At the halfway point of the season I wrote about the second half expectations for the Blue Jackets. I looked at my preseason goal predictions for each player, then predicted how I thought they would perform over the second half of the season. Before I got to that point, I briefly discussed the team results. At the outset of the season, I had predicted a total of 128 goals scored on the season. I was off by a bit here, as they came in at only 120. However, I was off by the same amount in their goals against, as I had predicted they would come in at 127 goals allowed over the full 48 game season. Instead, they finished with 119 goals against. Excuse me for a second while I pat myself on the bat for exactly nailing their goal differential. In my preseason predictions, I hit another point that I think probably raised some eyebrows at the time: that the Jackets offense would actually improve with Rick Nash off in New York. And believe it or not it did (barely). The Jackets scored 120 goals this season, or the equivalent pace of 205 goals over 82 games. Not a great number, but better than the 202 goals the Jackets scored in 2011-12. Continue reading Looking Back to Look Back: Reviewing Preseason and Second Half Predictions
The tUB team was all over the place with the Masterton. We had eight players receiving a vote and only two players receiving multiple votes. This speaks to a few things, chief of which is no obvious Josh Harding-like candidate (the Wild netminder battling MS). But to me, it also shows that this is a team built around guys who are very dedicated to the game of hockey, with a number of players persevering through age, injury, doubt, or just losing. This is a resilient bunch, and there were a number of very worthy candidates who didn’t even get a vote (Jack Johnson, Adrian Aucoin, and Cam Atkinson come to mind). However, we did manage to choose a victor…. Continue reading 2013 tUB Awards: The Bill Masterton Memorial Trophy
The Blue Jackets finished off a nailbiter last night, downing the Nashville Predators 4-3 to extend their point streak to 11 games. The Jackets, who have gone 7-0-4 over that streak, have now played in twenty-one 1 goal games. Sergei Bobrovsky was his usual excellent self, making 32 saves in the win, including 13 in the 3rd period where the Jackets were outshot 15-7 by the Preds. One more stat of note before I get to the goal breakdowns: Brandon Dubinsky won 16 of the 18 faceoffs he took last night, helping the Blue Jackets finish with 61% of the faceoff wins. Now on to the breakdowns.
We’re officially at the halfway point, so I thought I would take a look back at my preseason individual goal predictions, the team predictions, and what to expect moving forward. First things first, lets start off with the team totals. My predictions had them finishing with a +2 goal differential over 82 games (or about +1 for 48 games), if they could raise their team save percentage from .903 to .910. Unfortunately, they are currently sitting at a -15 goal differential. The problem here hasn’t been just scoring or defense. I had them at 64 goals through 24 games and they are only 9 goals below that. On the defensive side, improvement was dependent upon raising the save percentage from .903 to .910, but it has actually dropped to .902. A jump to .910 would have reduced the first half goals against by 8. Aside from the predictions, the team has greatly improved so far this season. With league average shooting percentage and save percentage, the Jackets would be at a -6 goal differential (based on 60 goals for and 66 goals against). The Blue Jackets -60 full season goal differential from last year equates to a -17 over 24 games. For some perspective a -6 goal differential would tie them with Nashville, while a -17 would tie them with Edmonton.
An evening after an extremely hard fought win against Dallas and a fog delay which delayed their flight until this morning, the Blue Jackets took to the ice against a very strong Minnesota Wild team. Before they even arrived in St Paul, I had a sneaky suspicion that their previous twenty-four hours would degrade their effort on ice, but as a Jackets fan, the best thing we can do right now is be optimistic. This rings especially true with this group of players who we were told would be extremely hard working.
Fortunately for viewing entertainment, Columbus came out of the gate strong, controlling the play early on and forcing the issue deep into the Minnesota defensive zone. While the scoring chances were not piling, the opportunities were, and felt like it was only a matter of time before they struck. Tack on a Minnesota netminder in Backstrom who was handing over juicy rebounds all game, and it felt like the Blue Jackets faithful would be well on their way to the first win streak of the year.
But a thirty minute gap between the middle of the first period and near the end of the second period caused optimism to halt. Scoring chances, or even possession in the offensive zone seemed to become a premium for the Jackets. Goals by Koivu (sneaky goal from behind the goal line) and Gilbert (unfortunate off a block directly onto his tape — where was the Blue Jacket coverage again?) put Columbus in a familiar two goal deficit heading into the first intermission.
