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.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Friday Thoughts - Off Day Lulls

I have made a concentrated effort to keep the information flowing on Carry the Flag lately, but I am not much for creating content as much as I am reacting to events that transpire on a daily basis.  Needless to say, it makes things rather difficult when the Jackets are not playing games!

In any case, there are some minor talking points from Yesterday that have yet to be covered.  There are also some twitter experiences that I will enjoy sharing, so be ready for a mixed can of Blue Jackets discussion!

Giroux Called Up

Try not to get too excited, but AHL all-star Alexander Giroux (Claude is spoken for) has been called up from Springfield to replace the demoted Cam Atkinson.  While his success is known around the AHL world, he has been limited to only 39 NHL games in his career (He is 30 years old) during which he had 5 goals and 6 assists.  He also has 61 shots on goal, making his shooting percentage well under 10%.

There is no question his AHL numbers are impressive. 650 points in just over 700 games.  But I have to wonder what is holding him back from making the jump to the NHL.  It makes me wonder what exactly he will have to offer the Blue Jackets, but certainly time will tell.

I would be lying if I said I was not disappointed by the call up, but I am not surprised.  The excuse (or reasoning) behind sending Cam down was that the team did not want to expose him to the dire straits they currently find themselves in regarding a lack of a win.  I suppose that makes sense, and it also makes sense that they would not replace a rookie with a rookie, leaving highly touted prospect Tomas Kubalik in the minors.  What that DID do, however, was leave a solid net presence that can play in a top six role in the farm.  A net presence that after thirty shots and only one goal against Colorado the Jackets so badly need.

Is Columbus a Hockey Market?

Not unsurprising was the rise of a few familiar negative nancy's on twitter yesterday talking about the lack of attendance early on this year by the Jackets and the notion that it is simply not a hockey market. It does sometimes entertain me when the familiar faces pop up on the #CBJ feed, and it never ceases to amaze me of how little they actually know about the city, but the fans are not doing Columbus any favours.

Columbus sold out the opener.  It was a great crowd that sat in anticipation as they floundered the game and walked away with a loss, and from there it was a trainwreck.  A weak effort against Minnesota lead to a lack of interest to watch the former Western Conference Canucks come into town on a Monday and beat up on the team.  I could continue but the common trend here is competitiveness.  While I do not like them, do you ever read about the successful teams taking a night off?  A period off?  If they do, the news rarely reaches my eyes/ears.

I think fans are chomping at the bit waiting for Columbus to break out, but they have to actually break out for them to show up.  It's a fickle market (yeah I know the facepalm in using the word fickle) thanks to some incredibly successful football teams, and people are not interested in watching a team that does not seem to show up for small or large parts of games.  I certainly wonder how much that third period of the Colorado game will sit in the minds of fans as they consider coming out to the Dallas game next Tuesday, and it is a shame considering how well they played the first two periods.

The Powerplay

This is my best attempt at a deflection of the Blue Jackets current powerplay slump, but the Red Wings are 0 for 16 on their powerplay this season.  Probably an easier pill to swallow considering they are 3-0-0, but it goes to show you how easy it is for early season numbers to really make something look awful.

Goals For

I hope this is something that is marked in the dressing room and in the back of every players mind.  They have scored two goals in every game they have played, and have put 123 shots on net (34-31-25-33) and have only scored 8 times.  That means the goalies who are playing Columbus are averaging a .935 save percentage.

Certainly it is nice to see that they are managing to get the puck on net, but I believe it goes back to fighting for position in high and low slot, driving the play to the net and forcing bad rebounds which inevitably lead to goals.  Rick Nash scored on his own rebound the other night, Derek Dorsett scored on an Aaron Johnson shot leading to a rebound, and Vinny Prospal scored the first goal of the season thanks to an absolute rip of a shot by Jeff Carter from near the blueline.  All rebound goals.

