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
So it looks like Cam Atkinson will be back in the lineup tonight against the San Jose Sharks. After three healthy scratches in the last four games (and the lone game played being the Chicago shellacking), we finally get to see him again. Cam Atkinson looks to be the victim of one of my favorite sports theories, Bill Simmons’ Ten Percent Theory. While originally applied to Russell Westbrook of the NBA’s Oklahoma City Thunder, I think it applies pretty well in this situation regarding Cam. As the theory goes, no player is perfect. Every player is missing at least 10 percent of the ideal basketball player (or hockey player in this case). For Russell Westbrook, his ten percent is the recklessness he plays with. This can rear its head at inopportune moments, and distracts people from the 90% of his game that is fantastic. He compares this to Kevin Durant, whose missing ten percent is his lack of strength and defense, two things that are not as obvious to most viewers.
Continue reading Cam Atkinson, the Ten Percent Theory, and Healthy Scratches
What a huge night for the Blue Jackets. They entered the evening coming off a strange, emotional night last night, tied with Detroit for the final playoff spot, facing the Red Wings, and with a number of teams battling for the final playoff spots in action. The night went about as well as possible. The Jackets beat the Wings in regulation. The Devils beat the Flyers in regulation. The Penguins beat the Capitals in regulation. The Hurricanes beat the Rangers in regulation. Now if the Sharks can beat the Leafs in regulation (2-1 SJS at the time of posting), the night will be complete. The Jackets now sit in 3rd place in the Metro division, only one point back of the Rangers, who have played an extra game.
As for the game itself, well it started off ugly. It got a little better in the second period. Then woo boy was that a hell of a third period. Huge effort to stick with it and pull off the much needed two points (and almost as important keep Detroit from getting any).
Continue reading Stars of the Night and Game in One Picture: CBJ vs. Detroit
Wow. Well that was a game. It was everything we love and hate about the match ups with Nashville – physical play where one big play usually makes the difference. Now you can add stellar goal tending to the recurring trend of these games. Who can forget the flurry of saves Bob made against Nashville in the final game last season and he would do it again in the closing seconds to preserve another win. In his post game interview, James Wisniewski said that was as close to a playoff game as you get. I have to agree. We were fortunate enough to be at the game and the atmosphere was pins and needles. That game was intense, hard hitting hockey. That’s what you want to see – that’s what JD has promised us…and tonight we got it (well at least after the first period). With the Jackets’ divisional opponents scooping up points tonight the win was essential and the boys in Union Blue got it done. They travel to Dallas next and I have to believe they are gonna need the day in between to recover from that match up. So on to the three stars…
Continue reading Three Stars and Game in One Picture: CBJ @ NSH
Well that was a disappointing way to get back into things. The Jackets were thoroughly outshot through the entire game, with the final tally of 35-19 . At least they were consistent, getting outshot by five or six shots every period. Oddly, I didn’t feel like New Jersey was actually dominating the play. For parts of the first and third periods, and most of the second period, the Jackets looked like the better team. They did look to be off in the positioning, and were definitely off in their passing. Those are both related, as I felt the team did an extremely poor job tonight of supporting the puck carrier, forcing players into making tougher passes than necessary. Oh well, not like this was a divisional game against a team they are battling for a playoff spot. Oh wait, New Jersey is now only two points back. Super. Continue reading Three Stars & Game in One Picture: CBJ @ NJ
In the wake of home-and-home losses to Pittsburgh, the usual cacophony of reactions are evident — ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous. Today, we’ll try to take a relatively dispassionate look at the club, the recent efforts, and dust off the crystal ball for some thoughts as to what might come down the pike.
First things first, however. Shortly before game time, I caught a TSN tweet indicating that Gary Bettman was at Nationwide for the game, and a second tweet indicating that he was in the company of Mayor Coleman. Rudimentary arithmetic led me to one conclusion — All Star Game — a fact confirmed about 30 minutes later, when the lights dimmed, Greg Murray advised the crowd of a special announcement from John Davidson, who then appeared on the scoreboard screen with Bettman. The announcement that the 2015 All Star Game was coming to Columbus on January 24 & 25, 2015 was almost an anti-climax at that point. Still, it was terrifically positive news for the franchise, the city and the 18,634 assembled fans. The NHL made good on its promise to “do right” by Columbus after the lockout trashed the All Star Festivities for the 2013 game.
