Thursday, March 31, 2011

Big Changes In the Right Places?

So what does that mean..?  Last night the Dispatch "shocked" the twitterverse, claiming a quote from majority owner John P McConnell that will 'rock' the very fabric of the Columbus franchise, from the hockey operations department all the way to the skyline chili kiosks.  Today, in a post that can be found here, Aaron Portzline provides a few soundbites and a lot of opinion on what could, should, and might be done to change the landscape of our favourite hockey team.

But what does it mean?

How many times have we read in the rumours section of *insert website/twitter handle here* that so and so will be moved, or Johnny 3rd liner is going to be getting dealt for a 2nd round pick and futures?  At what point does the speculation outweigh that in which will actually happen?  No doubt the current Columbus structure is in perfect alignment for major change, with the scouting department on the final year of their contract, Rook in the final year of his goaltending coach contract, and the better half of the NHL roster set to become UFAs or RFAs with none of them actually entertaining contract offers from the Jackets brass at this point.

Here are what I deem to be facts;

1 - You cannot stand idly by as an owner of an unsuccessful business and watch it falter without the threat of change.  Anyone who does that is either too dense to own a business, or too stupid to realize that their efforts have not been good enough.  These comments were inevitable

2 - Making comments like this are what fans arguably want to hear (read: Your team WILL be better) and what people in the organization have been expecting.  It's common sense, and once again, when you look at it from a business standpoint, any time there is an obvious lack of success, change becomes water cooler talk.

3 - People who do not deserve to lose their place with the organization will lose it.  It is one of those things where someone needs to take the fall, and likely in this case, many will become the scapegoat for a number of unsuccessful years.

Getting passed all that, here is my problem with the statements being made.  Portzline takes the opportunity to put the scouting department front and center in this mess because they (conveniently) have contracts expiring at the end of this year, I believe just after the draft concludes.  What he is either ignoring or not saying, is that the scouting department really has not done a bad job at all.  Columbus has been doomed to finishing not bad enough ever since they drafted Rick Nash.  Look at their last couple years of first round draft pick places.  4th, 21st, 6th, 7th, 6th, 6th.... You want cold hard facts?  How did Pittsburgh land two of the best players in the game?  Crosby (1st), Malkin (2nd - after Ovechkin), Staal (3rd).  It is not a matter of good drafting in their departments, it is a simple matter of finishing bad enough to get an elite player.  I would be happy to argue that any team finishing bad enough to have Crosby or Malkin's name come up as an option would not think twice about drafting them.

Sometimes I simply wonder if they have been bad enough.  I have little doubt that Johansen will be an impact player in the NHL, but I recognize the timing it takes for a mid-range top 10 pick to become viable.  Would they have done better getting Taylor Hall with the first pick?  Of course they would.  How do you fault a scouting department for taking the best possible talent at the picks they are given?  How do you not credit them for generating what appears to be an excellent group of prospects currently developing in the minor leagues, all of whom could become impact players within the next 2-3 years?  How do you fault a group of people paid to build the future of the team for the team not winning NOW?

I want to look at the guys like Clark and Moreau to find fault.  Almost five million dollars paid out by the organization this year for basically nothing.  A big body who is clumsy on the puck, two veteran captains who are bandaids if not paving the way for players like Calvert to step in and take charge.  The Jackets need an overhaul in the depths of their roster, as well as the defense, but to fault an organization for something like that, to me, is a bit much.  How much can they possibly do when players like Huselius suck up almost five million dollars of potential cap space?  I just provided 9.5 million dollars of wasted cap space.  Who is to blame for that 9.5 million?  Is it the scouts?

If I had summarize my thoughts into a paragraph, it would revolve solely on the active roster.  The time for taking chances and overpaying for players is over.  The time for acquiring aging veterans to fill out a roster is well past over with players like Kubalik, Wilson, Calvert, and soon to be Johansen waiting in the wing.  The time for accepting mediocrity from their lineup has run its' course.  I simply cannot support it anymore.  No one has to look far to see what is wrong with this team.  The core players (short of maybe a first line center and a top tier defensemen or two) are in place and have room to grow.  It is time to build on that properly with players like Upshall over players like Moreau, and stop trying to filter the blame elsewhere in the organization.

Carry the Flag!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Should CBJ Prospects Get Exposure?

It has been an interesting discussion to say the least throughout the Blue Jackets realm of the world whether youngsters gaining valuable experience in the minor leagues should be invited up to play with the big club for some of the remaining games.  Another promising year has all but passed, and we are left with these little fragments of criticism to round out the regular season.

Certainly, the exposure to the National Hockey League is highly valued for most prospects.  Each level of hockey provides different challenges and teaching those challenges seems all but impossible without actual exposure.  What will be debilitating at this point, would be to come up and watch a group of professionals play a stock game without any sense of urgency.  I would be far from convinced if someone were to tell me that the Jackets have been playing to their potential over the last few weeks, regardless of whether their output has been thwarted by the opposition.  This brings me into my next thought..

Should the Jackets brass really award their players with nights off in lieu of these younger players getting the opportunity to develop their games briefly on the NHL stage?  If you ask me, I think it is a complete sham that these guys are not getting verbally broken every time their lackluster hustle causes them to get beat on plays, and in games. It would almost seem like an award to a player to give them nights off, unless it is a character guy like Umberger or Calvert who would clearly be crushed by the thought of their play warranting a night in the press box.  This conveniently leads into my next point...

