Friday, April 24, 2009

Loss Nothing to be Ashamed of...

Well Jackets fans, the year ended sooner than I had anticipated, and the feeling of shock and numbness of a playoff loss reverberated throughout Nationwide Arena last night as the final horn went and the Jackets had saluted the best crowd they will ever play for.

A loss that was not reasonable, a feeling of remorse that should not be there, and a feeling of being robbed should be on the back of ever fans mind who was at the game.  The Jackets outplayed Detroit for most of the game, but got outplayed by the refs and Detroit's ability to score garbage bang in goals.

Not only was their resilience tested early after a bad break goal off Tyutin's leg, their feeling of being on the wrong side of the luck train was clear after a shot bounced back from the angle it came (basically impossible if you consider the laws of physics) to be easily buried.  So many things seemed to go Detroit's way, even after Columbus stormed back from two goals down twice on tremendous efforts by some of their secondary scorers, and a crowd that seemed relentless in their quest to make Osgood want to crawl under a bed and hide.

Two years ago, I hated the people who fought with the officiating of a game.  Two years ago, I believed that regardless of how the game is called, teams make their own luck.  Since then, I have really opened my eyes to see the Jackets get the short end of the stick on entirely too many occasions.  Situations arise where the calls are not being made, and then finally when the ref opts to make the call, it is on Columbus.  There have also been glaringly bad calls made on Columbus for lifting guys sticks to play the puck, where there simply was a bad misread on the part of the official, putting the Jackets down a man at a critical juncture in the game.

Last night was no different.  Columbus received twice as many penalties in the game, even though they were by far the cleaner team of the two.  There were missed calls on Columbus including Vermette being checked from behind and then in the same play sticked in the face.  Nash all game was grabbed and pulled by players who could not match his intensity, all of which got ignored even when Nash was hauled to the ice.

Most notably, both teams were jumping early on their line changes.  So bad, in fact, that at one point in the game Detroit's man who replaced a player played the puck prior to that player getting off the ice.  The same exact thing that happened when Modin played the puck before Jake got off the ice, leading to the final penalty of the game.  Absolutely mind boggling, and just another sample of how the Jackets were never given a fair shot at that series.

I hope this does not deter Jackets fans from being as awesome as they were last night.  Being at Nationwide was an incredible experience and one I will never forget.  Our team was resilient and exciting, and we are only going to get better as our young players progress in their development.

I hope to break down some of the finer points of the Jackets season over the next couple week, and then maybe give you some information on some of our younger players with a few profiles during the off-season.  I look forward to seeing what Howson can do this off-season to make the Jackets even better!


Monday, April 20, 2009

Columbus' Top Line..

have been battling this argument in my head for quite a few weeks now, and frankly, after last nights game, I am all the more sure now.

Rick Nash belongs with other skaters. He is easily the most talented player on that team, and right now, he's playing with Huselius and Malhotra, who don't deserve top line minutes, and have not played like top line players. Frankly, the sheer fact that Huselius is on the ice when Nash is gives him what I like to call the "Chimera factor".

The Chimera Factor is based on what we saw early in the season. He was skating with Brassard and Voracek, and was receiving passes that lead to simple goals, and getting assists because of what Brass and Jake could create without him. Once he was removed from that line, his productivity disappeared, and I think the same thing is happening with Huselius.

Simply put, we have;


As our 'could be' top two line players. Our secondary players are;


Now, Hitch has gone with what he thinks are his two best lines, running somewhat of a 1-1a style offense, but I really think if they want to score goals on Detroit, they need to package their scorers on one line..

In game three, I would love to see;

Nash - Vermette - Umberger
Huselius - Malhotra - Voracek
Williams - Gratton - Boll
Chimera - Peca - Dorsett/Modin

Line one offers Nash two players who can set him up to score goals, and can easily get to the spots he passes to. If they were playing together last night, I fully suspect they would have had two goals on their first period chances.

Line three is the grinder line. This is the key line for most playoff contenders, playing stymy defense and getting big chances offensively. A momentum changing line to say the least.

The other two lines should be able to function fine and be at the very worst even in terms of goals against and goals for.  I think adding a guy like Jakub to the second line with Huselius and Malhotra might get the veterans playing a more creative game rather than just trying to find Nash open.

