Friday, December 30, 2011

Game Recap - Columbus vs. Dallas 12/29

I learned a few things last night while enjoying the Blue Jackets victory over the Dallas Stars.  First, Team Canada slaughtering Denmark is LESS appealing than this years Columbus Blue Jackets team (I was expecting there to be a channel changing fest throughout the game).  Second, I learned that you flat out never can tell what Blue Jackets team to expect on the ice.  The team I watched last night was a playoff team with an injured top tier defenseman.  And third, I learned that twitter bans on people who post too much in celebration of victories make me laugh uncontrollably (looking at you, Alison)!!!

I know it was a win, but like all recaps I do have to cover the entirety of the game, including the first period where Columbus was outshot 19-9.  Full credit to Steve Mason for keeping them in the game, despite having his stick whacked right before trying to cover the puck which lead to the Stars only goal.  That period was rough, and certain stretches of the remaining two periods found the Blue Jackets hemmed in their own zone looking like they were trying to kill a penalty.  It was nice to see them not scrambling, and not taking chances which lead to brilliant scoring opportunities for Dallas, but in the future I hope they get a bit more aggressive on the puck carriers rather than sitting back and waiting for the opposition to make a mistake.

The bright spot on the offense in my books was Johansen.  FSN declined to give him a star of the game, which I think is ridiculous.  He single handedly created the first goal (Nash finished, but he had 90% of the net to shoot at) and had a key screen late in the game which lead to their third goal.  He also created additional chances, flew around the ice, and appeared to make both Carter and Nash play better in the process.  This was a breakout game for the Johan, and he looked very comfortable in that role.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Losing Streaks, Great Attendance, and Confusion

Last week I touched base on the playoff possibilities that still remained for the 2011/2012 season and shared some of the records that would give Columbus a shot of making the playoffs.  I determined based on the current point trends of the bubble teams that the Jackets would need about  96 points to make the playoffs, and that a record of 36-11-2 would get it done.

Since writing that piece, Columbus has gone 0-2-1, two games of which they absolutely should have won.  It's nothing new.  My optimism in that post was limited, and their new 'bubble' record of 36-9-1 gives an even more clear indication of how impossible the playoffs will be for them this year.

Their current slide is six games long.  0-5-1.  They have not won in regulation in over a month now, and have done a tremendous job of coughing up leads at various times of the game.  They gave away a three goal lead against Nashville last week, and all but stopped being offensive last night against Calgary, giving them the open door to tie it (Yes, that was captain Jerome Iginla hanging out in front of Mason with the puck, completely undefended) and head to a shootout that lead to even more disappointment.  They also only managed one goal on twenty-eight shots, making Kiprusoff appear to be one of the greatest goalies in the league (he's not).

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Holidays from CTF

It's been a long and trying year as a Blue Jackets fan.  From another disappointing finish to big time signings and trades... From the Arena deal to the current 9-21-4 record that plagues the fan base.. From un-fireable coaches to fresh blood in Patrick..

I always find the Christmas season is a great time to reflect on the year and appreciate some of the little things.  For me, looking at Carry the Flag, I am humbled and honoured each and every day I click on the blog stats and see the number of readers that take the time to read the posts the Coach and I publish.  Comments are like finding money in an old jacket.. Never expected, and ALWAYS appreciated!  I write for therapy when 140 characters is not enough, and I hope that some of the content I share provokes some interesting debates on where this team is headed in the future, and how they intend to get there.

So please, have a safe and Merry Christmas, and try not to get into too much trouble this New Years Eve!  We hope your holidays are filled with excitement, joy, and mounds of Blue Jackets swag!!

Carry the Flag!


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Understanding the Blue Jackets Early and Late Game Struggles

During Sunday's game against the Blues, Alex Steen scored just 58 seconds into the 3rd period to tie the game at three. This is a familiar sight for Blue Jackets fans. The Blue Jackets seem to constantly get scored on during the first couple minutes of a period. Also a familiar sight last weekend: with 1:48 remaining the 1st period of Saturday's game against Tampa Bay, Eric Brewer scored to give the Lightning a 2-0 lead. Inspired by these two goals, I decided to take a deeper look at what the Blue Jackets are doing differently at the beginning and end of every period.

Playoff Possibilities in 2011/2012

While I tune into every single Blue Jackets game with the hope of seeing a win, it would be dishonest if I claimed that I celebrate goals now the same way I did a year or two ago.  Maybe it's the jaded expectation of seeing a lead evaporate or the anticipation of a third period collapse, but the passion into my living room shaking "GOOOAAAL" celebrations have most certainly taken a backseat to the season we as fans have been forced to accept as 'regular' this year.

It got me wondering though.  If the Jackets came back from Christmas and snapped into some of the best hockey they've played in their existence, would there be any possibility of the playoffs?  It's a reach, and that's fine, but I've heard people comment about selling a team short, and if I am going to watch these games, I may as well do so with some ridiculously blind optimism.

So I went back to see what the bottom end teams got into the playoffs with over the last couple seasons in the Western Conference.  Here are some previous year standings and some number crunching:

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Howson's Patience - Unsettling, or Valuable?

A lot has been said since the comments arrived through the social media pipeline yesterday regarding Howson's continued support of Blue Jackets head coach Scott Arniel.  In his mind, the players are not playing to their potential and the issues surrounding the teams success fall squarely on them to start playing better.  A very interesting commentary to say the least, considering it was his guidance that put this group together and it has been one of his major criticisms that he sits on these types of things for way too long.

I have long been a Scott Howson supporter during decision making that really tested the patience of the Blue Jackets fan base. The trades that brought Vermette, Letestu, and Carter to the team.  His decision to experiment with young goaltenders in hopes of keeping Mason competitive rather than flushing him through the minor system while he ages and matures.  Certain re-signings that seemed to give the team more of a core feeling, and later noted non-trades that would have made him look decent to the fans, but caused the team to step back a bit in quality progression.  With that said, he has been slipping in my books, with a few of the following being the front end of my concerns.

First, the re-signings.  I look squarely on the Umberger and Tyutin re-signings as brash, as he had a full season in which to allow them to provide a quality look at their progression as players and give him further ammunition on what type of dollar amount to offer them.  Admittedly they could both be having career years, forcing their potential free agent value higher and costing the team more, but the simple fact is, they are not.  I can also understand those who would suggest I only have an issue with the signings because they are struggling, but again that is not the case, as I have been vocal on my dissatisfaction regarding both deals, in which I feel like the team paid a premium for (at least to the point where they did not re-sign for a 'discount').

Monday, December 19, 2011

Game Recap :: Columbus vs St Louis 12/18

The worst part about vocalizing recaps on a blog, for me anyways, is the number of times I have to delete full paragraphs.  I've taken gaps of time off commenting on account of the suck laid out before us, and will openly admit that this is the fourth time I have tried to lead into this game recap, mostly because of what I have been unleashing is just a giant heap of dissatisfaction with the team, the management, and the embarrassment I feel after watching such a talented team get turned into chumps for 15 minutes of hockey.

Let me get started with some optimistic pieces and then move into the suck.  First, the line combos, which Arniel did not seem to have the capacity to stick with, actually looked pretty strong at times.  Brassard - Umberger - Nash seemed to look pretty decent early on with Brassard showing every game that he belongs on the ice, and in the top six.  Letestu - Carter - Prospal also appeared capable of success, with Carter laying back in the scoring areas waiting for solid feeds from his two wingers, which I think is a great way to utilize his shot when possession is gained in the offensive zone.

For two periods they played decent hockey, at least in the offensive zone.  Defensively, they remain incapable of not allowing extremely high end scoring chances to the opposition.  Of the five goals St Louis scored with a goalie in net, only the goal by Pietrangelo is a goal I would place solely on Mason, who extended and had the puck sneak through his arm and body on the blocker side.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Game Recap :: Columbus vs Vancouver 12/13

I've got lots to say about this game, some good, some bad, and I apologize if I bounce around.  Optimism was laughably low with the ever mighty Canucks in town and Mason finally getting the call after close to a month of rest following a Rick Nash shot to the dome.  Sadly I had a number of priorities that caused me to not be able to attend, but I watched the first 58 minutes before leaving for a hockey game of my own.

Imagine my disappointment when I got to the rink only to find out that I missed an extremely impressive shootout, with all three skaters scoring for Columbus, and only one managing to beat Mason, who returned from injury after getting sticked in the back of the knee midway through the third period.  That said, disappointment turned quickly to satisfaction as the team finally found the back of the net and helped Mason put on a relatively impressive display of goaltending.

Now, some statistics I'd like to share.