The topic of resting players was brought up early last week when discussion lead to assume that Ovechkin is being rested for the playoffs (all speculation of course, and broken last night when he was inserted into the lineup).  I think that is Washington's mistake to be made if true, but I am personally under the impression that it is extremely unfair to the fans showing up to the games to not ice the best team available.  With that thought in mind, I would hardly be surprised if the fans in Columbus would relish the opportunity to watch Kubalik over one of the Jackets current roster players, or see Stralman relegated to a suit to see Moore lace them up for an extended stay.

I say make the players finish what they started.  Training camp gives the youngsters a perfect opportunity to show their abilities, and it gives many of them the needed months of development and training period to really prepare themselves for extended stays with the big club.  I would much rather see the guys us fans have come to watch 77 times this year finish out strong, and that will be the expectation I will be bringing into each game from here on out.

Carry the Flag!

Recap: Florida @ Columbus

Sometimes I wonder if winning a game like that is generally meaningless.  Hear me out..

I am a big fan of playing the season out.  I think that players are paid for 82+ games a season and they should play at 100% for every single game.  That said, what I saw tonight was not a performance that would drag the common fan out to a game just to see it live let alone a common Blue Jackets fan considering catching a game before the season ends.  Bulleted opinions here we go!

- The pace was strong for the Jackets for the first 7-10 minutes of the game.  They came out reasonably strong, dominated play early, and made the Panthers look like they belonged in a different league altogether.  Their offensive zone pressure and shots were generally of a high quality, and it seemed like they had every intention of giving the home crowd lots to cheer about

- The powerplay at the end of the first period was excellent. Two posts and sustained pressure for the entire initial powerplay, along with the delayed call and rest of the period on the five on three.  It was sheer misfortune that they did not score during that scramble of opportunities.

- For the (forget the number, just assume many) game in a row, they allowed the opposing team to either dictate play, or play themselves back into the game.  It seems to be an exercise were the Jackets players are well aware of their own potential, yet play down to the opposition until it bites them.

- Mason was strong, for the most part.  Certainly the wrap around goal would have been something that he would have wanted back, but he made a strong move to cut off the angle and it's a shame the Florida player was not cut off before he managed the wrap.

- You have to like that snipe by Upshall.  Takes a great pass by Dorsett (@AlisonL was probably gushing) and in one fluid motion absolutely rips a shot above the glove and off the bar.  Upshall just seems like one of those guys that finds himself on the scoresheet and in the minds of the other players 40-60 times throughout the season.  As much as I think the Jackets need to focus on some top end talent for the upcoming year, I think Upshall deserves some serious consideration to round out the third line

-That win springs the Jackets to 79 points and sole possession of 21st place.  I love and hate to do this, but I would not be too upset to see a couple of teams leap frog them to get a little bit closer to the potentially useful top five picks coming up in this years draft.  Then again, if it were up to me, that first rounder would not be in the hands of the Jackets come draft day.

Carry the Flag!

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Free Agent Wish List: Brad Richards

Another potential offering I am going to try and take advantage is to throw around exactly how a certain pending free agent would look playing with the Jackets, and how much the team stands to gain by adding him.  This specific post will take a look at a player that almost came to Columbus during his tenure with the Lightning, only to be outbid by the Dallas Stars.

Currently playing out the final year of a 5 year contract paying him 7,800,000 per year in Dallas, Richards was the talk of the trade deadline, being mostly considered the most valuable asset potentially on the block. Certainly if he does not sign before the free agency period begins, he will be one of the best centers available, and more than certainly, he would be a tremendous addition to the Jackets roster.  I won't delve too deeply into contract numbers, but at 30, I am sure a contract in the realm of 7,500,000 for around 4-6 years could come close to doing the trick. Slightly lower than Nash, yet a great pay day. His current stats over the last three years along with career numbers are the following;

Now, to the perks of him playing in Columbus:

1 - Bringing him aboard makes Rick Nash instantly better because Richards is a secondary threat, but not a difference between a top tier player and a second tier player as it stands right now with Brassard and Voracek on the ice.  More like a 1a and 1b forward, they have the freedom to open up the ice for one another and with Richards being a fantastic passer, will provide Nash the space to be, well, Nash.  I am not suggesting that Nash cannot do it on his own at the moment, but I do think he finds himself playing to the level of his linemates sometimes, and a guy like Richards will keep him at the elite level that makes him so immensely powerful on and off the puck.

2 - This would likely generate a 1-2 punch that would rival all others in the league.  When you think about the Sedin twins in Vancouver, or the Getzlaf-Perry group in Anaheim, you immediately think about the success they generate because of being a top tier pairing.  Rarely do you consider who rounds out the three man line, which leads me to believe that a guy like Voracek could have a sneaky good year while becoming a top tier winger at his own pace.

