Tuesday, March 31, 2009

What is Left for the Jackets?

I felt that I should give myself a day after that weekend home and home sweep at the hands of St Louis.  I do not know if I can truly project my disappointment towards their ineptitude in regards to beating St Louis or at least retaining their comfortable position in the standings, so we will get started here and see where it goes.

First off, regarding the games...  The were disappointing.  They could not capitalize on a St Louis team skating on their heels in game one, and foolish mistakes by Huselius and Williams in the shootout likely cost them that point.  Moving on to Sunday, the effort was clearly not there from the opening draw.  With horrible mistakes defensively leading to countless turnovers, odd man rushes, and breakaways, Mason was hung out to dry and given no real chance to have a competitive game himself, which he did not.

But the point here is as flat and simple as it gets.  Win enough to get in the playoffs, or deal with a truly unsatisfied, angry, and upset fan base that will inevitably feel like they were violated.  Columbus is now expected to make the post-season.  They are no longer playoff underdogs.  Prior to the week, their statistical lead from 9th place was enough to have a multitude of media outlets suggest that it was a sealed deal.  Was that their mistake?  Of course not.  They were playing great hockey, winning games while staring adversity in the face, and proving their worth.

Hard to say the same thing about this weekend.

I am ready to expect a strong effort in their next six games.  I do not expect them to win them all, but if I am forced to witness another lackluster effort, this blog will be a lot more hostile towards them.  I have personally been called a homer, and a prude regarding the teams I favor heavily.  This year, I have been told that my negativity towards the team is frustrating and confusing.  I have been told to lighten up and enjoy what the team is doing.  Well, it is at this point I sit back and remind myself why I was upset they squandered those points.  It reminds me why I was so angry they lost 7-2 to Edmonton months ago.  It was me carrying the flag then, and it is me telling you to do the same now..

So Jackets fans... Carry the Flag!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Nation-wow Arena..

It is hard to collect all my thoughts on a game that ended so well for the Jackets.  While I think they could not have done any better on the scoresheet, I still think there are some serious issues with either the team of the league referees.

But let's start without the conspiracy.  After squandering a free game against the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Jackets came out like a powerhouse last night, scoring two goals in the first and never looking back.  They controlled many aspects of the game, most notably the faceoff circle.  The final faceoff total was 44 to 24 in favor of the Jackets, with Antoine Vermette winning 20 draws and only losing 6.  That kind of statistic is extremely valuable to a team, because gaining possession off the draw can lead to a lot of opportunity.

The second thing I want to point out is the powerplay.  They went 2 for 5, and scored a goal two seconds after a penalty expired, so I am comfortable suggesting that their powerplay scored or caused 3 of their 5 goals.  That is 60%.  That is 47% better than their current average over the span of this year.  It certainly gives the fans an idea of what a game looks like when their hometown team knows what to do with the puck.  I am ready to couple that with the efficiency of  the top line tonight as well, which is my final point.

Huselius had 4 assists.  For a guy who has been under my gun for the last month on account of turnovers and terrible passes, I think it is time to give him a game or two break from my bad books.  Having a hand in four of five goals is a very big deal, and I am ready to give him plenty of credit for last night's game.  The same can be said (and expected anymore) from our captain Rick Nash.  Also getting 4 asssists last night, Nash has now eclipsed his previous point record of 69.  Steve Mason continues to impress with his league leading 10th shutout of the year, and is building his case for rookie of the year.

I will only briefly touch on this supposed conspiracy.  For the last few games, I have kept an eye on the officiating, and it truly does seem as though Columbus has been getting the shorter end of the straw.  It started with the horrible call on Jared Boll for diving against the Blackhawks, and continued into last night with calls that seemed to favor Calgary each time.  While I do not believe it is fair, it is what the Jackets will have to continue to overcome if they want to make the playoffs and beyond.  They will need to understand that some teams are simply given more respect by the officiating crew.

Expect my standings update soon.   Columbus now stands 6 points ahead of 9th place, and the Jackets can not look back!

Carry the Flag!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

TB Game Recap

There was a lot to be impressed about with tonight's game in Tampa Bay.  There was also a lot that I need to discuss to negate all the good, so bear with me, because I am seriously displeased.

First, the good....

