Archive for October 2011

CBJ Roster Review 10/31

In this (hopefully) weekly review, I am going to provide the entire roster and make some comments regarding their efforts, either overall for the year, or in the past week.  If roster rankings work out in the near future, I may include them as well, in a sort of depth chart quality meter.  Bear in mind there will more than likely be some honesty, some overreacting, and plenty of ‘snark’ (as a few of my twitter buddies would call it).  So let’s begin:

Bass :: Well done for him to take Getzlaf out of the game for 5+ minutes last night.. Too bad all he really did was hug the guy for a minute or so..

Boll :: In the bandaid club. Still not convinced that him being healthy makes a difference as to whether he rides out the year in the press box (for the most part) thanks to the depth of this club.


Brassard :: Brassard continues to make his presence relevant in the Jackets top six and when Carter gets healthy, could make Arniel really fumble over who should man the top two center spots.

Calvert :: He’s been decent, but not much to say in terms of a weekly review.  I am happy to see his return to Columbus, but I miss the crazy speed and tenacity we saw at the end of last year.


Carter :: In the bandaid club.  I have to think his time there is limited now, and I really expect him to make a strong impact upon his return, especially with Nash and Prospal.


Clitsome :: (and I repeat…) Awesome names don’t hide well behind terrible defensive errors. With a healthy Methot/Martinek, maybe his slide down the defensive depth chart will find him in a slot less overwhelming.


Dekanich :: In the bandaid club. Sounds like he’s getting close though, so the Jackets can finally have a legit backup to rely on beyond their 4th string and a junior player.


Dorsett :: Gotta love him trying to deke out Ellis last night, although he had the shelf wide open.  I have a feeling he won’t be getting a Christmas card from Brookbank.


Giroux :: He’s a top six forward… If you’re watching one on video review at about 75% speed.  I like his tenacity but it just doesn’t translate well to the pace of the NHL.

Huselius :: President of the bandaid club. I wonder if when he actually does come back, how out of place he’ll look. Then again, maybe he’ll find some great chemistry and go on a tear. (wishful thinking)


Johansen :: Two goals, two game winners. I think it’s pretty safe to say he has earned the right to stick around.  Juniors has nothing left to teach this kid.


Johnson :: I don’t think there’s enough snark in this world for me to describe how underwhelmed I am by Johnson. Slow on the puck and his decision making. Demotion coming soon, I surely hope.


MacKenzie :: It exhausts me that he’s getting top line minutes, although watching him fly by Nash on a forecheck was pretty comical.. Maybe he’s helping to light a fire where it so badly needs to be lit.


Martinek :: In the bandaid club.


Mason :: I think the term “steal a game” was taken to heart. Absolutely money against Detroit and Anaheim.  Welcome back Mase.


Methot :: In the bandaid club.. but for good reason. Hope he recovers quickly.


Nash :: Last night may have been his most relevant game of the year.  I’ll say it 100 times, when Nash wants to or feels like succeeding on the ice, it is nothing short of spectacular to watch.


Pahlsson :: Reasonably solid without the puck, but certainly suspect with it. Making a strong case as Columbus’ 4th line center.


Prospal :: Dude is a fireball. I have a feeling when management brought in Clark and Moreau, they were hoping for even half the veteran presence Vinny P has had. This team seems to feed off him.


Russell :: His defensive partner isn’t doing him any favours, but I’m still up on this guy.  Loved the Cogliano fight, and he didn’t even look out of place.  That said, I would like to see his decision making with the puck speed up a bit.


Tyutin :: Glad I waited to judge this guy. HUGELY positive results now that Wiz is back in the lineup.  Physical off the puck, solid defensively, and slowly starting to lower his point shot.  Love what he is doing right now.


Umberger :: Scored his first goal this week but I am still pretty underwhelmed.  I think he’s got a lot more to offer than what we’re seeing, and I have a feeling it might take him being on the third line to see it.


Vermette :: Has been better, but has also watched as Brassard vaulted him in terms of relevance.  Still strong on the draws, but his speedy creative play has definitely been missed, and the blind, overly creative passes are getting tired.


Wisniewski :: Huge.  Beneficial in both on ice optimism and confidence. When Wiz has the puck, success in terms of offense seems to be highly likely.  More to come on this I am sure.

Toronto and Philadelphia are on the schedule this week, which should make for a couple of unique battles for the Blue Jackets. I was tremendously pleased with the number of people who attended Sunday’s game against Anaheim and I will be back in attendance Thursday against Toronto!  Here’s hoping the optimism and heart we saw on ice for the Jackets yesterday will carry over.

Carry the Flag!

Recap :: Columbus vs. Anaheim 10/30

It’s such an awkward thing as a fan trying to sound even remotely logical through times like this.  Saturday around 10 PM I was a number of adult beverages into a pretty mediocre effort against Chicago dissecting the team, potential firings, potential signings, potential trades… Anything that could have built some semblance of success into a year gone wrong.

Yet just like that, the fans are treated to an all around effort this evening, leading to the second win of the season.  Admittedly I avoided the drive, citing sobriety and time as two things I was not willing to waste on another loss, and I am happy to report that I not only ate my words, but felt legitimately guilty about not making the trip.  It revitalized me as a fan, and hopefully was a turning point for a number of reasons.