3 - The powerplay becomes immediately better.  His role appears to remain consistent with the rest of his game, providing a substantial number of powerplay assists in each of his last three seasons, and again becomes a filler to a substantial gap in the current Jackets lineup

4 - Brass and Vermette drop a tier, heading down to the second and third lines respectively.  While this is not meant to be a personal shot at either of them, it puts them in a fantastic position to succeed against players weaker than they are currently used to playing against.  It also takes some ice time away from Vermette at even strength, but keeps him fresh as a top line penalty killer, something he is well versed in during his days in Ottawa.  Something about an Umberger - Brassard - Calvert second line gets me pretty excited for the future scoring potential of the Jackets.

5 - It brings in a much MUCH needed star beyond Rick Nash.  Sure, the Jackets have loads of character and a number of players that fans cannot help but love, but they truly need another player with the star power (or at least close to the same amount) similar to Nash.  Bringing in Richards creates a certain level of depth that is sorely missed in Columbus, and something that could see a substantial increase in ticket sales when management shows that kind of buy in on the long term success of the team.

These are just a handful of the potentially beneficial opportunities that would arise with a Richards signing. Would you all be happy with that kind of pickup in Columbus without dealing major components of the Jackets potential future?

Carry the Flag!

Monday, March 28, 2011

State of the... Jackets

Once again the crickets have fallen on CTF.  I would apologize, but I cannot tell you folks how many times I have begun a semi rant on the team for packing it in, but I know the Jackets get enough bad press as is.  My goal is to try and stay constructive, and I can certainly agree that ranting about them is not all that constructive.

Since I last discussed the Jackets, they have been blown out at home three times, with a goals for of 1, and a goals against of 9.  Their ten game record is 2-5-3, and their current 'stretch' of bad games looks like this:

Schedule and Results via

Like I said, I am not looking to be a giant downer.  These stretches of games do happen to even the best of teams, but it has to be as emotionally draining for the team as much as it has been for myself as a fan.  Hard to believe that prior to this specific stretch of games, we watched the trade for Lepisto and Upshall go down thinking we would see the Jackets get into better position to fight for a playoff spot not long out.  Follow that with 13 losses out of 15 games, and a fanbase left demanding and wanting more, and myself generally speechless about what really can be done in the last handful of games this year, short of wait and see where the Jackets will be drafting..

Now, off to the more relevant topic at hand, and that's what the rest of the season will bring.  Here is the current league wide chart at least that is relevant to the CBJ and their finish;

As you can see, it is pretty tight around 20-24.  Obviously looking at the standings and considering how many games the Jackets should lose before gaining a great pick is awfully negative, but I think it is worth watching.  Three wins from the Islanders and the Jackets could be looking at a top five pick, in a draft that most would argue is really quite shallow.  Then again, it would be interesting to see whether Howson will take advantage of the draft and try to deal for a quality defender before draft day.

Personally, my dedication towards watching the games has wavered.  While they are on, I have not been following the game with great focus.  I intentionally opted to not make the trip last Sunday after watching them get shutout by Detroit the previous Thursday (a very thankful decision) and was half expecting their third straight time being shutout at home against Vancouver.  Thankfully for the generally strong attendance, RJ popped one in over Schneider's shoulder, breaking one of the lowest of lowpoints of the season.

But cheer up Jackets fans.  The season will end soon, and with it, comes quality playoff hockey and and more change for the team moving forward.  Feel free to offer your suggestions for upcoming changes, as I intend to provide my suggested defensive changes within the week.

Carry the Flag!

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Roster Wishes for 2011/2012: Forwards

Admittedly, I am jumping the gun here with the current season not even complete, but having long winded discussions with CTF contributor Marvin, I would like to share the roster that I would like to see fielded by the Jackets come next October.  Obviously certain factors like trades and free agent signings could make a number of these players/lines moot, but with what is available, and who the Jackets currently have under salary, here is how I would fill the holes;

Late edit: It looks like this post will end up being a bit longer than I had anticipated, so I will provide my defensive preferences in another post within the next couple of days.

Line 1 -  The Scoring Line: Nash - Brassard - Voracek

Some may have given up on this grouping with arguably limited success this year, but I feel that as Brassard and Voracek grow as players, and Nash gets more and more comfortable with the idea of having capable linemates, the success will continue where it left off prior to Brassard getting injured this year.  While I do believe that some NHL teams find great success with multiple stars on their top line, I do not believe it is necessary to shake this group for the time being.  Allow both Brassard and Voracek to continue finding their game, and complimenting Nash in the process.

Line 2 - The Octane Line: Umberger - Vermette - Calvert

It is a fun experience to consider secondary scoring lines as 'favourites' but I cannot help it.  While the first line will be expected to score, the versatility of a line with both Umberger and Calvert on it is endless.  They could easily push the pace with their speed, or get physical in the corners with their edgy play.  No question, this line will be one that forces the opposition to really take care while matching up against them.

Line 3 - The Hard Hat Line: Upshall - Johansen - Jones

Colour me slightly optimistic, but I am personally hard pressed to be convinced that Johansen will be anything other than a Blue Jacket next fall.  His junior success has been spoken loudly in the media, and his size and ability could very easily find him playing comfortably among the Columbus third line.  Add in gritty players like Upshall (Free agent this summer) and a great supporting player like Ryan Jones (currently with the Oilers, and a UFA this summer) and suddenly Columbus has a third line that can rattle cages, force the play, AND bury pucks.  If a line like this were to be formed, I will be the first to argue that Arniel will be forced to reconsider his minute-per-game quota for the top three lines.

