Archive for December 2011

Game Recap – Columbus vs. Dallas 12/29

I learned a few things last night while enjoying the Blue Jackets victory over the Dallas Stars.  First, Team Canada slaughtering Denmark is LESS appealing than this years Columbus Blue Jackets team (I was expecting there to be a channel changing fest throughout the game).  Second, I learned that you flat out never can tell what Blue Jackets team to expect on the ice.  The team I watched last night was a playoff team with an injured top tier defenseman.  And third, I learned that twitter bans on people who post too much in celebration of victories make me laugh uncontrollably (looking at you, Alison)!!!

I know it was a win, but like all recaps I do have to cover the entirety of the game, including the first period where Columbus was outshot 19-9.  Full credit to Steve Mason for keeping them in the game, despite having his stick whacked right before trying to cover the puck which lead to the Stars only goal.  That period was rough, and certain stretches of the remaining two periods found the Blue Jackets hemmed in their own zone looking like they were trying to kill a penalty.  It was nice to see them not scrambling, and not taking chances which lead to brilliant scoring opportunities for Dallas, but in the future I hope they get a bit more aggressive on the puck carriers rather than sitting back and waiting for the opposition to make a mistake.

The bright spot on the offense in my books was Johansen.  FSN declined to give him a star of the game, which I think is ridiculous.  He single handedly created the first goal (Nash finished, but he had 90% of the net to shoot at) and had a key screen late in the game which lead to their third goal.  He also created additional chances, flew around the ice, and appeared to make both Carter and Nash play better in the process.  This was a breakout game for the Johan, and he looked very comfortable in that role.

Bonus points to the Blue Jackets offense for actually scoring.  They took 29 shots and most of them had a purpose, forcing Kari Lehtonen to make strong saves at key moments of the game.  They also managed to keep his save percentage below .900 which for this team seems to be one of the hardest things for this team recently.  To build more on that, they took 29 shots and could have easily scored 7-8 goals based on the quality of the shots.  I have been stressing this for weeks and it’s great to see them finally play a game like that.  Rather than taking weak shots and hoping for a miracle, they worked hard, found quality passing lanes, and fought for tough rebounds.

One situation that really disappointed me was the officiating late in the game.  I questioned both of the calls made (a charge on Boll and a hook on Nikitin) with six and four minutes left in regulation.  While I can understand the refs wanting to keep the game clean, they ignored a number of penalty worthy plays by a scrambling Dallas team late in the game, which really set me off.  Usually this type of thing ends badly for Columbus, so again full marks to the guys for pulling out the win instead of caving at adversity.  I feel like there is a real lack of respect for the Blue Jackets by the officiating crews that call their games, and this is just another prime example of them getting the shorter end of the stick.

Wisniewski apparently has a broken ankle.  In a pretty stupid decision, he decided to try and make a kick save on a Dallas shot and it rocketed off his left foot.  For those who don’t know much about hockey skates, the worst thing you can do is turn them sideways right before a puck hits them. Zero padding.  Major kudos has to go out to the defensive core who stepped up and kept the Stars off the scoresheet after Wiz couldn’t return.  I think one of the real bright spots last night was John Moore, who contributed both offensively (two assists) and defensively in the win.

I want to cycle back one more time and comment on the play of Steve Mason, who took a pretty decent verbal beating via twitter after giving up the first goal (on his tenth shot of the period).  He has made 63 of 65 saves in his last two starts (for a .968 save percentage).  While his rebound control remains something to be desired, he is showing a keen ability to find the puck on the primary shot, and frankly, that’s exactly what I expect out of him.  If the Jackets can play tight enough defensively and clear away any rebounds he creates, they could be pleasantly surprised by his output.  Over the last two games, he’s allowed a goal to Jerome Iginla left alone in front, and a hacky rebound goal when his stick/blocker got slashed as he was trying to cover the puck.  Hard to not be impressed by the other 63 shots he’s faced.  I’m not claiming we are witnessing a “Mason rebirth” but I am suggesting there is something about that kid that makes his development worth while.  He just needs defensive support to excel.

Overall a strong performance, but there are certainly areas of improvement.  With Wisniewski out for what some are claiming will be 7-10 weeks, Columbus will need to look deep (hopefully deeper than pressbox junkie Aaron Johnson) to resolve a fairly large defensive hole in both skill and minutes.  It would be a great time to see long time concussion sufferer Radek Martinek, or maybe see a call up from Springfield.  A big defensive task lies ahead with Washington coming to town on Saturday.

Carry the Flag!

Laugh So You Don’t Cry…or In Which This Blog Pauses for a Truly Silly Moment

Fans, Its a rough year to be sure. In a season where we are striving to find the positive things, I’ve been lucky to meet some great people who are often more rewarding that a Blue Jackets win. Some of us have come together on Twitter a few times for what has now been deemed the “lunchtime presser”. If you follow meon twitter, you’ve seen the craziness that ensues. What started as a way to make fun of “coach speak” and sports platitudes, has turned into a less negative way to vent about the current state we are in and voice all our opinions without (i hope) getting too upset.In the spirit of making our own fun, the lunch time presser now has its own editorial coverage, courtesy of my great friend Chad. With sincere appreciation, and more than a few laughs, I present to you the first official coverage of the lunch time presser.

