Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Game Recap: Minnesota @ Columbus

It is always easier to recap a loss than it is to recap a victory.  Singling out players for making mistakes is a much harder thing to do (and have people agree with you) when the team blows a two goal lead and loses than it has ever been when they hang on to win.  With that said, there was a whole lot of positive coming out of Nationwide Arena last night after Huselius buried his shootout chance, ending the game and taking home two points for the home team.

I was fortunate enough to attend the game, something I had yet to enjoy the luxury of this year.  The place was far more packed than I thought it would be after some of their recent performances, and the 14,500 noted attendance was a very fair assessment of the total number in the seats.  We sat on the attack once side, which is kind of great for me, as I was hoping to watch Mase up close, and that I did..

The Positives:
- Derick Brassard: scored on a solid pass from Huselius, causing the building to erupt.  It was a great shot, and the kind of goal that good teams score.  No fluke, just a strong play on the puck, and a quick shot to beat Theodore.  I was very happy with Brassard's play last night.
- Steve Mason: kept the Jackets in the game with fantastic saves, especially down the stretch.  All three goals were caused by defensemen not tying up their man, and unfortunately Mase could not make the secondary saves needed to preserve any sort of shutout.  He also made an excellent save on Koivu in the shootout.
- Fedor Tyutin:  While I don't know that I would give him too much credit for his defensive play, he has been the first defender to get a point shot to the net in as long as I can remember.  While I wish he'd work on a quick release shot, his cannon from the point kept the Jackets momentum going and was a big contributor in the win.

The Negatives:
- The Columbus defense (but only to an extent!!):  They played solid hockey for probably 50 minutes of the game, but really and truly need to work on covering a man and tying up sticks in the slot.  It seemed like Minnesota was intentionally taking the puck behind the Jackets net to make a pass out into the middle.
- Mike Commodore:  Took a pretty bad penalty to force his team down a man for five minutes, and made a couple foolish plays throughout the game.  Not his worst game, but that penalty can't happen.
- Rick Nash:  For being as explosive as he is, Nash was pretty tame last night.  Only a few big moves on the puck, all of which ended up flubbing shots or missing passes.  I really wish someone would sit down with him and give him a roadmap of when to shoot and when to make the pass.  He'd do well to look for seams, but when you've got the shot he's got, and you're cutting through the high slot with speed, you need to be ripping a shot low and hard for a rebound (at worst)....
- Kristian Huselius:  I don't really have enough words for the disdain I feel for this guy.  Refuses to make smart plays on the rush, basically gave the puck away on a breakaway (which lead to a MIN goal) and made a BRUTAL and unnecessary play causing a turnover which lead to another MIN goal.  It is so hard for me to watch a player with that much talent not work hard on the ice or off the ice.
- The Referees: This was a pathetic game to watch in regards to officiating.  I don't think the CBJ had a single powerplay, and there was one play specifically that stuck in my head.  Methot was carrying the puck behind his own net, and a MIN player shoved his stick under Methot's skates, spilling him (obviously) with a ref looking blankly at the play.  No call.  Wow NHL, get your zebras sorted out!!!

Overall I was very excited about the win.  Mase came up big when the team needed him to, although you could visibly tell that third goal rattled him.  He spent the next couple minutes fighting off some easier shots, but at the end of the day, that kind of resilience is something that will grow in time, and is something that we have not seen from him in recent games after he gets shelled a bit.

Carry the Flag!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Recapping: Vancouver Canucks @ Columbus Blue Jackets

Tonight was an interesting night for hockey..  With Christmas on the horizon, it seemed that a Christmas miracle was both expected and wished for during the pre-game.  I was surprisingly optimistic, although personally, I have been riding the opinion that the defense is more to blame for the goals being scored than the goaltenders.

Up until this evening, the Jackets defense had been playing substantially better with Garon in front of them.  They did not allow too many uncontested shots from the slot, and generally they don't stand around in front of the net with their backs turned to oncoming opposition.  That was all thrown into the trash this evening, as the defense left Garon with a hook in his mouth, and his pants down on easily four of the six goals he allowed.