Line 4 - The Muscle Line: Boll - Pahlsson - Dorsett

I have always been big on Dorsett, up until part of the way through this year.  What I am beginning to really believe is that role on the team needs to be better established, and a 4th line crash and bang role is fantastic for him.  While he and Boll can take turns brutalizing opposing teams players, Pahlsson provides enough offensive threat for both Dorsett and Boll to take advantage of hard working chances in key points of the game.  I have never been a big proponent of a line solely focused on checking, and being that both Dorsett and Boll have the ability to finish, it provides a great presence of grit and ability on the back end of a very well rounded four lines for the Jackets.


There are a couple of wildcards in the Jackets system beyond Johansen of course.  Kubalik made a pretty strong case of himself in this years pre-season games, and while his effectiveness is strongest on the top two lines, it may be tough to not give the kid a shot at the NHL next year.  With that said, Upshall and Johansen would bring substantial talent to the third line, which could easily open the door for him if a player like Jones is not brought into the fold.  Certainly it would be a better option than bringing up one of Dorsett or Boll to the third, where I believe they are generally overwhelmed in that role.  

Secondary to Kubalik is of course Filatov, who has turned exactly zero heads this year.  I have to wonder what his summer plans will be, and whether he can ever develop into the kind of winger he was drawn up to be by central scouting and the numerous pre-draft reviews on his playing abilities.  With that assessed, his role will be limited to one of the two top lines, leaving little room for error and a whole lot of ground to cover on Calvert.  The one potential possibility I have been weighing on, is if Filatov can show his value on the Columbus second line, how well Calvert-Upshall-Johansen would gel together, being three guys who I believe would make the crowd stand up and cheer every time they hop over the boards.


As it stands, Moreau, Clark, Upshall, and Murray are the offensive UFAs come summer.  Voracek is the lone forward RFA, and will likely receive an offer prior to arbitration.  I have no personal issues with Moreau, Clark, and Murray walking away.  While they all offer some options on the back end of the team, none of them have been major impact players nor have their contracts merited a real second glance from the team this year.

This leaves MacKenzie and Huselius, both with one year left on their contracts.  MacKenzie has played reasonably well in all roles this year, but remains a very functional player as the 13th forward.  He provides the depth necessary in case a player falls to injury, or if the lines need to be shaken up slightly.  Huselius on the other hand, has already played his way out of the top six in my opinion.  There have been bright spots few and far between, but the reality is, I would personally much rather have an extremely hard working guy like Calvert banging away creating chances on the second line than I would having Huselius floating through the middle of the zone waiting for a great pass from his linemates.  My expectations would be to see Juice moved with another pick or player for defensive support in the off-season.

As noted, I will move onto the defensive core next, which I think ends up being substantially more difficult.  feel free to share how you would break up the lines yourself, or who you would like the Jackets to add in the off-season to really bolster the lineup.

Carry the Flag!

Friday, March 18, 2011

Recapping: Detroit @ Columbus

I had a lot of fun throwing some at the game opinions of the Boston game, and with sitting only about ten rows from the ice during the Detroit game, I feel like I had a great opportunity to take in the game in a completely different perspective.  I apologize if some of the opinions are a bit broken and piecemeal, but I hope you enjoy;

- I want to take a quick second to really appreciate some of the staff who work the games.  I attended with my father and a co-worker of his, with his eight year old son experiencing his first NHL game.  We sat down just as warmups were ending, and did not have time to get the eight year old over to the entrance in an attempt to get a high five or a puck.  My dad opted to go and speak to one of the attendants to see if there was a practice puck laying around for the kid to have, and a short time later, they gave him not only a practice puck, but also an official game puck.  To say that is just fantastic barely does it justice.  For a team that badly needs to set some roots in both young and old fans, I can only imagine how much that meant to this kid.

- Ethan Moreau is a big dude.  While his on ice play does not match the play that he made a name for himself earlier in his career, I was truly surprised at his stature.

- Fedor Tyutin is starting to give me cold sweats.  Each time he touched the puck, I questioned his decision making abilities.  His timing appeared a bit sluggish, and his inability to take shots on the powerplay was exhausting.  Not only that, for at least the second straight game, his powerplay passing was so suspect, that I think the Wings players simply waited for him to turn over the puck.  How he still gets powerplay time escapes me.

- The just under 40 shots by the Jackets failed to impress me.  What blew my mind the most was the decision to not take the shot in the middle of the ice, yet make the pass to the outside for a weak'ish' shot at a bad angle, often blowing the puck past the net and sending Detroit on their own rush.  Columbus really needs to work on getting their shots from closer to the center of the ice, rather than way on the outside.

- Mason was shaky for a better part of the game.  While he settled down after the first goal was scored, he never seemed to pull in the puck.  Certainly getting in the way is an important criteria of being a goaltender, but rebounds were plentiful for the Columbus number one.  It has started to make me wonder if he will be able to get over his confidence issues in Columbus, based on how the fanbase and media react to his losses (note, that is not an absolute statement.  Just an opinion that I have, that he is always the first to blame for a goal, unlike when Garon lets some in).

