Monday, October 30, 2017

Spousal Strife. Is it Better to Beat the Bruins or the Penguins? #SaveTheCrew

Shoot Out Winner Oliver Bjorkstrand
Okay, right out of the gate.  It feels good beating the Bruins.  They did their usual crappy cheater game, set a good pick on the tying goal, and climbed back into a game where the Jackets tried to set the tone early.  It's a good pick if interference isn't called right? 

Anyway, that ravening beast, Oliver Bjorkstrand drew his first NHL major for boarding (LOL!!!), but the Jackets still got the power play because it was really a minor and their guy jumped Bjorkstrand, who threw his first punch in his career (watch out NHL, you have unleashed the Kraken), and then turtled like a guy who ought to turtle.  Then he undressed Rask in the shootout with the game winner.  Bjorkstrand has to learn to stand up for himself in a league that will physically dominate your game if you let it.  This is a journey for all young hockey players trying to break into the NHL.  You end up needing to handle teams like the Bruins (or the Kings, that was not intended as a slam against the Bruins, it's who they are), and learn to play your game in spite of that.  In the end, Bjorkstrand did so, scoring the game winner.  That's his game. 

So my lovely and faithful spouse and I got in a good natured tiff about whether it was better to beat the Bruins or the Penguins.  We beat the Bruins tonight, so of course that was my argument, but she held that it was better to beat the Penguins.  Tough call.  It's always delicious to beat the Pens.  So there it is, I'm likely to lean toward who we played last, so long as the Jackets win.

According to Twitter, the Jackets are a mess.  No centers, we can't beat good teams, power play sucks, back-up goal tenders no good, etc.  Best October in franchise history.  It is good to be this much of a mess, and this far along.  The team well knows that they can be better.  But they are resilient, and that will take you far.  Now the challenge of a good November, with the dreaded December swoon laying in wait.  Our guys have a lot of climbing to do.

Tomorrow our home town Columbus Crew embark on a further playoff run.  Best of luck to the players.  Interesting news out of San Antonio today.  Those folks are thinking they have been ripped off by the Crew's enterprising owner, and have assigned a criminal prosecutor to the job.  Do yourself a favor MLS.  Vote down the move to Austin, and keep the Crew in Columbus.  You have to ask yourself; 'Have you ever been in a Texas jail?'  On the other hand, life is a journey, and six months of hard confinement so your buddy can have his team in Austin isn't that much of your life, right?  Just think of the stories you will be able to tell!!


Sunday, October 22, 2017

Getting a Sense for the 2017-19 CBJ

I've been kind of quiet here at the beginning of this hockey season.  Probably because my angst level is low.  A top 5 finish the year before helps that a lot.  It's also because I haven't been real sure what we are seeing.  Most of our early season wins have been against teams that have struggled coming out of the gate (Rangers! Whew!), but these last two games against Tampa and LA I thought would be good measuring stick games against two very different teams.

Tampa, wow!  They dismantled the Penguins last night, almost extending their shutout streak to two games.  That's a fast, balanced team that has their goal tending problem solved, and are playing like a team two years removed from a Cup final that is mad they did not make the playoffs last year.  They really have it going.

The Kings presented a much different problem, that big weighty team, and I wondered how much our younger players were going to get pushed around.  And, coming into last night they had only given up about 10 goals all season, and their penalty kill had given up none (zero, 0).  The Jackets lit them up for 4 goals, including an early power play goal, so that was good.  Unfortunately, the Jackets surrendered 5 and an empty netter, with Kopitar potting a killer goal with 2:34 remaining last night.  So it goes.  It was a 'rich' game for our youngsters, and they will benefit from the experience. 

As far as the CBJ this year, we inexplicably got younger, with Bjorkstrand, Milano and Dubois all making the team and playing.  Nice to see both Milano and Bjorkstrand score last night.  One thing for sure there is a lot of room for growth in the 2017-18 CBJ, and we will see the ups and downs of that growth as the season goes on.  Having Boone Jenner return to the lineup stiffens the team, and will be very helpful going forward.  Don't judge Nick Foligno's ability to play center until you get to the end of the year.  It's possible the Jackets will make a move, but if they don't have to they may not. 

