Monday, November 27, 2017

Why This Season is Unlikely to Go South

Well, Thanksgiving has come and gone, and the Blue Jackets sit one point out of first place in the Metro and 3 points out of a tie for first place in the league.  Rarefied atmosphere to be sure.  On the other hand, as of this morning, the Penguins sit out of playoff contention, but only 5 points out of a tie for first in the Metro.  That puts the CBJ and 3 other Metro teams between them and a tie with the surprising NJ Devils.  So the Division is super tight, and likely to remain that way for some time to come.

We have seen this before, the old timey Blue Jackets fans.  The times of yore, when the CBJ faced the Red Wings of a different era in a back to back for Central Division supremacy just after Thanksgiving.  A money on the board game at home, followed by the loss on the road and the dreaded December swoon as the team lost 8 straight to fall out of playoff contention for good.  So what's to keep this year's team from following the same pattern?

Defense, mostly.  And Bob.  In the aforementioned scenario we were looking for Steve Mason to recreate his awesome performance of 08-09, and it just didn't happen.  It this case, well, Bob.  And Seth, and Zach.  And Murray and Nutivaara emerging to challenge Johnson and Savard for the second pair role.  With Harrington and Carlsson as spares, the CBJ defense is deep.  In the aforementioned scenario, Lidstrom was still patrolling the blue line for the Winged Wheel, at the height of his awesomeness (dammit).  Fortunately we have the reincarnation of said Lidstrom, in the form of Werenski, carrying the puck up the ice.  Not to mention Seth Jones.  Oy!  What a player!

So yeah, this team looks and functions a lot better than those old Western Conference teams ever did.  As evidenced by how the team skillfully managed the dreaded December swoon last year by winning ALL of the games in December.  While it is unlikely to happen again this year, there are two things that make me hopeful.  First of all, the Cleveland Indians went on to put together two ridiculous streaks, in back to back years.  The CBJ players were in town preparing for camp and were able to observe the record setting run by the Tribe.  At some point they will think, 'why can't we do that?' Secondly, they have a nice little run going now, to be sure, but importantly they are starting to play the kind of smothering forecheck and defensive game that this team can play when it has it going.

During last year's streak, the CBJ were allowing less than 2 goals per game, a tremendous defensive feat.  To AVERAGE less than two goals per game, you need to hold people to 1 goal or no goals lots of times, especially for every 3 goals surrendered game you might have.  But in the last two games, Calgary and Ottawa, that smothering defense has emerged again, and it seems like the other team doesn't have a chance to turn around and there is a Blue Jacket on the puck.  That defensive effort was the foundation for The Streak.

So we'll see.  Les Habitants tonight in Montreal.  That ought to be a fun game.  Carey Price in goal tonight, instead of the time they rolled Montoya out and surrendered 10 (ten!) goals.  It should be a hard fought, close checking affair.  Dubois and Savard back on their home turf, and I hope the Jackets come away with more badly needed points to keep pace in the Metro!


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Warming to the Kid

PLD, Hartsy, and Torts, in the old days
Tonight, the CBJ lost to the Nashville Predators 3-1.  The only goal was scored on a rush by Pierre-Luc Dubois, which represents visible strides taken by this young player with each game.  It won't always be this way.  He will hit plateaus, have slumps, get hot, just like every other player.  This is a normal progression, with the exception of how well he has played over the last few games.

Dubois has shown a steady progression early in this 2017-18 season, and has shown signs that he may be a driver of play in the future.  He certainly did his part in that department tonight, scoring the only goal, but also being a visible presence all over the ice. 

Tough night tonight for the CBJ, losing their second game in two nights.  Korpisalo played well enough to get them the W, giving up only two goal, but the CBJ could only solve Pekka Rinne for one goal.  There it is. 

A young, young, young team gains more experience, and they still lurk at the top of the division and the conference.  A good Metro tilt coming up on Friday, which is becoming a must win game against a similar, young, and talented Carolina team.  It should be fun to watch, much like tonight's game.

The CBJ have a lot of growth to accomplish as the season progresses.  That process should result in some entertaining hockey.  I'm looking forward to it!


Saturday, November 4, 2017

This is the Future of Hockey

Hannikainen has as many goals as Dubinsky and
Panarin combined.  
Tonight the Blue Jackets lost in a shoot out to the Tampa Bay Lightning for a score of 5-4.  This was a game of raw speed, with both teams flying up and down the ice.  The entertainment factor was huge, and I thought the Bolts were going to skate the Jackets off the ice, the CBJ rallied in the third period to tie the game and steal a point. 

For all of the complaining about our fourth line not having an identity, the fourth line has gotten on the board in the last two games, with critical goals, driven by Marcus Hannikainen who doesn't want to go to Cleveland any more.  It is important to keep in mind that this is a VERY young team, but the talent level is very high, shockingly so for a long time Jackets fan. 

Dubois is getting better every shift.  Love the commentary from the Dispatch and the Athletic about Dubois being in center.  The quote was that it helps him keep his legs moving.  Late in this game, he was playing high in the lineup, albeit as wing, and finding the play physically rich.  But he is a big boy, and he can make that adjustment as the season goes on.  Sonny Milano may fade, or he may get better.  I'm not sure where this will go yet, but I think he is ready for it, and I am betting that he will find his way in the NHL this year.  As long as the coach is feeling he wants to learn, and he has reasonable success in implementing those lessons, it will be okay.  He has less than 20 games experience now, when he makes it to 60 he is going to be a steadier player.  He took his first shoot out shot tonight.  It will come.

This is the kind of game the NHL has envisioned, and shockingly, the CBJ are right on the curve in adapting to the new, fast, mobile, NHL game.  The CBJ are looking like an offensive juggernaut without the power play, and with the stars not playing well at all.  The stars will start to play well as the season matures, and some of the guys that are hot now will fade, but there is a lot of depth on this team right now, and a lot of guys who can score on any given night.  The power play cannot remain this pitiful can it??  Gosh is this going to be a fun season, however it turns out.

Great rally in the third to steal a point on the road.  Well done lads!!  Rangers are up next, go get that one!