If you haven’t followed these – you might as well stop reading now because it will just look ridiculous. But, if you have attended our “pressers”, I hope more than a couple of you will be able to get a few grins and laughs in a season during which they are sorely needed. (And, this whole thing is so silly, hopefully you can understand why this is here and not on the esteemed Dark Blue Jacket blog – I fear if I posted this there they’d revoke my membership ;) )

Without further ado, and with tongue firmly implanted in cheek, and all characterizations below completely fictional – I give you full #LunchTimePresser coverage courtesy of Chad:

##Dutchman No Stranger to Lunchtime Success

Fake Michael Arace here. AlisonL held a lunchtime press conference today to announce that, despite the fans’ clamoring for change, she will be continuing her current salad agenda for her lunch into the immediate future.

AlisonL recently attained the services of her husband Stephen L, known as “Dutchman” in expert lunchtime circles, to adviser her in the day-to-day lunch preparation operation.
AlisonL admonished that Dutchman has been unable to assist her thus far because he is still at the grocery store, agonizing over the vacuous produce section.
Dutchman is no stranger to successful meals. It is estimated that he has had a hand in approximately 43,800 winning meals throughout his prodigious lifetime. His experience and commendation will no doubt benefit AlisonL, who has become lugubrious for the duration of her workday after consuming the vexing salad each day.
I once attended one of Dutchman’s adult amateur league hockey games on the ice at a roomy Nationwide Arena with Rick Gethin. Gethin, another brilliant food connoisseur who could have been holding his own lunchtime pressers had the cards fallen his way, is now traveling the country a la Food Nework prodigy Guy Fieri, eating complex lunches from far away lands of which AlisonL couldn’t begin to fantasize.
Suddenly, during a stoppage in play, Gethin stood up from his cushy lower-bowl seat and motioned to Dutchman, bringing his hands across his waist as if affixing a WWE championship belt. “Hey Dutch,” he exclaimed, “discount double check!!”
The wisdom Gethin was imparting on the young Dutchman was that, when selecting among the vast array of available ingredients begging for their chance to be a star in the grand salad scheme, be sure to not only check for the best valued ingredients that can play major roles while coming at an affordable price, but also to then “double check” once more to ensure accuracy and congeniality in the final product.
Gethin was a wise man. Hopefully the lessons he has instilled on Dutchman will lead toward success for the AlisonL salad experiment, for we could all use a “discount double check” right about now.

##

Losing Streaks, Great Attendance, and Confusion

Last week I touched base on the playoff possibilities that still remained for the 2011/2012 season and shared some of the records that would give Columbus a shot of making the playoffs.  I determined based on the current point trends of the bubble teams that the Jackets would need about  96 points to make the playoffs, and that a record of 36-11-2 would get it done.

Since writing that piece, Columbus has gone 0-2-1, two games of which they absolutely should have won.  It’s nothing new.  My optimism in that post was limited, and their new ‘bubble’ record of 36-9-1 gives an even more clear indication of how impossible the playoffs will be for them this year.

Their current slide is six games long.  0-5-1.  They have not won in regulation in over a month now, and have done a tremendous job of coughing up leads at various times of the game.  They gave away a three goal lead against Nashville last week, and all but stopped being offensive last night against Calgary, giving them the open door to tie it (Yes, that was captain Jerome Iginla hanging out in front of Mason with the puck, completely undefended) and head to a shootout that lead to even more disappointment.  They also only managed one goal on twenty-eight shots, making Kiprusoff appear to be one of the greatest goalies in the league (he’s not).

The one real bright spot of this abysmal slide is that people continue to show up for games.  Here are the totals from the last five home games including their day of the week (usually weekends are stronger than weekdays)…

Calgary :: 16,985 (Tuesday)
Tampa Bay :: 16,108 (Saturday)
Los Angeles :: 16,090 (Thursday)
Vancouver :: 15,808 (Tuesday)
Boston :: 18,175 **sellout** (Saturday)

That is an average of 16,633 during that stretch, and compared to league averages puts them in the top 2/3 of the NHL on average.  Not bad considering the highest they can climb on the attendance chart currently (capacity in other buildings is substantially more) is 15th.  It brings me to a couple of conclusions:

1 – The team assumes they have the time to ‘let the team sort itself out’ without making changes.  As much as I want something to be done, and as much as I assume the entirety of the organization wants the team to win, I cannot help but think the current attendance numbers are buying both Scott Arniel and a couple of top six forwards time to figure something out.

2 – Columbus fans are suckers for punishment.  Don’t take that the wrong way.  I am openly impressed that people continue to make the trip to Nationwide to watch them give games away to teams who SHOULD be inferior on paper.  I personally haven’t seen a game live since the pathetic loss to Chicago (6-3) in mid November, and each time I almost go but back out at the last second only to watch them get throttled again, I find myself less and less upset about the decision.  Maybe that makes me a bad fan (the drive is an hour and a half both ways to get there), but then again, maybe I just want a sign from management that they won’t tolerate the losing.  **In my defense, I attended eight of the first ten home games of the season.. There is only so much an out of towner can take!

3 – This continuous drubbing from various media morons suggesting Columbus isn’t a hockey market should probably end soon.  Eventually they will start sympathizing with the Columbus fan base (who appear to be awesome) kind of like Tom Reed has been doing, wishing for a team to actually show up and play for an entire year.  Tom is absolutely right, in that this fan base deserves a winner.  They have proven time and time again that Columbus belongs in the NHL, despite the team on the ice.

