Tuesday, July 21, 2015

So Where Will the Scoring Come From?

Ignoring for the moment that we gave up 3.02 Goals per Game in 2014-15, let's focus on the 2.77 GPG we scored, which resulted in a total of 227 goals for the good guys.  It was an injury riddled year, but the 227 goals was good enough to finish 13th overall in goal scoring last year.  Due to the off season changes, and the recovering health of the team, we can play around a little bit with the numbers, and see where we might end up.

Certainly, many of these numbers will be dead wrong, with all of the foibles of the season laying before us, but here is some conservative guess work on how scoring might turn out.  Obviously, this is contingent on players being healthy.

Player                     Goals Guesstimate    Net from 2014-15
Johansen                         26                                 0
Foligno                           25                                  -
Hartnell                          22                                  -
Atkinson                        20                                  -
Clarkson                        17                                  0
Dubinski                        15                                  +
Saad                                 20                                  -
Wennberg                     10                                 +
Calvert                           15                                  +
Jenner                            15                                  +
Borque                            8                                   +
Campbell                        8                                   0
Boll                                   1                                   0
Johnson                         10                                   +
Connauton                     9                                   0
Savard                           10                                   -
Tyutin                             3                                   0
Murray                          10                                  +
Total                            244

Sorry for the lame table, Blogger has zero functionality in that regard.  But I digress...

If you look at the number of goals scored, with a good deal of the optimistic guesstimates still pretty reasonable and based on a greater number of games played, this is a pretty serious potential jump in goal scoring.  Should this season be blessed with some good luck, rather than the horrifying luck of 2014-15, there is reason to think that the scoring could compete with the top 5 in the NHL.

There is real reason to think that Wennberg might explode this year, as he looked really good down the stretch.  There is also real reason to think that he might have a tragic sophomore slump, based on evidence provided by Messrs Jenner and Murray.  However, there is a ton of depth in scoring this year, which might spell trouble for some of the other teams in the NHL.

The Metro is definitely getting tougher.  Right now over on the Cannon Matt is nursing a review of the Metropolitan Division.  It is going to be really interesting to see how the East stacks up this year.  Did the Atlantic Division just become the least in the East?

The prospect of more prolific scoring for next year is enough to get the juices going during the doldrums of summer.  I kinda like that!  So I thought I would throw these numbers out there for everyone to ponder.


Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Embracing the Thump: Part II

It would be natural for many of our readers to gently chide me for my incessant harping upon the importance of the fourth line, and suggest that, perhaps, some speed and skill on the top lines would be more effective.  And they would be right, a lot of the time.  But an NHL hockey season is an agonizing marathon run in 45 second sprints, but it's a team marathon.  Todd Richards has shown that when he has an effective fourth line, he will just roll his lines and try to exact a physical toll on the opponent.

This was especially apparent in 2013-14 when the CBJ went on a pretty long run of not losing once they had a third period lead and the physical toll of the game was accumulating.  In 2014-15, the fourth line was often ineffective, and we had a nasty habit of coughing up late leads as the injury depleted bench was shortened, the opposite of the aforementioned effect.

More importantly, though, is what Joel Quenneville just pulled off in Chicago, winning a Stanley Cup by essentially playing 4 defensemen.   This is a rather extreme example, but one that I think will be seen more frequently in the future.  The point is, you have to make the other team pay for shortening their defensive bench, and this is where the fourth line comes in.  They either need to get on the ice and pound on the 'royal four', or score on the other two defensemen.  Chicago's defensemen are excellent, but Tampa Bay could not put enough pressure on them with their bottom six to force them out of that mode, or at least to punish them for it.  If faced with such a situation in a playoff series, you need the fourth line to win you a couple of games, assuming that the top players essentially cancel each other out.  And you need to make the other coach reluctant to put his star defensemen on the ice in a highly physical series against anyone but your top lines.  And ideally, you grind them to the point where they are forced out of that mode of play.  This was brilliant and gutsy coaching by Quenneville, backed up by a sterling performance by his top four defensemen.  Your only real weapon in combating that tactic is your fourth line if it is physical and effective.

So my hope is that we have a more stable group on the fourth line this year, and to me, the Gregory Campbell signing goes a long way to ensuring this.  The play of the fourth line will have something to say in whatever success the 2015-16 squad achieves.  Here's my hope that it speaks with a loud voice.


Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Embracing the Thump

Porty Tweeted this Morning the a deal is almost done with
Matt Calvert
For a great deal of the season last year, I spent quite a bit of time calmly discussing (i.e. whining about) the inability of our fourth line to contribute to overall puck possession, and thus team momentum during a particular game.  By puck possession I do not necessarily mean as measured by surrogate statistics, but by the line's ability to win battles along the boards when on the forecheck.  In 2013-14, in our run to the playoffs, our fourth line, lead by a relentless Derek MacKenzie was the group that Todd Richards would turn to when the team's back was against the wall.  Injuries, inexperience, and confusion of roles eliminated this tool from HCTR's tool box for much of the last season.  The 2015-16 season is already looking good in this regard with the free agent acquisition of Gregory Campbell to center the fourth line.

With Campbell, Matt Calvert, and Rene Bourque/Jared Boll looking like the composition of that line, it becomes a line to be reckoned with, and hopefully one that will create some match up problems for opposing coaches.  In 2013-14, with MacKenzie at the helm, this line would take the puck back behind the opposing goal tenders net, and play 'keep away' for full shifts, and the following line change would put a great deal of pressure on opposing players.  We are looking to regain that possession aspect for this coming year, and Campbell, Calvert and Bourque have enough scoring touch to chip in and help with the scoring.

I look forward to with keen interest in how this group performs, and look to see Calvert driving the play with his relentless forecheck, and Campbell and company jumping on the loose pucks as hapless defensemen attempt to get the clear {wipes drool off chin}.  If this line can generate this kind of action, then we have a good chance to have a really fun season.

With regards to Matt Calvert, I know he has played successfully higher up in our line up in the past.  I don't see the fourth line duty for Calvert as a demotion, I see it as pressure from the top of the line up by players like Saad and Clarkson that is pushing successful players into different roles.  In other words, it is a reflection of how good this team can be.  But on the nights when the legs aren't quite there, the play of the fourth line will need to drag the rest of the team into the fight.  This line's ability to do this is critical to the teams long term success this year.  And Matt Calvert's motor is where that action needs to start.  I'm pleased to see that a contract for Matt is nearly done.  It's looking like it is going to be a fun season.


Thursday, July 2, 2015

Jarmo's Team

It's been a wild few days here in Jackets land.  The acquisition of young Brandon Saad from the Blackhawks, along with the departure of Artem Anisimov, Marko Dano, and Mark Letestu, followed by the signing of Gregory Campbell to center the fourth line.  I'm not going to try to recreate the excellent coverage on Puck Rakers, or by our colleagues over on the Cannon, Buckeye State Hockey, or the incomparable Puck Daddy.

From a fan perspective, Jarmo has put a clear stamp on this team.  This is Jarmo's team going forward, and this is a team that has a lot of thump to it.  Yes, Pittsburgh got Phil Kessel, which is kinda scary, but only if we let them play their game.  If we make them play Blue Jackets hockey, we'll be okay.

I've got to confess, this is all pretty fun to think about.

Have an awesome fourth of July holiday, Blue Jackets fans!!  This is one to celebrate!