Friday, February 27, 2009

Final Game in a Western Swing

Thursday saw a massive win for the Blue Jackets.  In a few words... Exactly what the doctor ordered.. Steve Mason had a big game, stopping all 19 shots he faced.  While the game was more tilted towards Roloson, Mason made all of the important saves, and looked competitive for 60 minutes.

Not only that, Raffi Torres got physical, getting into a fight, and also scored a great goal which ended up being the winner.  Consider it a massive confidence booster for a guy who has struggled greatly throughout this year.

Tomorrow night, the Jackets play the Vancouver Canucks, who have been trading the 5th spot back and forth with Columbus for over a week now.  They have been playing strong hockey, forcing the Jackets to do more chasing than leading, but tomorrow will allow Columbus to tie them for 5th with a win, albeit with two games in hand.

The one major concern I have is scoring.  The last couple games have been miserable in terms of goals for, with only a combined four goals in their last three games, including a 1-0 shutout against the Oilers.  If that does not send warning signals down the spine of every coach, player, and fan, I do not know what should.  Rick Nash needs to make himself more offensively available, and Huselius needs to take advantage of the secondary scoring position he has been given.

I will update after the game.  I am looking forward to a strong effort.

Carry the Flag!

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Is our season getting poke checked?

When I first started watching hockey on television and I heard an announcer say "poke check," I would've sworn he said "pope check." Now, of course that doesn't make any sense. Why would the Pope be at a hockey game? Why would anyone be checking him? OR . . . maybe we, as the audience, were supposed to pray suddenly and (assuming one was Catholic) therefore check around for the Pope? I don't know. . . but it sounded like Pope check to me.

Of course now I know better. I know that the announcer really said "poke check," as in poke, as in to poke. As in to poke away. I still giggle when they say it and find myself shouting it out at live games randomly. . . "Poke check!!" defines poke check this way: A check in ice hockey in which a defender uses the blade of the stick to push the puck off the stick of an opponent. And at they provide step by step instructions on How to Do a Poke Check.

  1. Skate near your opponent who has the puck. A poke check is done by a player who is trying to steal the puck from another one; so you'll need to be within a stick's reach from the puck.

  2. Wait for the player with the puck to make a small mistake. All you need is for the player to push the puck out a little too far in front of him or to fail to guard the puck for one second.

  3. Use the blade of your hockey stick to poke the puck away from your opponent. A poke check should be a simple jabbing motion at the puck, not a swipe.

  4. Skate hard after the puck as soon as you've poked it away from your opponent. Remember speed is key here because your opponent will be trying to get the puck back just as quickly as you are trying to get it safely away.

Reading these instructions . . . I ask you Jackets faithful: Is our season getting poke checked from us? Everyone is staying close to us, trying to steal it all away from us. They are waiting for us to make tiny mistakes and then capitalizing on them (and no...this is not exactly rocket science strategy here, but it works). "Fail to guard the puck for one second . . ." that line just has the Anaheim game of last Saturday written all over it. We let them score first and they moved on to step #3 - they used a "simple jabbing motion." Calgary did this last night as well. They saw we were not giving 150% and they jabbed and chipped and kept at it. And that is really all it takes. Earlier this season, I would have said a persistent kicking motion would be the end of my sanity but now I think it may be the jabbing of a poke check!

My biggest fear right now is that more and more games and teams are going to follow through with step #4. They are going to knock the puck away, skate like mad away with it, and we are going to be left in the dust. I am still holding hope. I have NOT given up. I STILL believe!! But is it possible the Jackets are already in step #4 and are now chasing after the puck to get it back? If so, then we as fans need to continue to cheer, continue to rock the Arena, and continue to . . . (awww come on, you knew this was coming right?) check for the Pope!!! Because we need all the help we can get!!

Carry the Flag!!

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Get Ready for a Rumble

Last time Columbus visited Calgary, they saw Phaneuf get thrown out for a hit from behind, Roy making throating slitting gestures, and Regehr cross checking Dorse in the face.  If anyone thinks this game will not be full of emotion, you might want to rethink.

