Friday, December 30, 2011

Game Recap - Columbus vs. Dallas 12/29

I learned a few things last night while enjoying the Blue Jackets victory over the Dallas Stars.  First, Team Canada slaughtering Denmark is LESS appealing than this years Columbus Blue Jackets team (I was expecting there to be a channel changing fest throughout the game).  Second, I learned that you flat out never can tell what Blue Jackets team to expect on the ice.  The team I watched last night was a playoff team with an injured top tier defenseman.  And third, I learned that twitter bans on people who post too much in celebration of victories make me laugh uncontrollably (looking at you, Alison)!!!

I know it was a win, but like all recaps I do have to cover the entirety of the game, including the first period where Columbus was outshot 19-9.  Full credit to Steve Mason for keeping them in the game, despite having his stick whacked right before trying to cover the puck which lead to the Stars only goal.  That period was rough, and certain stretches of the remaining two periods found the Blue Jackets hemmed in their own zone looking like they were trying to kill a penalty.  It was nice to see them not scrambling, and not taking chances which lead to brilliant scoring opportunities for Dallas, but in the future I hope they get a bit more aggressive on the puck carriers rather than sitting back and waiting for the opposition to make a mistake.

The bright spot on the offense in my books was Johansen.  FSN declined to give him a star of the game, which I think is ridiculous.  He single handedly created the first goal (Nash finished, but he had 90% of the net to shoot at) and had a key screen late in the game which lead to their third goal.  He also created additional chances, flew around the ice, and appeared to make both Carter and Nash play better in the process.  This was a breakout game for the Johan, and he looked very comfortable in that role.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Losing Streaks, Great Attendance, and Confusion

Last week I touched base on the playoff possibilities that still remained for the 2011/2012 season and shared some of the records that would give Columbus a shot of making the playoffs.  I determined based on the current point trends of the bubble teams that the Jackets would need about  96 points to make the playoffs, and that a record of 36-11-2 would get it done.

Since writing that piece, Columbus has gone 0-2-1, two games of which they absolutely should have won.  It's nothing new.  My optimism in that post was limited, and their new 'bubble' record of 36-9-1 gives an even more clear indication of how impossible the playoffs will be for them this year.

Their current slide is six games long.  0-5-1.  They have not won in regulation in over a month now, and have done a tremendous job of coughing up leads at various times of the game.  They gave away a three goal lead against Nashville last week, and all but stopped being offensive last night against Calgary, giving them the open door to tie it (Yes, that was captain Jerome Iginla hanging out in front of Mason with the puck, completely undefended) and head to a shootout that lead to even more disappointment.  They also only managed one goal on twenty-eight shots, making Kiprusoff appear to be one of the greatest goalies in the league (he's not).

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Happy Holidays from CTF

It's been a long and trying year as a Blue Jackets fan.  From another disappointing finish to big time signings and trades... From the Arena deal to the current 9-21-4 record that plagues the fan base.. From un-fireable coaches to fresh blood in Patrick..

I always find the Christmas season is a great time to reflect on the year and appreciate some of the little things.  For me, looking at Carry the Flag, I am humbled and honoured each and every day I click on the blog stats and see the number of readers that take the time to read the posts the Coach and I publish.  Comments are like finding money in an old jacket.. Never expected, and ALWAYS appreciated!  I write for therapy when 140 characters is not enough, and I hope that some of the content I share provokes some interesting debates on where this team is headed in the future, and how they intend to get there.

So please, have a safe and Merry Christmas, and try not to get into too much trouble this New Years Eve!  We hope your holidays are filled with excitement, joy, and mounds of Blue Jackets swag!!

Carry the Flag!


Thursday, December 22, 2011

Understanding the Blue Jackets Early and Late Game Struggles

During Sunday's game against the Blues, Alex Steen scored just 58 seconds into the 3rd period to tie the game at three. This is a familiar sight for Blue Jackets fans. The Blue Jackets seem to constantly get scored on during the first couple minutes of a period. Also a familiar sight last weekend: with 1:48 remaining the 1st period of Saturday's game against Tampa Bay, Eric Brewer scored to give the Lightning a 2-0 lead. Inspired by these two goals, I decided to take a deeper look at what the Blue Jackets are doing differently at the beginning and end of every period.

Playoff Possibilities in 2011/2012

While I tune into every single Blue Jackets game with the hope of seeing a win, it would be dishonest if I claimed that I celebrate goals now the same way I did a year or two ago.  Maybe it's the jaded expectation of seeing a lead evaporate or the anticipation of a third period collapse, but the passion into my living room shaking "GOOOAAAL" celebrations have most certainly taken a backseat to the season we as fans have been forced to accept as 'regular' this year.

