Well Jackets fans, the year ended sooner than I had anticipated, and the feeling of shock and numbness of a playoff loss reverberated throughout Nationwide Arena last night as the final horn went and the Jackets had saluted the best crowd they will ever play for.
have been battling this argument in my head for quite a few weeks now, and frankly, after last nights game, I am all the more sure now.
Rick Nash belongs with other skaters. He is easily the most talented player on that team, and right now, he’s playing with Huselius and Malhotra, who don’t deserve top line minutes, and have not played like top line players. Frankly, the sheer fact that Huselius is on the ice when Nash is gives him what I like to call the “Chimera factor”.
The Chimera Factor is based on what we saw early in the season. He was skating with Brassard and Voracek, and was receiving passes that lead to simple goals, and getting assists because of what Brass and Jake could create without him. Once he was removed from that line, his productivity disappeared, and I think the same thing is happening with Huselius.
Simply put, we have;
As our ‘could be’ top two line players. Our secondary players are;
Now, Hitch has gone with what he thinks are his two best lines, running somewhat of a 1-1a style offense, but I really think if they want to score goals on Detroit, they need to package their scorers on one line..
In game three, I would love to see;
Nash – Vermette – Umberger
Huselius – Malhotra – Voracek
Williams – Gratton – Boll
Chimera – Peca – Dorsett/Modin
Line one offers Nash two players who can set him up to score goals, and can easily get to the spots he passes to. If they were playing together last night, I fully suspect they would have had two goals on their first period chances.
Line three is the grinder line. This is the key line for most playoff contenders, playing stymy defense and getting big chances offensively. A momentum changing line to say the least.
The other two lines should be able to function fine and be at the very worst even in terms of goals against and goals for. I think adding a guy like Jakub to the second line with Huselius and Malhotra might get the veterans playing a more creative game rather than just trying to find Nash open.
Game three is tomorrow, and Columbus will likely be ‘rockin’ with excitement. I hope the players are ready to turn this series around. I am not prepared to start watching other teams yet!
Hey there Jacket fans, this is the Coach here, the newest contributor to Carry the Flag. Before I get started on how the Jackets can take down the mighty Red Wings I’d like to give you a quick rundown about yours truly. Growing up in Canada, I’ve played the game since birth. I have experience at the college, junior and professional level. I’ll try and bring a coach’s and scout’s eye to Carry the Flag.
On to Columbus versus Detroit. Goaltending is one glaring advantage that the Blue Jackets have over the Red Wings. Conklin and Osgood have both been inconsistent all season, while Mason has been a revelation. This is obvious and has been pointed out by prognosticators as the key to the series. Personally, I think they are wrong. Of course this will be a factor, but not everything. The Wings have had trouble in net all season and finished near the top of the league. Mason was dynamite most of the year and yet the team finished well behind the Red Wings. If the trends in net continue the Wings still should come out on top.
The real story here is the Columbus defence. Very quietly Columbus has become the best defensive team in the league. Mason is a part of it, but not far from the whole story. They have one of the leagues top penalty kills, are great on face-offs, rarely turn the puck over and allowed the least number of shots in the NHL. They are also very physical, finishing sixth in the league in hits. This formula of great defense, physical play and top notch goaltending is the same one used by the Oilers, Flames and twice by the Ducks to eliminate the Red Wings in four of the last five seasons.
The Red Wings are also not the team they used to be. They have regressed slightly when it comes to their puck possession. The last few seasons Detroit has been unbelievable at holding onto the puck. They have fallen off this season. In fact Columbus finished second in the league, with close to 200 less turnovers than the Red Wings. The rare times that the Jackets do turn the puck over they do not allow shots or goals off these chances.
Much has also been made of the leagues top ranked powerplay going up against the leagues worst. If I hear this again I’m going to go on a rampage. Powerplay’s go against penalty kills. In this case the leagues worst powerplay is going against the worst penalty kill in the playoffs. And the leagues best powerplay is going against one of the leagues best penalty kills. This is basically a wash.
The key to this series is who controls the puck. Detroit is a puck control team, while Columbus is effective against this type of team due to their physical nature and dedication to defense. While the organization is new to the playoffs, many of the players have a plethora of postseason experience. If the team can continue to play the way they have this season they have a legitimate opportunity to knock off the reigning Stanley Cup champions.