I have been hunting for positives in a sea of negativity, however as the losing continues, the likelihood of positivity or optimism has become a bit unrealistic.  I am going to hope for a couple wins this week in order to get a reasonable roster review up early next week, but the longer the season goes like this, the less the points mean to the team.  Suddenly, losing is a celebration to avoid moving out of the league basement.  I think the best we Blue Jackets fans can hope for is a quality trade or a new coach with a new perspective in the coming weeks.  While I love this team on paper, they are some kind of mediocre when they hit the ice.

Carry the Flag.

Happy Holidays!

This post is timed to coincide with Christmas, but to all of you who celebrate all of the winter holidays, little ol’ me here at Heart of a Jacket wants to wish each of you the happiest of holidays. Even when our team fails to have heart, you all have constantly reminded me that each of us do :)May you each have at least a few moments to appreciate your loved ones, open a heart-felt gift, and enjoy some yummy treats!

Happy Holidays from CTF

It’s been a long and trying year as a Blue Jackets fan.  From another disappointing finish to big time signings and trades… From the Arena deal to the current 9-21-4 record that plagues the fan base.. From un-fireable coaches to fresh blood in Patrick..

I always find the Christmas season is a great time to reflect on the year and appreciate some of the little things.  For me, looking at Carry the Flag, I am humbled and honoured each and every day I click on the blog stats and see the number of readers that take the time to read the posts the Coach and I publish.  Comments are like finding money in an old jacket.. Never expected, and ALWAYS appreciated!  I write for therapy when 140 characters is not enough, and I hope that some of the content I share provokes some interesting debates on where this team is headed in the future, and how they intend to get there.

So please, have a safe and Merry Christmas, and try not to get into too much trouble this New Years Eve!  We hope your holidays are filled with excitement, joy, and mounds of Blue Jackets swag!!

Carry the Flag!

-Dan

Understanding the Blue Jackets Early and Late Game Struggles

During Sunday’s game against the Blues, Alex Steen scored just 58 seconds into the 3rd period to tie the game at three. This is a familiar sight for Blue Jackets fans. The Blue Jackets seem to constantly get scored on during the first couple minutes of a period. Also a familiar sight last weekend: with 1:48 remaining the 1st period of Saturday’s game against Tampa Bay, Eric Brewer scored to give the Lightning a 2-0 lead. Inspired by these two goals, I decided to take a deeper look at what the Blue Jackets are doing differently at the beginning and end of every period.


To accomplish this, I went through the NHL.com play-by-play’s for every Blue Jackets game and separated all relevant statistics from the first and last two minutes of every period. After this, I went through all the scoring chance post’s put together by the excellent Matt Wagner at The Cannon and separated the scoring chances for the same two minute stretches. The statistics I used were goals for, goals against, shots for, shots against, offensive zone face-offs, defensive zone face-offs, blocked shots, shots blocked, missed shots, missed shots against, penalties taken, penalties drawn, scoring chances for and scoring chances against. This information painted a very interesting picture of how the Blue Jackets play during the start and end of a period versus the rest of the period. I expected to see the Jackets getting outplayed in every way at the beginning and ends of periods. Surprisingly, this is not exactly what I found. Yes, the Jackets have been outscored. Big time. But they have not necessarily been outplayed.

The most startling statistics were the goals for and goals against averages (per 60 minutes). The Jackets average a measly 2.27 goals per 60 during the opening and closing of a period. Even worse, they have a 5.91 goals against average in this time frame. I probably didn’t need to bold that number, as its terribleness stands on its own. 5.91. That is a crazy high number. That would be good for the worst goals against average by a goalie in modern NHL history. That is a higher goals against average than the worst NHL team in history, the ’74-75 Capitals, who limped to a 8-67-5 record. During the other 48 minutes of the game, the Jackets average 2.44 goals per 60, and 2.70 goals against. While they would only jump ahead of Anaheim for 26th in goals per game (they currently sit 27th), this would vault their 27th ranked goals against average (3.27 GAA) all the way to 15th.

As the offensive production doesn’t change much, the obvious thought is that goaltending is the problem. While the netminding has been fairly terrible, we can do better than just saying “Mason sucks” and moving on. The Jackets currently rank last with an 88.8% save percentage. During the other 48 minutes of a game, the Jackets tenders stop 90.5% of the shots they face, which would be good for 18th in the NHL. During the opening and closing minutes, they only stop 81.1%. Not good. Again, the obvious thought is “Mason sucks” and moving on. However, this is not necessarily the case. Mason has been bad during the opening and closing minutes, but Curtis Sanford has actually been (slightly) worse. Mason has a goals against average of 5.79, and a save percentage of 82.4%. Sanford checks in with a 5.77 goals against average and an 80.3% save percentage. Furthermore, the team has played better in front of Sanford as well, allowing 3.5 fewer shots per 60 minutes with Sanford in net, while posting a massive Corsi rating of 21.15 with Sanford (explained here, but simply its the difference between shots directed at the opponents net and shots directed at the Jackets net), versus a rating of 7.89 with Mason in net. The Jackets also take more penalties with Mason in net and draw more powerplays with Sanford. Every other statistic is approximately the same with each goalie in net.