For Milano, Dubois, and perhaps to a lesser extent Bjorkstrand, you want to see how they are playing at about the 15 game mark.  That way any bump in energy they got from making the team is long gone, and what you are seeing is the best picture of what you've got.  If at that point they are playing solidly, and still generally improving (with ups and downs allowable), then we are in pretty good shape for the future. 

Everyone has Werenski circled this year, and it is interesting watching him deal with that.  Other teams know what they want to do with him, so he'll have to play through that attention.  I was interested to see Werenski skate by Drew Doughty last night.  Werenski is actually bigger, which surprised me.  He might not be thicker yet, that will come.  Seth Jones, likewise, is still trying to really get going.  I did a preseason poll of some die hard Jackets fans, and they were unanimous that you don't split these guys up yet.  I guess I see what they are saying.  They need to learn to be a dominant pair first, and they are not there yet.

Next up is Buffalo, our 'Rivalry Night' game, for some reason or another.  Perhaps they thought the Foligno brothers would have a steak riding on the game, but Marcus got traded to Minnesota.  Buffalo is an interesting team, it should be a fun game. 

Last night we didn't really get the result we wanted, but there was no doubt that it was a fun game to watch.  And a good test for our young team.  There are more of those to come!


Saturday, October 14, 2017

109 Goals Off the Table; 3 Big Metro Wins

Sonny Milano
Sonny Milano did not score tonight.  That means he has fallen off his 109 goal pace, down to a mere 82 goal pace.  That does not mean he was not a significant player on the ice tonight against the Rangers.  Indeed, I thought he was one of the better players.  But I also thought that John Tortorella's decision to roll out an all rookie line of Bjorkstrand, Dubois, and Milano, which was an effective line for at least one shift, was a real kick in the pants to the veteran players, and you saw a real elevation in their games as this game came to a close.

Artemi Panarin scored his first goal as a Blue Jacket, a game winner that brought the crowd out of it's seats.  Just wow!  It was an awesome thing to see, and one of the things that are going to make this season really fun to watch.  The veterans have been patient with how things are coming together, but late in the game, Panarin took things into his own hands in spectacular style.  Arguably, better function and scoring earlier in the game would eliminate that need, but that assumes the Blue Shirts are a push over, and they are far from that.  Nonetheless they fall to 1-4 while the CBJ climb to 3-1. 

It's early in the season.  The Jackets have avoided falling behind the 8-Ball, which is a good thing to date.  In addition, they have achieved wins over 3 Metro Division opponents with the win tonight, which puts them in good standing from a playoff viewpoint.  Divisional games are important games, and the wins early are every bit as important as the wins late. 

So all is well as we prep for trying to get a regular season win for the backup goal tender tomorrow against a depleted Minnesota squad. 

I had a lot of angst tonight.  Problematically for this long time season ticket holder, who has watched more than one season get punted before Halloween, these guys seem real, and I am already highly engaged, and thus vulnerable.  It is a fun, precarious, and unfamiliar position for me.  I did not breathe easy tonight until the Bread Man scored that second goal.  That's when it got fun for me.  Before that, I was a bit of a wreck. 

So the Jackets have banked a reasonable start.  That and $0.05 will get you a cup of coffee.  The NHL cranks up the pace several times from here on out, and it will be interesting to see how the rookies respond. 

But for now, it's a good start, with wins against 3 Metro opponents, which will help us down the road.  A  good night.


Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Set for a New Season

Anderson Back in the Fold
As of 5 PM today the lineup for this year's Columbus Blue Jackets is set.  The CBJ (not CLB thank you) are set, and a very interesting group of forwards it is indeed.  The nice part is that the late addition of Josh Anderson will provide some thump to the lineup down the road.  Mark Scheig of the Hockey Writers pointed out that this years addition of the CBJ actually got younger in spite of being another year older.  I think that is largely because Sonny Milano made the team, and I for one could not be happier.  It seems like he has been with the organization for ever, but he is only 21 years old.  But this is a great developmental step.

