Wednesday, December 14, 2016

That Old Time Feeling

Can't talk old time till you talk Hartnell
It has been awhile since my cats have feared hockey on TV.  Last year they learned to sleep peacefully through western road trips, with the occasional comments of 'hmmm, nice' or 'that's unfortunate'.  Those peaceful evenings are gone, however, and when Calvert, Anderson and Karlsson combine for a crucial third period goal, they are subjected to primal scream therapy.  This makes them nervous when hockey games are on the tube, and they slink away to more favorable environs.  Such is life with this year's CBJ.

Formerly, when I was a tad less jaded than I am today, I could generate that visceral scream of joy with a Blue Jackets road goal.  The last couple of years, that simply hasn't been there, particularly last year.  The emotional commitment wasn't there.  That has changed with this year's team, as they skate in waves at the hapless opposition, and there is no containing the joy associated with those third period goals.  That is a gift that I celebrate, and appreciate, and have no intention of trying to contain as the season moves along.  Perhaps the future is full of woe.  You never know.  But I will celebrate that as much as their successes, because the impact of woe upon this team seems to be to harden them.

Ever since they walked all over Tampa Bay in Nationwide Arena, I have looked for how they would respond to adversity.  Pleasingly, they continually respond to adversity by identifying faults in their own game, and skating hard to correct them.  Seth Jones reaction to the erroneous 4 minute penalty assessed to Jack Johnson was 'maybe that will get us skating'.  This is healthy self assessment by the players, and both the players and the coaching staff deserve credit for their ability to make that kind of assessment.

I hear from the national pundits that the Jackets are merely lucky, and their PDO will regress, which will bring them woe.  I don't hear a lot about limiting your opponent to only one goal, I just hear how they will soon regress.  And indeed, this is possible.  But these kind of statistics have their basis in comparison of large groups of data, and the relationships between shots and success are developed on full seasons of data.  Comparing a half of a season to a long term average is dangerously cavalier with this type of data (see Behind the Net), yet we commonly see comparison on a game to game basis.

I watch all the Jackets games.  I see how tenacious they are on defense.  I see how selective they are on their shots.  Perhaps its luck, but when you have your toes in the blue paint, Nick Foligno, your scoring percentage may well be high.  If that is your shot selection, it is unlikely to regress significantly.  You have to get to the dirty areas to take the shot, if you don't make it there, the shot will not necessarily be taken.  It is okay to look at the underlying play, but that takes effort that is difficult to apply.  So people look at numbers, and make conclusions.  So it goes.  Often they will be right.  But not always.

Strangely, the national media do not seem to recognize that 3 key players from last years Calder Cup Champion Lake Erie Monsters (now Cleveland) made the NHL team this year, and they bring the same characteristics of play that were successful in the AHL to their NHL game.  Lead by Zach Werensky, Josh Anderson and Lucas Sedlak have brought dynamic games to the NHL in their rookie seasons.  There is no statistic available for these guys to regress to, because they are establishing those boundaries this year with their play.  And there are a lot of positives about their collective play, which seems strikingly similar to their play during Lake Erie's Calder Cup run.  So Sedlak is regressing to his average by scoring a couple of goals, his first in the NHL.  In short, there is no average for this team to regress to that is a valid comparison.  Last year's data is simply not applicable.

We will learn a lot more about this team over the next 8 days, when they play 5 games.  At the end of that time is a back to back against Pittsburgh, defending Cup Champs, and a surly Montreal squad that is atop the NHL except for the setback in Nationwide Arena.  Perhaps the Jackets will buckle under the pressure.  Perhaps they will lose a game or two.  But I don't really feel that concerned about that potential eventuality.

My greatest area of concern for this squad is the goal tending.  Bobrovsky has been superlative, but over the next week the Jackets need McElhinney to win two games.  We will see what Torts does, but I would like to see CMac go against Vancouver and the Kings, which would give Bob a 4 day rest for the crucial back to back.  But that is Torts call, and I will ride with his decision.

Calgary Flames tomorrow night, another team on a 5-6 game winning streak.  It will be interesting to see how our guys face the adversity of the upcoming week.  Based on their performance so far this year, they will be fine.


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