To the game, the first player I would like to acknowledge is Steve Mason.  Absolutely phenomenal saves lead him to his second win of the year, and only gave up a goal to Bobby Ryan alone breaking in, getting absolutely sniped on the far post.  He made a number of stellar saves, none more tremendous than a double pad/kick save on Corey Perry.  I have read over and over again that Mason is not worthy of a starting position and that he owes the team a stolen game here and there.  Well, for those crooning over such an effort, they got it tonight.  Admittedly the Jackets managed three goals (Chilllaaaaaaay!) but it was Mason’s stellar saves that kept the lead in tact.

I like following up the goaltenders efforts with the defensive efforts of the team, as I believe for the most part one relies on the other, and I have been exceptionally harsh towards the Blue Jackets defense of late.  Tonight, short of one major defensive lapse by Aaron Johnson, they were quite solid.  Where the play of Johnson lacked, others most certainly stepped up, notably the Wisniewski/Tyutin pairing, and a significant improvement from young John Moore, who seemed to really find his stride last night.  Smart decisions and quality positioning made him a real asset during his time on ice, along with one play where he blew a tire behind the net slamming hard into the boards, yet still managed to retain possession and make a decent play.

I want to again highlight the turnaround I have seen from Fedor Tyutin.  I heavily criticized the extension he received late in the off-season.  I had hoped that he would be evaluated for the first few months of the season before receiving an extension offer, as I feel like his relevance to the team would be substantially changed with the Wisniewski signing.  Last night he showed me that he can be every bit of a number two defensemen, playing strong physical hockey and finding the back of the net through traffic (although he still really needs to learn to keep that point shot down).  If he can continue to grow as a defender the way he has in the last few games with his partner Wiz, I will certainly agree that he is worth the pricetag.

Offensively, Rick Nash finally opted to show up for a game, and it could not have come at a better time.  Significant in his first few shifts including backchecking, breaking up plays defensively, and generating scoring opportunities offensively, Nash was rewarded with a great screen by Umberger on the powerplay and his fifth goal of the year through RJs screen.  Nash has been another player who I have been actively discussing on the blog as one who is woefully below his potential on the ice right now, but it is my hope that his efforts last night reflect a new page in the season.  After the game you could tell he was playing for the respect of the coach and the franchise, noting that it was a game they had to win, and suggesting that they are not even remotely satisfied with it being only their second win in eleven games.

Secondary to Nash, I felt that a number of the Jackets looking to move past their own personal slumps had reasonably solid games, although I was disappointed that Vermette was unable to cash in on his first goal of the season.  I was fairly certain it was going to be his night, but maybe there are better things in store for him.  I still believe that Giroux and Bass are in over their heads and that Pahlsson has regressed to nothing more than a fourth line center, however the play of Johansen was enough for me to get fully on board with his retention now that he is on the cusp of his 10 games, and leads me to believe that when Carter and Huselius get back, this team will be a very serious, very complete forward roster.

More great information relayed post game suggested that a player generated meeting was held prior to the team meeting yesterday in order to get themselves prepared to (as Scott Howson would put it) stand and fight.  If this is any indication of a surfacing of the heart that has been so deeply missed by this club, they have rejuvenated my interest in both attending games and taking the team seriously as a competent hockey team.  They have a significant amount of talent spread throughout the roster and when utilized properly are well within the definition of playoff capable.  Realistically it is a tremendous mountain they will have to climb to find themselves playoff relevant, but should they manage a spot in the post-season this year, it could be the best story Ohio hockey has to offer for quite some time.

Carry the Flag!

Trick or Treat?

Happy Halloween, Jackets Fans! We’ve certainly had our share of scary and horrific behavior this year already, and so last night’s return of “the team we thought we had” was a refreshing treat for a dismal season thus far…

But I think we all learned from Detroit, that great play last night by no means is an indicator of what we shall see in the immediate future – and some big things still lie ahead. Today (in theory) we shall find out if Ryan Johansen shall remain in the big leagues, and the rest of the season shall show if we’ll now ever stop the conjecture about Arniel and/or Howson for the remainder of the year, if Wiz is, in fact, superhuman, and what this team is exactly all about. [For the record, I say let the Johan stay up, please stop the irresponsible rumor mongering about team leadership, and Wiz is a beast, and returning a full roster is a promise renewed IMO]

Finally, I’d like to cite the ultimate trick AND treat of the night last night. First, I will publicly thank the team for responding with heart and fire in last night’s game. THAT is the team I’ve been desperate to see – complete with post game comments from more than one relevant player!!!…however, such Jekyll and Hyde behavior honestly had me believing that the trick is on us – and, at one point last night, I was convinced that Nash etc. have secret twitter accounts and were tracking the #CBJ comments about lack of heart and desire. Hey…whatever works right? ;)

Trick or Treat, folks, I’m not sure what lies ahead for our beloved team but I remain dedicated to supporting them throughout and believing we can achieve great things.

Go Jackets! #StandandFight #CalltoArms

In which the walls come crashing down…

I had a whole concept to write about this morning…but then news comes across the Porty timeline that potentiallyHowson and Arniel could be gone by tomorrow.Allow me to say, that as of right now, I do not support this decision.