The Jackets badly outshot the Lightning, and dominated most of the game.  Their offensive presence was strong, and their passing seemed to be good when the correct players were on the ice.  It was evident that their attention to Hitch after two periods of play was high, as I am assuming he told them to take more shots, and they absolutely came out firing in the third period, getting almost 10 shots in the first 4 minutes.

Unfortunately, that is all the good I can muster.

Now, the bad....

First off, let's get right to the thick of it.  Coaching.  I have a few examples, so again bear with me, as Hitchcock is clearly a fan favorite in Columbus.  He is simply putting the wrong players on the ice at the wrong time.  Huselius had an absolutely horrific game, failing on pass after pass, and putting very little effort into his game, and yet he found himself out on both the powerplay, AND the overtime.  Same goes for Tyutin, who spent the entire overtime on the ice, which spanned around three minutes.  That is simply not strong coaching.

Secondly, I have a bone to pick with one of our 'best' players.  Huselius was considered a highly sought after scorer when we picked him up, and he has done nothing but let me down this year.  He is playing with easily one of the most dynamic players in the league, and yet somehow he has been lackluster and lazy on the ice.  His turnover ratio is getting more than absurd, and his attitude on the ice makes it seem like he is simply going through the motions.

Bottom line here, is that games are not one by individuals, they are won by an entire team working as a cohesive unit.  Bombing on the powerplay, and watching top players cough up the puck time and time again without any sort of repercussion can only work against the production of this unit.  I would like to see some accountability by line one after tonight.  I want to see Hitch call them out and call himself out by suggesting that no one really brought their appropriate game tonight.  Sure, they dominated for most of the game, but does that really benefit the result?  No, it absolutely does not.

Their next game is at home on Thursday against a big team.  I am ready to see a rejuvenated team, and I hope you are as well fans!

Carry the Flag.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Five (and I ain't talkin' sandwich prices)

Five home games left in the regular season.


That's how many opportunities you have to get into newly dubbed Mason-wide Arena and feel the rumble of the cement under your feet as the cannon fires.

That's how many chances you have to see Stinger drop from the ceiling before the boyz take to the ice.

That's how many times you have left to say you were there at one of the games during the greatest season yet in Columbus Blue Jackets history.

That's how many games there are on home ice where we the fans can provide some crucial leverage and encouragement, not to mention bear witness to greatness.

Oh, you can't get there? You can't afford the tickets? Or the game is sold out?

Well, can you get downtown? Because right next to the Arena is R Bar. The R has wide screen televisions, a penalty box, very large beer tubes of 100 oz of beer for $16, and plenty of Blue Jackets decor. Home or even away games you are surrounded by Jackets faithful and promised a great time.

On a recent Friday night, they (the great and powerful THEY....) tried to deny us the enjoyment of the game. It was away. In Chicago. And not carried on FSO. At all. As you might recall from my earlier post, I am quite certain that there is a vast, deep, and wide conspiracy to make getting to post-regular season games (I refuse to say the P-word) as difficult as possible. I still believe this is happening. Did anyone see that dive call on Boll Wednesday night? Exactly how does one dive with the opponent's stick between his legs after being pinned down in the corner?

But I digress.

So, Once we realized our limited viewing options for this incredibly important late season game, we skipped our way merrily downtown, ate a wonderful meal at Bar Louie's, and then headed to the R' for the viewing.

The place, as you can see, was packed. We cozied up to a rail along the window and stood for the game. We Twittered away, including sending a proof of life to Aaron Portzline that the place was standing room only. And the place was rockin'. And people were knockin'. And we told them to come on in. And the boyz pulled it out with a different goalie in place and our jaws on the floor.

So come down to Mason-wide and take a chance! Come to the R' and enjoy a Stinger bomb!

Five home games left, people.


Carry the Flag.

Carrying the Flag into this Weekend..

It looks as though Howson has made a ruling on center Derick Brassard, who had surgery in late 2008.  While the center is recovering famously, playing him before May is extremely unlikely, which would basically put him out until the second round of the playoffs.

Now personally, I am not much of an advocate of bringing anyone back unless they are more than healed, but in this case, I might be able to bite my tongue.  Because they are not pushing to get him back, maybe the May timetable is completely reasonable.  Regardless, Brassard is not being rushed, and that is a very good thing.