Aside from a handful of outings this season, Mason has been terrible. Aside from a handful of outings this season, Sanford has been excellent. Yet both are terrible during this stretch of games. Clearly something is going on beyond the goaltenders. The Jackets actually do a better job of controlling the play during the opening and closing 2 minutes of a period. Their Corsi jumps from 3.87 during the other 48 minutes to 10.76 during the opening and closing 2 minutes. At even strength, this equates to a Corsi rating about 8.6 during the opening and closing minutes. This rate over a full season would have led the NHL in the 2010-11 season. Their even strength Corsi rating of 1.7 over the over 48 would have ranked 13th in the NHL last season, exactly the same place they ranked last year (with a slightly lower 1.4 Corsi rating per game). So the Jackets are getting more shots on net, but they are also missing the net and having their shots blocked with more frequency. They also allow more shots on net during the opening and closing moments of a period, but block much fewer shots and the opponent misses the net less. These statistics suggest the Jackets are playing with a more frantic pace during the opening and closing moments of a period.

Even with this frantic pace, the Jackets are playing in the offensive end. The difference in Corsi rating suggests this, and is backed up by the face-off information. The Jackets have an offensive zone start ratio of 55% in the opening and closing parts of a period, versus 49.8% during the other 48 minutes (zone start explanation can be found here). Furthermore, the Jackets draw 4.55 powerplays per 60 minutes during this period and only take 2.73 penalties per 60, compared to 4.17 and 3.27 over the other 48 minutes. These stats plus the high Corsi ratings suggest the Jackets are driving the play during the opening and closing two minutes of a period.

Based on the statistics so far, the Blue Jackets look like a better team during the opening and closing moments. However, this does not take the quality of the shots into account. For this, we turn to scoring chances. Over the other 48 minutes of the game, the Jackets average about two chances for per 60 minutes more than their opponent, with 17.65 chances for per 60 minutes versus 15.77 chances against. At the beginning and end of periods this flips, as the Jackets average 15.76 chances for, while opponents get 17.42 chances per 60. This means that the Jackets get more shots on net but get fewer scoring chances, while the Jackets opponents gets more scoring chances per shot attempt. To further break down the scoring chance information, I looked at the save percentage and shot percentage of the Jackets on scoring chances. The Blue Jackets actually convert 14.42% of scoring chances, which is actually an increase over the 13.83% conversion rate over the rest of the game. On the defensive end, over the other 48 minutes Columbus goalies save 81.73% of opponent scoring chances. Unfortunately, during the two minute windows I looked at, the Blue Jackets goalies only save 66.09% of scoring chances.

So what does this all mean? Putting the pieces together, the Jackets are taking more shots, but getting fewer scoring chances. This leads me to believe they are forcing shots on net at the open and close of a period. This hypothesis is aided by the higher rate of missed shots and shots blocked by the opponent. And what happens with missed shots and blocked shots? They have a tendency to lead to odd man rushes for the opponent. Odd man rushes lead to scoring chances, which accounts for the higher rate of scoring chances allowed. Additionally, more odd man rushes for opponents explains the lower rate of blocked shots and missed shots against, as it is more difficult for the Jackets defenders to get into shooting lanes on odd man rushes. This also accounts for the higher conversion rate on scoring chances, as an odd man rush usually results in a better scoring chance than most standard shots from the scoring chance area (scoring chance area explained here).

So how can the Jackets solve these problems? The forwards need to stop forcing shots at the net, settle down, take their time and get quality scoring chances. They play this way over the other 48 minutes of the game, yet change drastically during the time frame in question. They are obviously capable of playing this way.  By lowering the number of missed shots and shots blocked, the Jackets will slow down the pace of the game and will lower the rate of odd man rushes. Lowering the number of odd man rushes faced by the Jackets goaltenders will lower the scoring chances faced and lower the opponents percentage of conversion, which will reduce the ridiculous 5.91 goals against average. The goalies are not blameless of course, as both Mason and Sanford must be better. Focus problems seem to be an issue and this is something that is fixable, and needs to happen. Weak goals at the open and close of a period are absolutely deflating. Fixing these 12 minutes per game will not solve everything, but they would be a major step in the right direction. If the team played a full 60 minutes like they did during the other 48 minutes of games, they would be sitting on a total goal differential of -8 instead of -31. A goal differential of -8 would tie them with Dallas and Winnipeg and be in the vicinity of Toronto, Buffalo, Calgary and Los Angeles. All five of those teams are either sitting in a playoff spot right now or in the fight for one.

Note One: There are some obvious sample size problems that I chose to ignore. Using the opening and closing two minutes of every game is only 396 minutes of hockey and therefore these numbers have been skewed a few different ways by a couple of very bad and very good performances. However, I felt the results backed up what I saw with my eyes, and that the good and bad performances essentially balanced out.
Note Two: Scorekeeper bias factors in with a few of these statistics, most notably scoring chances and blocked shots. Scoring chances shouldn’t be an issue, as almost every single game was tracked by the same person. However blocked shots may be an issue with the different blocked shot numbers from rink to rink. I checked out out the Fenwick ratings (Corsi without blocked shots), and found the same results as with Corsi, so I have no issue with overall the results.
Note Three: There are some score effects issues as well, as the Jackets are usually trailing in games. Score effects (explained here) mean that trailing teams usually outshoot their opponents. This likely contributes to the Blue Jackets outshooting their opponents over the course of the season. To combat this, I would normally have looked at just the times when the game is within one goal, but this would have created even more sample size issues, so I ignored score effects for the purpose of this article.
Note Four: Empty net goals are obviously not counted. If they did, this would have looked much worse.
Note Five: I did not use penalty minutes for the powerplay/penalty kill statistics, but only looked at actual powerplays drawn, or powerplays given to the opposing team.
Note Six: Based on Pythagorean wins (goals for squared divided by goals for squared plus goals against squared), a -8 goal differential would give the Jackets 15 wins, or anywhere from 30 points and up with ot loss points. If you swap 6 losses for wins, would have exact same record as Los Angeles.

