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.

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