Wednesday, September 23, 2009

A Bit of Youthful Banter Around Nationwide..

The Columbus youth movement was not just shaking Nationwide last night, but then again, there is only so much that can be said about beating a rather complete Boston roster without the entire first line and four of the top six defenders.

I have said my piece about line structuring for the Jackets, and I can not help but take some pride in the fact that Hitch had my second line assembled last night (Voracek - Vermette - Filatov) and they certainly did not disappoint. What is even more exciting, is the fact that they kicked their quality into high gear, scoring goals and turning heads. While Vermette is not all that 'young' anymore, he is in an interesting position that gives the feeling as though he is currently developing into the career player his initial potential had suggested. Also, playing the ever positive and complimentary Voracek and the young sniper Filatov, Vermette will also get to take a leadership role and embrace some serious talent through his linemates. It certainly opens for the opportunity to carry the puck more and really become a big player.

Also exciting from last night is the way John Moore continues to impress management and pretty much anyone watching. Not only has he prolonged his stay in Columbus with his game, he is getting better every single game, making his case more and more interesting. While he will likely have to continue to blow people's minds to make the roster, he has been the definition of a puck moving, smart defensemen.... Something GM Scott Howson has spent the last year pursuing throughout the league. Regardless of the result of this years training camp, Moore can take solace in the fact that he is far and away the best thing to happen to Columbus this year.

Hopefully some of the players nursing hip flexors will be able to get back to action before the season begins. Columbus needs a deep defensive core, one without injury or excuse. Columbus is back in action Thursday against Pittsburgh and will look to continue their strong play... Go Moore!!

Carry the Flag!!!!

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Pre-Season in Columbus..

Last night, the Blue Jackets played host to the Minnesota Wild, in their first home pre-season game of the year. The big line of Nash, Brassard, and Huselius were together, firing on all cylinders, and all seemed well. While Minnesota only had a handful of NHLers in the lineup, Columbus took the opportunity and ran with it, scoring five goals, and taking full control of the game.

While I would normally break down some of the finer points of the game, I think it is time for me to step in ahead of many hockey pundits "chirping away" at what was an 0-3 pre-season record for Columbus. Conceptually, the pre-season is designed to warm up for the season, get the developing youth of the front lines, and experiment with systems. So far, this tactic has been extremely useful for Columbus, as it has really allowed John Moore to stand out and make a name for himself.

Even on some of the Jackets-centric sites I have seen some negativity towards their play, making me wonder if they even bothered reading the scoresheet, let alone watching the game. In at least two of the games, Garon played great hockey until he was replace by an up and comer. In fact, I believe in both situations, the Jackets had the lead up until that point.... pretty impressive for 10-15 AHLers and a backup goaltender.

I think the best advice I can give about the NHL pre-season, is do not treat it like any other sport might. This is a chance to truly experiment for coaching staffs and young players, and a team like the Jackets would be foolish to not take full advantage of that.

Carry the Flag! Let's bring down the Bruins tonight!

Monday, September 21, 2009

Early Injuries..

Leave it to the Blue Jackets to have the red cross marks etched beside players names only a couple games into the pre-season. While some of the best players have yet to really get involved in the pre-season, early wear has become apparent in some of the depth players.

Jason Chimera, not one shift after getting stitched up from catching a puck with his face, succumbed to injury when Belanger hammered him into the boards. I was not about to see the hit, however, Belanger was issued a five minute boarding call on the play, leaving me with very little need for creative thinking. Reports are suggesting that Chimera is doing well, with all tests coming back negative, but one has to wonder what this will do to his playing time even when he does return to the lineup.

Somewhat of a rogue injury, Freddie Modin is now (once again) out of the lineup with a sprained MCL. They have suggested around 4 to 6 weeks, but frankly, I am absolutely sick of waiting for this guy to get healthy. He has had his chances over and over again, and whether or not this injury was on account of poor conditioning or bad bone structure, it is simply happening too many times for me to ever expect him to be a healthy option for this team. Scheduled at in my books to play on one of the bottom two lines, Modin is going to have some tenacious competition by some of the younger players trying to crack the lineup for the first time in their careers.

Finally, somewhat of a smaller loss, Sestito suffered a head injury when Nashville tough guy Tootoo took him to the ice during a fight. While all tests were negative, it certainly reduces Sestito's chances of making a big splash this year. It should also come as a strong reminder to players like Derick Brassard that fighting is not worth the hassle for some players.

My bigger concern is offensive depth. While the Jackets have a few bubble players, Chimera and Modin provide a lot of veteran presence and that is valuable to no end for a team as young as the Jackets are. Hopefully Hitchcock is pushing for a high calcium and protein diet for our boys..... If this keeps up it might make for a long year.

