I have been notably silent over the last week as the dust settled from the 9-2 loss the team suffered against Philadelphia last Saturday. With the level of speculation, overreaction, and sense of abandonment at an all time high, I felt it necessary to limit my thoughts to 140 characters and try to find solutions without falling back on knee jerk reactions. Needless to say, this post comes at the back end of many deleted, semi rant-ish posts that really served no purpose.
It is true, we still have the same personnel in place that we have had since the start of the season. While it may seem somewhat ridiculous (and many analysts have made note of it) that no sweeping changes to coaching, management, or the roster have been made, it provides an almost unreasonable consistency in what is shaping up to be a pretty painful year. It is also true that the only major roster change between Saturday and today has been the acquisition of Mark Letestu from Pittsburgh, a player who seems destined to start his career with the Blue Jackets on the bottom six after a rocky start to his sophomore campaign.
Letestu is a talented player who simply could not play his way into the ridiculously deep Pittsburgh lineup. This should not be received as a negative towards him, but a credit to the depth of the Penguins team. He will provide a spark on the bottom line that I believe Arniel has been hunting for, while at the same time actually having enough and potential to make plays happen. He also boasts a strong faceoff win percentage, but is versatile enough to play on the wing if need be. I consider this a solid move considering he is only on the books for around 600-650k for this season and next, but I suspect Howson is a long ways from being able to throw his feet up on the desk.
For the better part of a week I have watched and read as Mason received the brunt of the blame (on average) for the porous start and have read as folks demand his removal for a handful of different scenarios, including veteran netminders like Nabokov, Backstrom, Turco, and even a shoutout to Thomas. The more cost effective option would be to anticipate the healthy return of unproven (but primed) Dekanich, who has every indication of being a solid NHL performer, but has yet to play an entire game at the NHL level.
For the record, I wholly support Dekanich in a large role for the Jackets. This summer, I was hoping to see a goaltender like Vokoun or Harding get picked up by the Jackets. This would provide Mason with a secondary, competitive goaltender who can be a part of a 1A/1B goaltending unit. Splitting time for the most part and riding the hot hand through the season is always a great way of keeping the goalies competitive, and Mason and his lack of confidence/maturity could have room to grow without feeling the entire weight on the franchise on his shoulders. The Dekanich signing surprised me, but his numbers looked very strong in the minors, and he (unlike Mason) had been given the time needed in the Nashville system to develop into a complete goaltender.
It has been unfortunate that "dexshow" has been out of commission for over a month to start the season, but I think there is real potential here for both goalies. I think moving Mason at this point would be awfully brash considering how mediocre the rest of the team has been, and having only 3.5 million tied up in goaltending is a big benefit to the team. Dekanich will be an RFA this coming summer, which gives him a fair chance of showing his abilities in order to obtain a solid contract, and it gives Mason the room to find his game under pressure without the walls caving in.
The breakout, the defense, and special teams have been significantly bad since the last time I discussed them. Rather than beating a truly dead horse for too long, I will simply look to tonight as an indication of the quality that can be expected in the coming weeks. That said, here are the few changes I would make moving forward;
The breakout would seemingly be the easiest of the three to fix, with forwards reducing their distance from the defenseman trying to make a pass. Creativity by way of moving east and west in the neutral zone rather than pushing north south would be a great start to give the breakout pass a higher success rate.
Defensively I see no real reason why the Jackets can't play the way they did in front of York both in Chicago and against Toronto. Collapsing towards the net and clogging up the slot rather than chasing will force the opposition to either take low percentage shots from the outside or force passes through closed lanes, allowing for a Columbus transition up the ice.
It's hard to deny the possession game of Columbus has been stronger than what we are used to seeing, but the shots by the offense have to become substantially more competitive. Two out of the maybe five or so real scoring opportunities against Philadelphia resulted in goals. Of the almost forty shots against Toronto, Scrivens may have been forced to make less than a handful of impressive saves. They are going to need to find the outside of the net better, ideally scoring a few off the bar.
Special teams... Well... Repetition is poison.. They have to be better.
I will be back to review the game against Chicago tomorrow morning. In the meantime, feel free to comment on what changes you would want to make if the Jackets were to stay pat with their roster. Play coach for a day and let me know what your glaring changes would be!
Carry the Flag!