The most surprising aspect of the announcement was the timing. Traditionally, the venue for the All Star Game is announced in January, or at least in conjunction with GM meetings. That the announcement came so far in advance is a credit to both the NHL and the progress that the organization has been making at all levels. Kudos to all concerned, and Columbus fans can now tuck those 2013 All Star Game pucks away, waiting for them to appreciate in value. (Just kidding…sort of) So with that issue put to bed, time to return to the ice. The intent here is not to provide a game summary of the Pittsburgh battles — @Canadan82 does that extremely well — but to look at the higher level issues, positive and negative, that are emerging as this fledgling season moves forward. The two games vs. the Penguins do highlight some of the issues in stark relief.
Continue reading Observation Time — All Star Style
A familiar feeling crept over me last night, watching the Blue Jackets pre game with that winged wheel prevalent on the other side of the ice. I was reminded of a rivalry (if you want to call it that) which has been a struggle for Columbus in their thirteen year history, separated now by a division in the Eastern Conference. The feeling, however, remains the same. When Columbus plays Detroit, I want fire. I want to see the players sacrifice their bodies, skate until their lungs burn, and battle like it is their last game of hockey ever.
Some call it playoff hockey. The expectation of seeing players showing every ounce of effort, giving little ground in their defensive zone and their offensive zone. For me, I call it sixty minutes. Like the sign said last year, no excuses, no regrets. I believe that teams who play like this will win every game they ‘should’ win if you look at the possession and other telling stats after the game. I believe Columbus had more to give last night.
Continue reading Recap: Columbus @ Detroit 10-15
The first puck of the 2013/2014 season dropped last night around 7:15pm in a packed Nationwide Arena. With another impressive fan showing to start the season, many were expecting the same ultra high level of intensity we enjoyed for much of the short 2012/2013 season. What they got was a different looking roster, a different looking team, yet an eerily similar result.
The Flames are not exactly an offensive powerhouse. They have a decent compliment of forwards, but it is not the type of team you see on the ticket and think “this is really going to be a tough battle for Columbus.” Really, it was the perfect type of team to bring in for the home opener to get some momentum built for the start of the season. Unfortunately for those who share that mindset, they were witness to pretty even play between both sides, with a lot of ‘feeling out’ from the Blue Jackets players and their linemates.
Continue reading Game Recap: Columbus vs. Calgary 10-4
One of the comforting aspects of being an NHL fan is the almost ritualistic sequence of events that mark the progression from season to vacation, from regular season to playoffs, from “regular” years to Olympic years. Sure, labor stoppages are insinuating themselves into the regular rotation, but enough time has been spent wringing hands over those events.
With the Stanley Cup in the hands of the Blackhawks, the stars of tomorrow plucked from the draft pool, and the feeding frenzy of free agency past its peak, the off-season enters a period of relative quiescence. Sure, some deals will get done, but for the most part the Canadian hockey scribes and pundits have departed for their cottages, and their American counterparts are on the golf course. Fortunately, with 2014 being an Olympic year, there is some intrigue remaining, as the dominant hockey countries extend their invitations to Olympic Orientation Camp. By all accounts, the Blue Jackets will be more than adequately represented. Let’s take a look at those who have invitations in hand, and those likely to be joining the quest for Olympic gold in Sochi:
Continue reading Blue Jackets Prominent In Olympic Quest
Columbus GM Jarmo Kekalainen (Courtesy Columbus Blue Jackets)
Welcome to my début here at The Union Blue. To those who followed me from Ten Minute Misconduct and The Hockey Writers — a big thanks — both of you. (I’ll still be chipping in with a guest article at THW from time to time, but The Union Blue is home.) To those just discovering my writing, strap in. I’m not shy about expressing opinions, digging deep into issues and counseling patience and perspective when the gut reaction is to panic. Thanks to all of my colleagues here for swallowing hard and allowing me to use of space on the site. Enough of that — on to the topic at hand.We’re just about 50 hours from the NHL Entry Draft, and just a week away from the beginning of free agency. The compressed timeline — brought to you by your friends at the NHL and NHLPA — will make the next ten days a tense and action-filled time. As Jarmo Kekalainen and John Davidson have been preaching for the past month — the options are wide open. That makes this both a time of peril and opportunity for the Blue Jackets at a lot of levels. While much of the focus is on the draft itself, and the three first round picks the Blue Jackets have stockpiled, I’ll leave the discussion of the draft prospects to my colleague @CBJProspects, who eats, sleeps and lives with that data. Instead, I want to focus on the other side of the equation — the trade and free agency prospects — made all the more intriguing this season by the advent of the compliance buyout. Continue reading Trading Spaces: Draft Table Deals Likely for Columbus