First and foremost, while I know its the nature of the game in sports, announcing to the world that someone(s) may or may not be about to be fired is just crappy. Imagine if your boss went and told everyone in your company that they were considering firing you. In this action, you’ve basically neutralized any remaining effectiveness said employee has. That’s a great idea for a team that is beyond struggling. /sarcasmfont

Secondarily, I can’t argue that Howson has NOT done what he was asked to do. Many of you may offer counter points, and I welcome those, but he went out and filled our biggest holes, communicated to the public, and was agressive. I may take some issue with the trigger finger sending people up and down to Springfield in timeframes shorter than Cam Atkinson, but this alone is not basis for the firing.

And now to Arniel. I am not a coach. I have never been a coach of a sport team of any kind. But I have played on numerous sports teams (certainly not of a professional nature) so I believe I know enough to know that the coach is not alone in bearing the brunt of a teams’ going ons. However the coach is certainly most always the fall guy.

Its been posited that if Arniel does in fact have to go, that we will look to Hitch, and by virtue of the fact that Howson fired Hitch (long pole, tent all that) that Howson has to go. Due to the points I raise above, I don’t know that Howson should go, and, quite frankly, what happened to saying, “hey guys, be grown-ups. Kiss and make up and learn to work together.” If Hitch and Howson really both want this team to win above all else, they can work together. Don’t have to be best friends…but figure it out. Happens to me at work all the time.

And Hitch? Look, I like the guy. But we saw his stock is not highly esteemed in the league as it stands right now – as no team pulled him in to the fold during the off-season. But, is he the right option or just “an option” because he’s on the payroll. As I said in an earlier post, change for change’s sake is not the answer, and if we just keep changing stuff “to see what sticks” – well, we ARE the Cleveland Browns, my friends.

Ultimately, remember, that when Hitch was let go, Howson told us that next time, it would be the players. And, I to some extent, feel that the majority of the problems lie on the ice, not behind the bench. We’ve changed a lot…and yet some things just haven’t changed, and if a coaching/management kind of change goes down or not, if we do NOT hear from the players – with passion (one way or another) – I fear that leadership changes of any kind will not fix our problem.

Why is it that an esteemed Veteran, Vinny Prospal, is already calling out issues of desire and fight on this team? And when does this become a question of finding the guys who have not only the skill but the HEART? A coach – no matter the caliber – can’t MAKE a player care. Can’t MAKE a player fight.

I remain a loyal fan of this team – and will support them because I just can’t help it, but I want to see the desperation and focus coming from ALL levels of this organization and that includes every person that is currently on the roster.

What the Blue Jackets Should Do With Their Forwards

After last nights loss to the Buffalo Sabres, the Blue Jackets forwards are clearly in need of some reshuffling. Coach Scott Arniel mixed up his lines throughout the game, essentially benching rookies Ryan Johansen and Maksim Mayorov, as well veteran Derek Mackenzie for part of the 2nd period and nearly the entire 3rd. This meant rolling three lines, one of which was Cody Bass – Sami Pahlsson – Derek Dorsett. Pahlsson and Dorsett have a role with the Blue Jackets, but it’s not to play significant minutes while trailing late in games. Furthermore, it pushed career AHLer Alexandre Giroux into significant top six minutes. For the Jackets to run off any kind of winning streak, AHL caliber players like Giroux and Bass (not to mention defenseman Aaron Johnson) cannot be playing significant minutes late in games against good teams like Buffalo. Something needs to change. Fortunately, Arniel has a number of linemate decisions to make over the next few days, weeks and months. Ryan Johansen will hit his 9th game very soon, Jeff Carter should return sometime in the near future, Jared Boll will be healthy sometime after that, and Kristian Huselius will be back sometime around New Years. How should Arniel and GM Scott Howson handle these decisions? Lets look at them one at a time.

Right Now

News broke earlier today that Matt Calvert has been recalled from Springfield, and Maksim Mayorov has been sent back down. Looking at Calvert’s stats in the AHL this year (0 points, -4 in four games), this probably isn’t a move to put him on a scoring line. I would expect to see Calvert put into Mayorov’s spot alongside Pahlsson and Dorsett, and hopefully inject some life into that unit. Mayorov has been very solid in my opinion, but it seems that Arniel does not quite trust him enough to play in the big spots against other teams top lines like he does Pahlsson and Dorsett. However, something needs to be done to shake-up the Jackets forwards. Replacing a rookie with ostensibly another rookie (Calvert is only 22 games past his rookie status), is not going to wake up Rick Nash, Antoine Vermette or R.J. Umberger. In my opinion, those three players have so far played the furthest below their potential over the last few games and are in need of a wake-up call. Nash played well when Carter was in the line-up, but has been invisible since. Umberger played well against Detroit, and has shown flashes in other games but not been consistently the R.J. we all know and love. Vermette has been terrible for most of the year, with lazy play, poor decision making and no desire to go into the dirty areas. To wake up these players, I would propose the following lines for Saturday’s game against Chicago, based on the current personnel that are with the Blue Jackets.

