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.

Letestu.  Give a kid a chance, and sometimes you get surprised.  From no roster spot to second line standout, he has been involved in the scoring, the energy, and the success fans like me are begging for.  I am not big on his size, but his decision making with the puck and solid execution have really pleased me, as it was something I was preaching upon his arrival.  It also gives the Blue Jackets another quality scoring center/winger to round out a more competitive top three scoring lines.

Prospal.  It's hard to say enough about Vinny.  He's been by far one of Columbus' best this year, and has been vocal in calling out the lack of competitiveness in the locker room and on the ice.  He's become a bit of a fan favourite at least in the twittering that I read daily, and is a great candidate for at least another year on the roster.  He is the veteran leadership I was hoping to see out of guys like Clark and Moreau.

Now, the Bad:

The white elephant.. Better known as the complete and utter lack of competitive nature of the team.  Letestu and Prospal both saw it looking from the outside in, and fans get to see it for periods at a time.  The plague-like attitude that attacks this team is something that has forced a lot of the emotion out of me this year, and caused me to be a bit jaded during games.  I'm a long way from jumping out of my seat or screaming "GOOOAAAAL" when they score, and the lackadaisical attitude from the bench is a major contributor.  Surprisingly consistent is a decent/great first period followed by two periods of hockey that I'd be better off not watching.  This 'style' was present against St Louis, Vancouver, and again for a long stretch of the game last night against Calgary, and it needs to stop.  Is it a leadership issue? Are the players too comfortable? Hard to even break the surface on that one..

Wiz.  I stopped counting last night after his 5th or 6th bad pinch.  His shot is tremendous but it hasn't been well utilized this year.  His creative passing has lead to turnovers, and I am again left wondering if there isn't more to be had.  Obviously he's got a healthy contract and will factor into most games, but he needs to make a more positive difference on the ice.  I have enjoyed watching some of the players grow with him like Nikitin and Methot, but at this point I am not sure he is providing what I was sold on this summer.

Carter/Nash.  Here's where it gets arguable.  When I list these two players, I am ignoring all shootout goals, tipped goals, secondary assists, and other, non individual statistics.  I remove them because these two are defined as elite players, and as such, should be expected to play at an elite level.  Carter has shown signs of brilliance, slicing through defenders with his unique stride and getting solid scoring opportunities, but I still expect that style of hockey at a higher frequency.  In Nash's case, it's been non existent.  He's tried and failed to walk around defenders countless times in the last few games, and seems more inclined to stop on the wall and wait for support instead of trying to make the tough play to the net.  Decent if you're a passer, but it's not the style Nash became elite for, and one on ones are something I'd rather see him take advantage of than wait for help.  Further, his completely irrelevant shots from the corner that lead to nothing are wearing me thin.

There are a couple other bubble players, but I suppose they aren't quite list ready.  It's been a season of disappointment with a small hint of success in the middle.  The worst part for me has been watching them play to their potential for full periods at a time, only to come out as though they couldn't care less about the outcome of the game only a period later.  It is that kind of hockey that rips the excitement out of the game for me.  If I could beg the team to do one thing right now, it would be to simply dedicate their games to hard work and the necessary effort needed to play a full sixty minutes. I can tolerate losing to better teams, but this team has beaten itself too many times to count this year.

Hopefully an undeserving win like last night changes the mindset of a few guys in the locker room.  The fans deserve to watch a team that cares for sixty minutes.

Carry the Flag.

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