Saturday, October 29, 2016

Four Goals in Four Minutes

Sam Gagne
The Blue Jackets scored 4 goals in under four minutes against the Anaheim Ducks to put the game away early, and played solid hockey the rest of the way to win the finale of their west coast trip 4-0.  Sam Gagne got it started with his first goal as a Blue Jacket.  After that he and Brandon Saad alternated scoring goals, with both Gagne and Saad finishing the game with 2 goals apiece.

Sergei Bobrovsky collected his second shut out of the season, and is playing very well.  Nick Foligno was flying tonight, collecting primary assists on the first 3 goals.  Zach Werenski is an amazingly smooth and heady player, who makes his teammates better.  Seth Jones is playing at a high level.  Matt Calvert was all over the ice all night, and it was just a really good team game.  You could call out every player, they all seemed to be playing well.

This win means the Jackets achieved the goal I set for them before the season, which was to finish October at .500, and come out with 7 points.  Although they will continue to face playoff teams from last year for the next little while (except Montreal, who is undefeated this year, or close to it), they rallied from a tough start to the season to remain in the hunt.  Plenty of tough games coming up, but lots of them at home.

So, first goal accomplished, now to build on that.  The next goal is to make Nationwide Arena a tough place to play.  The Jackets will have plenty of opportunity with 9 games at home in November.  I'm really looking forward to see how this team continues to play.

Three out of a possible 6 points in the journey through the Valley of Death in California, five of a possible 8 points for the road trip.  That kind of road trip will take you far.


Sunday, October 23, 2016

Back In It!

Josh Anderson
For the first time in roughly two years, the CBJ are not widely considered eliminated from playoff contention.  In a short 30 or so hours, the CBJ have won twice, moving their record to 2-2 and smashing my fears.  Yes it could go off the rails from here, that's true.  It could go off the rails at anytime from here on out.  But at least the team has an opportunity to face that without an albatross hanging around their neck.

Josh Anderson continues a run of strong play with a goal, Scott Hartnell and Calvert both score, Zach Werenski notched an assist to keep his 4 game scoring streak alive, and Bobrovsky pitches a shut out.  Gosh that feels good.  If you look through our line up there are lots of players out there that are going to score goals who have not yet, so we should be in some of these games coming up.

So since I was unduly afraid of another 0-8 start, I feel liberated to be unduly happy about sitting at .500 right now.  It gives them some elbow room as the go into the 'Valley of Death' out in California, with the Kings on Tuesday, and the Sharks and Ducks on Thursday and Friday respectively.  Pull another win or two out of this road trip, and you keep this thing rolling during a real dangerous stretch of the schedule.

Many things are now possible.  This is good!

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Bjork Down, Milano Up

Sonny Milano
Last night after the win against the Blackhawks the CBJ sent struggling winger Oliver Bjorkstrand to Cleveland to re-kindle his game, and promoted Sonny Milano to the NHL.  I don't know if he will break into the lineup tonight, but this seems fitting after Milano had such a strong training camp.  Bjorkstrand has stuggled to adjust to the speed of the NHL game, and was seeming to get caught thinking instead of playing.

This is a fairly normal developmental step, and Bjorkstrand won't be the last young player sent to the AHL to find his game.  Meanwhile, Milano will get a chance to show that he deserves to be in the big leagues.  Congratulations Sonny, and good luck!

Tonight the Jackets face off against an excellent Dallas Stars team.  Sonny's quickness should be an asset to the CBJ if he is in the lineup.  It should be a fun game to watch.


This is Why Hockey is So Much Fun

Chicago Struggled Containing Josh Anderson
What a fun game!  Amazingly, the Jackets made the same 3-1 lead that they had against Boston stand up tonight against Chicago, against all odds, and the specter of an 0-8 losing streak is dead.  As a fan, it is hard to describe how huge this is.  As players, I hope the Jackets are happy about the win, but more pleased about their ability to skate with the Blackhawks.  The Jackets lost their first two games to heavy, physical teams (Boston, San Jose), but were able to skate with a team that has won Stanley Cups by out skating their opponents.