This could come as a positive.  The Jackets have played some seriously uninspired hockey over the last couple games, and a rock em sock em game like this one could be exactly what they need to get back on track.  

While Calgary is quite far ahead in the standings, Columbus likes to play well against big name teams.  Maybe it is the daunting task of slaying the giant, but I am starting to wonder if they are better off finishing 8th rather than 4th.

The big disappointment for me tonight is that we will not be seeing Gratton play.  Chimera was cleared to play after struggling with a groin injury, which means Hitch 'decided' that Gratton needed a few more practices before joining the game time roster.  If he was smart, he would give Murray or Peca the night off to see what Grats can do.  Murray does not seem to be much more than a neutral body on the ice, not making anything happen, but also not allowing anything to happen.  In Peca's case, I think giving him a game off would remind him that his 'veteran' presence is not enough.  He needs to be more prolific on the ice, whether it is with or without the puck.

Finally, to our netminder.  I said this yesterday, and I will say it again today, Mason has to be better than average.

Carry the Flag!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Crunch Time! (Not the Syracuse Flavor)

With every good home stand, there looms a road trip.  The Jackets have travelled to the other side of the continent to play three teams that have just as much to lose as they do.  Games against Calgary, Edmonton, and Vancouver (respectively) will really show the Jackets faithful where this team stands in the 'likely to' or 'likely NOT to' fight for a strong playoff spot.

They will be spirited games, and the last thing you will want to do is miss them.  While Edmonton has had their way with Leclaire this season, they are young and streaky, and can easily be beaten if the true Jackets team shows up.  Calgary is not unbeatable, and the Jackets proved that earlier this season with a big win at Calgary.  Vancouver has strong scorers, but have been known to throw in the towel early in games that seem out of reach.

These are the keys to the road trip for me:

1 - Strong goaltending.. I did not think I would have to write this at any point this year after Mason took to the net, but he needs to be competitive.  During the game against Anaheim, he looked beaten down and confused, saving only 9 of the 14 shots he faced.  They are likely to face at least two teams who will put around thirty shots on net, and he will need to stop close to all of them if they want to win games.

2 - Powerplay.. The only thing more demoralizing than a weak goal scored on a team, is not capitalizing on powerplay opportunities.  They need to stay competitive on each powerplay, keep the pressure deep, and bury their chances.  Playoff teams score on the powerplay, and the Jackets should be no exception, especially considering some of the fire power they have.

3 - Focus..  At times during the last couple games, the players looked unfocused and unprepared for certain rushes.  At least three of the goals scored in the Anaheim game could have been avoided if the trailing forward or defenseman had taken his man, and that mistake can not continue to happen.

4 - Competitive Edge..  There are players on this team that can flat out score goals, or make goals happen.  If the playoffs are meant to be, they need to be doing that naturally for the rest of the season.  If they chose to take nights off, well, I do not even want to say it.  Also, the players on the other end of the spectrum need to step it up.  Bubble players like Murrray, Novotny, Boll, and now Gratton need to step up and make big things happen.  Secondary scoring in the National Hockey League is a must.

So keep your chin up, and let's hope for the best on this road trip!  Carry the Flag!

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Derek Dorsett vs. A Punching Bag

There were not very many big highlights in last nights game that favored the Blue Jackets, but one thing that certainly did was the fighting.  Jared Boll fought both Moen and Parros, arguably winning both tilts, and Derek Dorsett fought Brendan Mikkelson.

The fight I want to talk about was Dorsett's, only days after getting beaten heavily by BJ Crombeen of the St Louis Blues.  He absolutely dominated this fight, and for a time, shifted the momentum of the entire game with the huge bombs he threw.   Here is a video:

As is very clear, he absolutely controls this fight, throwing 22 punches and landing 16.  Mikkelson threw 1 punch in total.  Now, the reason why I want to focus on this fight, is because Dorsett did his job last night.  He was a terror on the ice, throwing big hits and clearly, big bombs.  He is a great addition to the Jackets, and if they can make the playoffs, he will be one of the biggest factors because of his physicality.

