Monday, November 30, 2009

The Weekly Burning Questions...

It took twenty five games this season to visualize the words I have been trying to produce regarding the Jackets play. Twenty five games, a dwindling +.500 record, and a whole little at which to look positively. There are a seasons worth of things to blame such as injuries, laziness, and bad coaching. Focusing on one thing or the next, while being sufficient for a given time period, rarely does the trick.

I will start with the coaching. While this is something that I have focused on in past entries, I feel it necessary to reiterate my distaste for the way this team is being coached currently. To begin, the right players are rarely the players that are given the most opportunity. Coach Hitchcock seems to overuse his veteran first mentality up until the boiling point, and will only in a dying effort bring in some youth to try and stoke the fire. Losing Filatov was inevitable based on his attitude toward youngsters, and that is not to say that Filatov does not have a lot of developing to do, but it does say that the wrong people were put in place to develop Niki as a player. Futhermore, putting Russell on the shelf after he single handedly held in the concept of puck moving defenseman late last year seems to be a horrible waste of talent, regardless of whether Stralman is a better all around player.

Yes, I am pushing hard, but so be it. Most of these players will earn more this year than I will see in my lifetime, and while I respect that, so should they. There is no desire for victory, no push for perfection, and certainly no accountability from the coaching staff that maybe their tactics are short of what this club needs.

Let us move on to laziness. There is no question that the better part of each game (especially each loss) is spent with our Jackets firing at maybe 70% of their actual capacity. It was obvious in the Calgary game, when they scored three goals in the final seven minutes of the second period, only to fall back asleep in the third. It has been obvious game after game that these players are finding little reason to force the issue and work extremely hard game in and game out. While this may seem like a trivial pursuit of the flawless victory, I do not believe it is out of the question to expect a high caliber of effort from each of these players.

In the previous couple games, horrible giveaways and brutal blown assignments have cost the Jackets costly goals and unnecessary losses. If the defense held strong, and the offense maintained their positioning in the defensive zone, there is little doubt in my mind that one of Garon or Mason could easily provide the goaltending needed to win a game or twenty.

Finally, we can chat about injury. I have heard and read more complaints about poor conditioning due to injury from some of the players in the Jackets organization than I can personally stand. Take a minute to consider a guy like Raffi Torres, who loses half of his mouth from a puck, and manages to return to form only a few games afterwards. Then, we look at a guy like Mike Commodore, who has complained over and over again about conditioning being a factor. Here is the simply truth. If a player is not in good enough condition to play, then do not play them! There are a multitude of bubble defensemen that would love to step in and play. We are not in a situation where there is a dying need for injured and unconditioned defensemen need to be playing in each game. Forget what the players can and can not do, it is time to start hearing that accountability is the number one factor in every game and practice. It is time to hear that the best players available are playing in each game, and are playing to their fullest capacity.

I am done hearing excuses. This is an extremely talented group of players who are heavily underachieving, despite a winning record they do not fully deserve. It is time to start playing for the fans. We deserve it.

Carry the Flag!

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Recap: CGY at CBJ 11/28

Coming into tonight's game, most would expect a few things. A smaller than average crowd, a restless crowd with a bitter taste in their mouth, and finally, a Jackets team with the sheer desire for a victory.

To their credit, they did not come out of the gate as the worst team, but it can not really be said that they came out hungry. Lackluster play early and a general sense of disinterest seemed to pull the fans away from the game at times, allowing Calgary to settle in without having to battle the away crowd. The second period started much like the first, and Huselius took a penalty for tripping not five minutes into the frame. Calgary took advantage, and suddenly, the home crowd sensed desperation.

Here is where it gets interesting. In discussing the game with a fellow CTF writer, who attended the game, there was clear angst and disappointment in her conversation. I am sure she could speak for all Jackets fans at that moment by suggesting that our boys simply were not in the game. As we began discussing their obvious falters, they rebounded, and managed yet another familiar burst of genuine effort. Three goals within the last seven minutes of the second period gave the Jackets a two goal lead going into the third, and the crowd AND team were 100% firing.

In pointing out their previous failures, I mentioned a joke that maybe I should walk away while they were ahead. Maybe, just maybe, if I took the high road, they could pull out a continued effort and eventual victory. I did not, and neither did they. Two brutal turnovers lead to goals, and two very stupid decisions by Hitchcock in the shootout lead to another loss.

I could sit here and pour salt on the wound, but I am going to continue on my path of late and take the high road. For the Jackets to compete in this league, they need not only a sixty minute effort, but they need a coach who can put the right players on the ice when the game is on the line. Bringing out two defensemen to take the final two shots in the shootout cost the Jackets, especially considering some of the guys who not only deserved to be called first, but who can clearly make better decisions when 1 on 0. Hopefully, they can shake it off by Monday, when they face off against St Louis.

Carry the Flag!

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Game Preview: CBJ vs. OTT

Tonight the Blue Jackets will complete their five game road trip against the Ottawa Senators, who have been playing strong hockey of late. While this could spell trouble for the Jackets, who have allowed 12 goals in their last two games, it may open the door for a high scoring affair, with Pascal Leclaire falling to a facial injury thanks to an errant puck.

While it is a shame Leclaire can not backstop the Senators against his old team, it will make for an interesting night for Antoine Vermette and Mike Commodore, who have both spent time in the Nation's Capital. Vermette spent many years as a third line center in Ottawa, forced under the shadow of Spezza and Fisher, who maintained the top two centering positions. While this gave Antoine the opportunity to garner more minutes on the penalty kill, it gave little to his confidence and development.