It is apparently true that Chicago's penalty kill is a hot mess.  The Blue Jackets took advantage of Chicago's miscues scoring two goals, while the 'Hawks were unable to muster scoring opportunities on their many power plays.

But don't get me wrong.  I think the young Blue Jackets played a very strong game.  They staked themselves to a lead in the first two periods by dominating the skating against a good skating team, and held on in the third in the face of the inevitable push by a very, very good team.

As piercing as the white hot anger about the loss to Boston in the opener, the joy of this performance is perhaps of the same intensity.  As a fan, surrounded by Blackhawks supporters, I tried to rise to the occasion.  It was wonderful to be supported by an excellent game by the CBJ, with strong performances throughout the lineup.  I thought that blog favorite Scott Hartnell was key in enabling a nimble, fast and powerful Josh Anderson.  Here is a guy going to a new level, pushing off the foundation of the Calder Cup playoffs last year.  Josh made a big step in the Calder Cup playoffs last year, and he seems to be able to push off of that this year.  With Scott Hartnell as a line mate, they become a load for other teams to handle.

Tonight is a feeling of liberation from the ghosts of last year.  Tomorrow an excellent Dallas Stars team will try to bring the CBJ to earth.  On the other hand, the league has not even begun the process of figuring out who Lucas Sedlak is, much less designing a game plan to deal with him.  Good opener Lucas.  You were a force all night last night.  You get a Vinny pointing picture when you score that first goal.

In summary, the young players took it to the 'Hawks bottom 6, while the Jackets top lines went toe to toe with the Blackhawks top lines, and held them to less than 3.  That was enough for the first win of the year, a joyous occasion which liberated the old farts like me from last year's result.  It is uncharted territory from here.


Tuesday, October 18, 2016

In Bjork We Trust

Oliver Bjorkstrand
The break time here is appreciated as a time to rally myself and actually start thinking about this season, now that I am past the rush of the opener (for good and for ill).  And I need to face my fears and deal up front with the specter of 0-8.  We are 0-2, looking down the barrel at the Chicago Blackhawks, and a west coast trip to California.  So opportunities to get beat abound.  But I suppose that in most instances when a team starts THAT poorly the encounter another team that just doesn't show up to play, and they pop that first win in under 8 games.  At least that's what I tell myself.

The game against the Sharks was instructive.  A 3-2 loss, with an empty netter that gave the Sharks a 3-1 lead.  I was on my way to get a post game table at a local restaurant when the Jackets scored with 22 seconds left to make it 3-2.  Hmm.  Well, the Sharks probably stopped skating after the empty netter.  The thing that is intriguing is how the rookies played into the flow of the game.

The first rookie contribution was a 4 minute double minor high sticking penalty on Oliver Bjorkstrand.  Not the contribution he was looking for.  The CBJ killed off the double minor with elan, but San Jose gained momentum and scored two quick goals to take over that first period.  From there the end result really wasn't in doubt.  Which is not really my point.  My point is that rookies Zach Werenski and Josh Anderson scored their first and second NHL goals respectively to complete the CBJ scoring.  The thought is that as the rookies go, so will fare the team this year (assuming adequate NHL goal tending).

Oliver Bjorkstrand has not had a particularly sparkling preseason and training camp, though he did score a couple of goals.  But he is still adjusting to the shift in pace in his first real foray into the NHL.  Yes, I know he played games last year, once he was up to pace and playing well.  Last year in Cleveland he did not get off to a roaring start to the season, but he finished very strong.  So he may take a while to get up to pace in the NHL as well.  Bjorkstrand should be able to score at this level, there is no real reason to think otherwise.  However, the timetable is uncertain.  Seriously though, can we at least see a Saad-Wennberg-Bjorkstrand line for more than one shift?  It would be interesting to see what would happen.

