The Columbus Blue Jackets powerplay has been humming this season. They are currently sitting at 4th overall, scoring at a 24.3% clip. If they can keep that up, this would be the deadliest CBJ powerplay ever, as well as their top finish (records held by last years 11th place finish at 19.3%). So what has changed since last year? A lot. The personal hasn’t changed too much, but how they have been able to deploy that personnel has opened up more options, and allowed the powerplay to be more diverse. For all the things that RJ Umberger wasn’t good at, he was a pretty good net front presence on the powerplay. But that is Nick Foligno‘s job now, and he’s obviously flourished there. The other major components are Ryan Johansen, James Wisniewski, Jack Johnson, and the new member Scott Hartnell. It’s that last name that really opens up what the Jackets can do. Continue reading…
The last few games have provided plenty of goals for and (mostly) against which to look at in further detail (21 goals against and 15 goals for in only five January games). I’m only going to break down two goals though, one against the Blue Jackets during their 5-2 loss to the New York Islanders, and the game winning goal by the CBJ against the Dallas Stars. Now let’s get down to business.
The start of this game had me battling semantics. You could probably slice the “start” in three ways. In one way, it was pretty good. The Jackets got a good jump off the opening draw, forced the Avalanche back into their own end, who ended up icing it. That’s a pretty solid way to start off the first faceoff of the game. Another way you can slice it, is to look at the first period. That first period is probably the most dominant period the Jackets have put together this season. It was a master work of Blue Jackets hockey, keeping Colorado in their own ice nearly the entire frame. The Avs took their second shot of the game 1:07 in, yet didn’t pick up their third until their was only 2:29 left in the period. That is astounding. Now there is also a third way you can slice it, and that incorporates the first thirty seconds or so, and one of the worst passes you will ever see a professional hockey player make. David Savard clearly just didn’t see Jarome Iginla until it was too late. But it’s not like he was hiding or anything, he was right there, just above the spot where Savard was planning on passing the puck, with nothing but empty ice before the Jackets net. That was a bad bad bad bad bad play. Fortunately, that play (and a later Savard miscue) didn’t bury the Jackets, and Savard was able to play the hero, scoring the go-ahead 58:59 into the game. This gave the Jackets a 4-3 win, and brought them back up to .500 again after last night’s abysmal game against the Phoenizona Coyotes.
3rd Star: Brandon Dubinsky
There are many sounds to hockey that I love. The first cuts of a skate on a fresh sheet of ice ALWAYS brings a smile to my face. It’s tough to describe the feeling that sound generates. Sometimes, when I haven’t played in awhile, it can literally take my breath away. But it’s also like seeing an old friend, and knowing that nothing has really changed. That is the first sound I think of when I think of hockey. The second is the ping of the post. The post is like an instrument, and can generate multiple sounds depending on how you play it. You hit it dead on, you hear an almost ‘thongggg’ sound, as you hear the hollow of the post. Terrible sound. Makes me grit my teeth, like nails on a chalkboard. Hit it at a right angle and you get a deeper ‘ping’, like Ryan Johansen‘s shot with six minutes left in the game. I hate that sound too. It’s the sound of failure. Even though you beat the goalie, you know the puck is not going in when you hear that sound. Then there is the fainter ‘ping’ when you go bar-down (or post-in). It’s a glorious sound. It’s the purest goal you can score. It means you beat the goalie (obviously), but you put the puck in a spot where it almost didn’t go in either. It’s the Odell Beckham-style one-handed catch of hockey. Anything further the other direction, and you are hearing one of the other post sounds. Such a glorious sound. What does this have to do with Dubinsky? Well just go listen to his second goal again.
