continued to play strong hockey, and finished 5-0-1 for the month of April.  The team’s overall record for the 2014-15 season was 42-35-5, good for 89 points, a very respectable showing by this franchise’s standards, but short of the point total necessary to make the playoffs. 

Beginning March 6, the CBJ ended the season on a 16-2-1 run, which is good hockey anywhere.  Unfortunately, this was counterbalanced by the 2-13-2 run from October 24 to November 29, which effectively put the playoffs out of reach. 

2014-15 Accomplishments

Nick Foligno lead all scorers for the year, with an amazing 31 goals-42 Assists-73 Points, with Ryan Johansen following close behind with 26-45-71, but Scott Hartnell finishing second in goals with 28.  The team had four 20 goal scorers, Foligno, Hartnell, Johansen and Atkinson.

Nick Foligno joined the ranks of CBJ 30 goal scorers, joining Ryan Johansen, Rick Nash, and Geoff Sanderson.  He also joined the ranks of 70 point scorers, with Ryan Johansen, Rick Nash, and Ray Whitney. 

Cam Atkinson turned in back to back 20 goal seasons, and Jack Johnson had a 40 point season, good for 3rd all time among CBJ defensemen.   Scott Hartnell was a huge success in his first year in the Union Blue, going 28-32-60, and more importantly showing real chemistry with Alexander Wennberg and Marko Dano down the stretch. 

Sergei Bobrovsky, once healthy, became the first CBJ goal tender to record back to back 30 win seasons.  He went 30 wins – 17 losses – 3 SOL and recorded a 2.69 goals against average (GAA) and a save percentage of .918.

The most amazing non-accomplishment of the year was the total of 508 games lost to injury during the year, a franchise record. 

Major personnel moves were the trading of Nathan Horton and his uninsured contract to the Toronto Maple Leafs for David Clarkson, and the trading of fan favorite James Wisniewski to Anaheim for Rene Bourque and William ‘Wild Bill’ Karlsson, a player who plays a game very similar to Alexander Wennberg. 

With their middling position in a deep draft, the CBJ drafted Zach Werenski, a promising young defenseman, and continued to add defensive depth through the draft.  But the block buster trade of the offseason was the acquisition of Brandon Saad from the Chicago Blackhawks for Artem Anisimov and Marko Dano.  Saad, only 22 years old already has two Stanley Cup rings, though the price was high, as Dano had shown much promise.  There were other parts to the trade, but I have gone on long enough. Editors note:  Yes, there was an All-Star Game.  I will produce and addendum regarding that event.

As a final ending to this period, during the off season Nick Foligno was named Captain to the CBJ for the 2015-16 season end beyond.

So ends Todd Richard’s role in this history, and the John Tortorella era has begun.  It should be interesting to see where this leads.