Which leads us to Zach Werenski.  His goal was classic Werenski, a tricky little snap shot filtering through the small spaces that got to the net and went in.  Good for Foligno for setting a good screen and getting out of the way, but the shot was on net.  Which is what Werenski seems to do, put his shot on net, which compliments his smooth skating ability nicely.  I have been really high on Werenski since Lake Erie's run to the Calder Cup Championship, as I felt he transformed their defense.  It looks as though he may be well on his way to transforming the CBJ's defense in the same way he did the Monsters.  This is a very, very bright spot for the organization.

I was surprised, but pleased, to learn that Josh Anderson got that last goal.  After a middling training camp performance, I thought he was one of the best players on the ice against San Jose.  He was a really big factor for the Monsters down the stretch, and I wonder if he can become that factor for the CBJ.

These things aren't certain for Bjorkstrand and Anderson.  Some players can do it at the AHL level, but can't do it at the NHL level.  We think these guys can do it at the NHL level, and the organization has not rushed their development.  So succeeding at this level is something these guys were drafted and developed to do, and really, they should be fine.  The only question is how long to get there, and how high can they climb?

The road ahead is tough.  The CBJ need to find the win column against teams that were in the playoffs last year.  I think they can (hope really); I want them to start winning.

Last year the season got by us before it started.  I think Todd Richards had 3 practices in the regular season before he was fired.  Torts has a long break here to settle things, and get them ready for Chicago.  That works to our benefit.


Friday, October 14, 2016

Reflecting on World Cup of Hockey 2016

These guys got eaten up by Brad Marchand too.
Ok, I had a hard time stomaching the loss last night.  But as I grappled with it, I realized some things that I had not considered.  I am very afraid of 0-8.  Almost all of the hockey I watched last year was meaningless.  These games still count, and it is really important to win some games that actually count towards keeping the CBJ in the race.  And we get the Stanley Cup runner-ups next, so the sledding isn't getting easier.

So when I looked at Boston, I saw a team that didn't make the playoffs, and thought they might be our only chance for an early win (not to say they are a bad team, they just didn't make the playoffs).  A huge flaw in my analysis is that I did not consider just how hot Brad Marchand has been lately.  He scored the winning goal in the World Cup of Hockey 2016 final, and finished second to Crosby in scoring.  The guy just went through the world like a hot knife through butter, so it's hard to imagine that our young (or veteran) Blue Jackets were going to contain this guy.  No one else has done it in recent history.  I'm not sure it would have relieved my angst last night if I would have considered that, but it might have been a little easier to stay more balanced.  Throw in notorious Jacket killer Backes, a move I had forgotten Boston made, and it makes sense that our guys couldn't contain them.  So, meh.

Next up are the 'life style beards' of Joe Thornton and Brent Burns in a very, very good San Jose Sharks squad.  The Jackets will have their work cut out for them tomorrow night.  The prospects for a win don't look that great, but I guess that's why you play the game.

In one thing we are really fortunate this year, is that Tom Reed has returned from Cleveland to re-join Aaron Portzline and Mike Arace in Blue Jackets coverage for the Columbus Dispatch.  Tom is a gifted hockey writer, and he is a real addition to their already very good coverage.  Not everyone agrees, I get it, that's part of the gig.  But this is a really good article that Tom just wrote.  I recommend you give it a read.

So, sigh.  Shaking off the hit from last night, and going after it again.  My understanding is that the R-Bar has the diced shark pizza at half price on Saturday.  I'm pretty sure anyway.

And congratulations to the Cleveland Monsters for raising the banner for the 2015-16 Calder Cup Championship won by the Lake Erie Monsters.  A cool moment I am sure.


Thursday, October 13, 2016

Respect Earned: Zero

Jarmo suggested that we couldn't wait to get back on the ice to earn back some of the respect we lost last year.  We did not do that tonight.  In the third period our rookies played like rookies, and Boston veterans roared past us.  On the plus side, I didn't strangle the little rat sitting behind me, or take a swing at his smug father.  Which is a minor miracle because of the high level of anger I felt at this game.

