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!

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