It got me wondering though.  If the Jackets came back from Christmas and snapped into some of the best hockey they've played in their existence, would there be any possibility of the playoffs?  It's a reach, and that's fine, but I've heard people comment about selling a team short, and if I am going to watch these games, I may as well do so with some ridiculously blind optimism.

So I went back to see what the bottom end teams got into the playoffs with over the last couple seasons in the Western Conference.  Here are some previous year standings and some number crunching:

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Howson's Patience - Unsettling, or Valuable?

A lot has been said since the comments arrived through the social media pipeline yesterday regarding Howson's continued support of Blue Jackets head coach Scott Arniel.  In his mind, the players are not playing to their potential and the issues surrounding the teams success fall squarely on them to start playing better.  A very interesting commentary to say the least, considering it was his guidance that put this group together and it has been one of his major criticisms that he sits on these types of things for way too long.

I have long been a Scott Howson supporter during decision making that really tested the patience of the Blue Jackets fan base. The trades that brought Vermette, Letestu, and Carter to the team.  His decision to experiment with young goaltenders in hopes of keeping Mason competitive rather than flushing him through the minor system while he ages and matures.  Certain re-signings that seemed to give the team more of a core feeling, and later noted non-trades that would have made him look decent to the fans, but caused the team to step back a bit in quality progression.  With that said, he has been slipping in my books, with a few of the following being the front end of my concerns.

First, the re-signings.  I look squarely on the Umberger and Tyutin re-signings as brash, as he had a full season in which to allow them to provide a quality look at their progression as players and give him further ammunition on what type of dollar amount to offer them.  Admittedly they could both be having career years, forcing their potential free agent value higher and costing the team more, but the simple fact is, they are not.  I can also understand those who would suggest I only have an issue with the signings because they are struggling, but again that is not the case, as I have been vocal on my dissatisfaction regarding both deals, in which I feel like the team paid a premium for (at least to the point where they did not re-sign for a 'discount').

Monday, December 19, 2011

Game Recap :: Columbus vs St Louis 12/18

The worst part about vocalizing recaps on a blog, for me anyways, is the number of times I have to delete full paragraphs.  I've taken gaps of time off commenting on account of the suck laid out before us, and will openly admit that this is the fourth time I have tried to lead into this game recap, mostly because of what I have been unleashing is just a giant heap of dissatisfaction with the team, the management, and the embarrassment I feel after watching such a talented team get turned into chumps for 15 minutes of hockey.

Let me get started with some optimistic pieces and then move into the suck.  First, the line combos, which Arniel did not seem to have the capacity to stick with, actually looked pretty strong at times.  Brassard - Umberger - Nash seemed to look pretty decent early on with Brassard showing every game that he belongs on the ice, and in the top six.  Letestu - Carter - Prospal also appeared capable of success, with Carter laying back in the scoring areas waiting for solid feeds from his two wingers, which I think is a great way to utilize his shot when possession is gained in the offensive zone.

For two periods they played decent hockey, at least in the offensive zone.  Defensively, they remain incapable of not allowing extremely high end scoring chances to the opposition.  Of the five goals St Louis scored with a goalie in net, only the goal by Pietrangelo is a goal I would place solely on Mason, who extended and had the puck sneak through his arm and body on the blocker side.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Game Recap :: Columbus vs Vancouver 12/13

I've got lots to say about this game, some good, some bad, and I apologize if I bounce around.  Optimism was laughably low with the ever mighty Canucks in town and Mason finally getting the call after close to a month of rest following a Rick Nash shot to the dome.  Sadly I had a number of priorities that caused me to not be able to attend, but I watched the first 58 minutes before leaving for a hockey game of my own.

Imagine my disappointment when I got to the rink only to find out that I missed an extremely impressive shootout, with all three skaters scoring for Columbus, and only one managing to beat Mason, who returned from injury after getting sticked in the back of the knee midway through the third period.  That said, disappointment turned quickly to satisfaction as the team finally found the back of the net and helped Mason put on a relatively impressive display of goaltending.

Now, some statistics I'd like to share.

- After controlling large amounts of the first period and leading in shots 10-5, Columbus returned to the ice for the second period and watched as Vancouver skated around them, peppering Mason from all angles and quickly changing the shot totals to 12-11 in favour of the Canucks.  While Columbus managed to return to form and brought the shots back to a reasonable total, finishing the second period with 11 shots to the Canucks 14 (for the period anyways), they were never able to take back the shot edge.  The final shots were 32-30 in favour of Vancouver.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

It's Time for Scoring in Columbus

For a team that can't seem to dig themselves out of the league basement in goal scoring, the Blue Jackets seem awfully concerned about sturdy, grit players.  Dane Byers is on emergency recall from Springfield on account of the Dorsett injury, and you better believe he won't be coming up to score highlight reel goals.  Behind Byers in Springfield sit Matt Calvert, Tomas Kubalik, and Cam Atkinson, three players who have the ability to score goals but are young and in need of 'quality development' prior to being relied on in a call up situation.