This weekend the Jackets play the Florida Panthers, who are fighting for a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference.  Both with similar styles, the game will certainly draw interest from the attending crowd.  A win would bring Columbus within two points of Chicago, who fell to the 5th spot last night for the first time in probably a couple months.

One other point of interest I would like to get out there is their away record.  While the Jackets have had tremendous success at home this year, their record away remains below .500 at 14-17-4.  I think winning 5 of their last 6 away games would be a serious statement for the team heading into the post season, and I do not think it is all that hard to do.

Their final away games are against Florida, Tampa Bay, St Louis(2), Nashville, and Chicago.  Interesting how 4 of those six are against division rivals, and winning them would definitely put the dagger in the heart of any divisional team trying to get past them in the standings.  Here is hoping they treat the next 11 games as though they are all playoffs games.

Carry the Flag!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Winning With a "B' Game

While the Jackets have been boasting a tremendous 7-3-0 record over their last ten games, it does not really provide a good explanation of how they got there.  The game against the Chicago Blackhawks last night is fairly indicative of their windy road.

It kind of read like this, and I am bulleting only because of the randomness...  
  • Quick weak goal on Mason..  
  • Line 1a gets a great tip to tie.. 
  • Crazy ricochet off the boards from a Methot point shot buried by Dorsett for the 2-1 lead..
  • Blown coverage leads to a nice goal by Kane..
  • Period ends.
  • Hedja falls asleep while Toews capitalizes for the 3-2 lead..
  • Nash scores on a lazy wrister that beats a lazier Huet...
  • Period ends.
  • Refs fail miserably calling Boll for getting tripped by a stick..
  • Refs fail miserably to the point of 15,000 people booing every time the powerplay (aka Chicago) touches the puck..
  • Klesla gets called for being physical..
  • Period ends.
Now, I can not really say I sat throughout the game quietly appreciating the lackluster effort by the officials, and I chose a few words that got a snicker from the small peanut gallery that happened to be in the vicinity.  What I saw tonight though, was resilience that was deeply rooted in an entire fan bases distaste for what they saw being done to their hometown team.

Moving past that, the Jackets were able to score ugly goals (which is a rarity) and they finished the game with a heads up 2 on 1 that was completed by Vermette, who some are calling the savior of the Jackets.  I like to call him my diamond in the rough.

Three very quick points... The Jackets outhit the Hawks 28-18.  They also outshot them, but only by one.  Finally, the 'power line' of Nash-Malhotra-Huselius were the only Jackets in the negative in terms of +/-.....  Makes you wonder why there is no discussion about splitting that pairing up and letting some of the younger guys get a crack at playing with Nash.

Oh, and did I mention the Jackets now have the same number of wins as the Hawks?  And also that they only sit 4 points back?  Hitting the 80 point mark ties a franchise record and there are still 11 games remaining on the schedule.

Carry the Flag!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Standings Update.. March 17th

It is that time again, after a dramatic week of hockey and a dominant performance from the Blue Jackets.  Time to see where they stand with only a small number of games remaining in the season on this fine St. Patrick's Day afternoon...

The Jackets remain in 6th place, with 3 points separating them from 7th place Nashville, and 3 points separating them from 5th place Vancouver.  Now, based on the week they had, optimism would have hoped for a better result, however, Nashville and Vancouver are both playing strong hockey, and will likely remain above the red bar by years end.  Both have 7-2-1 records in their last ten games, which is only slightly better than Columbus' 6-4-0.

But let's make it interesting.  Chicago was considered practically untouchable in the early stages of the season, remaining unquestionably in 4th only because of how well Detroit has played.  But now on a 3-6-1 slide, and a game against Columbus the coming weekend, the Jackets have a chance to really gain some ground to try and finish second in the division.  This could be huge for not only the teams optimism, but the fans as well.

Finally, the random tidbit.  St Louis has also been on a tear recently(7-3-0), and are currently making a strong bid for the post season as well.  Could this be the first time in Columbus' history not only they make the playoffs, but their entire division makes it?  It would certainly make for some interesting articles and discussion from the round tables, and one very rival filled post season in the West.

Carry the Flag (and wear green)!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Unfamiliar Territory..

There are a couple of things I would like to discuss today considering the Jackets past week.

