Thursday, September 29, 2016

Halloween or Bust!

I can feel it coming in the air...
Playoff ice in Nationwide Arena.
The CBJ's task coming out of training camp is going to be beating 2015-16 playoff teams with regularity.  Problematically, I haven't shaken the stunning turn of events at the beginning of the last season.  Though I am buoyed by the intensity of the work the team is putting in at training camp, last years sudden collapse out of the gate left its mark.

In the intervening time, the defense has been reshaped, at great cost, and the Monsters not only made the playoffs, they rolled to a Calder Cup championship.  The shock waves of this accomplishment have roiled the waters of the franchise a great deal.

Aaron Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch posted this quote in this Puck Rakers article about all the Player Try Out (PTO) agreements:

“One of the attractions here, honestly, is that Cleveland is a first-class organization,” Kekalainen said. “They won the Calder Cup last season. It's a great place to play in the AHL. It's one of the best spots in the league

I had forgotten the context of the amazingly good time it was to watch the Monsters win the Calder Cup.  A sold out Quicken Loans Arena.  Big gouts of flame shooting out of the score board.  This is not your run of the mill AHL atmosphere.  It is very, very good!  As Portzline pointed out in his article, this has brought an influx of PTOs.  Juxtaposed against this unexpected wave of talent, are the young Monsters trying to make this roster.  They showed they know how to win, led by Werenski and Bjorkstrand, and those two look to bolster the opening day roster.  The end result of this condition is that there are going to be veterans and youngsters that do not make the CBJ roster and are going to be sent down to the Monsters.  The big question is who?

Regardless of who makes the CBJ, the Cleveland Monsters of this year are going to have many new elements compared to the Lake Erie Monsters of 2015-16.  Why?  Because so many people from that team earned contracts elsewhere in the league.  If you are a veteran returning from Europe, and you can get in a great AHL venue and play well, it may well result in an NHL contract, particularly with another team coming into the league.  There are going to be more jobs next year, no matter what.  So in spite of the changes, I think the Monsters are going to do well again this year, because good performance with the Monsters by the veterans who 'lose' in training camp is linked with a probability of an NHL spot the following year.

With all that pressure, for a team that 'didn't make any changes' from last year, the CBJ may actually be quite different.  But different is not the same as good, which I interpret as 'beating playoff level teams regularly'.  This is also a young team, and there are likely to be some games lost as a result of youthful mistakes.  So this has to be season of short term goals.  And the first goal for the season is to be lurking around or above .500 by Halloween.  Last year by Halloween we had 2 points in the standings.  With 14 points available in October of this year, we want to have at least 7 points in the standings by Halloween.  This is not asking a huge amount, though it must be accomplished against good teams that made the playoffs in 2015-16 and also includes a road trip to the West Coast.

Last year, we were no longer in the hunt by Halloween, the second time I have seen that happen.  Please, not again!  So we need to have a good enough start to be in the hunt at the end of October.  It's Halloween or bust!


Saturday, September 24, 2016

HARTNELL puts DOWN roots

Scott Hartnell Institutes No Movement Clause
It's time for John Tortorella to embrace the penalties that come with the scoring.  For Scott Hartnell to play his game, he needs to play on the edge.  Playing on the edge in front of the net is Scott Hartnell's contribution to this club.  He will thrive on the set piece play, he will struggle in transition.  Tortorella wants to call Hartnell a throw back, but he doesn't want to tolerate the penalties.  That's not the way it works.

Analytics is cool stuff.  But the inescapable truth is that goals win games.  Hartnell's game is goals from in front of the net, so the coach needs to make sure he puts him there.  The coach needs to enunciate that there are certain penalties you make sure you kill, and he needs to lump Hartnell penalties into that list.  You want this guy being physical in front of the net, and you don't sweat the baggage that comes with it.  Hartnell is a year removed from a season where he nearly scored 30 goals (28 in 2014-15), and if you want to win, you need people scoring goals (see Hockey, World Cup of).  Hartnell can do this for you if you are willing to let him play his game.  It's about winning Coach, and deploying your resources so you can win.  Make the rest of the NHL deal with Scott Hartnell, don't try to make Hartnell into something he is not.

Scott Hartnell is a huge asset going into this season.  And I for one am pleased that he will be around, that he has cast his lot with this team.  This post is inspired by the Dispatch reporting that Hartnell has re-instituted his contractual no movement clause.  The commentary accompanying this Puck Rakers piece indicates that Hartnell is done with the uncertainty, and wants to be in Columbus and play on this team.  These are great things to hear in my opinion.