The red tape is gone, the excitement calmed, and the reality completely settled on the Jackets. They are officially in their first playoff series against the Detroit Red Wings.
Steve Mason has exceeded expectations this year. It seems like only a couple weeks ago the doe eyed netminder was playing in his first game after recovering from knee surgery. Back in the day when Columbus was completely unsure of their goalie situation. Back when Leclaire knew something was wrong, but was not willing to bail on the team because of their instability in goal. Yes, back when Freddy No No was actually looking like a good decision as a backup goalie.
Stellar was really the only word to describe Mason’s initial play. Surprising and satisfying were some other words I heard uttered from fellow Jackets fans as Mason saved a team learning to gel. His play paved the way for the surprising surge from the younger players on the team, and opened the door for rookies like Kris Russell to come around and show Hitchcock that he is the future of this team on defense. Steve Mason paved the way for a lot of things, and it looks like he is going to provide the key ingredient to the ideal playoff team.
It made me wonder what exactly this season could spell for Mason. The Calder trophy does not seem even remotely out of sight for him, considering he single handedly rebounded a team that was doomed to another bottom feeding year to a team currently sitting right in the thick of a playoff race. His goaltending numbers are well within the league’s top ten and could easily get his name in the running for the Vezina with his league leading 10 shutouts. Rarely has there been discussion about another goaltender winning games for teams, unless they are referring to Mason. Sure, Tim Thomas has some of the best numbers in the league, but that can not be said that he won games for Boston unless one is willing to overlook their impressive defensive core.
With all that being said, could it be possible that Mason should be in the running for the Hart trophy? He certainly is not a leader, but he most definitely plays a big game and wins his team games. Once again I think about the mediocre team record prior to his arrival. One can not overlook the fact that he has more than 30 wins and he has not even been available all year. I also believe the team plays differently in front of him. It is almost as though their step is a bit faster knowing that Mase is back there ready to make a miraculous save or ten.
This may seem like I am reaching quite a bit, but I dare anyone to show me a player in the league that has made a bigger difference for their team this year. I challenge the same person to explain to me how the Jackets would be in a playoff battle without Mason in nets.
Carry the Flag!
Familiarity was thrown out the window quite a few weeks ago. What is left, at least from the outside looking in, is instability, and uneasiness.
An unexpected decision was made this past week by General Manager Scott Howson, bringing young Nikita Filatov up from the Syracuse Crunch to soak in the playoff atmosphere. Unclear towards his intentions, fans have been skeptical about the decision considering Syracuse is in a playoff race of their own, however, the decision was based on the ability to provide one of Columbus’ very promising young players a chance to get some unique experience.
Now, typically this would get me excited, as Filatov has shown the ability to hang with NHL caliber hockey teams. He has already experienced the thrill of an hattrick and blended well and quickly with different players on the Jackets roster. His experience and size obviously need a boost, but I suspect Howson believes the place to gain that is with Columbus and not Syracuse.
I say typically because there is a catch involved if Nikita plays, which based on the need for scorers on the Jackets roster I would expect he would. Any coach or GM will do whatever it takes to win, even if it means giving playing time to snipers like Filatov. That catch is obviously his NHL contract, which would kick in if he plays two more games with the big team this year. Not a big deal in the long run I suppose, considering Columbus has plenty of cap space and can spare it here and there, especially assuming Brassard, Voracek, and Filatov are their future up front.
That being said, if Filatov’s NHL contract kicks in this year, he becomes and unrestricted free agent the same year Brassard does. This is not terribly relevant towards cap implications, but it most certainly is an issue in terms of ‘matching’ or exceeding a contract. It is definitely likely that Filatov will have as much success as Brassard if not more prior to entry contract expiring, and because their styles are even minutely similar, this is personally a concern.
It is a double edged sword in reality, and even I can not make up my mind whether the idea of playing him and having his contract kick in is worth the extra round in the playoffs. Many teams do everything they can to win the cup every year, and having Filatov playing rather than Peca or Murray is certainly at the top of my list, but I really do not want to see any sort of animosity between the young players as their contracts expire.
Finally a game to smile about! 60 minutes of decent if not great hockey brought the Jackets their first 40 win season in franchise history. A very welcoming situation for fans frothing over a playoff bid, this win does not quite solidify the playoffs, but it was a win that goes a long way in helping their chances.