Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Big Victories at World Juniors -- Showdowns Loom

No nail biters today at the World Junior Championships in Ottawa. The winning sides had big margins of victory to work with. Laughers will be only briefly enjoyed, however, as the last day of 2008 brings two big showdowns to the rink: Russia vs. Sweden @ 2:30 PM Eastern tomorrow, and Candada vs. USA at 7:30 tomorrow night. That will wrap up pool play and send the tournament into the Quarterfinals. Here are the highlights of today's action:

Russia 8 Slovakia 1 -- Nikita Filatov of the CBJ had a hat trick and an assist in just 5 shots on goal as Russia stayed undefeated with a convincing victory over Slovakia.

Czech Republic 6 Germany 0 -- The Czechs capitalize on Germany miscues and continue the poor showing by the German team in Ottawa.

Finland 5 Latvia 1-- The Finns break through for their first win in a Group B contest with winless Latvia.

USA 12 Khazakstan 0 -- 10 different scorers amass a dirty dozen goals over the hapless Khazakstan team.

Tomorrow promises to be a fantastic day of hockey in Ottawa!!! We will keep you posted here!!

NHL Points -- Alternate Systems

This is the time of year when the NHL's method of awarding points for victories and overtime losses comes under a lot of scrutiny. Also, with the World Juniors underway, their system also receives a lot of attention. So, I decided to do some analysis and see what would happen under various point systems, using today's NHL standings and extrapolating them out over the course of the full season.

For the record, I am a big believer in consistency. A hockey game needs to have a given value, regardless of result, whether that be 2 points or 3 points. In my mind, it seems fairly obvious that a win achieved within the rule-prescribed 60 minutes of play is inherently more worthy than an win obtained in overtime or shootout. Similarly, a loss in overtime or shootout represents a better effort by the losing team than a loss in regulation. Therefore, I don't object in theory to awarding points for OTL and SOL. I do object to having some games worth 3 points, and others 2 points. However, I also operate under the theory that the OTL points issue is not the major obstacle that many portray it being.

To test things out, I took all of the NHL team records as of last night, determined how many OT/SO wins each team had, then calculated their current points based upon three systems: Existing (2 Points Win, 1 Point OTL or SOL), World Juniors (3 Points Regulation Win, 2 Points OT/SO Win, 1 Point OT/SO Loss), Former NHL (2 Points Win, 1 Point Tie). I then divided the resulting points by the games played, and multiplied by 82 to get a projected year end total for each team in each system. I then ranked each team within its conference, using each point total, and allowing for the 1-2-3 seeds for the division champs.

Here are the results, using the Western Conference to highlight the differences, as they are more obvious in the West. (NOTE: I did not attempt to apply tiebreaking rules, so ranking at same score is effectively random)

Western Conference -- Current System (2 Pts Win, 1 Pt. OT/SO Loss)

(* denotes division champ)

1. San Jose 141 *
2. Detroit 119 *
Calgary 105 *
4. Chicago 117
5. Vancouver 95
Anaheim 93
Edmonton 89
Colorado 89
9. Phoenix 86
10. Nashville 84
11. Minnesota 84
12. Columbus 82
13. Dallas 82
14. Los Angeles 80
15. St. Louis 71

Western Conference -- World Juniors System (3 Pts. Reg. Win, 2 Pts. OT/SO W, 1 Pt. OT/SO L)

1. San Jose 196 *
2. Detroit 159 *
3. Calgary 148*
4. Chicago 157
5. Vancouver 131
6. Anaheim 124
7. Phoenix 124
8. Edmonton 123
9. Minnesota 117
10. Colorado 114
11. Nashville 112
12. Columbus 109
13. Los Angeles 109
14. Dallas 108
15. St. Louis 89

Western Conference -- Former NHL System (2 Pts. Win, 1 Pt. Tie)