Carry the Flag!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Columbus vs. Pittsburgh 9/15

There are a lot of ways to look at pre-season hockey. Some teams use the opportunity to experiment with new line combos, other teams like to throw the load on young developing players to see how they handle themselves, and some teams use the experience to simply gear up for the season. I think for most Jackets fans, last night was a breath holder with the new back up netminder Garon between the pipes, hoping the goalie could impress Hitch enough to actually utilize more than just Steve Mason this year.

There was no question Garon could bear the weight. Stopping all 21 shots he faced, including a couple of very strong attempts from Crosby, Garon really built his credibility with at least this fan, and likely most others. While he was the bright spot in net, after removed for the third period in favour of a young Danny LaCosta, it showed that both Mason and Garon are going to have to remain healthy this year.

Pittsburgh brought a lot to the final frame, tying the game twice before winning early into overtime. While it was an unfortunate series of events and a true wakeup call for LaCosta and a couple young Jackets defenders, it was also the perfect opportunity to display the teams resilience. Losing a three goal lead is very hard on a team, and I will take a lot out of them coming back and scoring their fourth goal.

There were other positives to the game. The Jackets abysmal powerplay managed to score two goals on four opportunities. Mayorov had a pair, with Voracek netting the other goal. Young Filatov and Moore both had assists, looking strong on the ice, and Blunden, fighting for a roster spot, managed to impress with a solid game.

All in all, games like these are a lot more relevant in substance than in scoring. It will certainly be more clear how they have developed over the summer once their full roster dresses, but at this point, I am more than comfortable suggesting that last night was a strong success.

Carry the Flag!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Antoine Vermette Signed to 5 Year Extension

As the season draws closer, The Columbus Blue Jackets have made yet another move to solidify the teams top six players. Antoine Vermette was given a five year extension worth 18.75 million. This will pay the Jackets center around 3.75 million per season. He is due to make 3 million this coming season.

In my opinion, this was a move that was absolutely necessary. He will be a great penalty killer and a guaranteed second line center for every year of that contract. While not terribly physical, his tenacity with and without the puck, as well as his fantastic penalty killing abilities, this transfers into a truly logical deal. With Umberger set to make the same amount of money, it really makes sense to get the same average in the long run, and it will guarantee Vermette at a reasonable deal until he is 33.

It also takes another player off the 'to sign' books for the following year, relieving a lot of pressure off management, and giving some of the younger players a feeling that maybe they will be the next player to get signed.

Vermette, new to the Jackets last year, had 7 goals and 6 assists in 17 games to finish out the season. He also was a +5 and averaged just under 20 minutes per game.

Carry the Flag!

Monday, September 14, 2009

2009/2010 Columbus Defense

Columbus defensively may be the biggest question this year. With a decent showing last year, and young players like Methot and Russell showing their capacity to function at the NHL level, Columbus certainly has the cornerstone of what could be a very strong defensive core.

Obviously the biggest off-season effort was put into the Rick Nash signing, but I do believe finding a puck moving defensemen was second on their list all the way. While Rusty Klesla has shown signs of being a great player, his inability to stay healthy has cost the Blue Jackets much needed depth on the blueline. If they hope to acquire a quality defender, it is no doubt they will try and package Rusty with a forward (hopefully one of Chimera or Modin). Here are my preferred lines heading into the pre-season;

1 - Commodore – Hejda
2 - Russell – Tyutin
3 - Methot – Klesla

While I do think these combinations show a great deal of depth in their current state, I think it will be necessary for a couple of these guys to step it up and really force their play into the first pairing. I do not think any one of these players deserve the top spot more than another, although I do think their style of play may become a factor.

Commodore and Hejda became the ‘go-to’ pairing for Hitchcock last year. Both were able to prove their critics (including me) wrong and play a strong defensive game. They will have to up their game if they want to avoid losing their spot to one of the young guys still working on developing into their career style and ability.

Russell and Tyutin are a pairing we have seen before. Russell has a tremendous ability to carry the puck into the offensive zone, and draw pinching forward away from Tyutin. This will allow hopefully for a lot of open point shots from Fedor. While I think both can achieve top line status, I think the most opportunity lies with Russell and the level he can achieve this year.

Finally, we consider Methot and Klesla. Both seem to continuously have something to prove to the coaching staff. There will be no free rife for Methot, although with the release of Backman, it will give him the opportunity to truly own an NHL position. In Klesla’s case, everything rides on his summer development and how he can avoid injuries this year.

As I had previously mentioned, a lot of room for modification to the defensive lines may really force these six palyers to amp up their game. One thing I will personally anticipate is that these lines will look completely different after the first month of the season.

Carry the Flag!