Playoff Possibilities in 2011/2012

While I tune into every single Blue Jackets game with the hope of seeing a win, it would be dishonest if I claimed that I celebrate goals now the same way I did a year or two ago.  Maybe it’s the jaded expectation of seeing a lead evaporate or the anticipation of a third period collapse, but the passion into my living room shaking “GOOOAAAL” celebrations have most certainly taken a backseat to the season we as fans have been forced to accept as ‘regular’ this year.

It got me wondering though.  If the Jackets came back from Christmas and snapped into some of the best hockey they’ve played in their existence, would there be any possibility of the playoffs?  It’s a reach, and that’s fine, but I’ve heard people comment about selling a team short, and if I am going to watch these games, I may as well do so with some ridiculously blind optimism.

So I went back to see what the bottom end teams got into the playoffs with over the last couple seasons in the Western Conference.  Here are some previous year standings and some number crunching:

2010/2011

If Columbus were to play into this schedule, they would need to manage 76 points in their remaining 49 games to beat out in this case Chicago, with 98 points and a ‘tie’ for 7th.  A record that could accomplish that total would be something around 37-10-2.  To give some perspective on that kind of record, the two best teams in hockey right now are the Philadelphia Flyers (21-8-4 46 pts) and the Chicago Blackhawks (22-9-4 48 pts).  Columbus would need to better them significantly in order to achieve the record needed to make the playoffs in this scenario.

2009/2010

If Columbus were to play into these standings, they would need to manage 74 points in their remaining 49 games to beat out in this case Colorado, with 96 points and sole possession of 8th place.  A record of 36-11-2 would accomplish that total.  To give some perspective on that, they would need to win three out of every four games for the rest of the year (wouldn’t that be nice!!).

2008/2009

A finish of this point structure would give the Jackets the best opportunity, needing only 70 points to make the playoffs in this year, they could finish with a record of 33-12-4 and still beat out in this case Anaheim to do so.  While this scenario would be the most ideal, it would still provide one of the most exceptional comebacks in NHL history in order to make it in.

One final process I looked into was to consider the current bubble teams and their point per game totals to possibly provide a potential finishing number for the year.  Here is what I found their results to be:

5th: DET – 43 pts in 33 games (1.30 ppg) = 106.85 pts in 82 games
6th: STL – 42 pts in 33 games (1.27 ppg) = 104.36 pts in 82 games
7th: DAL – 39 pts in 33 games (1.18 ppg) = 96.91 pts in 82 games
8th: NSH – 38 pts in 33 games (1.15 ppg) = 94.42 pts in 82 games
—————— Hitchockian Invisible ‘bar’  —————————
9th: PHX – 39 pts in 34 games (1.15 ppg) = 94.06 pts in 82 games

Basically I took the current point total of each team and compared that with the total games played to get an average point total per game played.  The pace of these teams appear to provide Columbus with a scenario more like the 2009/2010 finish we reviewed above.  Phoenix would essentially lose out to Nashville in this case, as Nashville appears to have a slight advantage and could be more inclined to finish at 95 points, leaving Columbus the need for 96 in order to take sole possession of 8th place.

A site I really enjoy reviewing is the playoff chances that Sports Club Stats provides.  They provide not only a general percentage of the teams likelihood of making the playoffs, but also percentages on what position the team will finish out the year in.  In their case this year, at this moment, they have been given the following percentages to finish:

5th :: 0.0000161%
6th :: 0.000774%
7th :: 0.0036%
8th :: 0.0134%
9th :: 0.0475%
10th :: 0.14%
11th :: 0.432%
12th :: 1.405%
13th :: 5.359%
14th :: 32.966%
15th :: 59.625%

They also provide every single W-L-T record that would get them into that projected position.  It is a tremendous site and I strongly recommend you take a look, as it provides much better statistical insight than I could ever offer.  In any case, I think realistically the Jackets are looking at a finish in the bottom three slots in the Western Conference, pending one of the greatest displays of success I have ever seen during their final 49 games of the season.

I hope this piece is more interesting than it is depressing.  Obviously with only 22 points in 33 games played, the expectations for success diminish substantially, but it doesn’t leave out the possibility of some exciting hockey down the stretch.  At the sixty game mark I am sure it will end up being more of a ‘likelihood of finishing last’ piece that goes up, but New Jersey found some incredible success at the midway point of last season, giving me at least some insanely optimistic thoughts that Columbus could still turn this season around with the right move (*cough* coach *cough* top six forwards *cough* legit top two defender *cough*).  Until then, I’ll keep my eye out on the top tier prospects and look forward to a better future.

Carry the Flag!

Howson’s Patience – Unsettling, or Valuable?