Game three is tomorrow, and Columbus will likely be 'rockin' with excitement.  I hope the players are ready to turn this series around.   I am not prepared to start watching other teams yet!

Carry the Flag!

Friday, April 17, 2009

"the Joe" - for Game 1

Anna (aka one of the YSC Puck Bunnies) and I were lucky enough to attend Game 1 last night in Detroit, along with some other Jacket Backers. The outcome was not what any of us wanted but let's keep in mind it was Game 1, the first Playoff game ever for CBJ and they played well for long stretches. Hopefully, Saturday will have a different result.
I've been to "the Joe" (Joe Louis Arena) one other time but it was many years ago and during the regular season. While that was fun, it was nothing compared to last night! There were, of course, a few random idiot Wings fans but for the most part, they were just interested in rooting on their team. The Joe is wildly different from Nationwide Arena (NWA). Yes, it's kind of old (built in 1979), a bit grungy and there's nothing around it, like there is in the Arena District in Columbus. But is an amazing place to watch a hockey game. It seats a bit over 20,000 people (about same as NWA) but it doesn't seem that big because all the seats are right on top of the ice. So many cool things about the atmosphere last night, below are some:
  • Loud! Combine passionate fans, playoff hockey and put everybody right on the top of the action and it is loud. Our "Let's Go Jackets" chant was booed a few times so they definitely heard CBJ fans as well!
  • The history. All you have to do is look in the rafters and see all the banners from over the years. It's impressive. Then there are the retired numbers for Howe, Sawchuk, Yzerman and others.
  • It's all about the hockey. Starting with the "hockey, hockey, hockey" chant before the game, everybody knows why they are there. No silly contests during intermission, burrito drops (sorry Chipotle) or any of the other "stuff" that goes on at most other arenas - including NWA. During intermission, the Zambonis come out, the video board shows highlights and that's it! The focus is purely on hockey. Probably not great for the casual fan but I found it refreshing.
  • The fire after a goal. When Detroit scores, large jets of fire shoot out of the top of the scoreboard. You can literally feel the heat. I'm still partial to the Cannon but that fire is pretty cool also. (Thanks to Suitcase Jake for this fabulous photo!)
I'm sure I could go on but you get the idea. I encourage any hockey fan to take a trip up to the Joe, especially for a playoff game. Blue Jackets fans? We need to BRING IT on Tuesday and Thursday at home. The Detroit fans really stepped up, we need to do the same and help our team Carry the Flag! Let's Go Jackets!!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Game One Tonight!

Personally as a Jackets fan, I have been waiting for a good hockey game for quite some time now, and unfortunately after the win against Chicago, that effort seemed far from sight.

But the playoff Jackets are going to be different.  I have my expectations, and my assumptions, and right now, I assume they will take this series very seriously, if not for the fans, for the competition.

We all know Detroit is one of the best teams in the league, but we also know the Jackets come to play with talented teams match up against them.  With their defensive style and possession game, Columbus could stand to stymy a very potent Wings offense.

Some quick notes about the game...  Huselius and Modin have both been cleared to play.  Steve Mason will obviously be getting the start for Columbus.  Also, Derick Brassard was not cleared by doctors yesterday, which is both unfortunate and good in a way.

Lines are...

Huselius - Malhotra - Nash
Umberger - Vermette - Voracek
Modin - Peca - Chimera
Torres - Williams - Boll

Frankly, I think the fourth line should get more minutes than the third line, and I certainly hope they are running a 1a and 1b rather than a line 1 and a line 2.  Realistically, taking Nash off line 1 and replacing him with someone like Modin immediately drops the quality of the line to that of a third line in today's NHL.  I certainly hope Hitch keeps that in mind..

Carry the Flag!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Why the Jackets Can Beat the Wings

Hey there Jacket fans, this is Money here, the newest contributor to Carry the Flag. Before I get started on how the Jackets can take down the mighty Red Wings I'd like to give you a quick rundown about yours truly. Growing up in Canada, I've played the game since birth. I have experience at the college, junior and professional level. I'll try and bring a coach's and scout's eye to Carry the Flag.