So I was planning on being positive tonight. My last few recaps have been super negative. I also seem to get saddled with the CBJ’s worst games. So the first period happens. Probably their worst period of the season. I come to the conclusion the team has the Union Blue recap schedule posted in the dressing room and choose to crap the bed when I have to write about it. I’m not going to say anything more about the first period other than it sucked and Sergei Bobrovsky kept them in it. Then the second period happened, and it was fantastic. One of the better periods of hockey the Jackets have played all season. They dominated the play, but they did it in the physical, “Blue Jackets hockey” way that we had all come to know and love. The third period wasn’t a dominant performance by any means, but it was damn entertaining. The Capitals outshot the Jackets in the third, but that felt more like a team down for a good chunk of the period pressing to tie it up. Which the Caps managed to do twice. Unfortunately, the Jackets couldn’t pull out the overtime victory, falling 5-4 and bringing the wining streak to an end. The Jackets now sit at 7-0-1 in the month of December. That is pretty good. Less good is the Jackets now sitting in no-man’s land in the standings. They are seven points back of the Caps and the Florida Panthers for the final playoff spots. They were 10 points back at the end of November. It’s just that hard to make up points in the standings, especially when giving out points to the opposition in overtime or the shootout. The Jackets have also pulled too far ahead of the bottom feeding Edmonton Oilers. So screw it. Let’s keep this thing going. Who cares if the Jackets only have a 1.6% chance of making the playoffs (per SportsClubStats). This team to too good to tank without sitting Bob (who is in a contract year), and a handful of other players. The odds may be stacked against making the playoffs, but they are equally stacked against ending up with McDavid or Eichel. So I’ve flipped back again, and am now pulling for the historic comeback.
Third Star: Karl Alzner
Any time a defensive defenseman has a multi-point night in a victory, he’s probably gettting a star. Even if his goal was Charmin soft (Bob really should have had that one). Alzner was fine, never really standing out in his 18:09 of ice time. Which I guess is good considering his role (think a less monstrous Dalton Prout).
Well that was a game, wasn’t it? It had a little bit of everything and by everything I mean every possible way to score happened: short-handed goal, power play goal, penalty shot, shootout, regulation goal…and then you add in one almost line brawl and a quite a few scuffles, 55 hits between two teams and a first period that pretty much had your head spinning and you have one enjoyable night of hockey (did I mention the Jackets now have 6 wins in a row?). The Jackets were able to hammer out a win against the team that eliminated them from last year’s playoffs and ensured that this season’s record against PIT will include at least one regular season win. BUT for the third time in a row, the Jackets beat a conference opponent WHILE giving them a point. That certainly makes a climb to a playoff spot that much more difficult and the push and pull between what this team can do and what if they get a top pick in the draft continues. Ah the drama. Let’s look at the three stars from last night’s game as named by NHL.com:
So that makes five straight wins for the Blue Jackets. I’d love to be excited about that, but once again the Jackets were grossly outplayed by the opposition, only to see Sergei Bobrovsky stand on his head again. I wish I could be positive about this team, but it’s just so hard. They looked like they were shorthanded for most of the game, and while they were a man or two down for much of it, they could easily have spent more time on the penalty kill. There were a few calls they got away with late in the game that could have swung the game back in the Capitals favor. I don’t know what more to say about this team right now. They aren’t playing well. They really truly aren’t. The Capitals were the much better team in my eyes tonight, their best players were more dominant, with the obvious exception of Bobrovsky. Making things even murkier, the Jackets again give up a loser point to a team they are chasing in the standings (making it three of the five wins). Considering the massive amount of ground they have to pick up, they need to start beating teams ahead of them in regulation. Otherwise they are headed towards the 12th overall pick while never really sniffing the playoffs.
3rd Star: John Carlson
The star pickers in Washington are very different than most other teams it appears. Carlson is a very good all around defenseman, who played a very solid 25:07 for the Caps tonight, logging serious minutes on both the PP and the PK. But with only one shot on net, and a single assist, he didn’t have the kind of numbers you would expect. This is especially true considering the dominance of the Capitals in this game, and the nine shots fired on goal by Alexander Ovechkin.
Well that game was basically a moral victory. The Jackets lost 3-2, and took zero points home, but they played hard, never gave up, and were in it right up until the last seconds. The Jackets ended up outshooting the Devils 34-29, and the possession stats can go either way, as the Devils had a slight edge in Corsi, while the Jackets had a slight edge in Fenwick (thanks to the CBJ blocking 15 Devil’s shots). Anton Forsberg was very solid in his first start, with two goals coming on screened shots, and one coming on a goal-mouth scramble. He gave them a chance to win, which is really all you can ask for from a rookie minor leaguer. In addition to Forsberg, I’d count another eight Jackets who could arguably be out of the lineup were the Jackets to actually be completely healthy. With all that considered, I’m pretty pleased with the effort the Jackets put forward tonight, the way they played the game (conservative, limit their own mistakes), and actually having a chance to win. Until they start getting some bodies back, I’m not expecting them to beat any decent team (and Jersey is decent), but would just like to see them make the games competitive..