Prospal – Brassard – Giroux
Nash – Johansen – Calvert
Umberger – Pahlsson – Dorsett
Bass – Vermette – Mackenzie

If I were Scott Arniel I would put those lines on the board before the team gets in for the morning skate. I would personally have a chat with Nash, Umberger and Vermette prior to the game and let them know why they have been moved down the line-up. I know these lines present some issues, as Giroux is clearly not a top line player, Johansen has struggled at center and Vermette’s talents are wasted on a fourth line. But if this wakes up Nash and Umberger, that unit can quickly become the top line at even strength. Rick Nash is supposed to be an elite player in this league, and I believe he possesses the skills to be an elite player. Elite players need to carry their teams when they are injured and struggling. We need Rick Nash to  have a game where he puts this team on his back and wills them to victory. He has done it in the past, and if there was ever a time for it to happen in the future, it is now.


The Ryan Johansen Conundrum

The first major question regarding the line-up, besides poor play, is what to do with Ryan Johansen. Prior to the season the Jackets brass made it clear they would follow the plan Boston used with Tyler Seguin. Based on Seguin’s play so far this year, that looks like a very good act to follow. This plan consists of: sheltered minutes featuring plenty of offensive zone starts against easy competition, a few healthy scratches in tough road games, more minutes at home than away (to dictate match-ups), and a decent helping of powerplay time. Prior to the season, most Jackets fans were totally on board with this approach. This has been the approach Arniel has taken with Johansen. He currently has the fourth highest percent of offensive zone starts in the entire NHL (of players with 5+ gp and +10:00/g, only behind the Sedin line), and in a tough road game last night he sat for most of the latter half of the game. Personally, I think he should have sat the rest of the 2nd period, then seen a regular shift in the 3rd. If you punish a player for a mistake, show him the mistake on video during the intermission, then let him go out the next period and make up for it. Barring that, at least give him a couple more shifts in the period to let his offensive ability shine.

I think Johansen should stay in the NHL, but him and the fanbase should expect inconsistent ice-time and usage going forward. At home, I would like to see him play right wing on the second line (should Umberger, Vermette and Nash get going), as he has looked more comfortable with less defensive responsibility and talented linemates have given him the space he has needed to show off his tremendous skill. On the road, I would sit him for five or six more games through the year against tougher opponents, and possibly drop him to the third/fourth line on occasion. However, I would make him a fixture on the second powerplay unit in both home and away games. This kind of set-up would give him the best opportunity to shine, learn the NHL game and not get broken by overuse or tough minutes. However, late in a close game and down two goals? Get the kid on the ice.

Nash’s Number One Center?

For the first five years after Derick Brassard was drafted in 2005, he was “Rick Nash’s future center”. This kind of proclamation can spoil a player. Brassard has shown flashes of being a very good player, but has not been one consistently. Then Johansen was drafted to be “Rick Nash’s future center” and Jeff Carter was brought in to be Rick Nash’s current center. Brassard was an afterthought, moved to left wing and sent to the fourth line. Since then, he has reinvented his game. Brassard has gone to the corners, gone to the net hard and buried the tough goals we were used to seeing Umberger put in. To this point of the season, Brassard has been among the most pleasant surprises. At times, he has looked at home as Nash’s center. However, too often has Nash not looked at home with Brassard as his center. Over the last four games, I was really hoping Nash – Brassard – Prospal would click as a line so Carter could be moved down the line-up and spread out the Jackets scoring. This has not been the case. Based on the previous moves happening and working (ie. Nash, Vermette & Umberger getting going and Johansen staying) I would propose the following lines:

Nash – Carter – Prospal
Umberger – Brassard – Johansen
Calvert – Vermette – Mayorov
Mackenzie – Pahlsson – Dorsett

This gives the Jackets two very talented scoring lines. Nash – Carter – Prospal was great for the five games they played together. Umberger and Brassard provide the talented linemates Johansen needs for success, and Umberger provides the grit the other two need to be successful. Calvert – Vermette – Mayorov gives Arniel a third line that is very responsible in the defensive end, yet has the talent to be dangerous offensively. This would be very beneficial to both Calvert and Mayorov, as they would have the skilled linemates they have been lacking so far this season, and would aid their development into productive NHLers. The fourth line would be a match-up line, being used to shut down opponents top lines, and allow the other three sets to play against easier competition and play more in the offensive zone. More importantly, this line-up moves career AHLers Alexandre Giroux and Cody Bass back to the AHL where they belong. Giroux does not skate well enough to play a top six role in the NHL, and doesn’t bring enough defensively to play a bottom six role. Bass is not nearly as responsible defensively as Dorsett and isn’t big enough to physically handle the players Jared Boll can.


To Boll or not to Boll?

There have been innumerable discussions over the years about how poorly Columbus has done developing players. It’s why the kid gloves are needed with Johansen. It’s why Cam Atkinson (a small player used to forty game seasons against college kids) should spend the majority of this season in the AHL. It’s why David Savard and John Moore have played limited sheltered minutes in the NHL and been shuttled back and forth from Springfield. Gilbert Brule has been the poster child for the Jackets development problems, but I personally feel like one of their biggest wasted opportunities was with Jared Boll. Boll only played two seasons in the OHL, registering 47 goals and 49 assists in 131 games. He has good size, pretty soft hands and is a good skater. Watching him with Plymouth, I thought he was a future 20 goal scoring power forward, and a fourth round steal. Instead, Boll was rushed to the NHL straight from junior to replace Jody Shelley (who would be traded to San Jose midseason). Instead of spending two years in the AHL honing his abilities against lesser competition and developing into the player we occasionally see flashes of, he was fighting guys much bigger and older than him on a daily basis, and destroying his hands and wrists in the process.