A lot has been said since the comments arrived through the social media pipeline yesterday regarding Howson’s continued support of Blue Jackets head coach Scott Arniel.  In his mind, the players are not playing to their potential and the issues surrounding the teams success fall squarely on them to start playing better.  A very interesting commentary to say the least, considering it was his guidance that put this group together and it has been one of his major criticisms that he sits on these types of things for way too long.

I have long been a Scott Howson supporter during decision making that really tested the patience of the Blue Jackets fan base. The trades that brought Vermette, Letestu, and Carter to the team.  His decision to experiment with young goaltenders in hopes of keeping Mason competitive rather than flushing him through the minor system while he ages and matures.  Certain re-signings that seemed to give the team more of a core feeling, and later noted non-trades that would have made him look decent to the fans, but caused the team to step back a bit in quality progression.  With that said, he has been slipping in my books, with a few of the following being the front end of my concerns.

First, the re-signings.  I look squarely on the Umberger and Tyutin re-signings as brash, as he had a full season in which to allow them to provide a quality look at their progression as players and give him further ammunition on what type of dollar amount to offer them.  Admittedly they could both be having career years, forcing their potential free agent value higher and costing the team more, but the simple fact is, they are not.  I can also understand those who would suggest I only have an issue with the signings because they are struggling, but again that is not the case, as I have been vocal on my dissatisfaction regarding both deals, in which I feel like the team paid a premium for (at least to the point where they did not re-sign for a ‘discount’).

My solution on the day of signing each player, was to extend the discussions through till Christmas.  This allows the player to ‘showcase’ their abilities while still being early enough in the season for the team to not feel like they are scrambling to make a deal before free agency.  In this case, both would have weaker legs to stand on, and I could see at least one signing for less money — or on the other hand, both players could be playing above their potential right now, working to get a better deal from the club.  Howson on the other hand seems to believe that contract talks get in the way of players work during the season, and likes to get things done before the season begins. While I can respect that logic, it has put Columbus in a bit of a bind if Tyutin and Umberger can’t get back to previous season form.  Tyutin is now playing second line minutes and RJ has been a shadow of his former self.  While it was not expected that he would be a top line player, at 4.6 million on the cap, you would think he would factor in on a nightly basis in the top six.

Second to those concerns, were the concerns to bring in a question mark like James Wisniewski.  With Columbus in great need of stable defensive help, he went out and acquired a free agent defenseman who, in all fairness, has the tools to be a tremendous defenseman.  He is quick footed, with silk-like hands that effortlessly corral the puck, yet his decision making has become increasingly terrible as the year has progressed.  It is interesting in that a number of teams he has played for previously have suggested he is slightly cancerous in the locker room, and many have been quick to move him to the next team.  I also can’t help but wonder if there is some sort of external factor that is causing him to be different.  He was top tier for a solid number of games in his return after suspension, yet something caused him to lose his touch. Suddenly his passes were intercepted, and his pinches were terrible.  Maybe Jeff Carter isn’t the partier on this team.  In any case, Wisniewski may have been Howson’s least cautious move as GM of the Blue Jackets, and I would hardly suggest it is working at 5.5 million per season and second only to Eric Staal and Rick Nash at a league worst -17.

With those points made, I have to touch base on Scott Arniel and his ability to convince management that he is the appropriate coach for the job, even with his immediate jump to line juggling and inability to convince the players to play sixty minutes of hockey.  While I can appreciate his success in the AHL, I am not under the impression that he can deploy a system that will work for the Blue Jackets or their current roster.  Not unlike Hitchcock, the players have made it relatively clear that regardless of what he puts them through, they will make a muted effort during games, and one that never stretches throughout.  Considering that, I would think Howson would be limited to two options (three if you have a sense of humour)..

1 – Trade away the core and build again
2 – Drop coach in favour of the 5+ veterans now looking for work
3 – Pull out all hairs, and move to somewhere warm

Clearly, he has done none of the above.  With fan interest still showing relatively high (for some incredible reason, 16,ooo+ have shown up to the last handful of home games), no moves are being forced on him, and he’s content to see it through.  Maybe it’s him being incredibly stubborn in that he built this specific team and plans to make it work.  I really don’t know.  But if it were me, I’d do the following:

1 – Deal A top six player.  Realistically it would be one of Vermette, Umberger, or Nash.  Three players who have been with the team for a while and who seem fairly stable on the roster.  This should provide an uneasy feeling in an otherwise country club style locker room, forcing players to essentially ‘nut up and shut up’ rather than coasting around with their ‘frustrations’ after another 35 minute effort.

2 – Fire Arniel.  It’s a simple enough solution, but with the sheer quality of top tier coaches sitting on the open market, the timing could not be better.  It would allow the team to bring in a coach who knows the game better than the back of his hand, and one with decent tenure in the NHL that would hopefully force the players to respect him.

3 – Look for a deal involving Tyutin or Wisniewski.  I know they both just got signed, but they cannot continue to work towards becoming a better team with 10 million of the future defensive cap in underachieving players.  The team needs a quality 1-2 defenseman who can play a two way game, but focuses on the defensive aspects of the game.  Their recent disasters have left massive holes in their own zone, and while Methot has attempted to fill in the number two role, he is far better suited on the second line, and has found success there.