- After controlling large amounts of the first period and leading in shots 10-5, Columbus returned to the ice for the second period and watched as Vancouver skated around them, peppering Mason from all angles and quickly changing the shot totals to 12-11 in favour of the Canucks.  While Columbus managed to return to form and brought the shots back to a reasonable total, finishing the second period with 11 shots to the Canucks 14 (for the period anyways), they were never able to take back the shot edge.  The final shots were 32-30 in favour of Vancouver.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

It's Time for Scoring in Columbus

For a team that can't seem to dig themselves out of the league basement in goal scoring, the Blue Jackets seem awfully concerned about sturdy, grit players.  Dane Byers is on emergency recall from Springfield on account of the Dorsett injury, and you better believe he won't be coming up to score highlight reel goals.  Behind Byers in Springfield sit Matt Calvert, Tomas Kubalik, and Cam Atkinson, three players who have the ability to score goals but are young and in need of 'quality development' prior to being relied on in a call up situation.

At the start of the year I thought they had this luxury.  Long has Columbus been tagged as a team who rushed talent, none more visible than Steve Mason, who is about five years below the league average goaltender age, yet sits on a three million dollar contract and up until Curtis Sanford decided to be a quality goaltender, had the franchise resting on his shoulders for a good two years.  In fact I can't help but wonder if the team is not just avoiding, but fretting another scenario like Brule, or Picard, or Boll, or Filatov, etc etc where they bring in a young player and force him into a role that is beyond his means.

With that said, I am really not sure the franchise can tolerate the patience needed to take development to the level of teams such as the Red Wings, who bury players in the minor leagues well into their mid twenties before calling them up to the big club.  In fact, this boost in 'stiffness' thanks to call ups of Giroux, Bass, and now Byers are probably directly accounting for some of the league worst scoring totals the team now rests on.  If you have not been to some of the sites lately, here's a grim look at what they are dealing with..

Monday, December 12, 2011

CBJ Roster Review - 12/12

In this (hopefully) weekly review, I am going to provide the entire roster and make some comments regarding their efforts, either overall for the year, or in the past week.  If roster rankings work out in the near future, I may include them as well, in a sort of depth chart quality meter.  Bear in mind there will more than likely be some honesty, some overreacting, and plenty of 'snark' (as a few of my twitter buddies would call it).  So let's begin:

Boll :: I wish I had some good things to say about Boller, but he's been beat up pretty good in his last couple of fights and hasn't shown much on the ice. Starting to wonder how really valuable a heavy-ish weight fighter is in this league anymore.

Brassard :: Despite all the off ice conversation, Brassard has made a point of returning to the lineup and being relevant.  An assist, +2, and 10 shots on goal in his three games back. He's also been functioning well in the top 6 and on the powerplay.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

RJ Umberger :: From Future to Funk

My, how things change...  Reflecting on an off-season full of optimism and excitement, I found myself considering the many things gone wrong in Columbus this year, and Umberger certainly tops the list.  After coming to the Blue Jackets from Philadelphia, he quickly became a fan favourite for his tenacious on ice effort and quality interaction both in the media and in local events.  But what has become of him?  Admittedly my efforts on this piece came before his performance last night against Montreal, which frankly was very strong, forcing me to modify abysmal stat totals below to slightly less unimpressive totals.  If he were to go on a tear and play the next twenty games the way he did against the Canadiens, I will be writing a follow up piece on his rise in quality.

With that said, his productivity on ice has been mediocre.  Bouncing around between the top two lines, he is tied for 8th on the team with just nine points (four goals, five assists) in 27 games.  He has scored two points on the powerplay, and is an impressively bad 4.0% shooting.  He is also tie for 6th worst on the team in plus/minus at -7.  He is on pace for 27 points, leaving him with his lowest point total in his ENTIRE National Hockey League Career.  Lower than his sophomore year with Philadelphia in 06/07 which he netted 28 points in 81 games.

Look first at his contract extension signed this summer.  Arguably deserving of a raise from his current 3.75 million dollar cap hit (he will earn 4.5 million this year), Columbus locked him in for five years at an average cap hit of 4.6 million.  Realistically it would have been appropriate to provide him with a salary of around 4.5 million or so for the next couple years as he is in his prime at the age of 29, averaging in the mid 50 point range year after year.  With that said, I longed for a contract that extended into his late thirties, yet tailed off in yearly salary to allow him to retire a Blue Jacket while providing a lower cap hit for the team.

Game Recap :: Columbus vs Montreal 12/6

For a while there, they had me.  Another strong first period that did not get them ahead in the game, followed up with a decent second period, and then a third period designed more to hold a lead than to build on one.  Sanford once again making almost all the saves that needed to be made, and once again they leave the building with the other goaltender well into the .900s in save percentage.

I suppose the most troubling stat of the evening came at the hands of Columbus' top line.  It's always nice to have a stat sheet to refer to in order to see what kind of execution they had, and I am provided with the following:

Jeff Carter :: 0 goals - 5 shots on goal - 4 missed shots
Rick Nash :: 0 goals - 7 shots on goal - 3 missed shots
Kristian Huselius :: 0 goals - 1 shot on goal - 3 missed shots

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Blue Jackets Win in Realignment

I have a couple thoughts on the realignment that I want to put there. Basically, the Jackets won. It is not a complete and total victory, as there was no way the perfect ideal situation for the Blue Jackets was a possibility. Based on the direction the league was going, this is the best case scenario for the team. Considering it took the Board of Governors an hour to finalize this set up, a four conference league was in the bag. Based on the possible team groupings for a four conference set up, this is definitely the best situation.

Realignment Reactions

Last night the NHL's Board of Governors approved a four conference format that better suits NHL teams trying to play in similar time slots with shorter travel.  It is also geared to allow a home and home against every single NHL team.  For Columbus, this brings the return of a number of familiar faces from the Central division, along with the addition of the Minnesota Wild, Dallas Stars, and the Winnipeg Jets.  This is one option that seemed to be better than the standard "Winnipeg for Detroit" swap which would create little positive change for Columbus.

Lots of reactions early on from fans seemed surprisingly pessimistic.  I suppose I don't blame them, although I suspect the only real change that would have suited some fans would have been the collective conference of bottom feeding NHL teams in order to better the Jackets playoff hopes.  Certainly they have a tough road ahead, but no more tough than some teams have it.

My first thought was the new playoff structure.  In this format, four of the eight teams in this "B" conference (soon to be named, and predicted to be the "Central" conference) make the playoffs.  While this seems desperately negative to some who see teams like Detroit, Chicago and Nashville as nearly impossible obstacles, I see it as a great opportunity for the Blue Jackets to make their own fate.  In the current structure, they need to beat seven other teams in the west in order to make the playoffs, sometimes even eight teams if another division is weak enough.  I recognize that the impossible realignment placing Columbus in the east with less gritty teams like Toronto and Ottawa would have been a best possible example, they can still grow as a team and find solutions to the gritty western style of play.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Making a Case for Brassard

On a team full of underachievers, there always seem to be a few who take the spotlight.  Admittedly my harsh criticisms for the Blue Jackets captain have been at the forefront of many of my posts on here in recent weeks, however that may be on account of the greatest name not achieving the greatest results.  In Brassard's case, expectations could not have been lower for him since his breakthrough sophomore season that fell short due to injury.

What I do find most interesting, is the complete and utter inability to utilize him in a consistent role by coach Scott Arniel.  Claims of 'fair chances' are common, but his rag tag line combinations of fourth line grit players, and third line grinders don't exactly fit the suitable linemates needed for a creative player like Brassard to thrive.  Until now, his time with similarly skilled players seems to be limited to secondary powerplay units and random in game line juggling by Arniel.

When I look back to his most successful time with Columbus, I immediately think of his chemistry with former Blue Jackets Jakub Voracek who climbed the depth chart with Brassard a couple seasons ago.  What was interesting about the pair, is that while they were immensely successful together, they struggled to bring Nash into their offensive output.  This continued into the following season, and is what I believe to be the eventual demise of Voracek as a Blue Jacket and Brassard as a 'capable top tier forward'.  Were it a situation where Brassard and Voracek could thrive on the second line of a deeper team, I believe the results would have been substantially different.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Game Recap :: Columbus vs. Edmonton 12/2

It is starting to become scripted.  Strong first period or two, followed by a tremendous collapse.  Last night in Edmonton, the Blue Jackets were throttled late in the game by a young, fast Edmonton team who took advantage of soggy competition in the third period.  Five goals on fifteen shots, thanks to a third period hattrick from Ryan Jones.  Not unlike the Calgary game, I watched it from start to finish, yet had a terrible feeling throughout that something was going to fall apart.  Unfortunately, I was right.

Here is the first of many issues I have.. In table form..