- To any Detroit fans who read this, don't come into Nationwide with a dead sea creature and expect to not get tripped while running down the aisle.  I can't believe that people think it is appropriate to do something like that in an away building, and it certainly mocks the home crowd for being welcoming to away team fans.  I'll be the first one to stand up and cheer if someone manages to stop one of these idiots before the make it into throwing distance.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

St Patty's Day in Columbus

I usually don't bother with things like this, but I found it pretty comical.  Rarely do I stray from team colours when buying Blue Jackets clothing or memorabilia, however, I plan to attend the game tonight, and thought it would be a good thing to get some green gear to support the home town team rather than just wearing one of my many college St Patrick's Day green shirts.

On Tuesday, I found the blueline store to lack much in quality.  A couple of t-shirts, one or two sweatshirts, and a pretty weak looking hat (which I believe retailed at over 25 dollars).  Needless to say I was disappointed, and jumped on out of curiosity to see what I could pick up for the game.

Three items.  one t-shirt, and two sweatshirts.  No hats.  No mugs.  No stickers.  Three items, and nothing designed for the ladies either.  Compare that with Pittsburgh and Washington's 28 items, Philadelphia and Chicago's 27 items, Detroit's 26 items, Boston's 25 items, etc etc.

Now, I get that Columbus is a smaller market, but really, three items?  I'm not even going to invest my time in LOOKING at three items, let alone hoping something actually suits my taste.

Happy St. Patrick's Day to anyone and everyone.  Here's hoping the green beer flows, and the stands are crowded with something other than red/white.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Recap From the Seats: Boston vs. Columbus

I always seem to watch the games differently when I am attending the game, rather than watching it on television.  Usually, I like to be elevated in the Arena on a corner, which makes it easier to watch the team systems develop on the break out as well as getting a good visual of their defensive style.  While it is a great deal of fun sitting rinkside, getting that elevated view really helps to judge the quality of the product on ice.

For the first 20-30 minutes of the game, you'd never know Boston was atop the Eastern Conference.  Furthermore, if it were the case that you knew that, you'd never believe Columbus was nearing the Western basement.  stymy neutral zone play and excellent passing through the neutral zone forced the play into the Boston zone for the better part of the first half of the game.  The one small (and fairly obvious) flaw with Columbus' press was their inability to get pucks to the net, an issue causing them major difficulties during their most recent road trip, which saw them struggle to close out games.

It seemed like their confidence was shattered, however, when the puck caromed off Krejci and passed a horribly screened Mason to knot the game at one apiece.  I made a mental note of the player allowing Krejci to cross Mason's sightline and position himself perfectly (Tyutin) and moved on.

From that point, the neutral zone seemed to tighten up.  Quick passes turned into cautious carries and turnovers.  Fancy passes missed the mark, and dumps lead to possession changes.  It was as though the team forgot how to be successful in the facet of the game that showed dominance in the first period and a half.  Fast forward to the goal, which was somewhat fortunate with three Boston defenders skating into the crease instead of covering the slot, and suddenly luck was back on their side.  It wasn't until a couple of really poor powerplays that Boston really threatened.

I think everyone is well aware of Columbus' powerplay struggles.  Teams suffocate their players, forcing mediocre passes to open players who fight with settling the puck down only long enough to be pressured by a different defender.  Passes to the point found the neutral zone, and a number of Fedor Tyutin passes and shots lead to extremely weak turnovers, and in two specific cases, had the appearance as though he was actually passing to Boston players.  I will make a point to expand on the powerplay in another post, but it was on the latter of two fairly awful powerplays that Tyutin failed to get the puck deep on the left side, and caused a two on two the other way.  The Boston player (Peverley) took the puck outside Tyutin on a drag move, completely fooling Tyutin and damn near making him fall - the move was alright, but nothing Tyutin should not have been able to retain position on - and then walked in on Mason completely unscathed, beating him while crossing into the middle of the ice.

Plays like those absolutely shatter teams.  I am not going to put the blame solely on Tyutin, but he nothing short of handed the goal to Boston on a silver platter.  Queue the Mason naysayers behind me in the stands, who apparently missed the play develop into the goal.  Maybe they were playing Angry Birds to kill the time.

I do not want to bad mouth Nasher about his goal scoring drought, nor do I want to bad mouth Dorse or Vermette for having glorious attempts on net only to shoot it directly into the stomach of a sprawling Rask, but Columbus simply did not close out the game when they could have.  Chances were abundant, yet success remained at a minimum.  Brassard took a flopping pass from Nash and almost swatted in his own semi-fan shot with very little time remaining, and I think it was at that point I realized the game just was not going to end well.  I will save the Mason shootout hate for another cranky blogger (he was 1 for 2) but suffice to say, none of Nash, Tyutin, or Upshall really challenged Rask.

I left the game with one clear issue in mind.  Columbus sorely needs a top tier defenseman.  There are simply too many supporting players on the blueline, and zero players who really truly belong in a number one role at the moment.  I will make a point to expand on that later as well, but in the meantime, I hope this recap serves a purpose.  It is starting to get really hard for me to watch the better team lose, but there are such fine lines between being the better team, and finding ways to win.  I simply wonder if Columbus will be able to connect the dots without a fairly major roster overhaul.

Carry the Flag!