On to Columbus versus Detroit. Goaltending is one glaring advantage that the Blue Jackets have over the Red Wings. Conklin and Osgood have both been inconsistent all season, while Mason has been a revelation. This is obvious and has been pointed out by prognosticators as the key to the series. Personally, I think they are wrong. Of course this will be a factor, but not everything. The Wings have had trouble in net all season and finished near the top of the league. Mason was dynamite most of the year and yet the team finished well behind the Red Wings. If the trends in net continue the Wings still should come out on top.

The real story here is the Columbus defence. Very quietly Columbus has become the best defensive team in the league. Mason is a part of it, but not far from the whole story. They have one of the leagues top penalty kills, are great on face-offs, rarely turn the puck over and allowed the least number of shots in the NHL. They are also very physical, finishing sixth in the league in hits. This formula of great defense, physical play and top notch goaltending is the same one used by the Oilers, Flames and twice by the Ducks to eliminate the Red Wings in four of the last five seasons.

The Red Wings are also not the team they used to be. They have regressed slightly when it comes to their puck possession. The last few seasons Detroit has been unbelievable at holding onto the puck. They have fallen off this season. In fact Columbus finished second in the league, with close to 200 less turnovers than the Red Wings. The rare times that the Jackets do turn the puck over they do not allow shots or goals off these chances.

Much has also been made of the leagues top ranked powerplay going up against the leagues worst. If I hear this again I'm going to go on a rampage. Powerplay's go against penalty kills. In this case the leagues worst powerplay is going against the worst penalty kill in the playoffs. And the leagues best powerplay is going against one of the leagues best penalty kills. This is basically a wash.

The key to this series is who controls the puck. Detroit is a puck control team, while Columbus is effective against this type of team due to their physical nature and dedication to defense. While the organization is new to the playoffs, many of the players have a plethora of postseason experience. If the team can continue to play the way they have this season they have a legitimate opportunity to knock off the reigning Stanley Cup champions.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Time to Talk Playoffs..

The red tape is gone, the excitement calmed, and the reality completely settled on the Jackets.  They are officially in their first playoff series against the Detroit Red Wings.

Before I consider what it will take to dethrone the defending Stanley Cup champions, I want to voice a few things regarding how they got to this point.

One week ago, hell, more like half a month ago, the Jackets knew their chances of getting into the playoffs were great.  They followed that optimism with some of their worst games of the year, winning only three of their last ten regular season games.  In the finale Saturday night, they squandered a two goal lead and gave a non playoff team the satisfaction of beating the ever living hell out of them in the final two periods, outscoring the Jackets 6-1.  So badly was the Jackets effort, it left a more than sellout crowd stunned and in pain over their blunder.  Yet another game thrown away, and they handed their chances to a streaking St Louis Blues team.

As though capping off my personal disdain, the Blues beat a disinterested Colorado team today, tying the Jackets in points for the year, and taking control of 6th place.  That gave St Louis the ability to chose their fate, and they took advantage of that opportunity like a true playoff ready squad.  It also busted my pre-season prediction of the Jackets finishing in 6th place, giving me some personal anger, but hey, we can't win them all!

Now, on to this series...

Columbus, based on their recent performance, is far from prepared to play a playoff series.  They are out of sync, questionable defensively, far from consistent offensively, and their special teams remain one of their biggest crutches.  If ever a time for the coaching, leadership, and unity of this team to step it up, this is it.

Focus should be on their defensive game.  Playing a stellar offense like Detroit means zero mistakes in the defensive end.  Steve Mason will have to be their best asset, and stretch passes must only be made when there is a Jacket on the receiving end.

Offensively, Columbus needs to hit the net.  The minute weakness in Detroit is their goaltending, which has been far from consistent this year.  Once a shot opportunity is available, it needs to go hard and low on net, with all other forwards crashing the net hard.  Grinder goals are a major asset for any team trying to get through a playoff series, and Detroit has been on the receiving end of such efforts quite a few times this decade.

Finally, the powerplay.  It should not be something I need to be proclaiming, but I will anyway.  THEY NEED TO SCORE WITH THE MAN ADVANTAGE!  I capitalize that because it is so blatantly obvious that playoff teams succeed from a 20+ percentage on the powerplay.  Pressure needs to be consistent to put Detroit on their heels, and the puck needs to hit the net actively.