CBJ management, if they are reasonable people, have to think that last years 0-8 start was an aberration.  As a fan, it is stares me starkly in the face.  This was the easy game in our first 15, the non-playoff team.  It gets worse from here, and there is nothing in tonight's performance to suggest that it is going to get any better soon.  As a fan, I am at a breaking point.  The tickets are paid for, I'll be here this year.  But this game HURT.  There is not a lot more in the well.  Please take note.

One thing I have learned in this blogging gig is not to write when I am angry.  I am really angry now.  So it is time to sign off.  Please note that the third period was not fun.  I thought we were supposed to be the best third period team in the league?!  Halloween looms large for me.  Time to sign off, take my anger, go into the corner and try to work through it.  Good times.

Good Night Jackets Fans.  Sleep well.

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That's it.  Good luck.  Go Jackets!

Monday, October 10, 2016

I hate it when this happens. Please pass the Kool-Aid.

Lukas Sedlak makes the team.
Grrr.  No matter how much I tried to temper my expectations last year, I still got burned.  And it left a mark.  Problematically, after the CBJ's season was over, I got a couple of opportunities to attend Lake Erie (then; Cleveland now) Monsters playoff games.  I can remember being surprised and pleased by how solid the young players were, no matter which side of the puck they were playing on.

And now this.  Two posts ago I was agitating for keeping an aging 4th liner instead of Sedlak, who is a young man with a bad habit of going to the net with his stick on the ice.  He also works very hard, and was instrumental in Lake Erie's playoff run.  Now he has now pushed Gregory Campbell to waivers.  Cleveland is an awesome place to play, and a guy like Campbell has a role in the organization.  It will be a difficult journey for him to accept that fate, and perhaps someone will pick him up.

Now we have a core group of Lake Erie Monsters joined with a core group of CBJ veterans, and all of a sudden this is a team with some collective speed.  I think it is still an open argument whether Artem Anismov in Chicago is better than Saad in Columbus, but I think the CBJ got faster in the trade (and I always liked Arty).  Sedlak, Bjorkstrand, Anderson and Werenski bring a shot of speed up from the AH, and the CBJ appear to have the potential to skate with some of the faster teams.  That should be interesting.

We have a lot of young players that have pushed hard to make the team.  It changes the dynamic on the team, and it makes it hard to retain my cynical shell.  Sigh.  Okay Jarmo, pass the Kool-Aid.  I'm in.....


Saturday, October 8, 2016

The Sorting Hat Has Spoken

Joonas goes to house 'injured reserve'
Well the goal tending situation gained clarity rather quickly following the Nashville game, where Joonas Korpisalo sustained a groin injury.  To me this represents the normal ups and downs of a young player's development, and is not a big concern.  But it does lend organizational clarity.

After the Boston game Anton Forsberg was sent down to the Cleveland Monsters to be the starting net minder.  This is an excellent chance for Forsberg to get sustained action as the starter, which is what he needs.  Once Korpisalo returns from injury, he will also go down to Cleveland, and work to get into form.

Meanwhile, at the NHL level, Curtis McElhinney has the back up job for so long as he performs well.  In the event that McElhinney plays poorly, or is injured, we will see one of the young goal tenders come up from Cleveland.  Over the last few years McElhinney has not had the type of sustained pressure to perform that these youngsters will apply this year.  It is to be hoped that he responds to that pressure with strong play, and we start to see some wins emerge from the back up goal tender position.

While many Blue Jackets players under performed last year, the goal tending position was just brutal.  That needs to be dramatically better as 2016-17 unfolds.  Bob seems to be playing much better, and the World Cup tune up may end up working very well from him.  This team needs Vezina Bob for the first 20 games, or so, because Boston is the only non-playoff team (2015-16) we play in the first 17 games, and they are a pretty good team.  So there is real pressure to win, and win against good teams right out of the gate.

The fellows over at the Columbus Dispatch, Reed, Portzline and Arace are reporting that Campbell will be retained as the 13th forward, and the 4th line will be Karlsson, Calvert and Anderson.  We hoped this line would produce last year, but it didn't.  This is going with youth to see what they can do, and I gotta confess I like this line.  So, we have the last few defensemen to sort out, and then the roster will be set.  But boy, that opener against Boston is already starting to look like a 'must win' game, as silly as that sounds.  But the sledding gets a lot tougher after that.