1. San Jose 130*
2. Chicago 107*
3. Calgary 100*
4. Detroit 105
5. Vancouver 86
6. Phoenix 86
7. Anaheim 82
8. Edmonton 82
9. Minnesota 77
10. Los Angeles 75
11. Nashville 73
12. Columbus 73
13. Dallas 73
14. Colorado 71
15. St. Louis 57

As with most analysis, looking at the extremes is the most instructive. The impact is more clearly seen in the tightly packed West, where Colorado leads with 8 OT/SO wins. They fall from the 7/8 slots in the current system to 10th in the Juniors System and all the way to 14th in the former system. Conversely, Phoenix, who has 0 OT/SO wins, moves from 9th in the current system all the way to 6th under the former rules. Detroit fares better under the current system, while Chicago narrows the gap on the Wings under the Juniors system, and overtakes them under former rules.

Except for the extremes, there are few dramatic movements in placing between the various systems. Due to TV, spectator demand, and related considerations, it is unlikely that the NHL would ever move back to the tie. That basically leaves the current system or the Juniors system. I vote for the Juniors system, as it provides a consistent value for every game.

What do you think???

A Dirty, Grimy Victory

Sitting here in a sleep-deprived fog, recovering from following the game on radio and internet last night/this morning, then watching coverage on NHL Network, this is the only description I can come up with to describe the victory over the Kings. Brutal hitting, tight checking, incredible goaltending on both sides. They should have worn overalls instead of hockey sweaters for this one.

Klesla was the metaphor for this victory. He kept hitting, getting hurt, coming back. Stops a 3 on 1 by getting his forehead in the way of the puck. Still he came back. He got off the deck more times than Jerry Quarry. (Youngsters can Google Jerry to find out who he was.) ;-) Make no mistake, however -- this was another team victory, in a game that was destined to go against the team that blinked first.

Hejda was huge all night. Peca came to the fore, as did Boll. Nash, despite having only 1 SOG, was a big presence all night. Huselius was a gnat, keeping motion in the game. Umberger, Murray and Voracek all contributed. Even Backman was a visible presence. As predicted in the preview here, it came down to some incredible goaltending. Both tenders robbed shooters of some prime opportunities.

+/- for the game:

+ Tenacity -- "Energy" does not describe the attitude that the CBJ brought to the ice last night. While there was the periodic display of skill and tape-to-tape passing, those efforts were frustrated by great defense and goaltending on each side. We stayed physical for 60 minutes, pounded pucks from the point, and did all of the unpleasant things that you need to do to win on the road.

+ Defense -- Another game where we did not let them breathe. Lots of support in our own end, good clears, limited chances. Only 24 shots against -- a big improvement over 42 a couple of weeks ago! We dominated faceoff circle again, with Manny coming up huge.

+ Goaltending -- The two young Turks of the netminder world squared off, and our guy came out on top. Another nice effort!

+ Special Teams -- We were prudent about taking penalties, and the game winner was a power play goal (on an abbreviated power play, no less!) We are moving the puck better on the PP. PK was perfect again (14 for our last 14)!

+ Individuals -- Klesla, Hejda, Russell, Mason, Nash, Murray, Voracek, Huselius, Umberger.

- Finishing -- I almost hate to put this in as a minus, because both defenses and goaltenders did tremendous jobs, but other chances were missed from the magic triangle. Shots wide or high, and guys just not having their sticks on the ice when the puck got there. Need to start cashing in on opportunities, as I can guarantee you that we will need some of those during this trip.

Bottom line was a great start to the longest road trip of the year. A day to lick our wounds and end 2008 with a victory over Anaheim!

Go Jackets!

Monday, December 29, 2008

Young Goalies Duel As Jackets Take On Kings

Take your No Doz, get that Triple Venti Cappuccino working and stay up to watch the CBJ tussle with the Los Angeles Kings again tonight, with the puck dropping at 10:30 pm EST. Both the Jackets and Steve Mason will be looking for some revenge, as both games to date have ended with LA on the plus side of 3 - 0 scores.