Team 1st 2nd 3rd
CBJ 21 10 8
EDM 7 12 15

Another reasonably solid first period from the guys in union blue, who showed once again that they can pepper the opposing net with shots.  Unfortunately, per usual, only one goal was scored on those 21 shots, leaving Dubnyk to have the appearance of an elite goaltender boasting a .952 save percentage heading into the first intermission.  At some point, and rest assured I'll be looking into it, the players will have to start taking the 'harder' shots that force goalies to make saves, rather than slamming pucks into pads or logos.  It's being done to them, why not return the favour?

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Good and Bad of November

After a long stretch of loss induced negativity, I have been taking a backseat on my criticisms of the Jackets in hopes of seeing the rejuvenation of talent with all players healthy and in the lineup (give or take Huselius, Martinek, and Dex).  Unfortunately, my patience only extends so far, and it is time to weigh in on some things that have been pleasing me and driving me crazy over the last couple of weeks.

First, the Good:

Marc Methot and Nikita Nikitin.  Two players who were probably not the first options for many fans entering the season, but have both emerged as relevant defenders for the Blue Jackets playing high minutes each game.  My love for Methot is fairly well known, and I finally feel as though his success and my reasonably high praise for his capacity as a defender is being fulfilled.  He was tremendous during his World Championship stint with Canada, and I believe we have been getting a glimpse of his full potential over the last handful of games.

In Nikitin's case, he was a great solution to the defensive minded gap missing from the blueline, and yet has also factored into the scoring, most notably his three point game against Calgary last night.  While I do think he may lack a step here and there, he has more than solidified the hole left by Martinek, and has played the big minutes between the top two defensive pairings.  Secondary to that, he has managed to make up for a number of textbook mistakes by Fedor Tyutin.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Columbus Players Look to Goalie for Confidence

This will not be an admission of being wrong.  In fact, I long discussed this fact last year while Mason and Garon shared time in net for the Jackets, but it is getting impressively accurate at this point.  The team flat out plays better when Mason is not in net.  I have read a lot of discussion regarding Mason's time being done in Columbus, and I feel like I have been looking at it entirely the wrong way.  Where I looked at it as an inability for him to simply take over games the way he did in his Calder year, I really needed to start considering the simple mentality of the team in front of him.

I think this team can function with a mid level goaltender behind them.  When they are structurally sound in the defensive end, and the back checkers do their jobs by not allowing trailers to take free shots from the high slot, it seems that the system (when played correctly) allows for even a goalie like Sanford to come in and be competitive.  I've seen this before, with some of the goalies that have passed through the Philadelphia system over the last couple of years.  While they are in need of making quality saves, rarely is the focus solely on them to win games, at least until the playoffs arrive.

If that is the case in Columbus, where a thirty plus goalie who has never really been that significant in his NHL career can come in and create the type of effort in his teammates that Curtis Sanford has, I can't help but wonder whether it's worth making any significant change to the back end right now.  With Dekanich hurt, and Mason recovering from a concussion, the Jackets have the time to wait it out and see if Sanford can continue producing sound goaltending through solid positional hockey, while the players in front of him continue to step up.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Game Recap :: Columbus vs. Boston 11/17

At some point in the last couple weeks, my expectations for the Blue Jackets on ice quality changed.  Admittedly I am still in the opinion that when playing to their potential, they can compete with any team in the National Hockey League, but that effort is so rarely seen, it's hardly even worth discussing at this point of the season.

They took the ice last night, but they didn't really show up.  More perimeter hockey for long stretches of the game left me bored and frustrated, and once again the secondary line of Letestu, Johansen, and Prospal appeared to be the most effective line for the Jackets.  I was pretty surprised when they didn't come out with lots of passion, as they have brought their dads on the trip to watch the suck.  I can remember playing in front of my dad as a youth and I will readily say I fought with every ounce of effort to get into his good graces.  It would seem those days are gone for most of the Jackets players.

A hot topic for most of the night was the success that goaltender Curtis Sanford had between the pipes, which is true.  With that said, I think there was a lot of overreaction regarding what his spot in the depth chart should be.  Certainly he played well enough to win THAT game, but he faced a truly listless Boston team that really didn't force him to make more than a handful of tough saves, including a couple shots in overtime that more hit him than forced him to make an actual save on the play.  If you want to gage the true quality of the Boston play, look no further than Joe Haggerty breaking down the weak effort by the Bruins on Bruins Talk.  With that in mind, I have to look at this next laughable quote from Portzline who apparently wasn't watching the same game as Haggerty or me:

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

My Issues with Rick Nash: Minnesota Version

Earlier today, the excellent Matt Wagner posted a great piece on Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash over at the Cannon. He makes some excellent points about what may be weighing on Nash, but in my opinion there are many problems with Nash's play lately that could be fixed easily. Both @Canadan82 and myself have been critical of Nash, so I thought I would break down Nash's game from last night and try and show the aspects of his play that have been so frustrating. Before I get started let me say that I am still a huge fan of Rick Nash, as he has a package of size and talent that is matched by only a handful of players. I've watched Nash for over a decade now (starting during his time in the OHL with London) and have long thought that he would eventually break out into a true superstar and put up the numbers to go with it. However, his play as of late suggests a regression. This has nothing to do with an erosion of his skill, or his quiet leadership style, or Nash trying to do too much. Armed with the game film and Nash's time on ice, let's look for some examples from last nights game.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Game Recap :: Columbus vs Chicago 11/10

Once again, my love for a listless team had me convinced that making the drive up highway 71 to Columbus was a good idea.  I had to believe that after a half of a week off following a 9-2 throttling at the hands of Philadelphia, the team would come out hungry.  The pre game was great, with delicious Chipotle devoured and enjoyable conversation with some fellow Blue Jackets fans, but painfully, and not surprisingly, my night peaked there.

Arniel's "new system" looked like a penalty kill.  Drawn off the forecheck, the Jackets watched as the Blackhawks poured on the offense and with it, two goals against. Where Columbus was not effective, Chicago was.  In fact, the most notable decision made in the first period was Nash breaking into the offensive zone with the puck.  Drawn well to the outside and below the faceoff dot, Nash took a high shot that was swallowed by Crawford, instead of taking a low shot to the far post trying to generate a rebound.  Shortly following, Duncan Keith traveled almost exactly the same way into the Jacket zone, but instead of taking a bad shot, he took a low shot to the far post, causing a kick save.  Poor coverage by Vermette gave Toews an opportunity all alone, and he would not make a mistake.

In net, Mason was decent, but not incredible.  He made some exceptional saves, yet gave up a pretty weak goal to Toews from a brutal angle (although to Toews credit, unlike Nash, he took a solid shot from the corner).  Let's review the goals against:

Goal 1 :: Passing through Columbus, Keith finds the puck on his stick breaking down the right side.  He takes a shot from almost the goal line low and left, creating a rebound which is buried by Toews left alone in front.

Goal 2 :: Leddy walks through a number of Blue Jackets players and deals to Toews, who is defended (arguably) and takes a solid shot that beats Mason either far post or through the five hole.

Goal 3 :: Kruger is fed the puck to the right of the net low, and curls for a shot which Mason saves.  Four Blue Jackets converge on the net, including Moore who overcommits and makes contact with Mason, leaving two Chicago players alone with the puck. Rebound is buried.

Goal 4 :: Montador left completely alone in the slot generates a pass from Keith in the corner. He one times the puck while Tyutin pokes towards him, and the shot beats Mason.  Wisniewski was the secondary defenseman on the play, and I believe he was covering the boards between Keith and the Chicago player behind the net.

Goal 5 :: Propsal flings a pass to no one, and leads Chicago on a breakout.  Tyutin had pinched on the original play, leaving only Wisniewski to over commit on Carcillo giving Kane a breakaway after the easy pass.  Pat Kane, on a breakaway...  hmm..

Goal 6 :: A point shot by Chicago is saved by Mason, along with a follow up shot with the scramble in front.  Unfortunately, Mason is not able to make a third save and Chicago scores.  Not really sure where the defenders sticks were on this one.

I will agree with most who argue that Mason is not playing the role of a top tier goaltender right now.  That is about as far as I am willing to go though.  Of the six goals, we see four goals on account of players uncontested in front of the net, all on rebounds.  A fifth goal generated by awful defense causing a breakaway, and finally a goal that I can rest solely on the shoulders of Mason.  It is not ideal, and I look forward to seeing Dekanich deal with these massive defensive lapses, but at what point does this defensive mediocrity begin to really get questioned by the team?

Another notably bad thing I took from the game is how often Columbus gained possession of the puck, only to flip it to center ice or into the Chicago zone with no real likelihood of retaining possession.  It seemed very interesting that they allowed Chicago to walk through them, yet could not manage to do the same against them. If that isn't a cry for help regarding the Jackets breakout, I really don't know what is.  It was ugly, and watching it got very old, very quickly.