Unfortunately, I am afraid we have seen the peak of what Jared Boll will be in the NHL. He is not quite big enough to handle the biggest players in the league, is not good enough defensively to be trusted in his own end and he has never had the chance to develop the offensive wherewithal to be a true scorer in the NHL. This brings us to the most obvious competition for his roster spot: Derek Dorsett. Dorsett has his own shortcomings: he’s even less talented than Boll and has a penchant for taking bad penalties. However, he has been improving in the second area, and he does draw a number of powerplays for the Blue Jackets. Among players with at least 50 games played last season, Dorsett tied for 16th in the NHL (along with Rick Nash) for the most penalties drawn. Furthermore, since Pahlsson and Dorsett are usually paired together and playing against other teams top lines, when Dorsett draws a penalty, he usually removes another teams top players from the ice. Also, he finished 86th in the NHL in penalties taken that resulted in powerplays, certainly higher than anyone would like but not high enough to really be a problem. I think these contributions put him slightly above Jared Boll for the fourth line right wing spot. Once Boll is healthy, I would like to see him as our thirteenth forward, spelling Mackenzie and Dorsett on occasion, and getting into games where the opponent is a larger physical team and his pugnacity may be required.


How Does $58,523,635 Worth of Players Fit Together 

A little over $58.5 million is the amount Howson has committed to paying his NHL roster for this season (the frequently tweeted $65 million number is inflated due to injuries and $2 million worth of buyouts). We have yet to see all of those players together on the ice, and we won’t until Kristian Huselius gets healthy midseason. As we saw last night against Buffalo, a team with three legitimate scoring lines is tough to stop. Shut down one, and you have two more there for the taking. Three legitimate scoring lines allows Arniel to almost always have a line that is a threat to score on the ice. However, the key word is legitimate. If the third line is not really a threat, and just a line of offensive minded players, they can be a liability. I would try to put together two top lines of pure offensive minded players, a third line of very good two way players, and a straight up defensive line. When Huselius returns, Arniel will have the horses to do such.

Nash – Carter – Prospal
Huselius – Brasssard – Johansen
Calvert – Vermette – Umberger
Mayorov – Pahlsson – Dorsett

These lines will probably have a few of you scratching your heads. However, try to think outside the framework of “1st line, 2nd line, 3rd line & 4th line.” What you have is a very dynamic line that can control the play against anyone (the Carter line). A line of very talented offensive players that can be used for offensive zone starts and match-ups in home games against weaker competition (the Brassard line). Then you have a line of very good two-way forwards who all have the required skills to put the puck in the net on a consistent basis (the Vermette line). Finally, you have a line that won’t score much but can grind out opponents top lines, which allows the other three lines to play with easier match-ups (the Pahlsson line). On the road, you can easily swap the second and third lines ice time, so the opposing coach can’t feast on the defensively lacking Brassard line. For the few games that Johansen should sit moving forward, Calvert or Umberger can jump to the Brassard line, Mayorov can fill their spot on the Vermette line and Boll or Mackenzie can fill in for Mayorov.

The season so far has not been good. In fact, “not been good” is probably sugarcoating it. However, the problem with injuries, especially those to players who play at the top of the line-up, is they force lesser players into more minutes. Those expanded minutes expose those players, showing why they are fourth liners or AHLers to begin with. This is not aided by questionable coaching decisions. However, there is hope on the horizon. The health of Carter, Boll and Huselius, and keeping Ryan Johansen, should allow Scott Arniel to roll three scoring lines, keep the AHLers in the AHL, keep Pahlsson/Dorsett out of significant offensive minutes, and place Ryan Johansen in a situation to be successful now and in the future. There is a lot of offensive talent on the Blue Jackets roster, and I am looking forward to seeing it on the ice.

Recap :: Columbus vs. Buffalo 10/27

I have given this recap over 12 hours to simmer prior to speaking my mind, but I am afraid there won’t be enough time for me to ‘settle down’ regarding the Blue Jackets game I was subjected to last night.  While Arniel and Portzline seemed content to praise the 43 shots on backup goaltender Jhonas Enroth, I think they are missing (or ignoring) the more compelling stat.  TWO goals, on 43 shots.  Were it not for what I deemed as a terrible coaching effort, that would be the main focus of this recap, but it would seem I am going to be pulled in a number of directions.

First, to get it out of the way, 43 shots.  Here is the “Scoring Chances” breakdown by The Cannon.  Forty three shots on a backup goaltender should spell 4-5 goals, but it wasn’t even close to that.  Very little pressure in front of the net and when there was, it was more of a ‘stand and watch while being tied up’ approach rather than getting physical and jockeying for position.  On the opposite end of the ice, three goals on account of cross crease passing and a rebound finish had Mason on his back.  Very interesting that a team could get so badly outshot, yet out chance their opponents?  Suddenly 43 shots takes a backseat to what really happened.