At the start of the year I thought they had this luxury.  Long has Columbus been tagged as a team who rushed talent, none more visible than Steve Mason, who is about five years below the league average goaltender age, yet sits on a three million dollar contract and up until Curtis Sanford decided to be a quality goaltender, had the franchise resting on his shoulders for a good two years.  In fact I can't help but wonder if the team is not just avoiding, but fretting another scenario like Brule, or Picard, or Boll, or Filatov, etc etc where they bring in a young player and force him into a role that is beyond his means.

With that said, I am really not sure the franchise can tolerate the patience needed to take development to the level of teams such as the Red Wings, who bury players in the minor leagues well into their mid twenties before calling them up to the big club.  In fact, this boost in 'stiffness' thanks to call ups of Giroux, Bass, and now Byers are probably directly accounting for some of the league worst scoring totals the team now rests on.  If you have not been to some of the sites lately, here's a grim look at what they are dealing with..

Monday, December 12, 2011

CBJ Roster Review - 12/12

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:

Boll :: I wish I had some good things to say about Boller, but he's been beat up pretty good in his last couple of fights and hasn't shown much on the ice. Starting to wonder how really valuable a heavy-ish weight fighter is in this league anymore.

Brassard :: Despite all the off ice conversation, Brassard has made a point of returning to the lineup and being relevant.  An assist, +2, and 10 shots on goal in his three games back. He's also been functioning well in the top 6 and on the powerplay.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

RJ Umberger :: From Future to Funk

My, how things change...  Reflecting on an off-season full of optimism and excitement, I found myself considering the many things gone wrong in Columbus this year, and Umberger certainly tops the list.  After coming to the Blue Jackets from Philadelphia, he quickly became a fan favourite for his tenacious on ice effort and quality interaction both in the media and in local events.  But what has become of him?  Admittedly my efforts on this piece came before his performance last night against Montreal, which frankly was very strong, forcing me to modify abysmal stat totals below to slightly less unimpressive totals.  If he were to go on a tear and play the next twenty games the way he did against the Canadiens, I will be writing a follow up piece on his rise in quality.

With that said, his productivity on ice has been mediocre.  Bouncing around between the top two lines, he is tied for 8th on the team with just nine points (four goals, five assists) in 27 games.  He has scored two points on the powerplay, and is an impressively bad 4.0% shooting.  He is also tie for 6th worst on the team in plus/minus at -7.  He is on pace for 27 points, leaving him with his lowest point total in his ENTIRE National Hockey League Career.  Lower than his sophomore year with Philadelphia in 06/07 which he netted 28 points in 81 games.

Look first at his contract extension signed this summer.  Arguably deserving of a raise from his current 3.75 million dollar cap hit (he will earn 4.5 million this year), Columbus locked him in for five years at an average cap hit of 4.6 million.  Realistically it would have been appropriate to provide him with a salary of around 4.5 million or so for the next couple years as he is in his prime at the age of 29, averaging in the mid 50 point range year after year.  With that said, I longed for a contract that extended into his late thirties, yet tailed off in yearly salary to allow him to retire a Blue Jacket while providing a lower cap hit for the team.

Game Recap :: Columbus vs Montreal 12/6

For a while there, they had me.  Another strong first period that did not get them ahead in the game, followed up with a decent second period, and then a third period designed more to hold a lead than to build on one.  Sanford once again making almost all the saves that needed to be made, and once again they leave the building with the other goaltender well into the .900s in save percentage.

I suppose the most troubling stat of the evening came at the hands of Columbus' top line.  It's always nice to have a stat sheet to refer to in order to see what kind of execution they had, and I am provided with the following:

Jeff Carter :: 0 goals - 5 shots on goal - 4 missed shots
Rick Nash :: 0 goals - 7 shots on goal - 3 missed shots
Kristian Huselius :: 0 goals - 1 shot on goal - 3 missed shots

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

The Blue Jackets Win in Realignment

I have a couple thoughts on the realignment that I want to put there. Basically, the Jackets won. It is not a complete and total victory, as there was no way the perfect ideal situation for the Blue Jackets was a possibility. Based on the direction the league was going, this is the best case scenario for the team. Considering it took the Board of Governors an hour to finalize this set up, a four conference league was in the bag. Based on the possible team groupings for a four conference set up, this is definitely the best situation.

Realignment Reactions

Last night the NHL's Board of Governors approved a four conference format that better suits NHL teams trying to play in similar time slots with shorter travel.  It is also geared to allow a home and home against every single NHL team.  For Columbus, this brings the return of a number of familiar faces from the Central division, along with the addition of the Minnesota Wild, Dallas Stars, and the Winnipeg Jets.  This is one option that seemed to be better than the standard "Winnipeg for Detroit" swap which would create little positive change for Columbus.