A startling statistic is that of James Wisniewski, who many believed to be solution the Blue Jackets so badly needed on defense, has been one of the worst players on this team looking solely at the scoresheet.  In his last three games, he has not been able to produce a point and is a team worst -11.  In his defense, he has been forced to make a high number of stretch passes to lead the rush which have not surprisingly lead to turnovers and goals against, but he has also been on the wrong end of mediocre defensive decisions.

The problems of this team are far too great to even bother trying to wrap up into one recap.  The only thing that is clear to me now is that my interest in this team is likely going to be limited to viewing on screen, not live, until they either (A) find a new coach -or- (B) make a serious trade.  Russell for Nikitin is a logical move in that they swap out redundant 6/7 speed and replace it with 6/7 grit, but it is not even close to resolving the issues that plague the team.  Letestu was a trade I was pleased with, but again, it will not come close to being enough to being the change this team needs so badly.

The country club mentality in Columbus needs to stop now.

Carry the Flag.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

A Week in the Madness :: 2-11-1 Edition

I have been notably silent over the last week as the dust settled from the 9-2 loss the team suffered against Philadelphia last Saturday.  With the level of speculation, overreaction, and sense of abandonment at an all time high, I felt it necessary to limit my thoughts to 140 characters and try to find solutions without falling back on knee jerk reactions.  Needless to say, this post comes at the back end of many deleted, semi rant-ish posts that really served no purpose.

It is true, we still have the same personnel in place that we have had since the start of the season.  While it may seem somewhat ridiculous (and many analysts have made note of it) that no sweeping changes to coaching, management, or the roster have been made, it provides an almost unreasonable consistency in what is shaping up to be a pretty painful year.  It is also true that the only major roster change between Saturday and today has been the acquisition of Mark Letestu from Pittsburgh, a player who seems destined to start his career with the Blue Jackets on the bottom six after a rocky start to his sophomore campaign.

Letestu is a talented player who simply could not play his way into the ridiculously deep Pittsburgh lineup. This should not be received as a negative towards him, but a credit to the depth of the Penguins team.  He will provide a spark on the bottom line that I believe Arniel has been hunting for, while at the same time actually having enough and potential to make plays happen.  He also boasts a strong faceoff win percentage, but is versatile enough to play on the wing if need be.  I consider this a solid move considering he is only on the books for around 600-650k for this season and next, but I suspect Howson is a long ways from being able to throw his feet up on the desk.

For the better part of a week I have watched and read as Mason received the brunt of the blame (on average) for the porous start and have read as folks demand his removal for a handful of different scenarios, including veteran netminders like Nabokov, Backstrom, Turco, and even a shoutout to Thomas.  The more cost effective option would be to anticipate the healthy return of unproven (but primed) Dekanich, who has every indication of being a solid NHL performer, but has yet to play an entire game at the NHL level.

For the record, I wholly support Dekanich in a large role for the Jackets.  This summer, I was hoping to see a goaltender like Vokoun or Harding get picked up by the Jackets.  This would provide Mason with a secondary, competitive goaltender who can be a part of a 1A/1B goaltending unit.  Splitting time for the most part and riding the hot hand through the season is always a great way of keeping the goalies competitive, and Mason and his lack of confidence/maturity could have room to grow without feeling the entire weight on the franchise on his shoulders.  The Dekanich signing surprised me, but his numbers looked very strong in the minors, and he (unlike Mason) had been given the time needed in the Nashville system to develop into a complete goaltender.

It has been unfortunate that "dexshow" has been out of commission for over a month to start the season, but I think there is real potential here for both goalies.  I think moving Mason at this point would be awfully brash considering how mediocre the rest of the team has been, and having only 3.5 million tied up in goaltending is a big benefit to the team.  Dekanich will be an RFA this coming summer, which gives him a fair chance of showing his abilities in order to obtain a solid contract, and it gives Mason the room to find his game under pressure without the walls caving in.

The breakout, the defense, and special teams have been significantly bad since the last time I discussed them.  Rather than beating a truly dead horse for too long, I will simply look to tonight as an indication of the quality that can be expected in the coming weeks.  That said, here are the few changes I would make moving forward;

The breakout would seemingly be the easiest of the three to fix, with forwards reducing their distance from the defenseman trying to make a pass.  Creativity by way of moving east and west in the neutral zone rather than pushing north south would be a great start to give the breakout pass a higher success rate.

Defensively I see no real reason why the Jackets can't play the way they did in front of York both in Chicago and against Toronto.  Collapsing towards the net and clogging up the slot rather than chasing will force the opposition to either take low percentage shots from the outside or force passes through closed lanes, allowing for a Columbus transition up the ice.

It's hard to deny the possession game of Columbus has been stronger than what we are used to seeing, but the shots by the offense have to become substantially more competitive.  Two out of the maybe five or so real scoring opportunities against Philadelphia resulted in goals.  Of the almost forty shots against Toronto, Scrivens may have been forced to make less than a handful of impressive saves.  They are going to need to find the outside of the net better, ideally scoring a few off the bar.

Special teams... Well... Repetition is poison.. They have to be better.

I will be back to review the game against Chicago tomorrow morning.  In the meantime, feel free to comment on what changes you would want to make if the Jackets were to stay pat with their roster.  Play coach for a day and let me know what your glaring changes would be!

Carry the Flag!

Friday, November 4, 2011

A False Narrative: Why a New Goaltender Won't Fix Everything

Steve Mason was bad against Toronto. There is no getting around that fact. This has led to the many Blue Jackets fans crying out for a new starting goaltender, be it Cory Schneider, Jonathan Bernier or even Allen York. This is seen by some as the logical starting place for the moves that need to be made. I understand how they came to this conclusion. Mason is bad, therefore the team doesn't trust him, therefore they play differently, therefore Mason is holding the team back. That string of conclusions is entirely logical. However, it does not track with how the Blue Jackets have played.

Game Recap: Columbus vs Toronto 11/3

This should be interesting.. I'm going to go ahead and scratch the typical intro. Let's get right into it:


The hot topic of fans last night I am sure.  Mason had an underwhelming night from the start, giving up four goals before being yanked early in the second period.  Per usual, let's run through the goals:

1 - Joey Crabb receives a pass by Lupul and is all alone in the slot. Mason cuts across and tries to cut the angle and gets beat glove side just under the cross bar. Fault Defense, and here's why:

Wisniewski makes a stretch pass from the goal line that Nash tips at the blue line.  It lands on a Toronto stick and the play is made to Lupul who gains the offensive zone as seen in the following picture. Four Blue Jackets players converge on him including Nash and MacKenzie. Nash takes the puck carrier while MacKenzie takes the middle of the ice near the blueline.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Breaking Down the Penalty Kill

The Blue Jackets currently rank 30th in the NHL on the penalty kill, with a paltry 71.4% being killed without a goal. While that rate wouldn't be the worst all time (that dishonor belongs to the 1979-90 Kings at 67.7%), it would put the current Blue Jackets squad among the ten worst penalty killing teams since the NHL began keeping track of the stat in 1963. Despite the current run of eight straight killed penalties over the last two games, the Blue Jackets could make some small adjustments that would help improve the unit. To figure out these adjustments, lets go to the tape!

Monday, October 31, 2011

CBJ Roster Review 10/31

In this (hopefully) weekly review, I am going to provide the entire roster and make some comments regarding their efforts, either overall for the year, or in the past week.  If roster rankings work out in the near future, I may include them as well, in a sort of depth chart quality meter.  Bear in mind there will more than likely be some honesty, some overreacting, and plenty of 'snark' (as a few of my twitter buddies would call it).  So let's begin:

Bass :: Well done for him to take Getzlaf out of the game for 5+ minutes last night.. Too bad all he really did was hug the guy for a minute or so..

Boll :: In the bandaid club. Still not convinced that him being healthy makes a difference as to whether he rides out the year in the press box (for the most part) thanks to the depth of this club.

Brassard :: Brassard continues to make his presence relevant in the Jackets top six and when Carter gets healthy, could make Arniel really fumble over who should man the top two center spots.

Recap :: Columbus vs. Anaheim 10/30

It's such an awkward thing as a fan trying to sound even remotely logical through times like this.  Saturday around 10 PM I was a number of adult beverages into a pretty mediocre effort against Chicago dissecting the team, potential firings, potential signings, potential trades... Anything that could have built some semblance of success into a year gone wrong.

Yet just like that, the fans are treated to an all around effort this evening, leading to the second win of the season.  Admittedly I avoided the drive, citing sobriety and time as two things I was not willing to waste on another loss, and I am happy to report that I not only ate my words, but felt legitimately guilty about not making the trip.  It revitalized me as a fan, and hopefully was a turning point for a number of reasons.

