So a 4-3 game one loss is in the books. I guess you could call it a moral victory, although I would call it a missed opportunity. Marc-Andre Fleury was as shaky as advertised in the first half of the game, the game was more or less even at 5 on 5, but the Penguins powerplay and a few key mistakes brought down the upset attempt. I’m only going to breakdown two goals completely, as for the most part there wasn’t a whole lot of hidden elements in most of the goals. The Jackets opened the scoring with a huge individual effort from Brandon Dubinsky (although Jack Johnson scored the goal). The Penguins followed that up with a Jussi Jokinen goal that resulted from Sergei Bobrovsky misplaying the puck, Fedor Tyutin misplaying the puck, Derek MacKenzie letting his man go (probably thinking Tyutin was going to corral the puck), and Bob being a little out of position after scrambling back into the net. The Jackets grabbed the lead right back on a Mark Letestu powerplay goal. I like the puck movement on that goal, really spreading out the zone and forcing Fleury to move. The goal ultimately came off a scramble that saw Fleury needing to move across the net. They have to keep that up. MacKenzie made up for his earlier gaffe, with a great individual effort on the PK to take the puck from Kris Letang and beat Fleury on a breakaway. The Penguins made it 3-2 on a powerplay goal by their second unit, off a great tip by Beau Bennett. I would have maybe liked to see Dubinsky pick up Bennett as he comes across there, but no major mistakes on that goal.
It’s pretty crazy to think about how much has changed since the Jackets last playoff appearance. Steve Mason was the savior. Rick Nash was the franchise. Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek were the future. RJ Umberger looked like a steal. Mike Commodore and Jan Hejda were a beloved shutdown pair. Ken Hitchcock was coaching them up. Scott Howson looked like a genius. Well Mason is the savior in Philadelphia. Nash is the franchise in New York. Jakub Voracek and Derick Brassard are the present in New York and Philadelphia. Mike Commodore is somewhere. Jan Hejda is a beloved shutdown defender in Colorado. Ken Hitchcock is coaching up St. Lous. And if you are paying attention, Scott Howson actually still looks like a pretty good GM. Make no mistake, this is Howson’s team. He brought nearly every single player on this roster into the organization. The most prominent player expected to play in this series that was a Jarmo/JD pickup is probably Blake Comeau. Both goaltenders were Howson pickups. Seven of the eight defensemen who might see time were Howson pickups (Nick Schultz being the exception). Comeau, Jack Skille and Corey Tropp are the only Jarmo pickups at forward (plus the injured Nathan Horton). I’ve already dwelled on this more than I planned on, I just wanted to make sure it was out there that this team was built by Howson. Moving on.
The Pittsburgh Penguins. Funny how the Jackets first two playoff opponents have been Detroit and Pittsburgh. I know some fans are concerned about Pens fans taking over the building. Think back on that last playoff series, and remember the atmosphere. Nationwide was rocking with CBJ fans, and I expect the same this time around. If Detroit fans couldn’t overtake the rink, I don’t see how it should be much different this time. As for the on-ice product, I expect this to be a very close series. At even strength at least. The two teams are actually very close when it comes to 5v5 play. In shots for percentage, they rank 13th (Pittsburgh) and 14th (Columbus). In Fenwick Close, they rank 12th (Columbus) and 16th (Pittsburgh). In Corsi Close, they rank 13th (CBJ) and 16th (Pit). In goals for percentage, they rank 8th (Pit) and 12th (CBJ). On other words, the Jackets are slightly better at controlling the play, while the Penguins score a tiny bit more. Which makes sense, considering the talent they have, as Crosby, Malkin, and others have shown they (and their linemates) can consistently score on more of their shots than league average. But then again, the Jackets have Bobrovsky. Like I said, this should be a very close series at even strength. Pittsburgh has been quite a bit better on special teams than Columbus. So on the surface, the edge lies with the Penguins. Let’s look deeper, comparing the forwards, defense, goaltending, and special teams. And maybe we’ll see how the Jackets might be able to pull of the upset.