Lots of reactions early on from fans seemed surprisingly pessimistic.  I suppose I don't blame them, although I suspect the only real change that would have suited some fans would have been the collective conference of bottom feeding NHL teams in order to better the Jackets playoff hopes.  Certainly they have a tough road ahead, but no more tough than some teams have it.

My first thought was the new playoff structure.  In this format, four of the eight teams in this "B" conference (soon to be named, and predicted to be the "Central" conference) make the playoffs.  While this seems desperately negative to some who see teams like Detroit, Chicago and Nashville as nearly impossible obstacles, I see it as a great opportunity for the Blue Jackets to make their own fate.  In the current structure, they need to beat seven other teams in the west in order to make the playoffs, sometimes even eight teams if another division is weak enough.  I recognize that the impossible realignment placing Columbus in the east with less gritty teams like Toronto and Ottawa would have been a best possible example, they can still grow as a team and find solutions to the gritty western style of play.

Monday, December 5, 2011

Making a Case for Brassard

On a team full of underachievers, there always seem to be a few who take the spotlight.  Admittedly my harsh criticisms for the Blue Jackets captain have been at the forefront of many of my posts on here in recent weeks, however that may be on account of the greatest name not achieving the greatest results.  In Brassard's case, expectations could not have been lower for him since his breakthrough sophomore season that fell short due to injury.

What I do find most interesting, is the complete and utter inability to utilize him in a consistent role by coach Scott Arniel.  Claims of 'fair chances' are common, but his rag tag line combinations of fourth line grit players, and third line grinders don't exactly fit the suitable linemates needed for a creative player like Brassard to thrive.  Until now, his time with similarly skilled players seems to be limited to secondary powerplay units and random in game line juggling by Arniel.

When I look back to his most successful time with Columbus, I immediately think of his chemistry with former Blue Jackets Jakub Voracek who climbed the depth chart with Brassard a couple seasons ago.  What was interesting about the pair, is that while they were immensely successful together, they struggled to bring Nash into their offensive output.  This continued into the following season, and is what I believe to be the eventual demise of Voracek as a Blue Jacket and Brassard as a 'capable top tier forward'.  Were it a situation where Brassard and Voracek could thrive on the second line of a deeper team, I believe the results would have been substantially different.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Game Recap :: Columbus vs. Edmonton 12/2

It is starting to become scripted.  Strong first period or two, followed by a tremendous collapse.  Last night in Edmonton, the Blue Jackets were throttled late in the game by a young, fast Edmonton team who took advantage of soggy competition in the third period.  Five goals on fifteen shots, thanks to a third period hattrick from Ryan Jones.  Not unlike the Calgary game, I watched it from start to finish, yet had a terrible feeling throughout that something was going to fall apart.  Unfortunately, I was right.

Here is the first of many issues I have.. In table form..

Team 1st 2nd 3rd
CBJ 21 10 8
EDM 7 12 15

Another reasonably solid first period from the guys in union blue, who showed once again that they can pepper the opposing net with shots.  Unfortunately, per usual, only one goal was scored on those 21 shots, leaving Dubnyk to have the appearance of an elite goaltender boasting a .952 save percentage heading into the first intermission.  At some point, and rest assured I'll be looking into it, the players will have to start taking the 'harder' shots that force goalies to make saves, rather than slamming pucks into pads or logos.  It's being done to them, why not return the favour?

Friday, December 2, 2011

The Good and Bad of November

After a long stretch of loss induced negativity, I have been taking a backseat on my criticisms of the Jackets in hopes of seeing the rejuvenation of talent with all players healthy and in the lineup (give or take Huselius, Martinek, and Dex).  Unfortunately, my patience only extends so far, and it is time to weigh in on some things that have been pleasing me and driving me crazy over the last couple of weeks.

First, the Good:

Marc Methot and Nikita Nikitin.  Two players who were probably not the first options for many fans entering the season, but have both emerged as relevant defenders for the Blue Jackets playing high minutes each game.  My love for Methot is fairly well known, and I finally feel as though his success and my reasonably high praise for his capacity as a defender is being fulfilled.  He was tremendous during his World Championship stint with Canada, and I believe we have been getting a glimpse of his full potential over the last handful of games.

In Nikitin's case, he was a great solution to the defensive minded gap missing from the blueline, and yet has also factored into the scoring, most notably his three point game against Calgary last night.  While I do think he may lack a step here and there, he has more than solidified the hole left by Martinek, and has played the big minutes between the top two defensive pairings.  Secondary to that, he has managed to make up for a number of textbook mistakes by Fedor Tyutin.