Traffic in front of the net needs to be key.  Forcing the goalies to make the harder first save and banging home rebounds is a great way to bust out of a slump, and I think the Jackets are plenty capable of it.  If you consider some of the goals that have been scored on Columbus, it doesn't take long to realize that teams might be doing exactly the same thing back.

The Second Line

I am sure there are positives to take out of each game, but these guys need to be better.  Vermette and Umberger have combined for zero points and are a collective -3 rating.  They have also combined to take 17 shots on net, none of which have lead to a goal for Columbus.  When folks talk about depth, I really look to guys like Vermette and Umberger to step up.  I laugh when people say Columbus doesn't have it, but they will need to start proving their case soon for the sake of my sanity.

Maybe it boils down to having that third piece of the puzzle.  Maybe the lack of chemistry with the additional winger will make the difference.  I think hard work, hard areas, and tenacity is the only solution.

Dallas tomorrow. Dallas Tuesday.  What better time to right the ship?  I'll be in Columbus, in Nationwide, in Blue Jackets gear on Tuesday. Will you?

Carry the Flag!

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Atkinson Sent to Springfield

This news just popped up on twitter thanks to the Blue Jackets beat writers, who took a break from their usual negative stat spewing to share the decision.  The reaction was exactly as I had anticipated, with much disdain and disappointment as it would seem mini-Cam, Gizmo, and other 'not tall' expressions were shared wishing it was someone else.

While the move makes little sense in that Atkinson was one of the harder working players game in and game out, it does make sense in that his contract allows more flexibility than any of the others.  They have the ability to call him up and send him down at any time, unlike the player who I personally would have sent down, Derek MacKenzie.  He would have to clear waivers before going to Springfield, which is fairly risky business for what many consider to be a workhorse fourth liner.

This does come as a very curious decision though, as Jared Boll was scheduled to miss a substantial amount of time with his injured finger, leaving only one reserve player on the Jackets active roster to move in and out of games.  Last night, that 'one' was Maxim Mayorov, who seemed to be one of the more productive forwards in the game against Vancouver.  In any case, this now leaves the Blue Jackets with a full roster on the ice, but no one to replace an injury (or flu-ish type game decision).  Could this mean a trade is looming?

I certainly hope not.  The team has not been 'bad' per se, they have simply had rocky stretches during their games.  Certainly goal scoring has to be a concern (two goals scored in literally every game has them at 19th in the league) which still begs the question of why they would send down one of their goal scorers, who has an absolute cannon of a shot.  Couple that with the fact that they outshot Colorado 30-14 in the first two periods last night, but could only muster a single goal, and I have to wonder if it is not so much the execution of their offense, but the follow up.

Case in point: Rick Nash scored the game tying goal in the second period by following up on his own shot to bang home a rebound.  Interestingly enough, while the play may have been slightly broken, he was the first forward to reach the net after his own shot.  I think the issue here is getting into the harder areas of the ice.  Varlamov was decent last night, but he wasn't closing the door on every shot. The rebounds were there for the taking but the lack of net presence shut the door on many opportunities.

This post was designed to be a simple reaction to the Atkinson demotion, but it seems like there is so much more going on here.  Good teams win their games because they outwork the opposition.  Great teams find a way to win games they have no business winning.  For the Jackets, I think it's time to play a full sixty minutes in order to get classified as a 'good team'.  In 20 games, when they've got everything sorted out, I will start selling that 'great team' concept a bit more.

In the meantime, I hope this demotion is short lived.  Cam brought a lot of fire to a relatively listless (at times) on ice product, and he was quickly becoming a fan favourite.

Carry the Flag!

Recap: Columbus vs Colorado 10/12

This will act as somewhat of a recap to the Blue Jackets game against the Colorado Avalanche, while also generating crater sized holes in some of the more ridiculous statements I have had the opportunity of enduring last night on twitter.  I usually don't get too bothered by the comments that are made post game on numerous social media outlets.  Yes, I get plenty argumentative, but I don't USUALLY get bothered by it.  Tonight, I am bothered.