Justin Bourne at the Backhand Shelf had a fantastic post earlier today on rewarding grinders for playing well, then giving them too many minutes. We saw a little of this last night for the Blue Jackets. While the 4th line of Colton Gillies, Mark Letestu and Jared Boll played around six minutes of even strength ice time, they were quite effective in doing so. As the game wore on, CBJ Coach Todd Richards ending up rewarding them. Through most of the game, they were doing exactly what a 4th line is supposed to do. They kept the puck deep in the offensive zone, they threw the body around with abandon, got the fans and teammates excited, and (most importantly) they avoided getting scored on. They even managed to draw a couple of CBJ powerplays. This fine play resulted in the bountiful reward of a few extra minutes of playing time in the 3rd period, as almost half of their ice time came in the final frame.
Hey look, hockey is coming. With training camp starting this weekend, and actual real NHL hockey starting later this month, I figured it might be time to finally post my goal predictions for the 2012-13 season. So for this post, I did an obscene amount of research, spent an insane amount of time crunching numbers, and poured over data from many years relating to every player on this team. The problem is that all this time was spent back in September. So the numbers sat, and sat, and sat, and sat, and sat, until now when there really isn’t a 2012-13 season anymore, and goal projections for an 82 game season make no sense. Nor does a lot of the logic behind how I came to those conclusions. Sigh.
In the Blue Jackets victory over the Hurricanes last night, R.J. Umberger scored his first hat trick in three years, Derick Brassard was fantastic, and Jack Johnson contributed two assists, including the 100th of his career. However, I would like to take a look at the lone goal allowed by Steve Mason during his 39 save game. Before I get into the breakdown, let’s take a look:
This goal was a typical hockey goal. That may sound reductive, but most goals are not the result of one great play by the offensive player or one terrible miscue by a defensive player. Instead, they come from one breakdown leading to another, then to another, with the cascade of mistakes leading to a goal. In my estimation, this goal includes eight miscues by seven different players. Let’s review them in reverse order:
Mistake #8: John Moore does not tie up Drayson Bowman. After Mason makes the initial save, Moore is not able to stop Bowman. Since Moore turned sideways to get into the way of the shot, his stick is facing away from Bowman, so he attempts to use a hipcheck to knock Bowman off the puck. It didn’t work.
Mistake #7: The rebound allowed by Mason. The initial save was actually quite nice, as the spot just above the pads while dropping into the butterfly can be a tough stop. However, Mason gets his glove on it, but it pops right back out to Bowman. That either needs to be caught by Mason or more likely directed into the opposite corner.
Mistake #6: Bad backcheck by Ryan Johansen. As Johansen is coming back into the zone he hustles hard at first but then lets up. Additionally, he doesn’t take a man, he simply skates back in the middle of the ice. He could have provided some back pressure on Bowman, or he could have taken a couple more hard strides and gotten into the passing lane. Going back a bit further, Johansen is almost side by side with Pat Dwyer (#39) in the neutral zone. This would have allowed Moore to play the two on one slightly more aggressively.
Mistake #5: Lack of hustle from Aaron Johnson. Johnson steps onto the ice as the Hurricanes are starting to turn up ice with the puck. Johnson is parallel to Dwyer at the red line, however Johnson doesn’t appear in the frame again until after Bowman takes the first shot. When he finally does appear, he is coasting. While he only could have influenced Dwyer, this would have forced Dwyer to to go the net instead of dropping high for the one-timer. This would have allowed Moore to play the two on one more aggressively, as well as changing the angle that Mason would have taken on the initial shot.
Mistake #4: Poor angle by Ryan Johansen in the neutral zone. Brandon Sutter (#16) arrives at the puck just before Johansen, but he doesn’t take the body, doesn’t take the puck, and leaves both Dwyer and Bowman open as passing options. Further, Johansen skated straight at the puck. If he took a wider angle, he could have taken the pass away with his stick, while using his body to prevent Sutter from cutting into open ice. Furthermore, this angle means that Johansen had to almost stop and start back instead of being able to curl and keep his speed. This allows Dwyer to get a step on him that factored into his bad backcheck. It’s little things like this that Johansen needs to keep working on and are likely the reason why he has been out of the lineup as much as he has under Todd Richards.
