Archive for February 2009

Final Game in a Western Swing

Thursday saw a massive win for the Blue Jackets.  In a few words… Exactly what the doctor ordered.. Steve Mason had a big game, stopping all 19 shots he faced.  While the game was more tilted towards Roloson, Mason made all of the important saves, and looked competitive for 60 minutes.

Not only that, Raffi Torres got physical, getting into a fight, and also scored a great goal which ended up being the winner.  Consider it a massive confidence booster for a guy who has struggled greatly throughout this year.
Tomorrow night, the Jackets play the Vancouver Canucks, who have been trading the 5th spot back and forth with Columbus for over a week now.  They have been playing strong hockey, forcing the Jackets to do more chasing than leading, but tomorrow will allow Columbus to tie them for 5th with a win, albeit with two games in hand.
The one major concern I have is scoring.  The last couple games have been miserable in terms of goals for, with only a combined four goals in their last three games, including a 1-0 shutout against the Oilers.  If that does not send warning signals down the spine of every coach, player, and fan, I do not know what should.  Rick Nash needs to make himself more offensively available, and Huselius needs to take advantage of the secondary scoring position he has been given.
I will update after the game.  I am looking forward to a strong effort.
Carry the Flag!

Get Ready for a Rumble

Last time Columbus visited Calgary, they saw Phaneuf get thrown out for a hit from behind, Roy making throating slitting gestures, and Regehr cross checking Dorse in the face.  If anyone thinks this game will not be full of emotion, you might want to rethink.

This could come as a positive.  The Jackets have played some seriously uninspired hockey over the last couple games, and a rock em sock em game like this one could be exactly what they need to get back on track.
While Calgary is quite far ahead in the standings, Columbus likes to play well against big name teams.  Maybe it is the daunting task of slaying the giant, but I am starting to wonder if they are better off finishing 8th rather than 4th.
The big disappointment for me tonight is that we will not be seeing Gratton play.  Chimera was cleared to play after struggling with a groin injury, which means Hitch ‘decided’ that Gratton needed a few more practices before joining the game time roster.  If he was smart, he would give Murray or Peca the night off to see what Grats can do.  Murray does not seem to be much more than a neutral body on the ice, not making anything happen, but also not allowing anything to happen.  In Peca’s case, I think giving him a game off would remind him that his ‘veteran’ presence is not enough.  He needs to be more prolific on the ice, whether it is with or without the puck.
Finally, to our netminder.  I said this yesterday, and I will say it again today, Mason has to be better than average.
Carry the Flag!

Crunch Time! (Not the Syracuse Flavor)

With every good home stand, there looms a road trip.  The Jackets have travelled to the other side of the continent to play three teams that have just as much to lose as they do.  Games against Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver (respectively) will really show the Jackets faithful where this team stands in the ‘likely to’ or ‘likely NOT to’ fight for a strong playoff spot.

They will be spirited games, and the last thing you will want to do is miss them.  While Edmonton has had their way with Leclaire this season, they are young and streaky, and can easily be beaten if the true Jackets team shows up.  Calgary is not unbeatable, and the Jackets proved that earlier this season with a big win at Calgary.  Vancouver has strong scorers, but have been known to throw in the towel early in games that seem out of reach.
These are the keys to the road trip for me:
1 – Strong goaltending.. I did not think I would have to write this at any point this year after Mason took to the net, but he needs to be competitive.  During the game against Anaheim, he looked beaten down and confused, saving only 9 of the 14 shots he faced.  They are likely to face at least two teams who will put around thirty shots on net, and he will need to stop close to all of them if they want to win games.
2 – Powerplay.. The only thing more demoralizing than a weak goal scored on a team, is not capitalizing on powerplay opportunities.  They need to stay competitive on each powerplay, keep the pressure deep, and bury their chances.  Playoff teams score on the powerplay, and the Jackets should be no exception, especially considering some of the fire power they have.
3 – Focus..  At times during the last couple games, the players looked unfocused and unprepared for certain rushes.  At least three of the goals scored in the Anaheim game could have been avoided if the trailing forward or defenseman had taken his man, and that mistake can not continue to happen.
4 – Competitive Edge..  There are players on this team that can flat out score goals, or make goals happen.  If the playoffs are meant to be, they need to be doing that naturally for the rest of the season.  If they chose to take nights off, well, I do not even want to say it.  Also, the players on the other end of the spectrum need to step it up.  Bubble players like Murrray, Novotny, Boll, and now Gratton need to step up and make big things happen.  Secondary scoring in the National Hockey League is a must.
So keep your chin up, and let’s hope for the best on this road trip!  Carry the Flag!