First and (for some ridiculous reason) foremost, the attendance.  Portzline tweeted the grand total at the arena of 8,986.  For a night that found the Jackets blacked out in all viewing areas, one would suspect that those interested in the team, the game of hockey, and the success of the franchise would make a point to come out and support the team in person.  Tickets were more than accessible to those looking for discounted rates, and yet somehow, only half the building was filled.

What gets me so 'bothered' is that these people (literally it simply refuses to stop being retweeted on the #CBJ feed) who don't seem to muster the energy to attend games, feel the need to publicly note the lack of attendance.  Now, I drive about an hour and a half to attend what I am hoping to be 30-50% of the home games in Columbus (so far I am 2 for 3), so I don't have all that much sympathy for people who can't travel a very short distance to enjoy one of the most exciting sports this earth has to offer.  So if you're someone who retweeted and didn't feel like showing up, come on.  Get out there and support this team.  You are the reason the attendance was so low.


Second, this insane amount of thrashing that Mason gets game, after game, after game.  Two goals were scored on him this evening in regulation.  One in which he made the first save through traffic, but could not get enough of the rebound to keep it out of the net.  The game tying goal came late in the game in what I would suspect was his 15th of 16 shots against him in the third period alone.  It was a point shot with plenty of traffic in front of the net, which tipped off of a jumping Landeskog and found the far side of the net just inside the post.  Mason completed the game with a .938 save percentage.

In the shootout, Mason struggled.  For anyone that doesn't know why, I highly recommend you watch what happened.  An absolute snipe by Hejduk that went just under the crossbar, and a gorgeous deke by Matt Duchene that scored through the five hole.  I am not going to speculate whether other goalies would have made these saves, but they were two of the more impressive shootout attempts I have seen this year.  Compare them to the Prospal and Carter attempts, and you're looking at a D grade vs and A grade, easy.

The Record

0-3..... AND 1!!!!!!!!!  Try not to lose your lunch over this.  Sometimes the wins come easy, and sometimes it takes nothing short of a miracle to make something happen.  At this point, the Jackets are finding multiple periods a game of pure dominance, followed by (or as a result of) some truly mediocre hockey.  Tonight, I certainly think they held back in the third period in an attempt to protect the 2-1 lead after Martinek ripped a point shot through Varlamov, but they really did not do a bad job of it.  Short of one fluke deflection, all signs were pointing to a textbook victory for the Jackets.

What is being ignored here, is the progress that was made.  Mason had a game, the defense had some very notable quality (see Martinek - dude has HANDS! - and Methot - who was physical and appeared to be all over the puck tonight).  Once again the mistakes were present, but the level of disastrous mistakes were held to a minimum, and those mistakes which were made were quickly recovered or resolved by an additional player moving in.  If you need a thumbs down, my nod goes to Clitsome on D (made some truly mediocre plays are looked hurried a lot) as well as MacKenzie (who I still cannot figure out how he is in the lineup over Mayorov, especially considering how lost he looks on the wing).

While this is only one play, I really want to point out an absolutely ridiculous faceoff win by Antoine Vermette.  After the puck was won slightly behind the opposing center, Vermette literally reached around the guy with one hand and pulled the puck back to his defender.  I have never seen anything like it and frankly, I did a double take to really consider what he had done.  I have long been a fan of Vermette's ability on the draw, but this was just beyond anything I have seen.

The Positive

I experienced another awesome meeting with some fellow bloggers and tweeps during the first intermission.  Finally purchased my Blue Jackets third jersey (went with the man, Carter), and enjoyed the excellent seats and service of the club level.  I also enjoyed two of the more impressive periods of hockey I have seen out of this team, and one fantastic effort by Steve Mason, including a kick save which he appeared to intentionally launch toward the empty blueline, sending the Jackets on the rush.  While I am disappointed about the loss, it is a step in the right direction and I expect more success for the team as the season wears on.