First, I would like to put a bit of perspective on what they accomplished, to assure that fans do not take to heart the 4-0 beating yesterday.  They beat some of the best teams in the league in Boston and Detroit, and punished the Blackhawks and Penguins for not preparing themselves.  They took 8 of 10 points in a week that basically spelled potential disaster towards their playoff hopes, and it will most definitely go into the local record books as one of the best weeks in their history.

Now, to my second point of optimism..  The last time they played this dominant, it was rebounded with three or four very poor efforts, which leads me to believe they got over confident in their abilities and did not show up for games.  I would like to think that the embarrassing effort against the Red Wings yesterday will be enough to make sure they do not take their next opponent lightly.

Finally, the last wishy washy 'love my team' point.  They have already become the best Jackets team on paper, with their overall record.  Everything they do from here is rewriting their statistical best, and if they are the team I think they are, it will be rewritten a couple times within the next 2-3 years.  They are now playing for the fans, not for the expectations from management, because they have already gone above and beyond what most thought they would this year.

With only two games this week, against an always potent Chicago, and a playoff contending Florida, the points will again come at a price.  The Jackets will need to stay focused on a number (hopefully one in the 90s) and aim for it prior to the year ending.  Expect a standings update very soon!

Carry the Flag!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Rounding Out the Week..

Tonight, the Jackets finish one of their biggest statement weeks of the year against the Detroit Red Wings, who they beat 8-2 last weekend.  Confidence will not be of short order, as both teams are coming off wins.

That being said, the Jackets had better acknowledge what they did to Detroit last weekend rarely ever happens to them, and they will most likely take offense to the drubbing.  Hitchcock has stated that Mason will make the start tonight, and there are some mistakes to point out.

Aaron Rome is scratched in favour of Christian Backman, who is arguably one of the worst defenders to suit up for the Jackets.  Backman is the cause of many turnovers, and for whatever reason, Hitchcock likes to put him on the ice during pressure situations.  With a team like Detroit playing in town, there are four lines that will take advantage of a defensive breakdown when the opportunity is there.

Andrew Murray is replacing Derek Dorsett in the lineup.  Murray is a neutral player who rarely adds anything to the lineup, but usually takes nothing away.  When you think about depth, Murray is the last guy you think of, and by taking out a guy like Dorsett, who plays with an edge, you have to consider it digression.

There is also the potential for Jiri Novotny to replace Chris Gratton in the lineup.  Consider this the trifecta of things I would most certainly not do against a team like Detroit.  Hopefully these players are not a huge detriment on the ice, but it certainly does not provoke optimism in this fan.

Carry the Flag!

Friday, March 13, 2009

Jackets Avoid Upset..

For two periods of play tonight, the Blue Jackets continued their unstoppable play.  Consistent with their effort against both Detroit and Boston, Columbus came out of the gate with the desire to win, and gained a three goal advantage.

I must give credit to Marc-Andre Fleury, who made some of the best saves I have seen all year, specifically his glove save on a driving Umberger who claimed a rebound and tried to push it home.  Not only did the entire crowd expect the goal (including me, who sat on my couch not-so quietly screaming to go to the war room) to count, the players on the ice could not believe what they had just witnessed.

While three goal advantages are exciting, they do not allow for any error, and teams who obtain them can not sit back and give away any momentum.  Unfortunately, a goal was scored on the man advantage, giving Pittsburgh and their fans (I can not believe how many Pens fans acquired tickets) back into the game.  Two bad mistakes later - ahem Commodore and Novotny - found Columbus tied and going into overtime.

Before I go any further, I have to talk about Mason's answer to Fleury's incredible save.  A solid pass across the slot was one timed towards the goal late in the game, and again much to the surprise of the crowd, it was saved, this time by Mason.  It was one of those saves you never really expect your goalie to make, but seeing it getting saved makes you jump out of your chair.

Overime was rather relaxed, with few great chances, and the shootout was not all that special, although I would like to credit Huselius for scoring the goal I did not think he could, and kudos to Mason for saving all three shots he faced.  Hopefully what was said in the dressing room during the post game will remind the boys that giving up on a game with a big lead in the "new" NHL rarely bodes well for anyone.