Monday, March 14, 2011

Wrapping Up A Losing Streak

For fear of becoming one of the many nay-sayers and ridiculously negative bloggers that plague the hockey world, I took a bit of a hiatus while the team struggled to get a win.  I took some solace when the team struggled around Garon only a night or two after the majority of the Columbus fanbase strung the noose around Mason's efforts, watching the same style of goals (also four) get scored on him.  It is never a nice thing to enjoy a team loss, but it certainly verified my assumptions that the lack of success in the current team state can be attributed to a number of things, not just the goaltending.

It gave me the opportunity to really gage the variables in which a successful team thrives on.  I spent a number of hours watching successful teams like Detroit, Boston, Los Angeles, and Vancouver play this weekend, and the trends were fairly common.  Positive fan support, strong team play, depth throughout the roster, reliable defense, reliable goaltending, and probably what I would deem to be one of the more obvious traits in these teams, was confidence.

It has been a couple of very rocky months for Columbus, and I think confidence plays a big role.  When actively challenging their opponents, they rarely found a game they could not play at the same level of their opposition, nor have they truly ever been outclassed.  Sure, teams can offer a more substantial defense, a more physical game, a better possession game, or tote one of the league's best goaltenders, but rarely did I find an occasion during Columbus' strong early season or mid-season play where they found themselves outmatched by a 'clearly' better team.

I do not think the blinders were present.  It would take a fool to say that Columbus is home to one of the best anything in the league, but the character in the room could be classified as one of the best in the league.  Players like Lepisto and Upshall are not obligated or paid to update Twitter, yet both seemed to make a point of complimenting the overall attitude and welcomeness of the Columbus dressing room.  What escapes me is why that does not translate onto the ice.  What blows me away, is how this team does not show up to every game with a general need to represent their teammates, the City of Columbus, and the fans of Columbus to their fullest extent.

I also cannot for the life of me understand why people have not had more of an issue with the lack of killer instinct on the ice.  Certain games, like the St Louis roll over and die or the Calgary domination only to lose make me numb to their plight.  I watched them severely outplay Nashville, Vancouver, Edmonton, and Calgary in every area of the ice except for in front of their own net, and in front of the opposition's net.  The two areas of the ice where the games are won got little to no support, and shots were easily turned aside by the teams they played, with little concern for rebound competition.  Good teams win because they are better, and great teams simply find ways to win regardless of the on ice production every game.

I apologize for the rant-ish feel of this post, but it might be a personal stepping stone for me while I continue to blog out the year amid team frustrations.  I put a lot of stock in the team that I thought they could be, and I even saw it a couple times this year, but when push comes to shove (and I am fairly confident that shove may be more and more likely the longer this mediocrity continues), this team needs to find a way to win, and if not win, find a way to show up every game.

I will be at the Boston and Detroit games this week.  Two very tall tasks, but tasks which I expect strong efforts out of the home club.  I will still carry the flag, but the level of beer that will make it tolerable to end this year may increase ever more.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Expectations - Part Two: The Goaltender

In somewhat of an unintentional series, the recent twitter bashing of Steve Mason (per usual) during his recent struggles in Edmonton and Calgary opened the door for me to reflect on not only the team, but key pieces of a franchise that will likely be a major part of the team for the foreseeable future.

In this installment, I would like to weigh in on some of the complaints (indirectly) and some of the goals scored on Steve Mason during his game against Calgary.  Based on some of the comments from a number of Columbus fans, again on twitter, as well as a sports writer or two, I think Mason deserves the air to be cleared on goals scored to really see where the fault lies.  It would seem at this juncture that most Columbus fans are extremely content with Mason when he is doing everything he can, saving nearly all the shots fired at him in a game, only to quickly turn on him when the team loses.  In fact, it makes me wonder what Vezina/All-star/Future HoF goaltender would be able to play in Columbus without the constant ire of a fanbase demanding something beyond perfection.

In any case, here is my take of the goals scored on Mason during the Calgary game:

Goal 1: Jokinen, from the slot, receives a pass from behind the net and beats Mason clean.  Here is an image I have put together to reference the goal;

As you can see, Jokinen, a well known scorer in the NHL is given an excellent pass in the slot, otherwise known as a very high percentage scoring area, with absolutely zero obstruction from a Columbus forward or defender, and scores the goal on Mason, who is ready for the shot but is beaten.  Let's take a second look at the Columbus players prior to the pass being made;

Notice anything interesting?  I count three players behind the net, with Nash in front not paying attention to who is in the slot.  I can understand blaming goalies for allowing weak goals, but this is an issue that has and was plaguing this team in mid December, something that no team should allow.

On to the second goal, scored by Jerome Iginla.  At quick glance, you see the puck hit Mason in the shoulder and jump high in the air, falling behind him with some luck and fluttering into the net.  But let's take another look.  What isn't directly noted, is the fact that Rivet lazily stuck his stick out to contest the shot, and the puck deflected off original course, causing it to deflect off Mason's shoulder rather than somewhere in his mid-section.  Certainly a goal you hate to see scored, but can you really fault a goaltender for squaring up to the shooter and having the puck deflected off your own teammate?