Mistake #3: Lazy line change by David Savard (although possibly a lack of awareness by Aaron Johnson coming off the bench). In the screencap above you can see both Savard and Jack Johnson side by side coming off the ice. John Moore took the first man and jumped right into the play and stopped a Bowman breakaway. Aaron Johnson took the second man and was late enough that he didn’t even appear in the defensive zone until just before the puck was in the net. If you look at the start of the video, as Ryan Russell starts up the ice with the puck, Jack Johnson can be seen along the boards furthest from the Blue Jackets bench, while Savard is in the middle of the ice coasting towards the bench. Yet both players got off the ice at the same time. A little more hustle from Savard and Moore is able to establish better gap control on the two on one and Aaron Johnson can get on the ice a second sooner.
Mistake #2: Jared Boll trying to force offense on a two on two with back pressure. Justin Faulk and Joni Pitkanen are both back and have good gap control on Boll and Russell. Dwyer is also right behind them. This is a no win situation. Jared Boll and Ryan Russell are not going to generate a scoring chance off this rush. Boll needs to recognize this sooner and spread wide. Instead, he cuts towards Russell, which allows Pitkanen to stay in the middle and Faulk is able to step up on Russell. Boll should have started towards the right corner on that rush and played the hard wrap. Instead he allows Faulk to cover two players at once.
Mistake #1: The first mistake is the biggest. Ryan Russell’s turnover at the blue line is simply inexcusable. Especially for a player in a depth role such as him, and on a two on three with Jared Boll, there is absolutely no way that puck doesn’t get deep into the Hurricanes zone. That is the kind of mistake that gets a player like Russell scratched or demoted. Ryan Russell has very few responsibilities when he is on the ice. He isn’t a physical player and he isn’t offensively talented. His job is to keep the puck out of the Jackets end. That’s really it. I cannot stress how inexcusable this turnover is. This wasn’t at the red line either. Russell had more than enough time to chip the puck into the left corner, fire it into the right corner, or try for a hard wrap to the far side. Instead he carried the puck right into Faulk. Boll’s play didn’t help, but Boll was playing the soft dump and Russell didn’t even recognize that. This mistake is further exacerbated by the timing. This play came right at the end of a Blue Jackets powerplay. The forwards had changed, but Savard and Johnson were trapped on the ice for a significant amount of time and desperately needed to get off. Russell has to be aware that his defense is changing here and make sure the puck gets deep. Instead he skates it right into Faulk and the cascade of miscues begins. Let’s take a final look:
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.
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.
In the dying moments of crunch time, news came over twitter from a number of sources stating that fan favourite Tom Sestito had been dealt to the Philadelphia Flyers for former Blue Jacket Greg Moore, and last year 3rd round pick Michael Chaput. Not unsurprising, mass histeria struck half of the Blue Jacket twitter fanbase as the idea of losing a guy who showed solid promise sunk in.
Personally, the deal confused me initially. Greg Moore was a Blue Jacket only a year ago. His numbers are fairly standard, and in all aspects, his play is dwarfed by the potential ability of Sestito. That said, after doing some digging into Chaput, it became fairly clear what Howson was after.
At 6’2, 195 pounds, the 18 year old center has amassed 55 points for the second straight season with Lewiston of the QMJHL. The analysis at Hockey’s future has this to say about him;
…the ability to contribute at both ends of the ice. Though not overly physical and needing additional strength, Chaput showed a knack for sneaking through traffic and finding open ice. A solid skater, the pivot took the majority of Lewiston’s face-offs over the year and finished with 51 percent success rating.
Certainly characteristics that look good coming into a bigger, better league. It is a difficult thing to teach players to find the seam in traffic, and if he works hard, two-way players are always of great value. Couple those with the dire need for a franchise number one center, and suddenly this trade begins to make sense.
While I can respect the appreciation for Sestito, who has a solid twitter following, along with being a bright spot in a rather dreary month of Columbus hockey, the bar has officially begun to rise in terms of quality play. With Boll and Dorsett on NHL contracts, the redundancy of Sestito begins to show clear. Couple that with the addition of Upshall, and suddenly players like Murray and MacKenzie will be fighting tooth and nail to retain relevance with the big club. Yes, suddenly, a Sestito call-up looks extremely unlikely.
So while I respect the appreciation and favouritsim shown to Sestito, I will respectfully take the road less travelled. I did enjoy having him on the depth chart, but I believe this move solidifies the necessary potential moving forward that will make this team stronger. Once again, Howson makes a move that I fully support, and his reasons were clear in the post deadline press conference. He wanted Chaput last year during the draft, and he finally was able to get him in a deal that did not cost the Jackets in an area they were not already strong in.
Carry the Flag!