Carry the Flag!

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Special Teams Need to be Special

After the loss to Vancouver Monday night, solutions for the team (some more ridiculous than others) began pouring out on twitter through the #CBJ feed, and I felt compelled to consider the possible solutions myself.  There is of course the obviousness of it only being a three game stretch, and while the team sits winless, they also were not blown out in any of their games and maintained solid puck possession for solid stretches in each game.  I also considered the fact that three games in four nights can wear on players, as well as the fact that this new look Blue Jackets team inevitably needs some time to gel (Go read this post on team rebuilds over the last couple seasons and their success rates early on in the season by Matt over at the Cannon. It's eye opening for those thinking this is the fate of the season).

With that said, I decided to go after the most glaringly disappointing stat the Blue Jackets had to offer.  Enter special teams.  I am going to break them apart as they are both painful, but my short disclaimer is of course that the season is only three games deep, and it does take time for teams to gel (especially with all the new comers and rookies).  With that said, it doesn't close the door on speculation.

The Powerplay :: 0% :: 0 for 16

It is an awful number to look at.  Like the rookie who can't score his first goal, or the veteran who can't seem to reach a milestone.  It is a monkey that will cling on the backs of every single player spending time on the powerplay until they score one.  There is no question they have to be better here.  While chances are slowly looking better and better, their passes have been mediocre and their shots have been off target.  In fact, during at least two of the games, powerplays have caused them to actually LOSE momentum rather than gain it.

But here's the surprising stat. They are not the only ones.  This 0% is actually tied, for 24th in the league.  There are six other teams (including most notably the Rangers and Red Wings) who have yet to bury on the man advantage.  It is not an excuse, but it definitely puts it into perspective considering the Red Wings usually have a tremendous powerplay.

Obviously the subtraction of Wisniewski has been an issue.  He is a great fit on the point and the youth movement, while being positive for the team, seems to be a bit overwhelmed in these scenarios.  This certainly should not be a scapegoat for their lack of success, but considering he was brought in with the intent to better the Jackets chances with the man advantage, I am more than comfortable in waiting until he gets back before I really get critical about their powerplay percentage.

The Penalty Kill :: 63.6% :: 4 of 11

This is an awfully underwhelming number.  Off the top of my head I can think of three of the goals the Jackets have given up while down a man (I'll check the box scores to remember the fourth).  Aside from one goal, it was the result of a very poor play by a Blue Jacket player leaving a man open.  In a quick rehash: MacKenzie overcommits to a pass, leaving Suter with a lifetime to shoot after the pass across the crease is made.  Tyutin is left waving his stick as Scandella burns him from the outside and walks in alone on Mason.  (Heatley's goal is excluded, as that was just a fantastic redirect). Finally, Burrows is given the free lane to the net after Methot overcommits to the point man and gets two whacks at the puck, the second of which finds the back of the net.

These are not the worst goals ever allowed, but they are the defensive breakdowns that cost teams hockey games.  I am sure each play will be broken down and wrist slaps will be given, but they are going to have to iron it out before October disappears into November.  They currently sit at 28th in the league with 63.6% on the penalty kill, and it simply isn't good enough with the offensive output at only 2.0 goals per game (18th in the league).

The Blue Jackets are going to need to find a way to become special on special teams.  I had the opportunity of witnessing some excellent control on the powerplay in the pre-season, and I have to admit I like what I saw.  Crisp passing that was on the tape and not fluttering, and some seriously quick thinking leading to a few 'jump out of your seat even though it's just pre-season' goals.  If they can find a way to return to that form I believe there is plenty of opportunity to succeed without Wiz, but his return will be one of the major contributors to the success of the man advantage.