Continue reading Playoff Preview: CBJ vs. Pittsburgh
Losing sucks. Doubling up a team in shots and not winning sucks more. Holding a team to zero shots for an entire period, and still not winning? That’s practically unheard of. So we’ve covered that Tuesday’s game sucked. But let’s go into a little more detail. I was unable to watch the game unfortunately, so I don’t quite share my site-mate’s rage over the proceedings. But I did take a look at the goals, and the goals against had a couple things that really jumped out at me. So let’s talk about them and maybe point a finger or two in the right direction. Continue reading Goal Breakdown: CBJ vs. Carolina Edition
That was a hockey game. Wait, that doesn’t really say what I’m trying to say. That was hockey game. One of the best games I’ve seen in a while. Both teams play such similar, hard styles, that when both teams play well, it’s just beautiful hockey. Had the Jackets managed to lose, I still think I would have greatly enjoyed watching that game. Made me wish the two could somehow meet in a playoff series. Imagine seven straight games of that? Man, that would be intense. Anyway, yeah the Jackets earned a hard-fought, well-played 5-3 victory over the LA Kings. It really was a true team effort, with pretty much every line and defense pair contributing at times, and Sergei Bobrovsky coming up with a few huge saves. With that being said, some Jackets shone brighter than others.
Third Star: James Wisniewski
Wiz was solid tonight with two apples (although Murray deserves both assists on Johansen’s goal). However, I’ll take him here as a stand in for the powerplay in general. They only went 1/3 on the evening but the puck movement was very solid, and they came away with ten shots. There was some nice trickery on the backend that they haven’t used as much in the past. A lot of movement away from the puck by the two defensemen and one of the forwards. It helped create a lot of space, best seen on Umberger’s powerplay goal, and when Letestu managed to get in all alone on Jones (he had five hole but pushed past it trying to go around Jones).
Continue reading Stars of the Night and Game in One Picture: CBJ vs. LA
I think we’re starting to see the inevitable rivalry between the Rangers and Blue Jackets really emerge. With only 4 points separating the 2nd and 7th positions in the Metro and seemingly GMs that have each other on speed dial for trades, these games are getting to be ones you really look forward to as a fan. Tonight’s match up featured the bigger name former-CBJ roster in Nash, Brassard, John Moore. It was great to see the Jackets come out strong in the 1st period and establish an early lead after such a possibly demoralizing beat down at the hand of the Blues. I must admit I had flashes of panic as I watched the lead erode and overtime be forced but the Jackets were able to pick up the 2nd point in a shootout at the hands of a filthy goal by Johansen. Tonight’s 3 stars:
3rd Star: Mark Letestu
This was probably one of Letestu’s best games, I’m glad the local media recognized his efforts. That said, I can’t help but think that Wizniewski might be slightly more deserving of this spot. It seemed like late in the 3rd when the Jackets were getting pushed around Wiz took it upon himself to start launching Wiz bombs at Lundqvist and while none resulted in points they did generate some good rebounds and slow down the Ranger onslaught. With Tyutin leaving the game early everyone had to much a few extra minutes and Wiz put in 28 solid minutes, 8 of which were on special teams duty. At the end of the night, he had a 2 point game to show for it in the form of 1G, 1A.
A hard fought, but possibly costly win came tonight versus the Tampa Bay Lightning. An ugly first period led way to a very good second period and a mish mash of a third. But more importantly, the Jackets finally do NOT crap the bed on a night when I do the three stars! Whoopee! All is well in Jackets-land, minus all the injuries and inconsistency and all the other things wrong. Anyway, ignore that for now and revel in a shutout victory.
3rd Star: Sergei Bobrovsky
He was good. Very good at times. Let’s be honest, that one save is where this is going. It was a good save. It was also the classic Patrick Roy move where the big arm/wrist movement post save makes it look MUCH better than it actually was. Watching it live, it looked spectacular. On replay, it was clear that Brown did not get the puck up very much and it was a fairly routine glove save. Then there is the bad part of that save. Let’s keep our fingers crossed this is nothing serious, as relying on Curtis McElhinney for more than a dozen games in an entire season is a losing proposition. Continue reading Stars of the Night: CBJ vs. Tampa Bay
Before digging into the substance of the post, I must provide an apology. As many of you know, we just returned from a two-week vacation to Maine, Nova Scotia, PEI and Quebec. (Articles forthcoming during lulls in the hockey action). The down side of the vacation was that we missed the start of the season, and in our absence, the Blue Jackets posted a 2-5 record. Since our return last Saturday, they are 3 – 0. Just sayin’. Anyway, notwithstanding any dubious claims of causation, I promise to never again allow vacation to interfere with hockey. Mea culpa . . .