So next time you catch a Jackets game, cheer big for our boy Dorse the Horse.  He will play his heart out every game if you get behind him as a fan!

Carry the Flag!

Jackets Acquire Chris Gratton

News is that the Jackets have acquired center Chris Gratton from the Tampa Bay Lightning, who tried to bring Gratton back up on re-entry waivers.  This is a rather interesting trade, based on the high number of centermen the Jackets have, and the fact that Howson has already proclaimed that nothing has had an effect on his search for a center.

Based on that, I have to assume that Gratton is the 'heavy body' Hitch has been looking for.  His veteran style and his experience will bring a lot to the bottom of the roster, likely pushing either Murray or Novotny out of the lineup.  Going a step further, if another center is acquired prior to the deadline, along with a potential return of Brassard, we are looking at a serious influx of centerman, and a great deal of options for management.

When push comes to shove, I think this was an easy decision to acquire him as more of a backup plan, but it also adds some veterean depth and a potential for a secondary option if teams refuse to deal with the Jackets.

So for now, let's see what the old boy can do!  Carry the Flag!

Friday, February 20, 2009

Vermette Should be a Priority

It may seem like a broken record after this concept was first addressed over a month ago, but I believe it is time to really reconsider how valuable Vermette would be to the Jackets roster.

1 - He is a strong skater who rarely takes a night off.  There are a lot of players on the Jackets roster that like to float at times during a game, and Vermette would not be one of them.  He would fit very well between guys like Voracek and Chimera, who are always flying when on the ice.  The other possibility would be having him playing with Williams and Umberger on the second line.  Because the pairing of Chimera and Voracek has been so versatile this year, the Jackets could easily run three lines at almost the same level of ice time.

2 - He is a faceoff monster.  He and Malhotra are atop the league leaders in faceoff percentage, and that is something that Columbus needs to work on.  While Peca and Umberger are decent on the draw, having another big time faceoff man could pay heavy dividends in the late going of the season, when every possession counts.

3 - He is a penalty killer.  These players are becoming few and far between in the NHL, and having yet another guy who can get out on the ice and stymy powerplays is yet another way to really bolster their roster.

4 - He can really dangle.  While his finishing touch still needs work, his tenacity around the puck, and his control with the puck are really something the Jackets could use in the neutral zone and around the boards.  This could also translate well on the second powerplay unit, which is something Vermette is no stranger to.

These are only a couple reasons why he would be worth obtaining, especially if Ottawa starts considering themselves out of the playoff race.  What are your thoughts?

Horseshoes in Toronto

Last night, the Blue Jackets found themselves in unfamiliar territory.  Playing easily one of their worst games of the year, they 'overcame' adversity and won the game in a shootout by a surprising deke from Williams, and a great shot by Nash.  The win marked the 500th of Ken Hitchcock's career.

Now I understand that those of you who do happen to read these blogs might get the idea that I bash this team more than I cheer for it, but that is not the case.  My biggest fault is my ability to magnify the mistakes, while quietly appreciating the strong play.  Players like Backman and Modin have been in my doghouse all year for their sloppy play and incredible mistakes, but at the same time, guys like Malhotra, Mason, Commodore, and Umberger are in my great graces, with their attention to detail and hyper active effort every time they stop on the ice.

Last night, however, the team looked like they did not want to be on the ice.  They looked tired, lethargic, and not on their game.  They played the first period almost as poorly as they played the third period against St Louis, and were fortunate to get a last second goal to tie the game going into the first intermission.  Every time Backman touched the puck seemed to be a mistake waiting to happen.  Adversely, every time Umberger touched the puck, it was as though he was unstoppable.  Forcing the play deep into the offensive zone, and getting excellent shots on young Pogge, Umberger was again by far the best Jacket on the ice.

This post is not meant to say the Jackets are in trouble, simply that they need to really bear down over the next two months if they want to make the playoffs.  While they have points in their last seven games, they really need to think about their on ice effort in the next game or two.  The lackluster effort of late will not be taken lightly by any team.

Carry the Flag.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Negatives From Positives

It is time for me to once again bust the bubble after a huge win..