Carry the Flag!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The Methot Hit

Midway through the second period during the Columbus/Vancouver game, Marc Methot was penalized (fairly) for boarding Sedin as he played the puck into the Columbus end.  This was briefly discussed as a potential "Shanaban" scenario for many, and here are some pictures to show just how the play happened.

Sedin is sideways receiving the pass along the boards.  As he makes a move to continue the puck on into the Blue Jackets end, he turns his body towards the boards.  During that move, Methot comes in with the intent to essentially plaster Sedin with a big hit.

As he nears him though, it becomes obvious that he will only be hitting numbers, and he begins to lay off the hit.  He is clearly committed to making contact with Sedin, and he sends him into the boards generating the boarding call.

This image shows post connection.  Now, on many of the suspended hits from behind we have seen this year, there is little to no indication of stopping on the hitting players behalf.  As the picture above shows, Methot makes a conscious effort to avoid demolishing Sedin, and while he made a pretty solid attempt of embellishing the hit, there was no real injury on the play.  He played in the resulting powerplay, not missing a beat.

I think the decision by Methot is exactly what the league wants to see.  He certainly deserved to sit for two minutes, but this is what I believe to be a textbook two minute boarding penalty, not an intent to maliciously injure a player or something that is deserving of a suspension.

Edit: The league agrees with me, as many are reporting that Methot will not be receiving further discipline from the league.  I think this is a huge step in the right direction, and a bit of an easier pill for the fans of the Blue Jackets to swallow considering their obvious disdain for the statement call made on James Wisniewski in the pre-season.

Carry the Flag!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Recap: Columbus vs. Vancouver 10-10


For the first time in franchise history, the Blue Jackets are winless in their first three regular season games.   There really is no good way of stating that, but there are a whole lot of positives to take out of the first few games of the season that I will focus on rather than looking over the edge, and I strongly recommend people consider some of these thoughts before they quickly flush their CBJ interest down the toilet.

First, they played one of the league's best teams tonight in the Vancouver Canucks and put up a fantastic fight for more than two periods of hockey.  While there is a definitive need to find a full sixty minutes of effort and success each game, there were very clear signs of competitive hockey throughout the game.  Strong play left the first period with a clear edge to Columbus, but unfortunate events lead to a tie game (thanks a lot fantastic tip that barely clipped the top corner).  While I would hope that they could pull ahead during these stretches, that is simply something that will come in time.

Secondly, and this is a fantastic point by Scott Arniel in the post game tonight; This was the third game in four nights for Columbus.  That is a LOT of hockey to play, and their efforts certainly showed something negative in the third period, whether it was being burnt out or just bad hockey.  As someone who has played hockey before (not pretending the quality was this high, but I've played weekend tournaments that range from 4-6 games in a span of 3 days) I can honestly say the quality diminishes for teams who become worn out.  Again, this is not a clear cut excuse for a mediocre on ice product, but it certainly makes some sense based on their quality in the first two periods.

The third point I would like to make, is how the secondary lines have been useful after a lackluster start to the season.  The Umberger-Vermette-Brassard line was functioning and showed plenty of promise tonight, while the Dorsett-Pahlsson-Mayorov line did a tremendous job of causing the Sedin line to be all but irrelevant for LONG stretches of the game.  I really hope I don't need to go into detail explaining how impressive that is, but in short, it is not something that too many teams in the NHL can muster.

Finally, for the love of god, leave Mason out of this.  He made SOME big saves tonight, and let in three goals.  Goal one was a fantastic tip sending the puck from lower 5% of the net to BARELY clipping the crossbar before going in.  The second goal was again redirected by Hodgson who was left alone in front of the net.  The third and final goal was scored after he made the original save and the Vancouver forward was able to take an extra whack at the puck.  I can understand the expectations are high for Mason, but try not to get ahead of what really is happening on the ice.  He has made some very strong saves and given his team a fair chance to win the game early on.  It has to be a team effort.