With that said, does the difference between the two teams become obvious? One team covers their man and can win with a backup goalie facing just under 50 shots (with more than likely 70% or more from the perimeter and another 25% without traffic), and on the other end a goalie is forced to make desperation saves or bust.  I know the criticism well now: Mason needs to make great saves to ‘steal a game’ but try to be honest with yourself here..  On the first goal, Mason slides across to make a save on the one timer and the shot is basically flubbed, causing an over commit and a goal.  On another, he throws his pad low and has the entire lower half covered, leaving only Rick Nash’s “diving effort” on his blown coverage assignment to have the puck deflect OFF of him and into the net.  Tack on a toe save that leads to a healthy rebound (believe it or not most toe saves become rebounds) with no coverage on the follow up, and another goal by Pominville standing entirely alone in front of Mase which lead to an easy cross crease one timer.


That final goal flows nicely into my next concern, and I really don’t want to get too deep into this, but how much worse can the Blue Jackets penalty kill get?  They allowed two goals on three attempts last night, entrenching themselves deeper into the 30th place in the NHL rankings (that’s 12 goals on 34 penalty kills).  Both goals were scored on account of a man being open for a pass in the high scoring areas down low, and neither shot gave Mason much of a chance to make a save.  This may be one of the more obvious statements I make today, but the penalty kill has to get better, and by better, I mean WAY better for this team to stay in games.

There are lots of other small items I’d like to address, but in the interest of again not writing a book on the failures of a game, I want to focus finally on Arniel and his coaching decisions yesterday.  A benching of Johansen (who was arguably outplaying his linemates until a rather obvious blown assignment lead to a Buffalo goal) for almost the entire third period.  A ‘shut down’ line playing over 14 minutes of the game, most notably in the third period while down one and two goals.  A top line getting fewer minutes than the second line.  My problem here is two-fold:

  •  First, why is a shutdown line with no major offensive upside being leaned on during a third period of a game where the team is trailing?  Would it not make sense to play the lines that are notably capable of scoring instead?
  • Second, the reasoning was that the players who showed up to play were getting the ice time. Why are players NOT showing up to play? Who has the responsibility of getting the players to show up every game and give it everything they have? The coach? The captain?

I’m at a loss.  It was what appeared to me as a desperation move to appear competitive on the ice in a game they should have dominated from the opening faceoff.  43 shots is embarrassing when it only comes along with two goals and a pretty clear indication thanks to the scoring chances that the shots being taken are more like turnovers than they are opportunities.

I have admittedly been hypercritical of Rick Nash over the last week or so, and I will likely continue to do so until he emerges as a leader of this hockey club.  Leaders, all-star players, professionals.. This is the type of adversity they are faced with, and it is up to him to overcome and bring the team along for the ride.  I have also been giving Mason and his save percentage a pass for the last few weeks on account of absolutely atrocious defensive lapses and will continue to do so until he is letting in non-one timer goals that are NOT second chance efforts.  I am still going to love this team and cheer them on, but every loss they surrender only raises the bar of expectations from me.  There is a level of play I expect this team to perform at, and frankly, they aren’t even all that close right now.

Carry the Flag.

Keys to the Game: Columbus at Buffalo 10/27

Before each Blue Jackets game I’ll identify what strategic elements the Blue Jackets should focus on based on their opponent, the likely match-ups, injuries, goaltenders and recent play. This will be broken down into both offensive and defensive keys, with the occasional look at the keys for the Jackets netminder.

Offensive Keys: Crash the Net.
Similar to the Detroit game, the Jackets will be facing a back-up goaltender. Also similar to the Detroit game, the key to scoring on said back-up goaltender is to get traffic in front of him. However, Jonas Enroth is a much better goalie than Ty Conklin. Conklin absolutely cannot track the puck if there is any kind of traffic in front of him. Enroth can track the puck just fine, when he can see it. The little guy, generously listed at 5’10, 166 pounds, is making only his second start of the season. Getting the big bodies in front of him, getting some point shots, and picking up some dirty goals on screens, tips and rebounds will be vital to beating the Sabres. However, this will be no easy task. The Sabres defense features a top pairing of Tyler Myers and Robyn Regehr, who run a combined 12’11″, 455 pounds. Sabres coach Lindy Ruff will try and get Myers-Regehr out against Nash-Brassard-Prospal as much as possible. They will have a much tougher time getting to the net than they have for most of the season. On the flip side, this should free R.J. Umberger and Ryan Johansen to crash the net hard against smaller, offensively inclined defensemen Jordan Leopold, Christian Ehrhoff, Andrej Sekera and Marc-Andre Gragnani.

Don’t do this: http://nhl.cdn.neulion.net/u/videocenter/embed.swfA decent try, but the forwards have to get the traffic in front of Enroth BEFORE the shot.

Do this: http://nhl.cdn.neulion.net/u/videocenter/embed.swfThe big guys need to follow Staal’s example and get to the net with Ehrhoff and Sekera on the ice.