To the game, the first player I would like to acknowledge is Steve Mason.  Absolutely phenomenal saves lead him to his second win of the year, and only gave up a goal to Bobby Ryan alone breaking in, getting absolutely sniped on the far post.  He made a number of stellar saves, none more tremendous than a double pad/kick save on Corey Perry.  I have read over and over again that Mason is not worthy of a starting position and that he owes the team a stolen game here and there.  Well, for those crooning over such an effort, they got it tonight.  Admittedly the Jackets managed three goals (Chilllaaaaaaay!) but it was Mason's stellar saves that kept the lead in tact.

Friday, October 28, 2011

What the Blue Jackets Should Do With Their Forwards

After last nights loss to the Buffalo Sabres, the Blue Jackets forwards are clearly in need of some reshuffling. Coach Scott Arniel mixed up his lines throughout the game, essentially benching rookies Ryan Johansen and Maksim Mayorov, as well veteran Derek Mackenzie for part of the 2nd period and nearly the entire 3rd. This meant rolling three lines, one of which was Cody Bass - Sami Pahlsson - Derek Dorsett. Pahlsson and Dorsett have a role with the Blue Jackets, but it's not to play significant minutes while trailing late in games. Furthermore, it pushed career AHLer Alexandre Giroux into significant top six minutes. For the Jackets to run off any kind of winning streak, AHL caliber players like Giroux and Bass (not to mention defenseman Aaron Johnson) cannot be playing significant minutes late in games against good teams like Buffalo. Something needs to change. Fortunately, Arniel has a number of linemate decisions to make over the next few days, weeks and months. Ryan Johansen will hit his 9th game very soon, Jeff Carter should return sometime in the near future, Jared Boll will be healthy sometime after that, and Kristian Huselius will be back sometime around New Years. How should Arniel and GM Scott Howson handle these decisions? Lets look at them one at a time.

Recap :: Columbus vs. Buffalo 10/27

I have given this recap over 12 hours to simmer prior to speaking my mind, but I am afraid there won't be enough time for me to 'settle down' regarding the Blue Jackets game I was subjected to last night.  While Arniel and Portzline seemed content to praise the 43 shots on backup goaltender Jhonas Enroth, I think they are missing (or ignoring) the more compelling stat.  TWO goals, on 43 shots.  Were it not for what I deemed as a terrible coaching effort, that would be the main focus of this recap, but it would seem I am going to be pulled in a number of directions.

First, to get it out of the way, 43 shots.  Here is the "Scoring Chances" breakdown by The Cannon.  Forty three shots on a backup goaltender should spell 4-5 goals, but it wasn't even close to that.  Very little pressure in front of the net and when there was, it was more of a 'stand and watch while being tied up' approach rather than getting physical and jockeying for position.  On the opposite end of the ice, three goals on account of cross crease passing and a rebound finish had Mason on his back.  Very interesting that a team could get so badly outshot, yet out chance their opponents?  Suddenly 43 shots takes a backseat to what really happened.

With that said, does the difference between the two teams become obvious? One team covers their man and can win with a backup goalie facing just under 50 shots (with more than likely 70% or more from the perimeter and another 25% without traffic), and on the other end a goalie is forced to make desperation saves or bust.  I know the criticism well now: Mason needs to make great saves to 'steal a game' but try to be honest with yourself here..  On the first goal, Mason slides across to make a save on the one timer and the shot is basically flubbed, causing an over commit and a goal.  On another, he throws his pad low and has the entire lower half covered, leaving only Rick Nash's "diving effort" on his blown coverage assignment to have the puck deflect OFF of him and into the net.  Tack on a toe save that leads to a healthy rebound (believe it or not most toe saves become rebounds) with no coverage on the follow up, and another goal by Pominville standing entirely alone in front of Mase which lead to an easy cross crease one timer.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Keys to the Game: Columbus at Buffalo 10/27

Before each Blue Jackets game I'll identify what strategic elements the Blue Jackets should focus on based on their opponent, the likely match-ups, injuries, goaltenders and recent play. This will be broken down into both offensive and defensive keys, with the occasional look at the keys for the Jackets netminder.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wisniewski Makes an Immediate Impact

When I read that suspended defensemen James Wisniewski was sitting in the press box during the first few games of the season chomping at the bit, I wondered what really could be the outcome of his return.  I wasn't about to overlook his character which is usually invaluable in a locker room, but I couldn't help but be intrigued by the thought of one player making the difference between an 0-7-1 team, and victory.

Sure enough, he came through.  Playing more than 27 minutes last night, and being the anchor of just about every single rush the Jackets made while he was on the ice, not to mention quarterbacking what appeared to be a legitimate powerplay, he had more of an impact than I could have ever expected.  With that said, however, it does give a tremendous indication of how desperately the Jackets needed a top tier defensemen on their roster, and how much of an impact one came make on both ends of the ice.

To start, lets consider his presence on the puck when he has possession leaving the defensive zone.  If the puck isn't already on his stick, it will be.  His teammates (and I am sure this was designed) found him with the puck to begin the breakout probably 80% of the time, especially if there was room to work.  This is a tremendous decision too, considering how much poise and creativity Wisniewski shows with the puck on his stick.  Not once, but a handful of times he made tricky passes to lead players sometimes only a couple feet away from him, and on one occasion a pass off the boards from two full zones away to a player waiting at the opposing blueline.  These passes are what the Jackets have been missing on the breakout, and the effectiveness of them caused the Red Wings to spread out their neutral zone play.

Game Recap :: Columbus vs Detroit 10/25

So much to cover.  So much positive tonight.  Here's a quick few points to get us started, but don't be surprised if a number of these topics turn into extended discussions over the next day or two.

- Can you say depth scoring?
- Johansen scores his first NHL goal
- John Moore scores his first NHL goal
- The fans heart Steve Mason.... ...for now
- Wizmas was Wiztasticly Wizerrifc.

Now to go into a bit of depth about the game, I will say all the build up with #Wizmas and GM Scott Howson's tremendous blog got my excitement and attention.  For a guy driving 90 miles to watch an 0-7-1team, I was oddly pumped up and for good measure.  Why? Because this is NOT an 0-7-1 caliber hockey club.  Pre game Chipotle, and in the seats with a good ten minutes to spare, it was time to turn on the hockey banter and prep for the game to begin.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Keys to the Game: Detroit at Columbus 10/25/2011

Before each Blue Jackets game I'll identify what strategic elements the Blue Jackets should focus on based on their opponent, the likely match-ups, injuries, goaltenders and recent play. This will be broken down into both offensive and defensive keys, with the occasional look at the keys for the Jackets netminder.

Offensive Keys: Point Shots with a Net-Front Presence

Ty Conklin is getting the start tonight for the Red Wings. The Capitals scored seven times on Conklin Saturday night and the Blue Jackets would be wise follow the same blueprint. Four of the Capitals goals came front point shots (or long distance shots), with players crashing the net hard. The Caps also managed to pick up another goal off a redirect in close. Fortunately, Columbus is well suited personnel-wise to mimic this style. Due to injuries, the Blue Jackets will be dressing six defensemen who are more offensively inclined. They should be focusing on getting Wisniewski, Clitsome, Savard, Russell, Johnson and Tyutin plenty of shots, with forwards crashing the net for tips and rebounds. Conklin has trouble tracking the puck through traffic, so the big bodies such as Nash and Umberger need to park themselves at the front of the crease. Brassard and Prospal have been getting to the front of the net and having success, now the players who better fit that role need to follow suit.

Defensive Keys: Play the Right Man, and Quickly
The flip-side to the offensive heavy defense for the Jackets has been trouble with rotations in the defensive end. The second and fourth goals against Ottawa were the direct result of a defenseman being late to identify his man off a rotation. Against a puck control team like the Red Wings, the defense needs to identify and move instantly. If Ottawa can take advantage of sloppy rotations, Detroit will eat them alive. Further, the Jackets defense needs to pick up a forward at the front of the net. The third goal against Ottawa was a prime example of defensemen not putting a body or stick on a player at the front of the net. Similar play against Holmstrom, Franzen, Bertuzzi, Cleary et al will lead to a tough night for Steve Mason.

A New Addition to CTF

In the attempt to create a more active and exciting CTF blog this year, I have begun to realize the quality of discussion gets a bit strained with one blogger generating content.  With that in mind, and a goal of stimulating the CBJ hockey fan on a daily basis, I have decided to bring a close friend on board.

"The Coach" will be focusing on topics such as systems breakdowns, statistic related content, as well as breaking down individual plays to find out the true source of a brilliant play, one that causes the Jackets to surrender a goal, and other game related discussion.  He will also be providing a pre-game of sorts, noting the 'keys to the game' before most Blue Jackets games.

His background is a life of hockey, whether it is coaching, playing, scouting, or analyzing the game.  His knowledge and dedication to the game have made him one of my most trusted resources, and I am very excited to have him on the CTF contributor list.