Derek Dorsett vs. A Punching Bag

There were not very many big highlights in last nights game that favored the Blue Jackets, but one thing that certainly did was the fighting.  Jared Boll fought both Moen and Parros, arguably winning both tilts, and Derek Dorsett fought Brendan Mikkelson.

The fight I want to talk about was Dorsett’s, only days after getting beaten heavily by BJ Crombeen of the St Louis Blues.  He absolutely dominated this fight, and for a time, shifted the momentum of the entire game with the huge bombs he threw.   Here is a video:
As is very clear, he absolutely controls this fight, throwing 22 punches and landing 16.  Mikkelson threw 1 punch in total.  Now, the reason why I want to focus on this fight, is because Dorsett did his job last night.  He was a terror on the ice, throwing big hits and clearly, big bombs.  He is a great addition to the Jackets, and if they can make the playoffs, he will be one of the biggest factors because of his physicality.
So next time you catch a Jackets game, cheer big for our boy Dorse the Horse.  He will play his heart out every game if you get behind him as a fan!
Carry the Flag!

Jackets Acquire Chris Gratton


News is that the Jackets have acquired center Chris Gratton from the Tampa Bay Lightning, who tried to bring Gratton back up on re-entry waivers.  This is a rather interesting trade, based on the high number of centermen the Jackets have, and the fact that Howson has already proclaimed that nothing has had an effect on his search for a center.

Based on that, I have to assume that Gratton is the ‘heavy body’ Hitch has been looking for.  His veteran style and his experience will bring a lot to the bottom of the roster, likely pushing either Murray or Novotny out of the lineup.  Going a step further, if another center is acquired prior to the deadline, along with a potential return of Brassard, we are looking at a serious influx of centerman, and a great deal of options for management.
When push comes to shove, I think this was an easy decision to acquire him as more of a backup plan, but it also adds some veterean depth and a potential for a secondary option if teams refuse to deal with the Jackets.
So for now, let’s see what the old boy can do!  Carry the Flag!

Vermette Should be a Priority


It may seem like a broken record after this concept was first addressed over a month ago, but I believe it is time to really reconsider how valuable Vermette would be to the Jackets roster.

1 – He is a strong skater who rarely takes a night off.  There are a lot of players on the Jackets roster that like to float at times during a game, and Vermette would not be one of them.  He would fit very well between guys like Voracek and Chimera, who are always flying when on the ice.  The other possibility would be having him playing with Williams and Umberger on the second line.  Because the pairing of Chimera and Voracek has been so versatile this year, the Jackets could easily run three lines at almost the same level of ice time.
2 – He is a faceoff monster.  He and Malhotra are atop the league leaders in faceoff percentage, and that is something that Columbus needs to work on.  While Peca and Umberger are decent on the draw, having another big time faceoff man could pay heavy dividends in the late going of the season, when every possession counts.
3 – He is a penalty killer.  These players are becoming few and far between in the NHL, and having yet another guy who can get out on the ice and stymy powerplays is yet another way to really bolster their roster.
4 – He can really dangle.  While his finishing touch still needs work, his tenacity around the puck, and his control with the puck are really something the Jackets could use in the neutral zone and around the boards.  This could also translate well on the second powerplay unit, which is something Vermette is no stranger to.
These are only a couple reasons why he would be worth obtaining, especially if Ottawa starts considering themselves out of the playoff race.  What are your thoughts?