I will have a lot more to weigh in on when they finish their first game.  Here is hoping they actually bring their 'A' game for this series, because there is zero room for error.

Carry the Flag!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

They Did It.

Well, they did it.

Can you believe it?

I am still pinching myself.
I cried three times. And then Rick Nash came on and talked about Mr. Mac and I cried again. And then I thought about Ryan Salmons holding on for a playoff game in Nationwide Arena and I cried again.

And I was sober!

The first period was a disaster. A complete and utter disaster. I have to be honest with you. Prior to the game I said to Brian, “I bet we lose. And I bet we lose on Friday. And I bet it all comes down to Saturday night. Because that is how my luck works.” Because for better or worse, let’s be honest folks, don’t we all always think that how our favorite team plays revolves around our own personal luck, clothes, mojo, hat, routine, or some other voodoo? I had my bunny ears on because the bunny ears are 2-1 (and 2 is better than none!). Brian changed into his JHM hat before the 3rd period and he swears that is what changed the game. I was wistfully wishing that Boll get into fight, and lo and behold, he did. Not only did he get into a fight, but we scored two goals right after that and I am fairly certain that fight changed the entire tone of the game.

And we were tied and regulation ended and the play-off spot is clinched and I can finally start saying that word.
Playoff playoff playoff playoff playoff!!!

And then the shoot-out.


Tyutin? Talk about changing up a routine. Well, okay.

So, for once I decided to change my routine of NOT watching us shoot. See, I can watch us defend but I can’t watch us shoot. Makes no sense I know, but that is the way it is. I make my way through a shoot out by turning away from the screen and watching the reactions of others.

But not this time. I glued my eyes to the set and struggled to watch Tyutin all the way up to the net and watched that glorious shot and that wonderful top-shelfer sling into the net and the horn sounded and we not only clinched our playoff spot, we earned it, boyz!

It’s been the best season ever.

Thank you already.

Carry the Flag!

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Mason Award Potential...

Steve Mason has exceeded expectations this year. It seems like only a couple weeks ago the doe eyed netminder was playing in his first game after recovering from knee surgery. Back in the day when Columbus was completely unsure of their goalie situation. Back when Leclaire knew something was wrong, but was not willing to bail on the team because of their instability in goal. Yes, back when Freddy No No was actually looking like a good decision as a backup goalie.

Stellar was really the only word to describe Mason's initial play. Surprising and satisfying were some other words I heard uttered from fellow Jackets fans as Mason saved a team learning to gel. His play paved the way for the surprising surge from the younger players on the team, and opened the door for rookies like Kris Russell to come around and show Hitchcock that he is the future of this team on defense. Steve Mason paved the way for a lot of things, and it looks like he is going to provide the key ingredient to the ideal playoff team.

It made me wonder what exactly this season could spell for Mason. The Calder trophy does not seem even remotely out of sight for him, considering he single handedly rebounded a team that was doomed to another bottom feeding year to a team currently sitting right in the thick of a playoff race. His goaltending numbers are well within the league’s top ten and could easily get his name in the running for the Vezina with his league leading 10 shutouts. Rarely has there been discussion about another goaltender winning games for teams, unless they are referring to Mason. Sure, Tim Thomas has some of the best numbers in the league, but that can not be said that he won games for Boston unless one is willing to overlook their impressive defensive core.

With all that being said, could it be possible that Mason should be in the running for the Hart trophy? He certainly is not a leader, but he most definitely plays a big game and wins his team games. Once again I think about the mediocre team record prior to his arrival. One can not overlook the fact that he has more than 30 wins and he has not even been available all year. I also believe the team plays differently in front of him. It is almost as though their step is a bit faster knowing that Mase is back there ready to make a miraculous save or ten.

This may seem like I am reaching quite a bit, but I dare anyone to show me a player in the league that has made a bigger difference for their team this year. I challenge the same person to explain to me how the Jackets would be in a playoff battle without Mason in nets.

Carry the Flag!

Monday, April 6, 2009

Three Games Left

Familiarity was thrown out the window quite a few weeks ago.  What is left, at least from the outside looking in, is instability, and uneasiness.