You can follow him on twitter: @TheCoachCTF
(and if you are not already, make sure to follow @CarrytheFlag)

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Glaring Mistakes :: Columbus vs Detroit Recap

This recap is going to focus on a couple of things (I could write for hours on my frustration of an 0-6-1 start, but I don't think it's all that constructive at this point), and I hope it reaches a number of the fans commenting on the #CBJ twitter feed as well as the Puck-Rakers piece that went up after the game.  While I find that many focus on the more obvious positions (aka Mason) it seems that glaring mistakes made which lead to sticky situations get completely ignored, so I will be exposing a couple of mistakes that cost them the game, and then reviewing Mason's game to see which of them can really be directly his fault.

The Mistakes

To begin, Columbus needs some defense, and smarter passing/clearing in the defensive zone.  Of the many glaring mistakes made by the Blue Jackets last night, I have selected a few that I can share which made all the difference in the hockey game.

Mistake 1 :: Pahlsson grabs the puck behind the net and gets prepared to take a hit by a Detroit player. Instead of trapping the puck or playing it up the boards, he sends a soft fluttery pass through the middle of the ice that lands in the middle of the PK box, leaving Franzen to take the uncontested shot on Mason which becomes the first goal.  Fault Pahlsson (although kudos to Umberger for taking an extremely lazy, extremely bad penalty on Datsyuk to give Detroit the powerplay).  No bad pass, no easy shot, no goal.

Mistake 2 :: Johnson grabs the puck in front of the Blue Jackets net after a few decent saves by Mason, and rather than dumping it to the neutral zone or throwing it into the corner, he shovels it forward in an almost pass-like motion, directly onto the stick of Datsyuk, who scores easily.  Fault Johnson (and whoever should have been covering Datsyuk) for not being able to get the puck into a low scoring area. No bad pass, no easy shot, no goal.

Mistake 3 :: Grant Clitsome coughs the puck up late in the game, without a goalie to defend them, and Detroit scores easily.  I don't even see the point of analyzing this.  Fault Clitsome.  No bad turnover, no easy shot, no goal.

As you can see, while the scapegoat style blame fest falls on Mason, it is teammate breakdowns which lead to three of the goals, and a really fortunate series of deflected pucks that lead to another.  Without these glaring mistakes, Mason would be hanging on to a one goal lead into the waning seconds of the third period.  But the easy thing to do is blame Mason (as of course the scoresheet tells the best tale) so let's review..


He was tremendous on a number of occasions.  The two most notable saves of the game were on Helm on the breakaway (shorthanded for Detroit, as the CBJ defense watched on) and a ridiculous glove save on Franzen from slightly further out than where he scored his first goal of the game. He was not a Hall of Fame candidate last night, though, letting in four goals, so here's the breakdown on them:

Goal 1 :: Franzen picks up the puck in the slot thanks to Pahlsson taking the puck behind the net and listlessly throwing it out in front on the penalty kill, and gets an uncontested shot on Mason from about 8 feet out, going far post.  For those who don't know, Franzen is a tremendously talented shooter who has a knack for finding the back of the net.  He is a goal scorer who scored.  Give Mason a break.

Goal 2 :: Franzen attempts to make a pass across the crease during the powerplay.  Mason begins to cross with the puck when it is blocked by a Columbus defensemen's stick and returned to Franzen's stick.  He then makes ANOTHER attempt to pass it across the crease, and the puck deflects off of Johnson's stick, off Mason's pad (he scrambled to get back after the first pass was deflected) but it finds the back of the net.  Give Mason a break.

Goal 3 :: Two saves in tight had Mason out of the crease to the left of the net, hunting for the rebound to cover.  Johnson plays the puck directly onto the stick of Pavel Datsyuk (yes, THAT Pavel Datsyuk) and he buries into the empty net.  Give Mason a break.

Goal 4 :: Once again on the powerplay, Mason is fighting to get an eye on the puck as he is blocked by a Detroit forward and Marc Methot.  The Detroit winger with the puck fakes the shot (which causes Mason to go into a save position, while the puck is passed to Lidstrom at the point who bombs one far side shelf.  I'm not going to say give Mason a break on this one, as he made the mistake of reading the fake as a shot, but I can certainly understand why he did.  So alas, one goal out of four is questionably his fault.

Here's the kicker.  For those who read this and actually disagree with me, feel free to describe each play in the comments section.  Show me how it is Mason's fault on any of the first three goals, and maybe I can be persuaded.  Until then, it is defense, NOT goaltending, that can fix this team in terms of goals against.  While I do not think Mason has been a Hall of Fame level goaltender, the team needs to make his job easier, especially on the third, and sometimes fourth shot in a row that finally end up making it into the back of the net.

The Rest of the Team

I don't really feel the need to make this into a book so I'll be brief with the rest of the team.  I thought Giroux had another solid game and is fitting in nicely with the Jackets lower lines.  Were it my choice, I'd drop MacKenzie and play Giroux in his role.

A prime example of why MacKenzie doesn't belong in the NHL came when a fantastic pass from the corner landed on DMac's stick in front of Howard, who was slightly out of position.  Rather than burying the puck far side post (not unlike Franzen) he panicked, and shoveled a shot directly into his pads.  That might have been one of the biggest game changers right there, and was easily Columbus' best scoring chance of the night.

Brassard was moving around the ice with great effort for the second game in a row, and scored his second in as many games.  I think it's great to see him get success as he is clearly one of the hardest working players right now.

Vermette and Umberger are still irrelevant.  Without question, having these two guys find success is absolutely crucial for the team to start winning, so whatever it takes, these two "team leaders" need to pull their heads out of their.. uhh.. off-season and get with the program.  Hard work and effort will reward.  Maybe they can sit down with Brassard to get some knowledge dropped on them.

Does Rick Nash still score goals? Does Rick Nash backcheck? Does Rick Nash care?

I think Vinny P was a fire ball out there, which is great after his scathing comments regarding the team effort on the ice.  As much as I do enjoy watching him work, I think it's concerning that he is one of their best players right now, and he was brought in to be a depth forward that benefited from Nash and Carter taking the spotlight.  I also saw him getting frustrated by terrible low percentage shots, and I love it. I hope he had a few choice words for the shooters once they reached the bench.

I am not touching the defense.  There's just too much wrong right now.  Methot it a tank for finishing the game, and Russell's flip out after the brutal call on him for checking Bertuzzi late in the game was fun to watch.  The rest of the defense are not even worth noting, as I am sure their names have already been mentioned a couple times in this blog.


While I am not a terribly patient guy, I will lose all of it if the team can't win their first game tonight against Ottawa.  Maybe a part of it is pride, or just exhaustion from what we have been forced to watch, but I need something to give the fans hope that there could still be a season in Columbus worth watching.

I will be watching for the Vermette/Umberger tandem to start being relevant.  I will look to the "captain" to backcheck further than his blueline, and I am going to hold my breath while they start the game hoping to see some level of compete from the Jackets.  I may not need 55 wins a year to be a fan, but I most certainly need some sign that the compete level, the interest level, the heart, is there.

Carry the Flag.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Support Hockey Fights Cancer and the CBJ

I don't usually comment on more than the team and their on ice output, but sometimes great opportunities come around that allow Blue Jackets fans to show their generosity towards those who are fighting battles with awful diseases.

Here is some information on Hockey Fights Cancer from

Hockey Fights Cancer is a component of the NHL's "Biggest Assist Happens off the Ice" campaign, the League's long-standing tradition of addressing important social issues in North America and around the world.  
Hockey Fights Cancer is a joint initiative founded in December 1998 by the National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players' Association to raise money and awareness for hockey's most important fight. It is supported by NHL Member Clubs, NHL Alumni, the NHL Officials' Association, Professional Hockey Trainers and Equipment Managers, corporate marketing partners, broadcast partners and fans throughout North America.  
To date, more than $12 million has been raised to support national and local cancer research institutions, Children's Hospitals, player charities and local cancer organizations.

As you can see, it is a well supported initiative designed to raise money to support cancer research among other things.  This year, The Blue Jackets are having a "Hockey Fights Cancer Night" on October 25th.  They will be auctioning off purple jerseys, along with selling hats, shirts, and from the sounds of it, auctioning off Steve Mason's purple pads.  I was able to check out the purple jerseys being auctioned at the last home game and they are sweet.  Here's a picture to crank up your interest! (although let's not kid ourselves, @AlisonL is clearly the target of this photo..) Late Edit :: I am told that this jersey is spoken for.. Aka bid on all the other jerseys!! (this is in good humour, but AlisonL is very clearly the perfect person to own this specific Dorsett jersey)

This isn't a shameful plug, it's just one fan who can appreciate what they are trying to do.  If I find myself at Nationwide during the HFC night, I am going to be hard pressed not to put down a bid on one of these bad boys, and I strongly encourage you to open your hearts and wallets to get some really fantastic looking swag and support what I believe to be an excellent initiative.  I truly hope you do the same, and if you do, make sure to let me know!!