Thursday, October 6, 2016

Back Up Goal Tenders Must Win

Anton Forsberg
Given the number of back to back games scheduled for 2016-17, the CBJ need a good winning percentage out of the back-up goalie.  I know Bob CAN play in back to backs, that doesn't mean it is wise to play him that way.  Last season the goal tending position was very unsettled, and it wasn't until Korpisalo came through late in the year with a solid run of play that there was any stability at the position.

Not withstanding my complete whiff on Stoll in the previous post, I think Anton Forsberg is looking to win the competition for back up.  McElhinney has looked pretty good, but Forsberg was very sharp against Nashville.  Tonight's game ought to be interesting in terms of how this competition starts winding down.

If the back up can match Korpisalo's numbers from last year; 31 games, 16 wins, 11 losses, Save Percentage of .920, and a Goals Against Average of 2.60, then we have a good chance of making the playoffs if Bob plays like Bob.  That should be a decent way to evaluate the chosen back-ups performance.  Playing at least .500 hockey in front of the back up is essential.

Anton Forsberg established winning as the currency needed to keep the net in his brilliant run in the Calder Cup championship last year.  I think he is prepared to capitalize on that this year.  It should be fun to watch!


Monday, October 3, 2016

Time for a One Way Contract With Stoll

Why Not?
I am reading a book called "Stat Shot" by Rob Vollman, and it is fascinating.  It also makes my brain hurt, but that is just because they are smarter than I am.  But what they are saying makes basic sense, even if I don't understand the nuances of their math.  I am not close to finishing yet, however I see a tool in there that would allow me to see how close Oliver Bjorkstrand is to being a late draft Kane.  I still have more math to do, and that is going to be a challenge.

Until I have conquered these formidable calculation demons, I have to rely on what is frequently called the 'eye test' by those trying to discern understanding from the competing analytics and 'scouting' camps.  While it is true they both have their merit, I don't have the wherewithal as a solo blogger to undertake an analytics based assessment of what I am going to say.

But in drills Saturday morning, watching group 2 (not a good sign) players I watched each player coming down the slot on a drill, and there was something different about Jarrett Stoll.  A guy on a Player Try Out agreement (PTO), the CBJ management owe Stoll nothing more than a try.  But when he skates down the slot with the puck, you see him checking each corner, assessing the goal tenders approach to defending the shot, and then his counter.  There was a lot going on every time he had the puck on his stick.

Stoll has made some mistakes.  I assume he has atoned appropriately for those mistakes.  Now he is here on a PTO.  There is a part of me that thinks he has something to offer the organization, whether at the AHL level or the NHL level.  He could be signed for a reasonably close to the minimum one way contract, and if he played in the AHL and lead the Monsters to another Calder Cup it would be the best thing he could do to land a spot with Vegas.  The risk on a one way contract is slight, as the worst case is that someone claims him when you are sending him down.

My assumption here is that sending Bjorkstrand back to Cleveland at the same time you send Dubois back to Cape Breton will soften the blow for all involved.  You keep Stoll early, when we need to win, and bring Bjorkstrand up once he gets hot.  He won't be the first young player who was sent to the AHL to get hot.  Meanwhile, you send Stoll or Campbell down to Lake Erie to help lead that team to the playoffs again, at an NHL salary.  It is a good cross walk between the two organizations.

There is nothing at this point to suggest that David Clarkson won't be on Long Term Injured Reserve (LTIR).  That would give them plenty of cap room for a $650 k one-way contract for Stoll.  About the 3 day left mark in camp, based on continuing performance, is when you do this contract, in my opinion.

All that aside, Stoll could be a wild card down the stretch, and the approach is to prepare him for that eventuality.  A good start to the season, a calm/down middle part of the season, and a push to the end and into the playoffs is what we should be looking for from Stoll.  I hope it can happen that way.