It took twenty five games this season to visualize the words I have been trying to produce regarding the Jackets play. Twenty five games, a dwindling +.500 record, and a whole little at which to look positively. There are a seasons worth of things to blame such as injuries, laziness, and bad coaching. Focusing on one thing or the next, while being sufficient for a given time period, rarely does the trick.
I will start with the coaching. While this is something that I have focused on in past entries, I feel it necessary to reiterate my distaste for the way this team is being coached currently. To begin, the right players are rarely the players that are given the most opportunity. Coach Hitchcock seems to overuse his veteran first mentality up until the boiling point, and will only in a dying effort bring in some youth to try and stoke the fire. Losing Filatov was inevitable based on his attitude toward youngsters, and that is not to say that Filatov does not have a lot of developing to do, but it does say that the wrong people were put in place to develop Niki as a player. Futhermore, putting Russell on the shelf after he single handedly held in the concept of puck moving defenseman late last year seems to be a horrible waste of talent, regardless of whether Stralman is a better all around player.
Yes, I am pushing hard, but so be it. Most of these players will earn more this year than I will see in my lifetime, and while I respect that, so should they. There is no desire for victory, no push for perfection, and certainly no accountability from the coaching staff that maybe their tactics are short of what this club needs.
Let us move on to laziness. There is no question that the better part of each game (especially each loss) is spent with our Jackets firing at maybe 70% of their actual capacity. It was obvious in the Calgary game, when they scored three goals in the final seven minutes of the second period, only to fall back asleep in the third. It has been obvious game after game that these players are finding little reason to force the issue and work extremely hard game in and game out. While this may seem like a trivial pursuit of the flawless victory, I do not believe it is out of the question to expect a high caliber of effort from each of these players.
In the previous couple games, horrible giveaways and brutal blown assignments have cost the Jackets costly goals and unnecessary losses. If the defense held strong, and the offense maintained their positioning in the defensive zone, there is little doubt in my mind that one of Garon or Mason could easily provide the goaltending needed to win a game or twenty.
Finally, we can chat about injury. I have heard and read more complaints about poor conditioning due to injury from some of the players in the Jackets organization than I can personally stand. Take a minute to consider a guy like Raffi Torres, who loses half of his mouth from a puck, and manages to return to form only a few games afterwards. Then, we look at a guy like Mike Commodore, who has complained over and over again about conditioning being a factor. Here is the simply truth. If a player is not in good enough condition to play, then do not play them! There are a multitude of bubble defensemen that would love to step in and play. We are not in a situation where there is a dying need for injured and unconditioned defensemen need to be playing in each game. Forget what the players can and can not do, it is time to start hearing that accountability is the number one factor in every game and practice. It is time to hear that the best players available are playing in each game, and are playing to their fullest capacity.
I am done hearing excuses. This is an extremely talented group of players who are heavily underachieving, despite a winning record they do not fully deserve. It is time to start playing for the fans. We deserve it.
Carry the Flag!