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.
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.