Sonny Milano is likely to play for the Monsters yet this year.  This will not be a set back, but a normal developmental step for a young player like Sonny.  He may prove me wrong, and no one could hope for that more than I, but pragmatically, he may need a bit more seasoning before he is ready for a full NHL season.  Making the team out of camp, and doing well in the preseason is one thing, but no later than 3 games into the season and the NHL will be up to full speed.  Sonny will have to demonstrate that he can take the increased pace, and thrive.  There will be  3 or 4 more 'crank ups' in the typical NHL season. and Sonny will need to show that he can handle each of those as well.  He's felt that increase in intensity at the Monsters at some level, so maybe he will be ready to rise to the occaision.  We'll see.  But a trip to Cleveland does not mean this player is a bust in any way shape or form.  He is showing good progress.

The funny thing about adding Sonny to the lineup is how much more dynamic it shows the whole group is becoming.  We lost good players from last year, and we need to replace that scoring.  So far, we have added Panarin, Bjorkstrand and Milano to the line up, and they will need to make the scoring happen.  There is a lot in their respective pedigrees to suggest that this is a reasonable expectation, so it will be fascinating to watch the season unfold.  This edition of the CBJ is going to be fun to watch.  They are built to compete with the Penguins.  I'm not sure how they will do against a team like LA Kings, which are big and strong, and going to attempt to stifle you not to mention the attempts at intimidation.  Boston is a bit of the same ilk.  But there is a dynamic streak in the forwards, that if it achieves its potential, could be really good.  Don't discount the stabilizing influence of the Captain, Nick Foligno between Milano and Bjorkstrand.  That group won't lack for play making, and we know the Captain will score when he gets a chance. 

I was pleased to learn recently that Torts had warned Foligno in the off season to get his head around playing center.  It makes a difference, and I think Nick is going to surprise a lot of people with how he does.  Our center depth may not be as bad as everyone thinks (or not, I could be dead wrong, but I drink from a half full glass).

Our defensive corps is deep, and very solid.  We have two defensemen who will be sitting in the press box eating nachos that Colorado would die for, but appearances have to be kept up.  So we'll just settle for a very strong D-Corps, and when adversity shows up, which it inevitably will, Harrington and Nutivaara will come out of the press box and perform.  Why isn't Sakic trying to build around Duchene instead of getting rid of him?  Enquiring minds want to know.  But I digress, as usual.  With our dynamic D-Corps feeding dynamic front lines, the CBJ look like they can compete speed wise with the other fast teams in the league (Pittsburgh, Edmonton, Toronto), yet still have enough stiffness to compete against the heavy teams, especially after Boone Jenner returns.  Anderson makes a big difference there.  Have fun skating off Tortorella's conditioning there Andy.  You'll be okay after a few days. 

Tortorella's a funny guy.  I think he is way more cerebral about the game than a lot of pundits give him credit for, and there are a lot of guys who still see him as New York Rangers Torts.  He is a fiery guy, no doubt.  But he thinks about the game, and his approach all the time.  I think he truly understands that it is how you handle the people, and he is very smart in that context.  That is a give and take thing, and all people make mistakes, but Torts seems to want the players to challenge him.  I think he feels it will make him better.  And that is a healthy situation. It will be fascinating to watch this unfold this year.

It is my personal belief that it is an organizational imperative that they make the playoffs this year.  If we don't, then we haven't moved the needle.  I think they will, mainly because we may have one of the best defensive corps in the league.  Neither Zach Werenski or Seth Jones is a pretender, and those two dudes are gonna be scary, maybe as soon as this year.  But one thing for sure.  This team is gong to be fun to watch, for good or for ill.  As my buddy Bill says, these seasons never turn out the way you think they are going to.  It is a long journey to the end of the year, and the hope for a playoff spot.  The only thing that seems truly certain, is that this will be an exceedingly entertaining year to  watch Blue Jackets hockey.  There will be joy, there will be tears.  That's part of the journey.  But it will be fun.