Some quick notes...
  • Vermette scored his first goal as a Blue Jacket, and his 10th goal of the season.  He also got an assist on the Williams goal, which was one of the better plays of the game
  • The Jackets are 3-0 with Vermette in uniform
  • They have tied their franchise best in wins at 35, and expect to shatter that record before the season ends
  • Mark Methot suffered a blow to the head during the game, and a concussion has not been ruled out
  • The crowd was also a record at 19,167 aka 105.7% full

Carry the Flag!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Welcome Back Klesla

A familiar face returned to the Jackets lineup recently. Marred by injury this season, Rusty Klesla is finally off IR and making a difference on the ice. I personally was on the train that pegged Klesla as good deadline trade bait, but it is time for me to digress and appreciate his talent.

While the Columbus defensive corps are full of promise and potential, there is always room for a player like Klesla, who has the size advantage, and a lot of the time a hockey sense advantage over many of the other d-men on our depth chart. With Tollefson on IR with an injury, the need for physicality will be filled perfectly by either Mark Methot or Rusty Klesla, which leads me to wonder.. Who are the odd ones out?

I would be fairly comfortable in assuming Commodore and Hejda will be safe on the roster for the remainder of the season. Both are playing strong defensive games, and have been known to step it up against the opposition’s best lines. Tyutin and Russell are staples on the powerplay, and seem to have earned their spot on Hitchcock’s depth chart.

That leaves a recovering Klesla, injured Tollefson, Christian Backman, Aaron Rome, and Mark Methot in limbo. Based on any kind of consistency, Klesla will outplay every one of them, (unless something unexplainable happened to his abilities) and OKT will be recovering, which would leave the remaining four players competing for a single roster spot. Now, the fact that Hitch has had the common sense to sit Backman through multiple games gives me some confidence. I know his contract is robust for what he can (and clearly can not) do on the ice, which leads me to believe that when push comes to shove, the position will not go to him.

The concern I have is whether or not Hitchcock will be willing to sit Aaron Rome. He would have to clear waivers to return to Syracuse, and from what I have heard and read, the organization really likes what he can do, meaning that Methot will flat out have to be brilliant to obtain a position that in reality should be his.

What are your thoughts Jackets fans? Will Rome take the spot by default, or will Mehtot get a fair crack at the roster down the stretch?

Carry the Flag!

Giant Killers Indeed..

There is a lot to talk about.

First off, how about our rookie sensation, Steve Mason.  Turning aside some very serious offensive efforts last night for his league leading 9th shutout has his name being shoveled once again to the top of the Calder list, and he absolutely deserves it.

Secondly, how good is our new special teams?!  A powerplay goal, along with two straight games without a PK goal against, and even getting serious chances while on the penalty kill.  Could we ask any more from our newest member Antoine Vermette?

Not only was Vermette one of the hardest skaters on the ice last night, he won very important faceoffs, and played on what I believe (and based on playing time, apparently so did Hitch) to be the number 1a line last night.  Williams, Umberger, and Vermette were playing with ridiculous chemistry, and seemed to be all over the ice.

I have a lot more to say about the game, but not quite the time this morning to express it all, so I will leave it with these few quick points to get your blood going on this fine hump day.

Carry the Flag!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Giant Killers?

Tonight the Jackets match up against the Boston Bruins who are statistically the best team in the Eastern Conference.  Unlike their matchup against familiar division rival Detroit on Saturday, this game marks the first meeting of the two teams this season.  Looks like the team will have a meeting with Antoine Vermette to find out the Bruins tendencies.

I would say the keys to the game are quite logical:

1 - Hit the net, and hit it often..  They were badly outshot by Detroit, but took advantage of a weak netminder in Chris Osgood.  It is very unlikely that they will be that fortunate against any of the Bruins goaltenders.  While most of their goals were impressive, those opportunities will decrease heavily with the big bodied defense that the Bruins have.

2 - Take advantage of the Bruins skid...  Boston has lost four of their last five games, including a game against Phoenix.  The one consistent number remains shots on goal, and the Bruins have had that advantage even in their losses.  That means..

3 - Steve Mason, be A Mase Ing....  He looked confident against Detroit, and made some incredible saves.  Consider that a warm up for what Krejci, Kessel, Savard, and co. can bring.  Steve has been lackluster in the last month or so, fending off the after effects of mononucleosis and dealing with a few really poor defensive breakdowns, but tonight, first saves are key, and first saves without rebounds could be even more important.