3rd Star: Nick Foligno
What more can be said about Nick Foligno. I hate using words like manly and ballsy, as they are subtly ridiculously sexist. I’m having trouble coming up with a better way to describe Foligno’s performance tonight though. I was really not expecting him to play this game, and he took a shot off the head as well, and no one would have blamed him for not coming back. Instead, he not only barely missed any time, he played 18:17 of solid hockey (fourth among CBJ forwards). I thought the Ryan Johansen, Cam Atkinson, Scott Hartnell line was fantastic tonight (combined 15 shots on goal), but Foligno was easily the best player other than them. Continue reading…
Two thirds of the way through this game my mind was full of hockey thoughts…I had things all worked out in my head – yay Ryan Murray (please don’t get hurt), look at the team battling with 7 D and 11 F (please don’t get hurt), hey Letestu nice goal – we might do this (please don’t get hurt). And then Nick Foligno was injured in a freak accident where, while battling for the puck with Jeff Carter, his head collided with the hind shank of the linesman. After lying motionless on the ice, Foligno was stretchered off and was seen waving to the crowd. Later it was a relief to hear that per the Blue Jackets twitter, and via Jeff Rimer relating an update from President of Hockey Operations, John Davidson, that Foligno was not taken to a hospital and was having x-rays at the Staples Center. JD said that Foligno will be fine.
We’ll get to the three stars in a second but let’s make a few things clear first. (1) The injury to Foligno was not. Jeff. Carter’s. Fault. I’m a lot more ticked off he scored a goal against the Jackets then for what he did on that play. (2) Look at the linesman – his position (completely coincidental) is what causes the injury (3) We do not know if/when word of Foligno’s health update got to the team on the bench…and / or if it ever got to Bob who sits in net (obviously). Nick is a beloved member of this team – you have to believe seeing your teammate go down like that surely will rattle you. Before that injury, I was really invested on the outcome of the game, after the injury – honestly – not so much. Did it impact the team? Look at that long flatline in the third…and the impact on shooting rate after. You have to believe it did.
Well that was a game. Maybe not the prettiest win in the world, but a win is a win, and a nice way to start off a west coast road trip. The Jackets looked like they were going to get blown out, getting dominated by the Sharks in the first period, and looking like the weaker squad through the first half of the second. Strangely, once the Jackets took the lead, they also took control of the game for a while. Another slow start at the beginning of the third period setup a pretty wild final frame. Joe Pavelski tied it up, then Cody Goloubef committed one of the worst turnovers I’ve ever seen (how do you not take a look there) to Logan Couture who buried the go ahead goal. The Sharks seemed to take control of the game for the next few minutes until the Jackets managed to get some sustained pressure, drew a penalty, and then tied it up on the powerplay. Then the final minute and a half happened. Ryan Johansen scored a hat trick, let’s get that straight. The refs straight up blew that call. Nick Foligno was pushed into the crease, barely made contact with Niemi, then was out of the way of the goaltender when the shot was taken. Had he not been pushed in, or had he been making contact with Niemi still when the shot was fired, I’d have no issue with that call. But it was Joe Thornton interfering with Niemi, not Foligno. Fortunately, Mark Letestu let the refs off the hook a minute later with the game winner.
3rd Star: Mark Letestu
Two goals, including the game winner, 54% on faceoffs, a game high +10 corsi, and some damn fine penalty killing. That’s more than enough for the third star. Let’s backtrack to his first goal though. Holy what a pass by Artem Anisimov. Just a beautiful saucer pass right where it needed to be. Letestu had a nice finish on that one as well.
Welcome to the second Goal Breakdown of the season. I mentioned it at the top of the last post, but I will do it again here. This year I will be putting out a Goal Breakdown every Wednesday night, generally featuring one goal for the Jackets and one goal against, that will go through the nitty gritty of what made that goal happen for the Jackets (good or bad). Last week’s Goal Breakdown post featured Cam Atkinson‘s goal against the Sabres, and Rick Nash’s goal during the Rangers game. This week will see a slight tweak, with all three goals against the Senators being quickly discussed, and a deeper look at Ryan Johansen‘s goal versus the Flames. Continue reading…