Let's move to the third goal.  The puck is played at the net by a Calgary player, which hits Mason in the left pad.  Unsure of where the puck went, he quickly looks the other way only to have a second Calgary player clean up the rebound for the goal.  No doubt something Mason could have avoided (I personally chalked that one up to a bit of shattered confidence considering the second goal) but let's take a look and see where the rest of his team is;

Notice the penalty kill they are on?  Notice no one taking the Calgary player completely alone in front of the net?  Seems a bit fishy to me.  In fact, I was blown away that the only comments being made at this time by the Blue Jackets twitter-verse were negative ones towards Mason.

The fourth goal was an excellent tip to the corner of the net, on a point shot labeled for Mason's five hole.  He reacts by squeezing his pads together to make sure the puck does not go through, and unfortunately opens the corner for the deflection.  Methot was the defender who had been dealing with the player in front of the net, but had just taken a shot to the body and was in some distress from it.  I cannot honestly speak to whether Mason's style caused that goal, but I can say those are the goals that good teams score.

Now, these goals are all fairly standard.  You have a scorer left alone in the slot, two deflections, and a rebound goal.  Certainly goals I would prefer to be saved, but at what level does the expectation for a save become too lofty for a goaltender?  Mason is not going to be in the Hall of Fame, as far as I am concerned.  I really do not think anyone in the Blue Jackets front office picked him in the third round of a draft thinking he was going to be the greatest goalie to ever play the game, and it really makes me wonder why the fan base sees him so differently.

It is time to get the expectations of Mason back to a reasonable standard.  He will make the saves that are there to be made, when his team stands tall in front of him.  Not unlike December, he showed a distinct inability to make the incredible saves when his confidence is shattered and his team fails to cover assignments, and that is simply something the team needs to get better with.  It is time to share the blame between goalie and coverage.  The Jokinen goal would not have happened if he was covered in the slot. The Iginla goal would not have happened if Rivet didn't tip it.  It seems that a common trend comes to light here when we measure up what the fans deem to be solely the fault of a goaltender.  It is time to get just a little bit realistic.

Carry the Flag!

Friday, March 4, 2011

Expectations - Part One: The Team

Speaking negatively about your favourite team is a very delicate thing.  People have often come to these absurdly hateful conclusions that their team is without talent, without heart, and without fortune at great frequency during the course of a season (pending their teams record of course).  I suppose it is a matter of relevance, but I am sure anyone reading this has at one time or another had the feeling as though their teams world is caving in around them.

Generally, these feelings come during one of the more painful losing streaks a team sees over the course of the regular season.  Most fans have the presence of mind to allow certain 'flaws' by their favourite players and teams to go unnoticed while the team is winning.  Others, those who seek utter perfection, cannot seem to find the good even in a season that finds their team in a very strong seed come playoff time.  I like to think I am stuck right in the middle.  There are times where I will shout with joy when the Blue Jackets play to their potential, beating teams with what appears to be relative ease, but I am no stranger to dissatisfaction.

I do not hold grudges.  In fact, for the players that I do not care for on the team (based solely on their on ice efforts), I strongly support and celebrate any visible signs of improvement, whether it is Huselius leaning over and putting some aggression into his skating, or Stralman bodying up an opposing player and forcing the play back the other way.  While I can openly critique the negatives of these players, I am the first one to give them credit where credit is due.

Unfortunately, my expectations for the Blue Jackets are well above their play of present.  Notably beginning in their loss to Nashville, they have been noticeably rattled and short of what I believe to be the necessary competitive edge that it takes to compete in this league.  I can agree and support that calls are not going their way.  The disallowed goal in the Nashville game being the chapter beginning, all the way to the disastrous number of very marginal calls against them (and not against Edmonton) during their game last night.  But winning hockey games does not rise and fall with the inabilities of the referees.

The first five minutes last night were painful.  Columbus was doing everything right in their defensive zone and the neutral zone.  They were bodying up and playing solid positional hockey, but the quality stopped there.  In the offensive zone, their possession was marginal and their shots were mediocre.  To argue that they really forced Dubnyk to make strong saves at all last night would be a bit of a mockery toward their talent level.  Perimeter shots (if you really want to call them shots) were easily turned aside, with little to no pressure in front of the net.  Plays along the boards showed no real sign of structure or support from the secondary players awaiting the puck.  It was as if Columbus thought time on attack was going to win them the game.

The powerplay is worse now than it was last year.  I cannot tell you how many times I counted forced passes through the middle of the ice, which were either sloppy and not easily receivable, or soft and intercepted before they reached their intended target.  Edmonton, very clearly one of the worst teams in the league, had their way with Columbus.

This post will not offer solutions.  It was a matter of expressing my personal disdain at their lack of success over the last three games, and I do not believe they have anyone to blame but themselves.  All three games were very easily winnable if they had of done the right things, but they failed both themselves and those watching them, hoping for them.  Six points.  I suspect they will not be looking for any sympathy, but they flat out deserve to be watching the playoffs from their homes at this point.  This see-saw of effort that has pained the Columbus franchise for years now could be the main thing forcing fans to re-think their allegiances towards the team next year, and again, I do not blame them.

All I can hope for is they get their heads out of the sand.  They have the opportunity and the team to become something special.  I will continue to watch their games without emotion until they show me they want to win, and when they do, I will go back to 'whooping and hollering' every time they do something great.  Until then, all I can do is expect more.  My expectations will not diminish or decrease just because they are choosing to play weaker hockey than they are fully capable of.