Tonight, the Jackets came out flying against the Blues (for the first time this year) and really took it to them for the first two periods.  Their play was strong and precise, and their defense was stymy and logical.  That being said, their third period made it appear as though they were doing keg stands during the second intermission.

Flat, sloppy, and foolish play was all the fans got to watch as the third commenced, and it came very close to costing them two points in the ever increasingly competitive western conference.  They allowed two powerplays to come and go without so much as a good scoring chance on net, and then gave a couple powerplays to St Louis, giving them all the momentum.

If Columbus wants to excel into the playoffs this year, they will have to take exception to this game and really learn from it.  They have had a few games lately where they get the early lead and get lazy, which has been a major shift from a lot of the come from behind victories earlier in the year.  If they want to scare teams, they need a full sixty minutes at hyper speed.

Lasty, I want to talk about Huselius..  You know what?  I'll save it for tomorrow...

Carry the Flag.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Tough Night After the Streak Ends..

Consider tonight a lesson learned for Jackets players and fans.  This team is not unbeatable, they are not perfect, and they won't win out.  They are bound for a crazy finish, but no one can predict where it will land.

Tonight, they were the better team.  Tonight, the chances were there, but the luck was not.  Think about the opportunity Umberger had with Turco sprawled around the ice.  He picks the puck up, prepares the shot, and BAM!  Broken stick.  And such was life for them most of the game.

It seemed like the refs favoured the Stars, but that is arguable.  It seemed like no matter how wide open the chances were, the puck stayed out.. (Juice and Williams in the shootout)..  Let's be honest, the team knew what they wanted to do, but could not get it done.

I am happy though.  The Jackets remain tied for 6th place, and are still only one point out of 5th.  They lose their unbeaten streak, but gain a reminder that not all games will be a 'W' even if they are the better team.  They also are reminded that every single point has value from now on out.

Finally, I want to address Richards injured hand.  I am not going to say 'tough break' or 'karma sucks' but seriously, how random is it that the same team that took out Brassard in a freak accident, loses Richards indefinitely with a busted wrist?  Seems almost fitting.

Carry the Flag!

Monday, February 16, 2009

Ten Games...

Ten games ago, Ken Hitchcock probably sat down his players in the locker room and talked about the importance of wins.  Ten games ago, they were sitting in a massive group around 8-12th in the conference, hoping they could propel themselves into a playoff position.  Ten games ago, they had games against San Jose, Detroit, and other opponents that typically are daunting enough to send shivers up a players spine.

Ten games ago, Steve Mason had mono.

But somehow, ten games later, they are tied for 6th in the conference, and only one point out of 5th.  Somehow, Chicago is only 9 points (and only three victories) ahead.  Somehow, the team is getting healthier, and the puck is going into the net.  They took it to Carolina and Detroit this weekend, showing their defensive mentality against the divisional beast, and flexing their offensive press against a recent Stanley Cup champion team with the same record they hold.  Finally getting the 5 on 3 monkey off their back, and getting much needed goals from Huselius and Malhotra.

These facts makes you wonder where they will stand ten games from now.  What great things can we expect after another ten games?  Will they keep feeding off their crowd, and taking each game personally?  Will Mason continue to build his incredibly impressive rookie campaign, giving analysts and GMs even more of a reason to consider him for three trophies this year?  Can late add on Jason Williams continue to feed off the flying J line, providing the Jackets top line with some much needed secondary scoring.

One thing is for sure....  It is going to be a great ride.

Carry the Flag!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Mason Back and Ready..

It was clear that members of the Detroit Red Wings had an agenda last night.  Go big and aim for the glove on mono recovered Steve Mason.  They took advantage a couple times on a glove hand that seemed a bit slower than usual, but Mason stood strong, allowing Columbus to gain another two points in a game that most teams would accept one or zero points in.

Outside of their clear glove hand target, the physicality around Mason was also prevalent, with guys like Meech crashing into him without penalization.  Good thing Columbus has rarely been favored this year, and would definitely defend their goalie at all costs regardless of how the refs decide to call it.