Defensive Keys: Watch Your Gap

On Saturday night, former Blue Jacket/current Lightning goaltender Mathieu Garon shut out the Sabres with a fairly easy 21 save performance. The Sabres really did not test Garon all game, and the Lightning provided the rest of the NHL with the blueprint for how to slow the Sabres offense. Buffalo rolls four lines, with talented scoring players on every single one. They forecheck relentlessly, and capitalize on turnovers. They are very dangerous off the rush. To beat them, the defense has to minimize turnovers, make crisp outlets passes (or make sure to get it off the glass and out of the zone), and keep the Sabres forwards to the outside on the rush. Tomas Vanek, Derek Roy and Nathan Gerbe are all especially dangerous on the rush and all play on different lines. Add in Jason Pominville, Ville Leino, Drew Staffard and Brad Boyes, and you have a team that can put up numbers. What Tampa did so successfully, was not allow the Sabres to get to the middle of the ice. Those are seven dangerous forwards, but they lack the size and grit to really fight through traffic on a consistent basis. Unfortunately for Columbus, Methot and Martinek are still injured, and keeping players out of the middle is what they do best. Grant Clitsome and Aaron Johnson have struggled with this, and John Moore was terrible with his gap control against Detroit. Moore’s struggles in this area are expected, as the increased pace of the NHL game is tough to get used to for a young defenseman from the AHL. Clitsome and Johnson on the other hand, have to be better. If they can push the Sabres forwards outside and limit their mistakes with the puck, Steve Mason should be primed for another excellent performance.

Don’t do this:
http://nhl.cdn.neulion.net/u/videocenter/embed.swfThe defense have to make smarter plays with the puck

Do
this: http://nhl.cdn.neulion.net/u/videocenter/embed.swfDefense maintain perfect gap control, keep Stafford to the outside for a bad shot, denies any pass to Roy or the now-injured Ennis and forward gets back to stop Roy/Ennis from dropping back for a pass.

I Love you, Man!!!!

Ah the sweet salve of a victory. We’ve gone, in less than 12 short hours from “do we blow the team up?” to “WE WON…AGAINST DETROIT!”Its interesting the changes in lens that come from being on the right side of the goal tally…and, continuing the theme of my recent posts, consider this a love letter to everyone involved in last night…a few special highlights…

  • WIZ. Dude. I really really love you for bringing back some fire, for playing more than half the game, for having a wicked shot, for “seeing the ice” like no one else does (discuss the passing, people!) and for speaking out like you do. No wonder teams that have had you on their roster love you.
  • MASON. Dude squared. Not only did you win me over with demanding to come back in the game, but you played the game we know you can, and when you got that first star, not only did you linger on the ice to enjoy it, but you climbed OVER the visitor’s bench to throw your stick to the fans. Own that swagger!
  • HOWSON. Stand and Fight. That is all.
  • BRASS: I don’t know if it made TV, but in the third period, when you snowed Conklin, then wiped off his mask…and then turned around and smiled at him? Made. of. Awesome.
  • DEREK DORSETT: I always love ya, but, please, no more penalties in the final two-ish minutes. You aged me about 10 years. And don’t give people more to rail on. For you alone, I’m thrilled we won. ;)
  • DUDE IN FRONT OF US: I am very thankful Dan didn’t end up a) spilling your beer after numerous cheers b) spilling said beer all over YOU. You were fun…
  • THOSE WHO RESPECT THE MOJO: I’m superstitious. I can’t help it. Thanks to those who played along.
And finally, and most importantly, to YOU my Fellow FANS. You showed up (the arena was not mostly red), and you responded with passion and excitement for our team. And all of us that came out got our just reward by seeing our team finally win! The game of hockey is exciting indeed, but the experience of a great crowd at a hockey game is even better. Last night, no matter what other people say, made me proud to be one of you – one of the Blue Jackets Faithful. To quote my friend, Dannie, there’s still more than a few of us who can say “I STILL BELIEVE”.
Let’s Go Jackets! #StandandFight #CalltoArms

Wisniewski Makes an Immediate Impact

When I read that suspended defensemen James Wisniewski was sitting in the press box during the first few games of the season chomping at the bit, I wondered what really could be the outcome of his return.  I wasn’t about to overlook his character which is usually invaluable in a locker room, but I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the thought of one player making the difference between an 0-7-1 team, and victory.

Sure enough, he came through.  Playing more than 27 minutes last night, and being the anchor of just about every single rush the Jackets made while he was on the ice, not to mention quarterbacking what appeared to be a legitimate powerplay, he had more of an impact than I could have ever expected.  With that said, however, it does give a tremendous indication of how desperately the Jackets needed a top tier defensemen on their roster, and how much of an impact one came make on both ends of the ice.

To start, lets consider his presence on the puck when he has possession leaving the defensive zone.  If the puck isn’t already on his stick, it will be.  His teammates (and I am sure this was designed) found him with the puck to begin the breakout probably 80% of the time, especially if there was room to work.  This is a tremendous decision too, considering how much poise and creativity Wisniewski shows with the puck on his stick.  Not once, but a handful of times he made tricky passes to lead players sometimes only a couple feet away from him, and on one occasion a pass off the boards from two full zones away to a player waiting at the opposing blueline.  These passes are what the Jackets have been missing on the breakout, and the effectiveness of them caused the Red Wings to spread out their neutral zone play.

Moving on to the powerplay, Wisniewski again looks to have the puck on his stick.  Last night, the puck found him constantly with the man advantage, but much to the dismay of the casual observer (read: drunk morons) sitting behind me screaming “SHOOOOOT ITTTTT”the Wiz found open lanes to make crisp passes, creating scoring chances down low, as well as spreading out the Wings penalty kill and giving his forwards more room to work with the puck.  During previous games, the Jackets defensemen playing against the opposing teams best penalty killers seemed hesitant and rushed with the puck, allowing the other team to collapse on the players down low without any real concern of point possession.