It is true that the game is getting faster, but the game was always faster than Scott Hartnell.  But the net is just as slow as it always was, so he will be able to win that foot race.  To me this is positive news at the start of training camp.


Thursday, September 8, 2016

Hoo Boy! THAT Got the Juices Flowing!

THAT's what we're talking about right there!
So I went to my boss the other day, and suggested to him that I might not be in the next morning, as I wanted to attend the USA Hockey practice today.  His sage advice was, 'you got the time, why don't you take the day off?'.  You got to love wisdom out of your boss.

The practice today was just that, a practice.  Fun to attend, good for basic photography, but not necessarily inspiring.  Having been assured by the R-Bar on twitter (@R-Bar_AD) that they not only offered doctor's excuses for missing work, but that they were streaming a couple of World Cup of Hockey exhibition games, I headed there after the practice.

So the practice was totally good.  Starting to get the feel of it all, especially liking the power play.  But once ensconced in the R-Bar, and watching the SWE - FIN and RUS - CZE games, I started to get really excited.  Sweden has a really good team, and they spent a lot of time putting the Fins on their heels.  That's like an Ohio State - Michigan exhibition game there, not a lot of love lost.

In the RUS - CZE game, Bobrovsky was in goal, and it was good to see him playing like the Bob of old.  Once back home, twitter reported that Bob made an unbelievable save in OT to send the game to a shoot out in the Russian win.  These were competitive games, even though they were exhibition games, and there were a couple of scuffles in the Sweden - Finland game.

So tomorrow night, Canada vs USA, exhibition game in Nationwide Arena.  Already the hair is standing up on the back of my neck, and I will get to break out my USA jersey with Mike Modano's autograph on it.  Speaking of jerseys, twitter was showing the team picture for USA in their game jerseys, and they look SWEET!  Hmm.  Time for a trip to the credit union.

Hockey fans are going to like this World Cup of Hockey thing.  I am already getting ramped up in a way I didn't think possible a few days ago.  The competition is excellent.  Let's see where this goes!


Tuesday, September 6, 2016

A Range of Emotions as Hockey Looms

Oliver Bjorkstrand, Game Winning Goal for a Calder Cup
There is a part of me that is having a hard time shaking the disappointment of the 2015-16 Blue Jackets.  Those seasons that are done before they even get started are hard to stomach, and the impact seems palpable throughout the fan base.  I am not really jonesing for hockey the way I normally am at this time of year, though the fact that there will be a USA-Canada exhibition game Friday night is definitely stirring the juices.  But I am strangely indifferent to the start of the CBJ training camp, at odds to my normal behavior.

So I was thinking of this post, and developing that theme, and then I started thinking about the amazing run of the Lake Erie Monsters and how I got to go to a couple of those playoff games, and how fun they were.  Most importantly, I got to go to game four of the finals, and experience the thrill of the Monsters winning the Calder Cup.  The celebration of the players was quite memorable, and when I think of it my mood changes.

I've been tracking Oliver Bjorkstrand's career since he was drafted, and really look forward to seeing him make the push for the big show.  I will be intrigued with how Werenski does, and if he can hold on to an NHL spot through the longest season he has yet to experience.  Our defensive corps has been dramatically reshaped in a fashion that is hoped will be more competitive.  While center is still a bit of a work in progress, in general, the forward group is pretty reasonable, with some potential for some real pop.

But the goal tending situation makes me slightly nauseous when I think about it.  The fact that Joonas Korpisalo was the best goal tender of 2015-16 in what should have been a development year for him is not a good thing.  But then there was Anton Forsberg's brilliant performance in the Calder Cup finals, snatching the net from Korpisalo after he had a couple of shaky periods, and refusing to relinquish the starting spot with a 9-0 run.   Bobrovsky is facing much more pressure from  below than he has faced in the past from this young tandem.  For Curtis McElhinney, its either win or play in the AHL.

The 2016-17 schedule is loaded with back to back games, and it is imperative that Bobrovsky not play in a single back to back situation.  The backup goal tender position MUST produce this year, as it has not (with the exception of Korpisalo) for the last two seasons.  The competition at goal tender in training camp is going to be pretty intense.  If one of the young goal tenders snatches the backup position (likely) the problem is that for development purposes they are going to need to see the net with some regularity, not just with back to back games.  It seems Bob only has so many minutes in him in any given year, and it is time that the CBJ manage those minutes wisely.  No more riding Bob like a rented mule.

There are plenty of story lines of interest for this upcoming season, if only I can shake these doldrums.  But the new season looms, and once it gets rolling the excitement will be there, and the juices will flow.  For those about to rock....