Columbus has won the last three meetings between these two teams, including a 1-0 shutout victory last year at Nationwide. While the Senators home record is quite strong (9-3-3), they will be without the help of their leading goal scorer, Mike Fisher. Alexei Kovalev is expected to be re-inserted into the lineup.

For Columbus, it will be an opportunity to rebound from two very poor performances against New York and Montreal. It will be expected to see Mason in net, and the team will have to come together as a group if they want to shut down some of the bigger names on the Ottawa roster. One thing is for sure, we can expect an emphasis on possession and heavy forechecking AND backchecking by Coach Hitchcock. His blood was boiled after countless turnovers and defensive mistakes cost Columbus the lead in a tight game on Tuesday. Brian Elliott is expected to make the start for Ottawa.

Game time is 7.30pm EST. Drop us a line and let us know where your favorite place is to watch.

Carry the Flag!

Weighing in on the Hitchcockian Style..

Considering I have been one of Hitchcock's biggest critics throughout his recent tenure with the Blue Jackets, I feel it necessary to weigh in on the growing conversation regarding his validity as coach. Whether this transfers well to the overall opinion is something I will hope to gain through comments, but I feel that most of what I will say is reflective of the current season.

When Hitch first arrived in Columbus, he had a quiet dream team of players that fall into his comfort category. Mid-range in caliber, and heavy set grinders who will put an emphasis on the body to make up for a lack of skill. Current Jacket players that reflect their abilities would be players like Andrew Murray, Derek Dorsett, and Raffi Torres. But with the change in head coach, so too brought on a change in management, and management style, with the likes of Scott Howson now pulling the reigns and deciding on the draft and trade future of the club.

Enter Derick Brassard, Kris Russell, Jake Voracek, and Nikita Filatov. Four players who in their youth were quite small in stature, their play was far more reflective of their skill and speed with the puck rather than their capacity to be physical. Enter Huselius, who I am still unsure of whether I have seen take the body, let alone throw a bodycheck on anyone, and raise that a Vermette, who (with his playmaking and penalty killing abilities) is a step above the highly physical Umberger. All players with unique abilities that do not really function under a Hitchcockian system.

It is not that I personally do not see Hitchcock as a strong coach. His record is his pillar, with over 500 wins and over 1000 games coached, he is one of the most storied coaches in the NHL still coaching. That being said, his coaching system has been present for some of the more rough edged teams, like the Stars team or the Philly team he coached very successfully in the late 90s. In the new NHL, the margin for error in a system of his nature is both difficulty small, and displaced among a league's worth of high scoring, high momentum coaching styles that have fed on their style of play this year.

I believe the Jackets are headed in a differnet direction from the Hitchcock style. Their draft class does not correctly match up with his coaching style, and some of the current forwards are struggling to match up with his requested style and their designated linemates. Losing Filatov to Russia on account of low playing time will forever be an issue for me, thanks in large part to the brutal linemates he was given, with skillsets that do not come even close to comparing to what Filatov was comfortable playing with. While he made his share of rookie mistakes, he was never really given a chance to gel with another scorer the way Voracek and Brassard were able to do last year, in their first seasons.

Carry the Flag!

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

What it is to be a fan of Columbus...

With each passing year, the Columbus Blue Jackets continnue to surprise fans. Early in franchise history, the surprise was how much a team can struggle out of the gate. That transitioned into a surprise of how difficult it is to win on the road, and more recently, they have surprised in their trading and signing efforts.

But last year, the surprise was good. After a forgettable stretch of years that saw very little in the form of a playoff caliber team, a few choice rookies, and a couple new comers transformed the attitude of the franchise into a team that can win. No longer did fans attend games in hopes of a win. Fans now entered Nationwide Arena expecting a strong performance, and inevitably, a two point night for the home squad. With each game a different face emerged, whether it was the stellar play of Steve Mason, the stymy defense of the Commodore/Hedja pairing, the tick-tack-wheredidtheseguyscomefrom?!??! of young Voracek and Brassard, or the "who is this guy and why did we not go after him earlier" comments about Vermette.

This year, I am claiming a mild case of fallout. Frankly, I loved winning. My entire life is based around the concept of winning, whether I am open to it or not. While I do not think this ideology is conceptually flawed, it certainly leaves some reasonable explanation as to why the Jackets play so far this year could put me in such a disparate mood. The fact is, I love competition. I drive myself to be competitive in everything I do, regardless of how much work I put into it. As it reflects on this situation, I expect the Jackets to play each game as hard as they can, with as few foolish mistakes as humanly possible.

The Jackets are one of the league's worst in terms of goals against. In fact, only bottom feeders share the same luck, and yet the team manages a 12-8-3 record. Yes, this largely contributes to a couple 6,7, and 9 goal games that were not in the Jackets favor, but those numbers defend my sheer disdain for their efforts. The simple fact is, consistency, in the form of competitiveness, is all I ask. Winning a hard fought game does no team good when they follow it up with a lazy, 9-1 defeat. In fact, I weighed my options for attending the game against Detroit, and opted out at the last second. I can all but assure you, this commentary would be far more pessimistic if I had been there, paying money to watch that.

At the end of the day, I think it is time to re-insert myself into the regular lineup, but frankly, the team owes me, and all my fellow Jackets fans, a much better all around effort if they want to see their seats filled to capacity.

Carry the Flag!