Carry the Flag!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Where is the Elite Rick Nash?

I am going to start this with a disclaimer: Rick Nash is an All-Star hockey player.  There is no denying it, and I never would.  In fact, during his entire NHL career, he has been one of my favourite players to watch, especially considering he went through the London Knights OHL system, which also happens to be my home town.  Frankly, I love everything Rick Nash brings to the sport of hockey, and I would never question his capacity as an elite player.  Quite honestly, I am doing the opposite.  I am not questioning his capacity to be an elite player, I am questioning where elite Rick Nash has gone.

Specifically, Rick Nash is classified as an elite hockey player, but he has been far from elite this year.  It is such a dangerous word to use in hockey, because it elicits the absolute best, and to this point I am not even sure if he has been the best player for the Blue Jackets this year.  When I think of the term elite, I think of Ovechkin thrashing through three players are ripping a shot over the goalies shoulder.  I think of Sid dragging two players into the corner, only to loop, fall to a knee, and make a perfect saucer pass to a wide open winger for the easy put home.  I think of Pavel Datsyuk and his unspeakable way of making the goalie go the completely wrong way with the simple shrug of his shoulder before burying into the empty net.

With those baselines set, I think back on the six games the Blue Jackets have played to start the season, and I am left with absolutely nothing that would give Nash the right to stand among those players noted above.  Has he been decent? Sure, he's found his name on the scoresheet a few times, and is on pace right now to score 82 points this year, but at what quality are these points coming?  Are those six points all he could have accumulated?


Has he wow'ed you yet?  He has not wow'ed me with his offensive plays.  He has his newish 'go to' move of flipping the puck up in the air and just trying to skate around people while attempting to regain possession.  That hasn't worked.  He tries to circle with speed and roll through 3-4 players at a time with his head down.  That hasn't worked.  He has taken 18 shots on net, but have any of them been all that impressive?

When I comment on these efforts, I get a whole lot of "well, he's not used to having linemates to make passes to" in response.  I get that, but if he's that damaged as a hockey player, why are they building the franchise around him?  I find myself attributing him to Lebron (don't flip out, read on) a lot.  He's an absolute stud with the puck playing at 100%, but he is also one of the more gifted passers I have ever seen.  Unfortunately, his natural instinct appears to be designed to press the issue towards the net or walk the perimeter looking for the lazy pass.


I remember reading a bit about Hitchcock the other day, discussing how he made Modano into a two way player rather than just a scorer, and did the same thing for Nash in Columbus.  In fact, that soundbyte may have come from Nash directly (don't quote me on that though).  So why then, am I watching him lazily make his way back into the defensive zone without any real effort? If you're looking for a prime example, I need not go further than the Benn goal from last night.  Certainly there are three other Columbus players who would have liked to have this one back, but what exactly is Nash doing here?  He commits to the coverage twice only to back off both times giving Benn the free lane towards the defense and the net.

I think it's an issue with his compete level.  He had some of the highest on ice minutes for forwards yesterday, but also had some of the longest shifts.  Some may define that as hard work, whereas I define it as him not pushing himself on the ice enough to get tired.  I welcome criticism on this, so please feel free to provide me with specific examples where his compete level on the ice is consistent with legitimate hard work, but the term 'floating' was used between myself and my fellow spectator at the game.  How many 'elite' players get tagged with the term 'floating' more than five times in any game?


I am not going to limit this lack of compete level with just Nash, but he is the captain.  I have read countless articles praising him for his 'lead by example' style of leadership, but if that is the case, it comes as no surprise to me that this team is taking periods off at a time.  I think Nash really needs to step his pace of play each time he gets on the ice, with both his backchecking and his play without the puck in the neutral and offensive zone.

With the puck, I would like to see him make a competitive play and then look for a solid pass to an open player.  With the talent he has, it shouldn't come as a surprise when the opposing team doubles up coverage on him, and when that happens, I want to see him hunting for a passing lane, not just forcing the issue towards the net and eventually losing possession.  I think there's plenty of room for him to find the back of the net this year, but I would also like him to embrace a bit of a 'dishing' role and make an attempt to pick up 50+ assists this year.  Who knows, maybe once that player receives the pass, Nash can sneak behind the double team and find a solid lane to receive the return pass.  40 goals and 50 assists is not even remotely out of his realm.

Does anyone remember this letter?  I sure do.

If that is the case, Nasher, I think it's time you start showing how much you care on the ice.  It is important to me as a fan.  I need to know you want the win as bad as I do.

...and you're still awesome.  And I am still a huge fan of the way you 'can' play hockey.

Carry the Flag.

Recap :: Dallas vs. Columbus 10/18

These are starting to write themselves.  Columbus begins the game while an anxious (and generally prepared for a disappointment) crowd watches on.  Kudos to the 9,157 other fans that joined me tonight at Nationwide instead of watching with the feet up at home. Despite outshooting the opposition 24-11 through two periods of play, the Jackets found themselves in a hole thanks to a ridiculous overcommit by Radek Martinek which gave Steve Ott a free shot from a high scoring area, beating Steve Mason about mid-level on the glove side.  Certainly one he would have liked to have back.

The third period offered no favours either, with Jamie Benn being left alone by Rick Nash (backchecking is only mostly overrated) took an inexcusable turnover by Aaron Johnson and beat a rather surprised Steve Mason after dragging the puck all the way through the slot.  Hard work brought the Jackets within one goal thanks to Brassard scoring his first of the year on a powerplay rebound, but the Stars came rolling right back thanks to more questionable defense by the Jackets.

Thoughtful of Kris Russell to bang home a fantastic point shot to bring it to within one again, but silly errors by Grant Clitsome spoiled the final two offensive pushes by the Jackets and once again, that 2-3 final score flashed before my eyes.

I've got fingers pointed in a number of directions, but I won't get ahead of myself too quick with the negative.  On the positive note, I think Kris Russell had another noticeably decent game, scoring his first of the year and making a tremendous play to avoid the empty netter in the final minutes of the third period.  Certainly when it comes to the Jackets defense right now, upwards of five spots seem to be as solid as jello, and I think Russell has done a fine job of making himself a strong candidates for one of the six.

On the other hand, Grant Clitsome has seemed to string together a series of truly mediocre games, making himself noticeable in a number of key situations, and faltering heavily on more than one occasion.  Specifically, I can think of two within the last two minutes that were definitively glaring, coughing up the puck to Dallas while fiddling around at the blueline almost leading to an empty net goal, and then skating up the ice with the puck only to fire up down for an icing call with 18 seconds left on the clock thanks to no passing options.  Frankly, I am disappointed.  Between the bad decision making while looking for the pass, and skating across the blueline to shoot on net only to STILL find a shin pad, Clitsome and his excellent name are dropping heavily on my depth chart.

Hard to not be positive about forty shots on goal, but were they all that tremendous?  I think rebounds and forcing difficult saves on account of traffic were two scenarios that Kari Lehtonen did not have on his mind.  There were some solid shots, along with some absolutely atrocious misses (Pahlsson, I am looking at you after receiving a great pass from behind the net and missing shortside with at LEAST 40% of the net to work with) leaving me once again somewhat underwhelmed with the effort offensively.  40 shots are great, but make them 20 GOOD shots, and I'll be a happy guy.

Defensively I still don't understand Arniel's logic.  The center seems to follow the puck regardless of how deep the puck goes in the defensive end, as well as at least one of the defenders typically.  This leaves the two wingers dropping from the point down to pretty much the faceoff circle.  I can certainly understand closing down the scoring zone, but when the passes reach the point (and more often than not they do) it leads to an excellent opportunity for the opposition.  I just don't get it, and I can't get on board with that kind of coverage.  I am tired of seeing that passing option.

Offensively I thought Brassard had a great night, along with the entire Giroux - Vermette - Prospal line which was an absolute pleasure to watch at times.  I know people are getting down on Brassy a bit for losing the puck and falling over, but I see that as a guy who is giving it everything he's got, trying to do a little too much to create a scoring opportunity.  In time, if he keeps up that level of confidence, I think those efforts will turn into excellent scoring opportunities (assuming all of these trade rumours are just rumours).  I also have a bit of a bone to pick with Nasher, but there will be plenty more on that when I get a chance to sleep on some of the thoughts brewing in my head.  I understand he's the face of the franchise, so I will be making a point of picking my words carefully.

Finally, Steve Mason.  Certainly the kid would like to have goal one back, but it was a solid shot from a scoring position with no defensive coverage to back him up.  The other two, well, 18 shots, and I think I could think of at least 4-5 that should have never even come close to Mase.  I am getting a bit bored of the fan base claiming that he needs to be traded, so I won't really go into depth on this, but I felt that he gave them a chance to win again tonight, making a few very tough saves to keep them above water.