The Bruins are not invincible, and their recent slide has proved that.  It is time for the Jackets to show the rest of the conference they mean business in 6th place, and will not stop until they have secured 4th place.

Carry the Flag!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Standings Update.. March 9th

Welcome to the final 16 games.  Current standings place Columbus in 6th place, only four points out of 5th place, and only two points ahead of 9th.

Does this concern anyone?  It should.  The Blue Jackets are 5-4-1 during their last ten games, the majority of those wins coming in the early stages of that ten game stretch.  A massive win against Detroit certainly rebuilt confidence in the team from the fans perspective, but as we have seen in past years, strong finishes are far from what we as fans are used to.

With the addition of Vermette, but the loss of players like Mike Peca and Freddy Modin, the Jackets will have to find new forms of chemistry with different players to really create the depth necessary to retain a spot in the playoffs.  With so many teams trying to acquire the 8th spot, it will take at least double digits in wins, which means an 11-5 or 12-4 run will be absolutely necessary.

What do you fans think?  Do we stand a chance against some of the other teams like Nashville who are streaking right now?  Will it take a change in the lineup, or are the lines we have formed sufficient?  Who will be the whipping boy down the stretch?  

My players to watch are RJ Umberger, Steve Mason, and Antoine Vermette.  RJ has been huge these past months in terms of energy and secondary scoring.  He scored his 22nd and 23rd goal of the season on Saturday, and I am ready to watch him score thirty goals this year.  Vermette's presence showed a high quality special teams on Saturday against one of the league's best, and if he can continue to bring that presence, his numbers will also be on the rise.  Something about Nash and Vermette on the penalty kill actually gets me excited!  Finally, the Mase.  He was huge against Detroit, and he will have to be huge again.... Probably 15-16 times.

Carry the Flag!

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Expect the Unexpected?

Last night was a first for me..  I regrettably admit that I was unable to watch the Blue Jackets absolutely punish the Red Wings with an 8-2 victory, but you can thank Time Warner Cincinnati for choosing collegiate basketball over a professional sport.  (think of the worst and meanest thing you could possibly say to someone, and I probably said it to Time Warner last night)

That being said, and putting my bitterness aside, I am excited to talk about what I saw in the highlights of an 8-2 drubbing.  I may as well break this up into points, because I believe I have enough ammo thanks to Anna feeding me in game information...

Rick Nash.   Oh captain, my captain.  A NASHtrick in only a way he can score it.  Three unassisted goals puts Nasher into the record books as the only player in history to achieve such a hattrick outside of the great Maurice Richard.  What a tremendous display from an explosive player who can force turnovers every game at pivotal moments.  The best thing I can think to say right now, is let's hope he carries that momentum into the next couple weeks.

Steve Mason.... HAD A GAME!  44 saves, including four or five unbelievable pad saves on NHL Network recap to stymy the Red Wings.  If this was not a wake up call for him, I do not know what it would take, but a .957 save percentage against one of the league's most potent offenses can only spell confidence for this rookie goaltender.  In the post game, he admitted he has not been living up to his own personal standards, and was quite pleased with his play.

RJ Umberger..  Scored two goals, including a sweeping deke to the inside of the hash marks and a quick shot that really impressed me.  His confidence in a Blue Jackets uniform seems to grow every game, and is by far the Jackets best secondary player.  While there may be some disappointment that RJ was unable to take on the number one center role, this position plays far better into his strengths, and should the Jackets make the playoffs, will play big dividends in getting them through their first playoff series.

Special Teams...  SUCCEEDED!  1 for 2 on the powerplay, and also kept the league's best powerplay at bay on six different occasions.  I will gladly hand that stat over to my boy Vermette, who is well known as a PK specialist, and can win draws against the best in the league.  

Here is hoping this was the wake up call they needed.  Carry the Flag!

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Vermette is Finally a Blue Jacket

The Blue Jackets finally got their guy.  After months of speculating, Antoine Vermette was traded to Columbus for Pascal Leclaire and a second round draft pick in the upcoming draft.

Vermette is a tremendously versatile player, spending most of his time in Ottawa playing the secondary role, and killing penalties.  His defensive abilities are clear when down a man, but has the finesse game and dangling skills of an elite scorer (when he is given the opportunity).  He has scored nine goals this year, which is actually a drop in production based on previous years, but many attribute that to the slump Ottawa is in right now, and expect Vermette to rebound well with a new team.

