Saturday, February 4, 2012

Jackets Road Trip in Review

It was certainly an interesting week for the Blue Jackets, coming home with a 1-2-0 record out west, and another 0-3-0 record in the other half of their six game road trip.  I haven't recapped in quite some time because of how much negativity could be grouped into each one, but I think it's worth taking a few things into account from these last six games.

I want to group the first four games into one collection of awful, where the Blue Jackets were outscored 17-5.  The obvious is there, where they need to score more, produce more offense, and generate fewer chances in their own zone. As noted, it's a grouping of losses where the mistakes are greatly magnified, so I won't bother spending much time with it.

Rather, I want to touch a little on "Clock Gate" and the LA game, and then spend a fair bit of time on the treat I enjoyed last night.  If you've been under a rock, you'll be interested to learn that with 1.8 second left in the game against Los Angeles, the clock quite literally stopped ticking down for somewhere between 1-2 seconds, giving the Kings additional time to score the game winner. Sure enough, Doughty found the back if the net with 0.6 seconds left, but it was more like -0.4 or -1.4 seconds remaining.  I know watching these games doesn't mean I'm 'owed' anything, but I feel like the fans and certainly the team, who played reasonably well for sixty minutes of hockey, deserved a better fate.

Another important piece of their almost OT in Los Angeles, and their eventual win in Anaheim, was rebound control, both from the goaltender and the players in front of him.  What I've seen out of Mason lately is a rebound that essentially sends the puck back into the slot.  It's a tough way to make stops, because it either gives the opposition a second chance immediately, or it forces the defense to come up big and send the puck into the corner.  Unfortunately, horribly turnovers lead to scoring chances. Scoring chances lead to rebounds, and rebounds were landing on San Jose sticks.

In Los Angeles and Aneheim on the other hand, I saw a team dedicated to clearing out the secondary chances.  Sanford does appear to be better about rebounds, sending many into the corner rather than back into the slot, but he most certainly gave up his fair share of 'in the slot' rebounds, most of which were cleared away by the defense.  A prime example of this from last night was later in the game when Sanford made a reasonably strong stop, but it left him outside the crease on the right side of the net, with the puck rebounding to the left side, onto Jason Blake's backhand. Fortunately for Sanford, Aaron Johnson dropped and half covered the net, half covered the puck.  It was plays like that which made the win possible. Something I saw very little of in the San Jose game.

More on last night, I really want to discuss the rise of Derick Brassard.  I've long been a fan of him, and it is definitely well documented.  I strongly believe that given the right linemates he can be a very effective top line center for this team, with really only his faceoff abilities in question.  I believe that he will excel substantially playing with guys who can push the pace like Nash, and players who can find the back of the net like Carter or Johansen.  He once again proved his value in the top spot last night, scoring two goals including the game winner, and while his faceoffs weren't great (all CBJ players were ugly on the draw last night) his game beyond that was showing great strides.  Looks like Arniel was wrong.

Last night also saw the return of Jeff Carter, who was on the mend from an injured shoulder.  He was the benefactor of a great play from Antoine Vermette to score the Jackets other goal, and had a couple of seriously prime scoring chances, one of which rattled off the post.  He also played on the second line which seems to really make a difference in the look of the Jackets offense. I remember thinking about how well Columbus was pushing the pace late in the game, and I really think adding that secondary scoring dimension made a huge difference.

With that goal last night, Carter becomes the most effective scorer on the Blue Jackets roster this year, with a goal per game average of 0.355.  Nash is a close second with 0.327.  With the trade deadline approaching and the Carter rumours at a dull roar, can Columbus really part ways with their most effective scorer? They are currently 29th in the NHL in goals scored average.

Vinny Prospal found himself on the second line last night, which seemed interesting to me.  He has only managed two goals and three assists in the fourteen games since New Years.  For a guy who is very unlikely to stick around, I think it might be very smart for Howson to start considering a trade now, rather than waiting another couple of weeks. It would seem the 18:12 average ice time is wearing on the 36 year old, and while I would be sad to see his tenacity and leadership go, I think it's time to start the process of purging the roster and looking ahead to 2012/2013.

I'm going to give it another couple games before I really comment, but John Moore has really seemed to find his game at the right time. He's been making a few rookie mistakes, but I have been very pleased with his on ice output of late.  Last night he managed over 26 minutes of ice time, an assist, four blocked shots, and four hits.  I hope to see him continue his development, as he could and should be a major piece of the Blue Jackets future.

The Jackets wait until Tuesday to play their next game, against Minnesota.  This will be a fun game to follow Colton Gillies, who was claimed from the Wild earlier this year.

Carry the Flag!

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