In last nights game, it was clear the respect was given to Wiz, and he made them pay on a number of tremendous opportunities, one slapshot of which just barely hit the top of Conklin’s pad (who had no idea where the puck was) and shot up in the air.  On several other occasions, Wiz took extremely hard, low shots that just barely missed the net.  These are the shots that he should probably spend some time teaching Tyutin how to do in practice, as Fedor seems to get a kick out of the term ‘high and wide’ when shooting.

The final point I want to touch on, is how valuable Wisniewski is as a top line defensemen.  Quite honestly, I am not under the impression that the Jackets have more than one top line defenseman (although Tyutin played a very strong game), so bringing in a player to allow some of the current lineup to shift downwards is hugely beneficial for all involved.  Couple that with the fact that a healthy lineup takes out a guy like Johnson (who is AHL inclined) and then allows some flexibility for Arniel to swap between Savard and Moore.  Suddenly, the Jackets have options.

If it was a spark the Jackets needed to finally get this season off the ground, Wisniewski provided.  His calm demeanor with the puck and extremely creative passing and decision making provide the backbone this team so badly needed on the rush.  Wizmas was hopefully only the start to many great nights of hockey left in this season.

Carry the Flag!

Game Recap :: Columbus vs Detroit 10/25

So much to cover.  So much positive tonight.  Here’s a quick few points to get us started, but don’t be surprised if a number of these topics turn into extended discussions over the next day or two.

- Can you say depth scoring?
- Johansen scores his first NHL goal
- John Moore scores his first NHL goal
- The fans heart Steve Mason…. …for now
- Wizmas was Wiztasticly Wizerrifc.

Now to go into a bit of depth about the game, I will say all the build up with #Wizmas and GM Scott Howson’s tremendous blog got my excitement and attention.  For a guy driving 90 miles to watch an 0-7-1team, I was oddly pumped up and for good measure.  Why? Because this is NOT an 0-7-1 caliber hockey club.  Pre game Chipotle, and in the seats with a good ten minutes to spare, it was time to turn on the hockey banter and prep for the game to begin.

There were undoubtedly thousands of Red Wings fans in attendance, as noted by the roar they gave after Detroit managed to tie the game at one, but again I am getting ahead of myself.  From the opening draw it was pretty clear the Jackets were excited to play, thanks in part to a solid crowd and the return of off-season acquisition James Wisniewski, and they were rewarded early with Umberger FINALLY burying his first goal of the year.  The relief was building wide, but no one showed more excitement and emotion on the play than RJ, hollering and “woo”ing all the way to the bench.

The other big story was Steve Mason.  Injured on the goal scored by Detroit, he left the ice for a brief period to be examined, yet returned to action within a few shifts.  This IS resilience and passion for the game, and his efforts throughout the game were tremendous, making quality saves and avoiding more than only the occasional rebound.  I would certainly argue that his play was elevated from other games this season, but so too was the play of his defensive core.  Limited cross crease passing and very few open opportunities for Detroit in the slot gave him the confidence to step up to the shooter and trust his teammates to clear the garbage in front.

Defensively, as noted, Columbus was sound.  I did have a few choice words for Johnson (for only just being Johnson) but my frustrations were limited to only a few plays.  Beyond that, the defensemen played their positions, stymied second chance efforts, and did a tremendous job keeping Detroit to the exterior of the zone, taking weaker shots on Mason.  The story of the the night was obviously Wisniewski, but a hat tip to Clitsome for three assists and John Moore for scoring his first ever NHL goal are an absolute must.  I plan to discuss what Wiz brings to the team, and how much his presence on the ice alone makes them a better team, but I’m going to break it down into another post, as it may get a bit lengthy.  In short, he is worth his paycheck.  In a big way.

Offensively, the Jackets FINALLY got their secondary scoring, and on a night when the top line simply did not find the net (although what a bad break for Brassard, hitting the post on that rebound!!).  Umberger, Johansen, and even Vermette were all firing on net and producing great opportunities, along with a stretch pass to Vermette who made a tremendous play on Conklin but couldn’t find the back of the net.  I was slightly underwhelmed again by the efforts of Rick Nash, but Prospal and Brassard were flying around the ice, causing havoc and causing turnovers.  I don’t know where it came from, but this mean streak that Brassard has acquired between getting dumped to the fourth line out of camp and now has really made him a strong asset for the Jackets.  It’s been fun to watch, and will make Carter’s return VERY interesting in terms of line juggling.

Finally, the atmosphere.  It was tremendous, especially during the high energy, long possession efforts by the Jackets.  It seemed like every time they generated a scoring chance and regained possession of the puck in the offensive zone, the crowd roared with satisfaction, not to mention during the final two minutes as they meticulously killed off a penalty and finished the game strong.  The crowd was 100% into the game, and the level of passion shown by thousands of die hard Blue Jackets fans certainly made an impression on me.

Three more games on the schedule this week.  I am sure there will be lots to share, but for now, I’ll raise my glass to the fine effort shown by the Jackets tonight, and willingly admit that the Yuengling tastes twice as sweet.

Carry the Flag!