The Jackets found themselves on the wrong end of the overtime column against the Blackhawks Saturday, marking their 4th overtime/shootout loss in the last seven games.  Rather uncharacteristic for a team that lost only six games after regulation throughout the rest of the season, and it is certainly making me wonder if they are beginning to question their abilities on the ice.

Steve Mason was stellar again, but a lack of Jackets offense caused the game to go into the extra frame, which proved to be too much for the Jackets.  A breakaway goal by Versteeg was enough to get me angry at the Jackets and really only see the negative in that game.  For a team that prides themselves on the defensive aspects of the game, they have been turning the puck over and coughing up odd man rushes more than I think Hitch can even comprehend.

I do not think they need more than one more victory to make the playoffs, but realistically, do the Jackets really want to flop into the playoffs with a losing streak, and face one of the strongest opponents in their first playoff series?  Do they want to throw away all their hard work to get into 6th place and finish just barely in?

I am often asking more of the Jackets than most would, but I think having the expectation of a playoff caliber team playing the next three games is quite reasonable.  How are you Jackets fans dealing with the overtime madness?

Carry the Flag!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Filatov Up With Columbus...

An unexpected decision was made this past week by General Manager Scott Howson, bringing young Nikita Filatov up from the Syracuse Crunch to soak in the playoff atmosphere. Unclear towards his intentions, fans have been skeptical about the decision considering Syracuse is in a playoff race of their own, however, the decision was based on the ability to provide one of Columbus’ very promising young players a chance to get some unique experience.

Now, typically this would get me excited, as Filatov has shown the ability to hang with NHL caliber hockey teams.  He has already experienced the thrill of an hattrick and blended well and quickly with different players on the Jackets roster. His experience and size obviously need a boost, but I suspect Howson believes the place to gain that is with Columbus and not Syracuse.

I say typically because there is a catch involved if Nikita plays, which based on the need for scorers on the Jackets roster I would expect he would.  Any coach or GM will do whatever it takes to win, even if it means giving playing time to snipers like Filatov. That catch is obviously his NHL contract, which would kick in if he plays two more games with the big team this year. Not a big deal in the long run I suppose, considering Columbus has plenty of cap space and can spare it here and there, especially assuming Brassard, Voracek, and Filatov are their future up front.

That being said, if Filatov’s NHL contract kicks in this year, he becomes and unrestricted free agent the same year Brassard does. This is not terribly relevant towards cap implications, but it most certainly is an issue in terms of ‘matching’ or exceeding a contract. It is definitely likely that Filatov will have as much success as Brassard if not more prior to entry contract expiring, and because their styles are even minutely similar, this is personally a concern.

It is a double edged sword in reality, and even I can not make up my mind whether the idea of playing him and having his contract kick in is worth the extra round in the playoffs. Many teams do everything they can to win the cup every year, and having Filatov playing rather than Peca or Murray is certainly at the top of my list, but I really do not want to see any sort of animosity between the young players as their contracts expire.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

The 40 Win Club..

Finally a game to smile about!  60 minutes of decent if not great hockey brought the Jackets their first 40 win season in franchise history.  A very welcoming situation for fans frothing over a playoff bid, this win does not quite solidify the playoffs, but it was a win that goes a long way in helping their chances.

I am personally very excited about how Umberger and Vermette played tonight.  Once again they were an offensive threat each time they got on the ice, and gave the Predators a headache defensively.  Umberger also rung a couple shots off the pipe, which could have easily spelled a Columbus blowout victory.

Hits and faceoffs were both rather even on the scoresheet, which is rarely a common trend for the Jackets.  Typically you see them play a very tight game, winning a lot of faceoffs, or they play the physical game and dominate the hitting.  Tonight was very indicative of that Hitchian all around game, and it was clear that Nashville had more than they could handle.

Steve Mason impressed me tonight as well.  Very, very big saves stymied the Nashville offense and gave the Jackets faithful a lot to cheer about.  There were several opportunities that could have easily been goals, but Mason came up huge with a glove save on each of them.

There will be a rematch Saturday against Nashville.  I can just about guarantee Nashville will come out angry, so I am personally hoping Columbus comes out firing again.

Carry the Flag!