4 – Pursue a deal that would find Mason a new home, but bring a similarly talented young goaltender to Columbus.  While the team (and fan base) have seemed to give up on Mason for long stretches of time, he remains one of the best goaltending assets in the NHL, with being five years below the NHL average goalie age, and only really his confidence that seems to pull him back.  While I would hate to see Columbus lose an asset like him, as I believe he has to tools to be a franchise goaltender, I can understand the need for change in all areas of this team.  If they can acquire a player of similar potential, I think it’s for the best.

5 – Convince the fan base that losing is not an option.  While we as fans have endured ten years of ‘the suck’ I have confidence that the team is on the cusp of something great.  With that said, the expectation of losing has not been higher with the current team in place, and I think it’s important for the franchise to give the fans very obvious signs that players will not continue to be paid by this team if ‘the suck’ continues.  That is not to suggest they would simply stop paying them, but rather find a deal that brings different players into the system in favour of them.  While I don’t care for a ton of player turnover, I find it increasingly concerning that the two basically non-rostered players who we have traded for are now essential to this team.

The trade freeze is now active until December 27th, so don’t expect a trade any time soon.  If I were Howson, I would certainly be hammering the phones if I wasn’t firing my coach at 9-20-4 with a -31 goal differential trying to make a trade.  In any case, I sure hope some resolution is found with this team sooner rather than later, although Nail is starting to look like a tremendous opportunity for a season lost in ‘the suck’ before the midway point.  Here’s to change, soon.

Carry the Flag!

Game Recap :: Columbus vs St Louis 12/18

The worst part about vocalizing recaps on a blog, for me anyways, is the number of times I have to delete full paragraphs.  I’ve taken gaps of time off commenting on account of the suck laid out before us, and will openly admit that this is the fourth time I have tried to lead into this game recap, mostly because of what I have been unleashing is just a giant heap of dissatisfaction with the team, the management, and the embarrassment I feel after watching such a talented team get turned into chumps for 15 minutes of hockey.

Let me get started with some optimistic pieces and then move into the suck.  First, the line combos, which Arniel did not seem to have the capacity to stick with, actually looked pretty strong at times.  Brassard – Umberger – Nash seemed to look pretty decent early on with Brassard showing every game that he belongs on the ice, and in the top six.  Letestu – Carter – Prospal also appeared capable of success, with Carter laying back in the scoring areas waiting for solid feeds from his two wingers, which I think is a great way to utilize his shot when possession is gained in the offensive zone.

For two periods they played decent hockey, at least in the offensive zone.  Defensively, they remain incapable of not allowing extremely high end scoring chances to the opposition.  Of the five goals St Louis scored with a goalie in net, only the goal by Pietrangelo is a goal I would place solely on Mason, who extended and had the puck sneak through his arm and body on the blocker side.

Goal one was nothing short of embarrassing.  Wisniewski gets walked by D’Agostini and is unable to return to defend, leaving Methot to overcommit on the pass, and D”Agostini make a tremendous backhanded pass to Shattenkirk on the opposite side of the net, who buries it past a sprawling Mason.  The image that follows shows just how far away someone was to defending Shattenkirk. Ridiculous.

Goal two was a textbook shot by Backes to generate a rebound.  A brutal turnover by Tyutin just outside the blueline allowed a three on two rush the other way.  The pass was made to the outside for a quick shot, which caused Mase to throw his left pad out to make the save.  Rather than cover Oshie breaking in, Tyutin went wide to cover the shot I think, and Moore made a move to body up Oshie but was too far back, giving him the free shot on Mason who couldn’t recover.  As you can see, coverage is good except for Moore, who is reaching in air instead of tying up Oshie’s stick, giving him the freedom to take a shot on the rebound.

Goal three was a point shot from the left side of the ice, which was tipped almost perfectly by a high stick of a Blues player to the right side of the net.  Mason had made a move to save the original shot, and it left the net open for Steen to bury.  This goal should have never counted, and I’m not faulting anyone other than the refs on this one.  I tried to take a screen shot, but it’s awfully blurry and pointless.

Goal four was brutal in many ways.  Methot was double teamed behind the net and lost the puck, which was immediately passed out to the slot for Arnott, who is left completely alone for the shot.  Wisniewski, who for some reason was almost on the faceoff dot when the puck was turned over, was nowhere near in position to defend the front of the net, which is obviously where he should have been. Carter was running support as the center, but was out of position hoping the puck would filter to his side.  Here’s a picture of the soon to be passed puck.. Notice anything? Where’s the D?!

As noted, goal five was on Mason.  A three on two breaking in on him, and he must have anticipated a pass, because he gave a fair bit of the net to Pietrangelo who buried.  Even Mason noted that he should have made the save in the post game.

Minus the final goal, each come with glaring mistakes by Columbus which were capitalized on.  I can think of a couple scenarios where the Jackets caught the Blues on their heels, but they were not capitalized on, such as Nitikin opting to pull the puck back rather than shoot in the first period with Halak down and out, or Umberger getting a free lane to the net in the third period and shooting it right into Halak’s stomach rather than hitting a corner or deking around him.  Were these scoring opportunities capitalized on, the game would have had an entirely different look going into the late stages of the third period.

With the results of the game, Wisniewski sits at -17 in 769th place in the league.  Nash is now tied with Eric Staal for a league WORST -18.  Considering these are the two highest paid Blue Jackets, one would expect them to rise to the occasion and make the players around them better. Instead, we are forced to watch as they are outplayed by the opposition night after night.  While I do agree that +/- is a relatively trivial statistic, extremes of this magnitude and a fairly solid indicator of how an individual is impacting the game for his team, and considering stupidity on Wisniewski’s end turned into two easy goals for St Louis, I think the statistic is doing a great job of noting his impact.