Per the the previous assessment, I'll go ahead and break down the goals scored, and see who exactly was to blame for them;

Goal 1: Garon makes initial save, and puck is played behind the net.  All six Jackets on the ice stare at the puck, and stop moving.  Puck is played to the front and banged home uncontested.
Goal 2: All five Blue Jackets players are below the hash marks.  Solid play made to the point man, who walks in and takes an uncontested shot.  Garon probably wanted this one back
Goal 3: Bad attempt to clear leads to a broken point shot, which is tipped by a player who freely stands alone in the slot.  Hard to blame goalies for tips.
Goal 4: Center plays too low, allowing room for the pass across.  Hejda covers no one, allowing for the pass back across to the winger for the easy bang in.
Goal 5: Weak effort by Tyutin to get the puck deep.  Nash falls coming back, Garon overcommits to the shot.  Easy one-timer.
Goal 6: This goal is in my opinion one of the worst goals in the game for a defense to give up.  The pass goes into the slot from behind the net, and the only person to come near it is an opposing player.  This is the epitome of a defensive breakdown.

These are the kinds of goals that have been scored on Mason all year.  It was only a matter of time before Garon got the same treatment.  It was almost comical to watch Mase come in, and get great protection for the remainder of the game, short of a decent tip (that he didn't seem all too interested in making a play on).  I never intended to be biased towards Mason, and while it may have come across that way, I think this post is a fairly good indicator that my main goal here is to tear apart the defense.

I went ahead and put together a screen shot of exactly how bad the Jackets are when the puck is behind their net.  Good players have their heads on a swivel, watching both the puck, and the other players coming in around them.  A question to leave you with.... How many of these guys appear to have their heads on swivels, and how many are simply admiring the puck?

In my opinion, this is why our goalies struggle with confidence.  They can't look one way and prepare to receive shots from the other way.  It is the job of the defender to know who is breaking in on net, and cover them up so the passes don't reach an opposing stick.  Too many teams are taking advantage of all the players watching behind the net, and slowly edging closer to the crease.

I will still Carry the Flag... These boys need some help, but I maintain it's on them to resolve it, not necessarily Howson.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Reviewing the Goals Scored by Edmonton

After last night's loss it has become rather clear to me that many have given up on Steve Mason, the Jackets number one goaltender. It seems that the kid is really in a funk, and no doubt, looking at the scoresheet will tell a rather bleek tale. But is that the case? I paid close attention to the game last night and watched the cause of each goal. Here is what I believe to be a reasonable breakdown of each one.

Goal 1: tiny Omark walks around TWO Jackets defenders to get his own rebound uncontested and made a solid play to kick the puck forward and bury.
Goal 2: tiny Eberle walks around Klesla, who doesn't body up. Mase is bad positionally and gets beat far post.
Goal 3: Penner stands uncontested in the slot, scores from a pass from behind the net. Mason is in the right position, but gets beat.
Goal 4: Eberle skates out in front of Mason uncontested, tips the point shot to opposite post.
Goal 5: Mason challenges shooter, but puck is deflected wide to Paajarvi, who is not covered by a defender, and he scores into empty net
Goal 6: Awful turnover by Huselius, Mason is somewhat caught off guard, let's one squeak through the five hole

It would seem that a common occurrence is being left out of the equation here. I am under the impression that a quality defense takes a general area on the ice and bodies up the opposition so they are unable to attack the net uncontested. I believe that goalies are expected to make the first save every time from outside the hash marks, and that the defense should play an integral role in not allowing any big rebounds.

It would seem that while Mason is struggling to support the first criteria, his defense is truly letting him down on the secondary criteria. The goal scored by Omark should have never happened. One of the two defenders should have bodied him up and not let him walk by. On the second goal, Eberle probably gave up 40lbs or more to Klesla, yet walked around him with relative ease. Certainly the goal scored by Paajarvi could have been avoided by someone bodying him up and avoiding the free pass to an open shot, but that it was rather flukey that the puck deflected off of a leg and landed up 91's feet.

