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.