Please don't take this as me sympathizing for their loss.  I bleed Columbus Blue Jackets hockey all season long and would love nothing more than for them to succeed and reach the playoffs for the second time in franchise history, but I am not of the mindset that badgering and throttling them for losing games like they did tonight will benefit anyone.  As I noted earlier today, I think it's high time we as fans of this team take a new line on cheering and really give them the support they probably desperately need to get beyond their current struggles.  Colorado is in town Wednesday and the time is now to get Columbus loud and support the team in their attempt to acquire their first win of the season.

Carry the Flag.

CBJ Fans Need a New Strategy

I am not one to call out a fan base. In fact, while I love to discuss, argue, celebrate, and dwell over the game of hockey, I rarely chime in on discussions about the fans. For Columbus, it seems to have become commonplace to discuss and usually speak negatively about the fan base (or lack there of), causing many jaded, success hungry individuals to take a rather dark line on responding to the analysts around the league.

My first concern, of course, is the misdirected hatred. Certainly we have seen plenty of negative commentary flood the #CBJ feed on twitter, and the annual pessimism towards team success leaves many fans ready to jump at any biased or unfair comment they see, but we as a fan base would probably do well to stop. Admittedly I have been at fault in this scenario, but I have changed my strategy a bit and it seems to be working quite well. Rather than throwing names or generating negativity towards someone, I have begun demanding accountability towards silly accusations. I cannot help but think that many in the hockey world find the Blue Jackets community to be lacking in hockey knowledge, and if we can represent our team through logic and fact, I believe it will do well to reduce the amount of un-researched negativity.

My second concern is a need (as a whole) for this fan base to get more people educated about the game of hockey. While the franchise is still relatively new in comparison to other teams in the league, it is high time to remove the awful stigma that Columbus is 'hockey stupid' or 'fair weather' in any sort of way. I believe the roots of hockey in Ohio are quite strong, stemming back to a number of Ohio native NHLers, strong hockey colleges, and as far back as the Barons in Cleveland. I am going to take it upon myself to get more people involved in the game of hockey and try to educate them on the rules and concept of the game, and I truly hope the rest of the fan base who have stuck through during the last decade of Blue Jackets history will do the same. New fans deserve to know how and why this franchise was made possible. They deserve to know why Rick Nash and Jeff Carter on the ice together is something this team has never seen talent-wise, and they deserve to know why hockey belongs in Columbus.

Finally, I am very concerned with the representation at hockey games. While I can appreciate the disdain towards a losing record, or a faltered play, booing the on ice product will never benefit anyone. A long time ago I tried to define what it means to be a fan. The best I could come up with, was "someone who loves, lives, and CHEERS a team, through the great times and the bad times." If people are booing the Blue Jackets, they are not acting like a fan in my books. Rather than kick our boys while they are down, I believe the Columbus fan base needs to make a concentrated effort to avoid making things worse than they already are.

This was brought about thanks to an awesome conversation this weekend between myself and a few other fantastic Blue Jackets fans. When we thought back to the game, it was noted that there was quite a bit of booing as the Jackets struggled to gain the zone during the powerplay, and frankly, I understand. I was sitting in my seat huffing and puffing, sighing and "oh my god'ing" as much as anyone, but I never booed. By the time the Jackets scored their second goal, I was already personally defeated and while I went through the goal claps and chants, I really did not have it in me to get crazy excited about the game.

I will give the fans credit where they deserve it, as they rallied big time in the last few minutes of the game trying to generate solid energy for the guys working to tie the game, but I wonder if it was too little too late. They needed this momentum to get out of their funk in the second period, which was notably miserable in terms of fan response. I am going to jump on board the band wagon whether the on-ice product deserves it or not. I may not be a season ticket holder, nor is it all that likely that I will attend more than 25 games this year, but when I do I will make sure to be as much of a positive influence as possible, and I truly hope other Jackets fans do the same.

It's time to take back this arena and make it the experience we know it can be. Cut the booing. This team can do better, but so can we. Carry the Flag!