I am not going to sit here and say that Mason is playing like an all-star goalie. What I am saying, is that his defense is not giving him the support he so badly needs to perform with confidence. Every time Khabibulin gave out a rebound, a triangle of Oilers players surrounded the slot, guaranteeing the inability for a Blue Jacket player to walk in for the free goal. In fact, the only times they didn't, the Jackets (aka Huselius) picked up the garbage and scored.

I'd love to hear everyone's take on this. I've seen a LOT of twittering about Mase, and very little said about the defensive breakdowns.

Game Recap: Columbus @ Edmonton

As most of you may very well be aware, Columbus lost a real stinker to the Oilers last night, 6-3.  It wrapped up a three game Western swing with 2 of the possible 6 points, and drove the losing streak to three games.  It also may be the turning point of the Mason v. Garon battle for number one, although the discussion with Arniel post game tells an interesting tale.

First, on Mason;  The kid got lit up last night.  There is no way to beat around that bush.  From the moment the game began it seemed like he was climbing a hill without any solid ground.  A tough break on the Omark goal (albeit a nice move by the young forward), over committing on the Eberle goal, and helpless on the Penner goal, the first period couldn't go by faster.  Lackluster play in the second period sealed the deal, and Garon came in to replace him in the third.  Now, here is essentially Arniel's take from the post game.  The kid is in his own head, and he needs to dig his way out of it.  He is a young goaltender, and they will do what they can to get him out of it.

I support that statement, but I also want to point some fingers at the defense.  12 turnovers were committed in this game, including at least two in the second period that lead directly to goals.  Omark burned two defenders to get to Mason on the first goal, Eberle walked around Klesla on the second goal, and Penner was uncontested on the third goal, a pass from behind the net into the slot.  If the Jackets want Mason to play better, it is also going to be on the defense to play better positional hockey.  Blown assignments and soft defense allowed the Oilers to attack Mason, and his shaky demeanor opened the door for a beating.

Second, on the forwards.  They played alright.  Credit Huselius' linemates for his three goals, although his positioning was very strong, and something Arniel should share with the rest of the team.  In fact, if the entire team took a page out of Juice's book from last night, we'd be scoring 5-6 shovel home goals a night.  They certainly had their chances, and fired a great number of shots on Khabibulin, who played fairly well.  With that said, in the post game Brassard acknowledged that the team missed on some great opportunities that could have changed the outcome of the game.

Lots to be resolved in the Jackets locker room.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Let's Get Rolling Again...

I've been caught up trying to create/generate awesomely professional and over the top ideas for the blog, but I think I am going to take a less conservative approach for the remainder of the year to try and get some more activity for those who actually take the time to stop in and read.

The Jackets are now sitting on a somewhat awkward 15-10-1 record.  While they had a pretty solid stretch of games where winning was a logical outcome, they have ebbed away from that feeling and now generate a more desperate feeling of disaster every time they step on the ice.  I am fully confident in saying they are a complete team when they play to their potential, and can easily blow out half of the league on a nightly basis.  My biggest concern right now, is why they don't come out and play with a sense of urgency.

If not for the fact that Howson has been incredibly patient with the team, allowing them to grow into their roles and build chemistry with their teammates, for the fact that they have been one of the league's biggest underachievers for almost half of a decade now.  I can say, I'll never not be a Jackets fan.  I've vested 10 years in the franchise and am in no hurry to jump ship, but I will say my need to drive from Cincinnati to Columbus to go to a game has substantially diminished.

I had all but purchased tickets to the Pittsburgh game, doing just about anything I could to get in the door.  Myself and a couple friends were prepared to stand in the cold for multiple hours to get Huntington tickets, but ended up backing out at the last minute because it just felt like I was not meant to go to the game.  Sure enough, I sat at home, pizza and beer in hand, watching my team flat foot a 7-2 loss to Pittsburgh.  If that wasn't a good reason to not spend the 100 bucks to attend a game live, I don't know what is...

More on team effort soon.  Carry the Flag.