Horseshoes in Toronto

Last night, the Blue Jackets found themselves in unfamiliar territory.  Playing easily one of their worst games of the year, they ‘overcame’ adversity and won the game in a shootout by a surprising deke from Williams, and a great shot by Nash.  The win marked the 500th of Ken Hitchcock’s career.
Now I understand that those of you who do happen to read these blogs might get the idea that I bash this team more than I cheer for it, but that is not the case.  My biggest fault is my ability to magnify the mistakes, while quietly appreciating the strong play.  Players like Backman and Modin have been in my doghouse all year for their sloppy play and incredible mistakes, but at the same time, guys like Malhotra, Mason, Commodore, and Umberger are in my great graces, with their attention to detail and hyper active effort every time they stop on the ice.
Last night, however, the team looked like they did not want to be on the ice.  They looked tired, lethargic, and not on their game.  They played the first period almost as poorly as they played the third period against St Louis, and were fortunate to get a last second goal to tie the game going into the first intermission.  Every time Backman touched the puck seemed to be a mistake waiting to happen.  Adversely, every time Umberger touched the puck, it was as though he was unstoppable.  Forcing the play deep into the offensive zone, and getting excellent shots on young Pogge, Umberger was again by far the best Jacket on the ice.
This post is not meant to say the Jackets are in trouble, simply that they need to really bear down over the next two months if they want to make the playoffs.  While they have points in their last seven games, they really need to think about their on ice effort in the next game or two.  The lackluster effort of late will not be taken lightly by any team.
Carry the Flag.

Negatives From Positives

It is time for me to once again bust the bubble after a huge win..
Tonight, the Jackets came out flying against the Blues (for the first time this year) and really took it to them for the first two periods.  Their play was strong and precise, and their defense was stymy and logical.  That being said, their third period made it appear as though they were doing keg stands during the second intermission.
Flat, sloppy, and foolish play was all the fans got to watch as the third commenced, and it came very close to costing them two points in the ever increasingly competitive western conference.  They allowed two powerplays to come and go without so much as a good scoring chance on net, and then gave a couple powerplays to St Louis, giving them all the momentum.
If Columbus wants to excel into the playoffs this year, they will have to take exception to this game and really learn from it.  They have had a few games lately where they get the early lead and get lazy, which has been a major shift from a lot of the come from behind victories earlier in the year.  If they want to scare teams, they need a full sixty minutes at hyper speed.
Lasty, I want to talk about Huselius..  You know what?  I’ll save it for tomorrow…
Carry the Flag.

A Tough Night After the Streak Ends..


Consider tonight a lesson learned for Jackets players and fans.  This team is not unbeatable, they are not perfect, and they won’t win out.  They are bound for a crazy finish, but no one can predict where it will land.

Tonight, they were the better team.  Tonight, the chances were there, but the luck was not.  Think about the opportunity Umberger had with Turco sprawled around the ice.  He picks the puck up, prepares the shot, and BAM!  Broken stick.  And such was life for them most of the game.
It seemed like the refs favoured the Stars, but that is arguable.  It seemed like no matter how wide open the chances were, the puck stayed out.. (Juice and Williams in the shootout)..  Let’s be honest, the team knew what they wanted to do, but could not get it done.
I am happy though.  The Jackets remain tied for 6th place, and are still only one point out of 5th.  They lose their unbeaten streak, but gain a reminder that not all games will be a ‘W’ even if they are the better team.  They also are reminded that every single point has value from now on out.
Finally, I want to address Richards injured hand.  I am not going to say ‘tough break’ or ‘karma sucks’ but seriously, how random is it that the same team that took out Brassard in a freak accident, loses Richards indefinitely with a busted wrist?  Seems almost fitting.
Carry the Flag!

Ten Games…

Ten games ago, Ken Hitchcock probably sat down his players in the locker room and talked about the importance of wins.  Ten games ago, they were sitting in a massive group around 8-12th in the conference, hoping they could propel themselves into a playoff position.  Ten games ago, they had games against San Jose, Detroit, and other opponents that typically are daunting enough to send shivers up a players spine.

Ten games ago, Steve Mason had mono.
But somehow, ten games later, they are tied for 6th in the conference, and only one point out of 5th.  Somehow, Chicago is only 9 points (and only three victories) ahead.  Somehow, the team is getting healthier, and the puck is going into the net.  They took it to Carolina and Detroit this weekend, showing their defensive mentality against the divisional beast, and flexing their offensive press against a recent Stanley Cup champion team with the same record they hold.  Finally getting the 5 on 3 monkey off their back, and getting much needed goals from Huselius and Malhotra.
These facts makes you wonder where they will stand ten games from now.  What great things can we expect after another ten games?  Will they keep feeding off their crowd, and taking each game personally?  Will Mason continue to build his incredibly impressive rookie campaign, giving analysts and GMs even more of a reason to consider him for three trophies this year?  Can late add on Jason Williams continue to feed off the flying J line, providing the Jackets top line with some much needed secondary scoring.
One thing is for sure….  It is going to be a great ride.
Carry the Flag!