Getting past the game itself, having Mason come back and gain a victory is also a big positive for the team in a couple different ways.  First off, it reminds LaCosta that his time is not right now, and Mason will hold onto the spotlight for the time being.  It also reminds the fans that no team has that many players come in and steal the show, but frankly, we should consider ourselves lucky that he was able to come in and play as well as he did.

Secondly, it truly shows the value of the team outside of the net.  The defense and offense may not have bailed out Mason last night, but they played very smart and strong hockey against Colorado and San Jose with young LaCosta between the pipes.

Finally, it shows that Mason was not on a hot streak.  Many young players and even veterans come in and play fantastic hockey for a given period of time only to flatten out.  I feel like if Mason was simply riding the wave, that momentum would have dissipated with the time off and he would have come out poorly last night.

Looks like the only guy who will not learn is Hitchcock.  Mason will be starting again tonight in net against Carolina.

Carry the Flag!

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Post Game Thoughts

Last night, Dan LaCosta handled everything the Avalanche could muster, recording his first career NHL shutout.  If this team had a laundry list of players they would have never expected to explode into the NHL scene this year (Brassard, Voracek, Mason, LaCosta, Methot, Russell, etc) it would clearly be turning to page two very soon.

Not only did he record the shutout, but he did it in a way that proved his worth.  The defense was alright, but was still penetrated at times, forcing Dan to make one or two key saves in a row on multiple occasions.  His rebound control definitely needs some work, but even with the rebounds he allowed, he remained in position after the fact, making sure wherever the puck went, so too did he and his positioning.

RJ Umberger was once again a physical and agile beast on the ice.  He has really taken on a role that was very similar to his great work ethic in the playoffs last year with Philadelphia.  Always first to the puck, and getting shots on or near the net when you would not expect him to.  While he has not really been awarded yet (he clearly deserved the game winner against San Jose), he has received the respect of many fans.

Modin continues to disappoint, most recently on the first powerplay of the game, when his foolishness put him in the penalty box and made it 4 on 4.  It is another statistic in a growing trend of mistakes and inability from him.  He missed the net on key opportunities in the second period, twice which allowed the puck to bank off the back boards and allow Colorado to bring the puck up the ice in a 2 or 3 on 1 opportunity.  Yes, he made a nice play to tip the point shot which put the Jackets up 3-0, but it did very little to alleviate the prior mistakes of the game.

All in all, it was a strong effort by the Jackets.  If I were Hitchcock, I would be a little worried about them not being able to score in the first period, even though they dominated the offensive zone.  Their resilience is what won them the game though, taking the must win mentality deep into the game.

Carry the Flag!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Some Negatives After a BIG Positive

I do not like to be the person to downplay a very positive thing, but I have found that I single out players or coaches even in victory.  There are a couple things that I want to get out there and I would really like your (the fans) opinions on them as well.

1.  Ken Hitchcock and his "play em' if they are hot" attitude.  Yes, playing a line a shift after they have scored can sometimes work, but doing it every time seems like overkill.  Not only does that wear out the line a bit more in the middle of the game, it makes three other lines go cold.  Until the Jackets have a number one center, I personally do not think there is a single line that stands out from the rest, unless you want to assume that any line Rick Nash plays on is the number one and should get the most playing time.  I think at this point of the season, and from what we have seen when the top guys are out, there are three capable lines that need equal time on the ice.

This attitude also extends to goaltenders.  He absolutely wore out Mason over the last couple months, and while mono was the real culprit, playing any goaltender in that many games can only lead to trouble.  I think Wade has not really found his bearings yet, but he has been a savior in New York, and I think he can be a savior in Columbus if given the right opportunity.

2.  Modin..  I know a lot of people like him for his 'veteran presence' and 'leadership' qualities, but I want to straighten something out right now.  He is lazy on the ice, makes big mistakes with the puck on the powerplay, and has a very hard time getting the puck to the net when the team needs the puck on/in the net.  Frankly, the team is better off with a young player like Jakub on the powerplay if not for his effort alone.  Modin is sluggish with the puck, and a shadow of his former self.  If ever a player that the team could do without, it is Modin, and he is in my opinion, the last player from the old Jackets era (the team we do not like to take about) that needs to be removed.