Saturday, September 12, 2009

2009/2010 Columbus Offense

One of the Blue Jackets main concerns over the years has been not only their lack of secondary scoring, but basically their lack of anyone scoring outside of the mighty Rick Nash. Over the off-season, the Blue Jackets welcomed Sammy Pahlsson to the mix, said their goodbyes to guys like Malhotra and Williams, and re-signed one of their budding young centermen, Derick Brassard. Also, considered to be this years ‘new face brightspot’, Nikita Filatov, fresh off a summer of weight gaining and conditioning will look to penetrate the roster in a big way.

Here are my preferred lines;

1 – Rick Nash – Derick Brassard – Kristian Huselius
2 – Jakub Voracek – Antoine Vermette – Nikita Filatov
3 – RJ Umberger – Sammy Pahlsson – Raffi Torres
4 – Jared Boll – Derek Dorsett – Chimera/Modin

Let me start with line one. Nash and Huselius are somewhat of a staple on the first line, especially this early in the season. Adding Brassard, which is what the coaching staff was toying with before his injury seems like the logical decision to make. He is good for a point per game and sees the ice well. That really translates into the perfect compliment for guys like Nash and Juice.

Moving on to the second line, I think it is important to explain the third line in conjunction, as the style of play from the two lines will be substantially different. Generally speaking, successful playoff teams can play a grit line against the opposing teams top line to stymie their offensive opportunities and wear them down with physical play. Last year, Columbus’ best line in the playoffs was Dorsett – Umberger – Torres because of their relentless forecheck. While I do not think Dorsett is deserving of a third line role, I think Pahlsson is exactly the replacement the Jackets needed. They can use their tenacity and high paced forecheck against some of the better lines in the NHL, not allowing them the time and space needed to make big plays. Because the third line is designed for power, I believe the second line should be built on playmaking. Both Vermette and Voracek seem to really pursue the pass before the shot. Bringing in a guy like Filatov is a perfect way to compliment two play makers. He has the ability to find the seam and get into the right positions, which will open the opportunity for big passes and even bigger goals.

Now to the fourth line. A lot of Jackets fans probably do not agree with my snubbing of Modin and Chimera, but I assure you, it is well warranted. Chimera playing well last year was a direst result of his linemates in Brassard and Voracek. Rather than placing him on a scoring line, why not throw him on an energy fourth line with Dorsett and Boll, and really let them pour on speed and punishment? In regards to Modin, I really think he is as relevant to the Jackets roster as Malhotra was. There are entirely too many confident and ready young players to sacrifice a roster spot for an aging, injury prone winger.

Collectively speaking, the quality of these lines may be mildly sacrificed by what I believe their main goal is, but at the same time, it may be the perfect way to distribute the talent and really play a 60 minute game.

Carry the Flag!

Friday, September 11, 2009

Welcome to the 2009/2010 Season!

Welcome to what appears to be another great season of hockey! After a fantastic summer, Carry the Flag is back to the grind, getting ready to weigh in on all things relevant to the Blue Jackets.

As you all know, early October is home to the start of the NHL regular season, and Anna and Brian have already laid claim to many Jackets home game tickets, and will hopefully provide some in depth coverage on the overall atmosphere of the Arena from game to game. Anna has also taken it upon herself to train and become involved in this years “Tour de Pink” which involves a substantial bike ride, one that would be too grueling for most people. Anna has the full support of Carry the Flag and many other Blue Jackets fans. If you would like to help support her cause, please visit her blog, “YSC Puck Bunnies” and make a donation. She is forfeiting the Jackets home opener, so the least we can do is donate a bit of ‘green’ to support such a great cause. We are so proud of you Anna!

Brian is already in full “Go OSU” mode, but I believe that is only brewing the Jackets fan inside him. I am anticipating some serious hard hitting from Brian this year, especially regarding the newly built rivalries in the Central Division. He has also been pivotal in pushing Anna through her training, which is what I call MAJOR commitment!

Money, our resident ‘know more than you would think’ and future NHL general manager has found his path towards greatness by applying himself this year in Law School. While this could spell the possibility for only a couple contributions this year, I suspect they will be full of insightful sentiments, as he breaks down some of the more intricate parts of the game.

As for myself, short of being absolutely pumped for the release of NHL 10, I can not think of anything better right now than getting into another season of Columbus Blue Jackets hockey. With the off-season decisions, re-signings, and necessary goodbyes, I am terribly confident in the potential of this team. Obviously there are questions that will have to be answered, and gaps that only certain players are expected to fill, but never has a Jackets team been so packed with talent at this juncture of the season.

Can they do it? I think they can! Raise those flags Jackets fans! It is time to come together once again for another great season of Jackets hockey.