I have a number of topics I hope to get to this week as follow up to the Jackets recent performances.  I just wanted to take some time to discuss the faults that lead to their demise last night, and share those statistics with everyone.  I can’t imagine this team can sit on their current roster or coach for much longer, without having a major attendance fallout.

Carry the Flag.

Game Recap :: Columbus vs Vancouver 12/13

I’ve got lots to say about this game, some good, some bad, and I apologize if I bounce around.  Optimism was laughably low with the ever mighty Canucks in town and Mason finally getting the call after close to a month of rest following a Rick Nash shot to the dome.  Sadly I had a number of priorities that caused me to not be able to attend, but I watched the first 58 minutes before leaving for a hockey game of my own.

Imagine my disappointment when I got to the rink only to find out that I missed an extremely impressive shootout, with all three skaters scoring for Columbus, and only one managing to beat Mason, who returned from injury after getting sticked in the back of the knee midway through the third period.  That said, disappointment turned quickly to satisfaction as the team finally found the back of the net and helped Mason put on a relatively impressive display of goaltending.

Now, some statistics I’d like to share.

- After controlling large amounts of the first period and leading in shots 10-5, Columbus returned to the ice for the second period and watched as Vancouver skated around them, peppering Mason from all angles and quickly changing the shot totals to 12-11 in favour of the Canucks.  While Columbus managed to return to form and brought the shots back to a reasonable total, finishing the second period with 11 shots to the Canucks 14 (for the period anyways), they were never able to take back the shot edge.  The final shots were 32-30 in favour of Vancouver.

- Mason managed to make 30 of 31 saves in regulation and overtime.  This .968 save percentage is a strong representation of his quality, as he had to make a number of strong saves to keep the Jackets in the game.  He missed three minutes tending to his injury before returning to the game.


- There were nine registered missed shots during the game for Columbus, which isn’t bad, however I think it was generously low.  In fact, it took Nash until his fourth shot to find the net, a soft wrist shot from the point.  Tyutin (7) and Wisniewski (6) were far and away the two shot leaders.  Nash followed with three.


- Johnson and Boll probably would have done well to grab loungers and a drink with an umbrella, getting the call for only around seven minutes of ice time.  On the other end of the spectrum, Wisniewski, Nikitin, and Tyutin all saw more than 25 minutes on defense.  Carter and Nash were atop the forwards with 23 minutes apiece.


- I’ll leave it to a certain someone at a certain newspaper to share how many times the Jackets have lost the lead in the third period, but they did, and they probably deserved to.


- Nasher is now 4 of 6 on the shootout for the year. Gotta like those numbers!!

I’ll lead the beefy portion of this recap with my thoughts on Mason’s return to the net.  With twitter buzzing in what appeared to be a rather pathetic hope that Mason would fail so they could be ‘right’ in their predictions, he instead came out and made a big difference.  Allowing only one goal to the Canucks is no small feat, and the goal he did allow was a goal that I am sure the entire fan base can agree (or at least they would if Sanford was in net) that he had no chance.  A pass from behind the net to a player left completely alone in front, which was quickly snapped over Mason’s shoulder.  Aside from that, he kept rebounds to a minimum, made key saves at a number of times during the game, and found solid help in front of him for the most part.  In short, it was a smashing success, and I am in full hope that he has turned a corner with the weight of the franchise off his shoulders.

Next, to Umberger.  The poor guy started the game with MacKenzie and Byers, and while they match up reasonably well in grit and tenacity, the variance in skill was painfully obvious.  Countless times RJ would look to either make a pass, receive a pass, or look for a player to move to an open lane, yet no one could seem to corral the puck long enough to make a difference in the offensive zone.  It really makes me start to wonder if Brassard’s issues in breaking through the fourth line stem from such a big difference in skill with the puck.  Fortunately (or at least as far as ice time suggests) RJ was given opportunities throughout the rest of the game.

I was about to start a thought on Prospal not contributing as substantially as he was earlier in the year, but a quick look at his last five games shows me a goal and three assists in his last five games (all at even strength).  I really like that he is not at the forefront of the teams success yet is doing a great job contributing on the scoresheet.  He is doing everything anyone could possibly ask of him this year, and should be a front runner for an extension (albeit a reasonable one, for the love of my sanity) from Scott Howson before the year ends.  His veteran presence has been obvious and his effort is top tier.  He is exactly what this club needs from an aging NHLer.

Finally, I want to get a bit negative, with a positive spin.  Once again, we got to see Columbus play their see-saw style game, where they take control for stretches of the game, only to lose their way and become hemmed in their own zone, giving away quality shots and providing the opposition with loads of momentum.  The positive in this, is that the Jackets can play a very high quality game.  The negative, is that they can’t do it for sixty minutes… ever.  It becomes obvious, but I grow extremely tired of watching quality hockey for periods at a time, only to watch them fall back on their heels and try to hold leads.  In any case, they played much, MUCH better in front of Mason, and I think he did a tremendous job responding.  It’s time to look to Los Angeles on Thursday at Nationwide and hope for another strong home effort from the men in union blue.

Carry the Flag!