3.  Backman.  Yes, he scored the winner last night.  No, he did not deserve it.  The puck was floating in the crease, and he took advantage of a great shot by Umberger, and capitalized on a bad defensive effort and basically swatted in the winner.  This does not alleviate his lazy defensive play, and horrible inability to get the puck on net during offensive possession.  The Jackets offense needs to know that when they play the puck back to the point, the shot will be accurate, and through traffic, and Backman will never be able to provide that for him.

So I have ranted, and I have come to a conclusion that points 2 and 3 and what will really set this team apart.  As much as it may hurt the Jackets in terms of cap space and value of the dollar, Backman and Modin need to have limited roles for the rest of the season, and guys like Methot and Filatov need to get their opportunities with the big club.

Carry the Flag!

LaCosta Wins in Debut.. AGAINST SAN JOSE!

It has been a head banging type of week in Columbus.  Stupid losses to St Louis and Dallas had all the fans expecting a very serious game against Pittsburgh.  Low and behold, another lame effort drove the team to do the unthinkable... Starting LaCosta against San Jose.

Now, I will be the first to admit I was not prepared for that kind of decision.  I know Dubie has struggled, and I know Mason has been in brutal shape while battling mono, but who would have though Hitch would give the least experienced goalie the nod against one of the league's strongest team?

I saw Legace clear waivers, and I read disappointment in some of the CBJ sectors of the net, but frankly, he was not the best decision.  What happened, was the coach put his confidence in DL, and the defense did the same.  The team clearly plays a strong game when they expect the goalie behind them to make the initial save and more.

Tonight has to be a turning point in the season.  They played a strong game and hung with a top team.  They did the same last week against another tremendously strong team in Detroit.   This is and should be a blatant visual effort to the team and their fans that they belong in the playoffs this year.  They are a competent team, and they play a strong, sound game (most of the time).

Be patient.  One center might be just enough to get this years Jackets into new territory.

Carry the Flag.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

February Reality Check

Now, I should probably preface this with the fact that I tend to react quickly and frankly to things, although the playoff trance had me going there for a while.

Look back at last year.  At this time, their record was better, and the fans felt practically the same way - they could really get there - about the team.  Were you unrealistic?  No, not at all, but who could have possibly anticipated the Adam fo*te debacle, and the removal of Fedorov (necessary) right around deadline time, as the team waned away from any real post-season hopes.

But is this year the same?  So they lost a couple games in the past week.  Prior to that, they took down one of the league's best (Detroit) and looked comfortable doing so.  Mason found out he has mono, which could easily be the only reason he has looked human since December.  Injuries have quietly dissipated, although the loss of young Filatov, and obviously having Brassard out for the remainder of the season hurts, but also consider the addition of Williams and the rise of young Voracek and you end up rounding out a confident team that fits with one another.

My February concerns are fairly simple.  

  • Acquiring a center, even at rental status to take up Brassard's spot for the remainder of the season.  This will allow minimal line modifications, and let the players get set in positions they are comfortable with.  I do not care how much you want to think he might be capable of it, Malhotra is NOT a first line center. Who should go?  A prospect, and Modin.  I do not care how hard that will be to swing, Howson needs to swing it.
  • Continue to work with the powerplay to make it a POWERplay, rather than simply a man advantage.  Playoff teams have strong specialty teams.
  • Let Mason get healthy.  Mono is a horrible thing to deal with, and he should be on bedrest for at least a week to try and get back when his body is prepared to let him back.  What happened against Dallas and St Louis could easily have been avoided if Hitch would think with his head rather than Mason's.
  • Trade a defensemen.  The logjam is going to be an issue with Klesla healthy again.  I personally do not want to see Backman dress again, and I would hate the idea of either Methot or Russell having to sit out games.  They all have their strengths, and they are all trying to build chemistry with their linemates.  No more juggling!

Enough from me fans.. What do YOU think?

Carry the Flag!