Let’s turn to the matters at hand. The Blue Jackets now have 10 games under their collective belts, which equals 12.19% of the season. Instead of relying on Twitter summaries or online post-mortems of the games — as we were compelled to do on the cruise — I’ve seen the live, in-person product on the ice for three games. Combined with some statistical review, I’ve got all I need to provide a first review of the good and the bad, and some indications of what might be forthcoming.
As of Sunday morning, the Blue Jackets are 5-5-0, with 10 points, but working on a three-game winning streak. The record might not be what some had hoped for, but represents a significant improvement over the 3-6-1 start last year, and light-years ahead of the 1-8-1 start in 2011-2012. More importantly, the club was able to shrug off a miserable four-game losing streak and post truly solid efforts against Vancouver, New Jersey and Toronto.
As Blue Jackets fans, I’m sure you’ve read a lot of prognostications on the CBJ’s season. Most of these (including my own) have harped on the issues the team could have this coming season. Regression from Sergei Bobrovsky. Not taking enough shots. Not controlling the play enough. A lack of goal scorers. There is one x-factor that could render two these issues moot, and turn two of those issues into strengths. If you read the title, then you can probably guess that I’m referring to Ryan Murray. In my opinion, Murray is the key cog in whether or not the Jackets have a successful year. Yes, Marian Gaborik scoring 40 goals would be huge. As would and early return from Nathan Horton and 25 goals in 60 games from him. Bob staying true to last seasons form would also be great. Boone Jenner sticking on the top line and being a Calder candidate would also be a boon to their chances (sorry, that joke was terrible). However, none of those will have the same impact as what Murray could do.
Have no fear, we’re not about to start humming Nadia’s Theme here (if you don’t know what that is youngsters, Google it), but with the NHL’s first games in the books, Patrick Roy’s inaugural tirade dully documented, and Nationwide Arena gearing up for its own debut tonight, it’s time to get down to the business of hockey in earnest.
The young, of course, are the Blue Jackets players themselves, who once again will be in the running for the youngest team in the league. How young? Only five on the roster (McElhinney, Gaborik, Tyutin, MacKenzie and Umberger) have ages beginning with a “3″, and two (Murray, Jenner) entered their 20′s. Feel old yet? No? Let’s try this one — not a single Blue Jacket player was alive for the USA’s ‘Miracle on Ice’ at the 1980 Lake Placid Olympics. I’ll wait while you retrieve your hearing aids and shawls . . . More on this in a bit. Continue reading The Young & The Restless — Hockey Time in Columbus!
In the previous installment, we focused on the offensive zone — examining how much scoring would likely be needed, and where those goals might come from. We now turn our sights to the other side of center ice — between the trapezoid and the blue line. Seven players spend the majority of their ice time here, with their primary purpose to prevent the other side from finding the back of the net. If they do that well, the pressure on the scoring end goes down. Of course, if the scorers don’t uphold their side of the bargain, the pressure on the blue line and in goal increases as well. One of the key attributes for defensemen and goalies alike is just how well they can handle that pressure over the course of an 82-game season.
Goal differential is a key metric for determining success. After all, you need to score more than your opponent to win a game, so it should not be shocking that most teams that make the playoffs have positive goal differentials. It’s not universal — the Islanders made the playoffs last year with an even goal differential, and Washington made the playoffs the prior season with an eight-goal deficit. However, if the post-season is your goal, you’d better plan on a positive number for this statistic. Note that not a single club with a positive differential missed the playoffs in the 11-12 campaign, and only one squad had that fate last year. That’s right . . . the Columbus Blue Jackets. The club ended up with a positive goal differential (+1) for the first time in franchise history last year . . . and was edged out by Minnesota (differential minus -5 ) for the playoffs. Columbus was minus-4 in its 2008-09 playoff run, while the Wild missed the dance, despite having a differential of +19. So, the Minnesotans likely viewed last season as sweet revenge.