I will provide a follow up to this post this weekend, regarding Rick Nash and his 'streakyness' on the ice.  I do not suspect many will agree with me, but I think it is time to chat about what causes him to score in streaks, and what causes him to do whatever the hell it is that he has been doing over the last 3-4 games.

Carry the Flag!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Some Negative Trends Take a Quiet Toll

I am not a big fan of game recaps, but I think it is important to reflect on common trends following a team.  If teams are winning close games, it is usually reflective of a handful of things done correctly, and subsequently, losses can usually be attributed to one or two things that simply are not clicking.

I would like to point out, is that Columbus has been flat out outworking teams.  Their character has been expanding each game, including what I believe to be a substantial outworking of Vancouver last night.  For a team that most seem to pretend is not getting better, they are slowly turning heads again the way they did a couple years ago when they made their first legitimate playoff chase.

With that said, here are some of the glaring issues I believe are keeping the Blue Jackets out of the win column, and may cause them to really struggle down the stretch;

First, they seem to be openly timid against teams who are notably better than they are, at least in the standings.  Take last night for example, they seemed to play with urgency, but rarely with the swagger that gives them the edge they need to win.  I do think they played well to an extent, but I think they need to find the edge a bit more rather than being so timid with the play.  What does give me some confidence is that it does show up at times.  After the Upshall goal, the swagger was there in full force, although it lasted only until about mid-way through the third period.

Second, the shots being taken by the Jackets are rarely high percentage, high quality shots.  I support the concept of 'getting the puck on net' but it has to be followed up by players crashing.  If the Jackets want to find easy ways to beat goaltenders,  they will need to learn to start taking advantage of the scramble after the initial shot.  In the Vancouver game, they outshot and outplayed the Canucks for most of the 65 minutes of playing time, however, when you go to the highlights, most are of Vancouver shots.

Finally, if the Jackets want to win games, they are going to have to learn to finish their high percentage opportunities.  I can understand that the goalie has just as good of a chance of making the save as the player does of putting the puck past him, but there were at least four or five breakaways/odd man rushes that lead to clear, extremely high quality opportunities to score that did not lead to a goal.  Notably, RJ Umberger has been struggling really hard with this lately, including the shootout attempt last night that he seemed beat on before he even crossed the blueline.  I can understand a lot of the fanbase giving Voracek some grief for his struggles to 'bury the biscuit' but it should be noted that he is not the only one struggling.  Other notable gaffs were Dorsett's breakaway shot directly into the chest logo, Calvert's semi breakaway which lead to a fairly textbook pad save by Luongo, Umberger's breakaway that saw him fall trying to shovel the puck through a Luongo pad that was waiting for him.... The opportunities are there for whenever these boys want to start taking advantage of them.  Good teams outplay their opponents, but great teams find ways to win.

For all the negatives, I would like to draw on a very big positive for the Jackets.  They have been unconscious on the penalty kill.  I believe the stat line was killing 22 of the last 23 penalties through the end of the game last night.  For a team fighting for the playoffs, that is a major contributor to success.  While I do not expect them to continue that kind of pace, they are quickly generated one of the more effective penalty kills in the league, now sitting at 19th overall with an 81.3%.

Also, the play of Scottie Upshall was very refreshing.  I personally look forward to seeing what all he can bring to the lineup as he learns the system, and frankly, seeing Pahlsson's name so often in a positive way is something I have been hoping for since he came to the team.  If Upshall can bring out the best in Pahlsson, we could be looking at the outline of a very deep Columbus team when Brassard returns.

Carry the Flag!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

CBJ Playoff Push - 2/28 Update

After a stretch of a few nights where outcomes simply were not doing any favours for the Blue Jackets, Monday night finally showed some promise.  As the race continues to simmer in the Western Conference, Columbus still remains four points out of a playoff spot with a game or two in hand on most of the teams involved in the race.

Tonight will mark an extremely large challenge for the club.  Playing the Western Conference leading Vancouver Canucks IN Vancouver will be an extremely important game for both the team mentality, and a test for what could very well be a first round opponent for the Jackets this year.  Inserting Rivet as the 6th defensemen with Stralman down should be a nice shakeup for the defense, as I assume the newly acquired Lepisto and Upshall will not dress with the team until the Edmonton game Thursday.

In any case, here are the updated standings:

Results from Monday, 2/28:

Chicago defeats Minnesota 4-2: In another game where 0 points would have been the favourable award, this was the kind of game where simply not going to overtime would be a benefit for Columbus.  In any case, an odd-man break leading to the 4-2 cushion short handed with just over a minute remaining gave Chicago the win, and a boost into a tie for 5th at 74 points.
Detroit defeats Los Angeles 7-4: In a very awkwardly one sided game (7-1 at one point), Detroit took full advantage of the Kings somewhat mediocre defensive effort, and poured on the offense.  At 84 points, it benefits Columbus for Detroit to steal points from Western foes, as they could very well be out of reach at this point.  In any case, LA remains at 74 points, tied for 5th.

Games that matter - 3/1:

Calgary at St Louis
Dallas at Phoenix
Nashville at Edmonton
Columbus at Vancouver
Colorado at San Jose

I'ts a night of underdogs, and I for one will be glued to the TV.  Carry the Flag!