This shapes up as a battle of young goalies. Mason has been stellar for Columbus, leading the league with a 1.87 GAA, near the top with a .932 save percentage, a 10 - 7 - 1 record, and coming off a 3 - 0 shutout of the Philadelphia Flyers. Jonathan Quick has been equally impressive in his few games for the Kings, compiling a 2 - 2 record in 5 appearances, with a 1.88 GAA and a .933 save percentage. He, too, is coming off of a shutout, a 4 - 0 victory over Phoenix on the road.

In that Phoenix win, LA scored three goals in a span of 5:54 of the first period, two of them on the power play. Conversely, LA gave Phoenix 9 power play opportunities, but their PK shut the Coyotes down. Quick stopped 26 shots for his second shutout.

Clearly, the Jackets need to come out hard and prevent LA from blitzing us with energy. Lots of movement, lots of traffic, and lots of rubber on the net, just like we did against Philly. Again, we need to bury our chances!!

On defense, we need to likewise adopt the stingy, disruptive action that frustrated Philly for 60 minutes. We gave up 42 shots to LA in the last outing, and can't afford that again. Pressure, pressure, pressure.

We are zero-for-Phoenix this year, and have been blanked by L.A. thus far. Need to turn the tables tonight and start the road trip off with 2 points.

Go Jackets!!

World Juniors Update

U.S. 4 Czech Republic 3 -- The American team got a bit more than they bargained for, but held on to beat a competetive Czech team. Jordan Schroeder continued his hot hand for the U.S., and now has 7 points for the tournament, tying him for second place among all skaters.
Russia 5 Finland 2 -- CBJ prospect and team captain Nikita Filatov scored twice to keep the Russian team undefeated in pool play. Finland has yet to earn a point in the competition.
Sweden 3 Slovakia 1 -- Sweden prevails again, but has yet to really impress with either of its efforts.
Canada 15 Kazakhstan 0 -- 8 power play goals, 10 different scorers. Canada ties its all time victory margin mark, equalling a 15 - 0 Christmas Day drubbing of France in 2001.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

A Complete Effort!!!!!

On December 23rd, after the LA debacle, Hitch promised a different team and a different effort against Philadelphia. The man sure knows how to keep his word . . . .

Tonight was a tremendous effort under signifcant pressure after two lackluster performances. The CBJ came out strong, kept the pressure on in all three zones, and never gave the Flyers time to breathe. Passing was crisp, checking was solid, forecheck was intense. Penalty kill shut down the top power play in the league, and we showed great puck movement on the PP, cashing in one power play goal.

A crowd that just missed being a sellout helped with the team energy, even though the visiting colors were over-represented in the arena. All in all, it was an effort that Howson, Hitchcock and the PR department could only have dreamed of for this time and place. Here is the +/- for tonight:

+ Energy-- All four lines were in constant motion, creating space and opportunities on offense, disrupting flow in the neutral zone, and supporting and filling on defense. The crowd and the players seemed to feed on each other as the game went on.
+ Malhotra -- I have called Manny out for lackluster effort this season, and he slapped me in the face tonight. 17 of 19 in the faceoff circle, a goal, and could have had several assists had we finished our chances. He got his chance on the top line, and he thrived. Full Marks, Manny!!
+ Mason -- Stop me if this is starting to sound like Groundhog Day, but Mason was a stud, the Master of the Crease, and the calmest head on the ice. He also created opportunities with his stick handling.
+ Penalty Kill -- Perfect against the top PP unit in the league. Doesn't get any better than that.
+ Power Play -- OK, not a great percentage, but great puck movement, lots of shots and 1 goal. From where we have been, this merits a +.
+ Defense -- We frustrated the Flyers' rhythm and kept them from maintaining sustained pressure in our end. We made crisp clears and fueled some great break outs. Held Philly to 20 shots, while generating 33 of our own. Nice.
+ Net Presence -- Both ends of the ice saw hordes of Bluejackets in and around the blue paint. We harassed the goalie, and bailed Mason out the few times Philly presented serious pressure. Just what Drs. Davidge, Hitchcock and Gare have been prescribing.
+ Individual Play -- This one goes to the whole team tonight, as everyone played their role to perfection.
- Finishing -- The lone minus for the evening. Nash, Huselius and Malhotra could have had 15 points between them had they finished opportunities presented by tape to tape passes. Umberger had a few, as did Voracek. We had 8 more scoring chances than Philadelphia. We need to finish our chances to win consistently.