The likelihood of Antoine becoming a 35 goal scorer is slim, but sometimes players find new life once they have been removed from their first NHL team.  It was a well known fact that Jacques Martin punctured the young forwards confidence early in his career, but it seems like regardless of what is thrown at Vermette, he comes out of it smiling.

One other very important feature about Vermette is his faceoff ability.  In the game Howson attended against Vancouver, Antoine went 14-0 on the draw, winning key faceoffs during penalty kills.  This kind of skill will be tremendously valuable to the Jackets, who had been known to struggle in the draw earlier this season.

Expect Vermette to play the second line for the time being.  As we all know, Hitchcock rarely messes with chemistry, and arguably, the top line has it right now.  According to BlueJacketsXtra, Vermette is going to see time with Umberger and Modin on the second line.  Here's hoping that changes to Umberger and Voracek sooner than later.

Carry the Flag!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Deadline Day...

We all know the Jackets are not going to be sellers this year, and Howson has made it very clear that he will not lose roster players, or young players at the deadline..  Now, do not expect many teams to jump on the few options he has left on the table, but expect there to be plenty of talk regarding Leclaire and possibly Klesla.

Personally, I think Dan LaCosta can become our secondary goaltender, and a guy like Pazzy is far too talented to be the secondary goaltender on an NHL team.  Based on that, I think using Leclaire as trade bait either this week or during the off-season would be of great value to them.  They can easily cite his poor ankle as the cause of his dip in play, and suggest that his surgery repaired any error in said play.

Second on the block has to be Klesla.  His inconsistency in health this year is extremely exhausting for fans.  While he is a strong player when on the ice, he does not have chemistry on this roster, and could easily bring back a big name, most notably, Tim Connolly out of Buffalo.  That would make the Jackets a far more complete team considering how great Nash and Connolly could play together, and he is a position the Jackets have sorely sought after throughout the last couple years.

There are other options for the Jackets, most notably Vermette and Antropov, but I think the best option is Connolly.  If not Connolly, I really think the only other positive option is Vermette, who could give a much needed boost in the center position and their special teams.  Optimistically, Vermette or Connolly would only cost them one of either Leclaire or Klesla, which means they could still have off-season 'sellables'.

Considering the last couple games, it is rather clear that while chemistry is still fairly good within the team, but having this kind of shakeup, even if we need to sweeten the deal with a Novotny or Murray would be extremely beneficial for a playoff push.  We will see extremely soon whether Howson is seriously pursuing a trade, and when it happens, I will make sure you all know.

Carry the Flag!

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Standings Update..

I have been watching the standings over the last couple weeks on account of the 'red bar' that dangles below the Jackets, and while they are not doing themselves any favours, they are still bouncing around the 5/6 spot.

With only 20 games remaining in the season, the Jackets need to take advantage of their recent momentum swing from their win against Edmonton, and ride the wave as long as they can.  They need to loosen their grip and let the puck find the back of the net, and have confidence in their defensive abilities.

Here are my steps to assuring a playoff spot:

1 - Score goals..  No one needs to rely on Steve Mason any more than the Jackets defense.  Having the offense only scoring one or two goals a game simply will not cut it down the stretch.  While that may be a heavy task against goalies like Roberto Luongo tonight, the Jackets snipers have to have to be consistent and shooting from high quality scoring areas.

2 - Everything always seems to fall on Mason..  There are few times this year where the team has taken the game away from the competition.  On almost a nightly basis, Mason has stolen games and made it impossible for the opposition to take the momentum.  When he does not, the team loses almost every time.  If they want a good spot in the big show, he will have to finish out his rookie campaign with another few brilliant performances.

3 - Special teams, special teams, and special teams..  The Jackets powerplay has been abysmal all year long, and they know it.  12.5% is nothing short of embarrassing, especially for a team that wants to make their presence known in the playoffs.  They need to make a very strong turn around, even if it means making the right move at the deadline to bring in someone that can make a significant difference with the man advantage.  In my opinion, their best option with what they have is simply to not allow Backman or Modin any playoff time.

Tonight will be a prime example of whether they are going to play with desperation or not.  Vancouver will not want to see themselves tied with the Jackets after this game, so tonight will definitely be a 'who wants it more' style game.

Carry the Flag!