Carry the Flag!

Monday, October 17, 2011

Team Finally Worked Hard for Full 60 Minutes.. practice.

According to those who were actually able to attend (the public was not permitted), the Blue Jackets players were finally forced to work hard for a full sixty minute stretch, with coach Scott Arniel pushing the pace utilizing skating drills and compete drills.  This was the result of a truly mediocre performance in Dallas on Saturday night, one that Arniel had no excuses for, and for the first time I can remember, sent the team under the bus to answer for their own shortcomings.

I like it.  I am satisfied that Arniel thinks strongly enough of the team to push them hard after a loss like that, and I can only hope that the players finally get it into their heads that this team can and should be competing somewhere above the middle of the pack in the Western Conference.  There are a few talking points though, as I feel like some things need to be pointed out before we as a fanbase move forward and support this team.

First, I don't like that the practice wasn't open to the public.  Die hard fans are the ones that take time out of their day to attend Blue Jackets practices, and they are (or at least should be) cornerstones of the franchise when it comes to ticket sales, jersey sales, etc.  I think they have earned the right to watch this team get worked into the ground, after being subjected to five straight games of sub 60 minute efforts.  I have heard plenty of complaints from people suggesting they aren't taking the time to come out and watch the Jackets until they've proven they can compete, and I certainly don't blame them.  Frankly, I feel like practices of this nature should be placed on display to show at least from a coaching level, this type of play will not be tolerated regardless of what part of the season it is in.

Second, while I am not entirely convinced that the team has found themselves, I think they have recognized that it really cannot get much worse.  I grew up playing hockey, and while my level of competitiveness comes nowhere near being relevant here, I can say without a shadow of a doubt that losing doesn't get easier in any scenario.  Being embarrassed by an 0-4-1 record is both demoralizing and mind numbing, but it also makes it easier and easier to see that the compete level just isn't where it needs to be.  I think it's safe to say this team (on paper) is more competitive than most Blue Jackets teams put together over the years, and I think most of the guys on the team are aware of it.  (I've got more on this, in a later point)

Third, Scott Arniel is a very interesting character.  I have heard and read from more than one person who has experienced him outside the post-game interviews that he can be VERY intense, but from everything I've read today (shout out to Portzline over at the Dispatch), he wasn't shouting during the practice as much as he was letting the whistle do the talking.  This came as a surprise to me as I have known a lot of really intense coaches, most of whom blow a gasket when players don't meet expectations, replacing the whistle with a red face and a hoarse shriek for an entire practice.  I really like this mentality.  Skate hard during the game, or skate hard in the morning.  I've always been a big "push hard until you're tired, then get off" type player, so watching my favourite team take shifts off is a very hard pill to swallow and I take a lot of joy out of hearing the results of Sunday's practice.

Fourth, I think the guys who have been around the organization were thinking the wins would come with relative ease.  Not to suggest that they didn't put the time in this summer or that they are packing it in game after game, but too many of the guys I was expecting to rely on this year have been mediocre at best.  Not exclusive to these players, but Vermette, Umberger, Tyutin, and Nash are the four I've had my eye on the longest.  Sure, Nash has been on the scoresheet, but he's also been invisible.  For a line noted as "scary" by the Dallas coach, you would think every time they stepped on the ice there would be a scoring chance or two.  While I think Nash holds himself accountable in some respects, I expect him to be more dynamic on the ice, making plays, creating scoring opportunities, and doing things that aren't worth trying to explain later.  For Vermette and Umberger, I don't see a viable excuse.  They are a combined -5 with only 1 assist (Umberger's pass to Giroux on Saturday) on the year. They do combine for 17 shots on goal, but I don't remember too many of them being truly threatening to the opposing netminders.  Regardless of how they do it, they need to figure out how they can return to form and generate some secondary scoring for the Jackets, who have still yet to register more than two goals in any one game.  I am going to bet right now that the first +2 goal game the Jackets are in, will be their first victory of the season.

Obviously the defense is an absolute mess of issues and holes right now, which probably won't be resolved by a return of James Wisniewski. With that said, the defense is another area of the Blue Jackets game that I think can improve exponentially.  In the post-game on Saturday, Arniel noted that they allowed three cross crease goals, something that usually only occurs once every fifteen games or so.  That to me might have been the biggest statement of the night.  Take away three absolutely textbook coverage errors and the Jackets win that game (arguably) 2-1.  If you want a more in depth review (along with videos) of the defensive breakdowns against Dallas, check out this post from Sunday.  It breaks down each goal specifically.

I am only scratching the surface here, but I really wanted to get some of these thoughts out there before potentially going a bit deeper this week.  Hopefully the Jackets right the ship on Tuesday and I can discuss things on a more positive level, but at this point the only major plus I can take from 0-4-1 is that the Jackets have yet to be blown out of a game.

Carry the Flag.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Reviewing the Goals Against: Dallas

Thanks in large part to the many folks on twitter throwing Steve Mason under the bus over the last couple games, I thought it might be worth going back to review each of the goals scored to see exactly who is worth blaming.  There does seem to be a fair assessment that Mason is not exactly an 'All-star' goalie (which is fine, he's not), but the disconnect seems to be on what defines a goalie as an all-star, a solid goaltender, and a hopefully sieve.  So without further adieu, let's look at the goals scored against the Blue Jackets in Dallas.

Goal 1 :: Bredan Morrow

Midway through the first period, with Columbus carrying a 1-0 lead, Mike Ribeiro threads the needle, sending a pass through two Columbus defenders and finding a wide open Brendan Morrow who finishes on the one timer.

Scott Arniel said it very well after the game.  Cross crease one-timer goals are seen once every fifteen games or so for the average team, and they gave up THREE of them in one game.  This mental lapse by the Columbus defense is flat out what loses teams hockey games, and something I personally don't expect to see on the "Mason saves" highlight reel.  On this specific play, Savard chases Ribeiro behind the net essentially taking himself out of the play, and Martinek is covering the blue paint on the short side of this specific play.  It leaves Morrow wide open to hammer home the one-timer.  Fault: Defense, 100%.

Goal 2 :: Loui Eriksson

The puck is carried around the net by Steve Ott, who fires a pass in front of the similar to the first goal, finding the stick of Loui Eriksson who gets just enough of the puck to get it through Steve Mason.

Covering on the pass was Martinek, who watched Ott go beyond the net, and decide to leave the front of the net probably later than he should have, leaving him in dead ice covering nothing.  Covering the pass was Marc Methot, who seemed to be scrambling back to get Eriksson after Martinek's decision to move away from the net.  Again, these passes should never be allowed to make it through to players, and I am once again putting pretty much all of the blame on the Jackets defense.  Fault: 90% Defense, 10% Mason.

Goal 3 :: Sheldon Souray

Ribeiro sends a backhand pass to the point, where Sheldon Souray is waiting.  He sets, loads, and fires a knuckler that seems to change directions part way to the net, hitting the top of the net and going in.

I know this may be hard for some to agree with, and that's fine, but I am not going to put this entirely on Mason.  So far this season we have watched as pucks are deflected perflectly to the upper 90, far post, off feet and in, etc, etc.  In this case, these fluttering pucks are just about as bad as a tip.  What I DO want to point out, is that while Vermette (the center) chases around Ribeiro, RJ Umberger (the winger) leaves the top faceoff circle (covering the pass) and moves into the middle slot (I assume to cover for Vermette who is all over the place).  This leaves Souray wide open, with plenty of time to load up a cannon.  Fault: Bad Coverage 50%, Mason 25%, bad luck 25%.

Goal 4 :: Michael Ryder

Ribeiro sends a pass to Morrow, who is near the goal line about 10 feet away from the net.  He then sends a pass through Clitsome to Ryder, who one times the puck off the near post and in.

Powerplay goals are hard to dissect, especially when you downplay coverage quality, but Clitsome has to be better.  He is a good couple feet high as the pass is received by Morrow, and does little to stop Ryder from scoring.  This is once again the defensive breakdowns that lead to goals on every single goalie in the NHL, not just Mason.  I would like to see Mason with a bit more of an active stick, but that's a dangerous game to play as teams begin to try deflecting the puck off the goalie and in.  Fault: Defense 90%, Mason 10%.

As you can see, the misguided hatred towards Mason has become silly.  Of the four goals scored on him, none of them were normal, textbook saves that he has been making all year long.  They were one timers from down low and a freak knuckler that I am still trying to figure out how it went in.  While I can understand the frustration of most Blue Jackets fans (trust me, I waited a day to post anything) I think it's time to start pointing the finger in the right direction, not just at the guy who is the easiest to blame.

The bottom line here, is that if the defense were doing what needed to be done, that game could have very well been a win for the Jackets.

Carry the Flag.