This was a great way to send the team off for the longest road trip of the season. Good that it starts in LA, as we will be ripe for revenge, and should have some good confidence after a solid victory over a strong opponent. Philly was without Biere and Timonen, but we are nicked too. Super job, boys!

Go Jackets!!!

Philly Preview, Trade Rumblings, Calming Note

On it's face, having the Flyers come to town on the heels of the Jackets' worst performance of the year seems like adding insult to injury, but scratch the surface and there is cause for optimism.

Philly is coming off of a bad whipping by Chicago last night, 5 - 1, and is suffering from their own injury issues. Biron was not very good last night, and has over a 3.0 GAA this year, with a Save % below .900. Antero Niittymaki is projected to start in goal tonight. Briere is also out, and both Timonen and Hartnell were hurt in last night's game. Timonen is out a week or so, while Hartnell is day to day.

Speaking of Briere -- he is scheduled to come off IR this week, which presents a dilemma to the Flyers. With both Briere and defenseman Ryan Parent coming back, Philly will be almost $2 million over the salary cap. Rumblings have a Briere -and somebody-for-Bouwmeester trade with Florida on the horizon. Hmmm -- cap troubles? Happen to be in Columbus just as the Holiday Freeze is expiring? Something in the works, maybe?

Bottom line to the game tonight is that we need to come out hard, play aggressive defense and be more active in the offensive zone. Don't hold onto the puck so long, and fire when we get inside Danny Gare's triangle (goal and two faceoff dots as the vertices). We have had a few days to work on new line combinations, so no excuses for anything short of a full 60 minutes of hockey.

Trade rumors are rife in Columbus these days, with Doug Weight being the name mentioned most frequently. Don't be surprised, however, if Howson does something a little more significant, either instead of or in addition to the Weight deal. Howson has been playing things very close to the vest, which leads me to believe that he has something up his sleeve. Stay tuned . . .

Finally, the trade speculation is fueled in large part by a frenzy of panic that has overtaken CBJ land since the injury to Brass and the consecutive shutouts to Phoenix and LA. Panic is premature. We are badly nicked right now, just as guys were starting to become cohesive units. While Brassard's skill will be sorely missed, it is more his fit in the whole system that is fouling up the works. With both Brass and Chimera gone, two of our best forecheckers are out. We create lots of havoc, and hence opportunities, when our forecheck is working, and I guarantee that one of Hitchcock's top priorities over the past few days has been to put that in place.

We will get through this rough patch, and still be in the race, barring further injury. We need to start tonight with a solid effort. Go Jackets!!!

Friday, December 26, 2008

USA, Russia, Sweden Win -- Canada Dominating After 2 Periods

Few surprises emerged during the first day of competition at the World Junior Championships in Ottawa. Russia beat Latvia in the opening contest, 4 - 1, with Russian outshooting Latvia 44 - 15. Perhaps the only surprise in that game was that the Russian top line, Nikita Filatov, Evgeni Grachev, and Dmitri Kugryshev, was held scoreless, despite creating numerous chances.

In the 3:30 contest, the US had no trouble with Germany, prevailing 8 - 2 behind 2 goal performances from both Drayson Bowman and James van Riemsdyk. The USA amassed 46 shots on goal against the beleaguered German squad.
In other action, Sweden started off with a 3 - 1 victory over Finland. In progress at the moment, the favored Canadian team is having no difficulty with the Czech Republic, leading 5 -0 after two periods of play.

World Juniors Kicks Off Today!

The 2009 edition of the IIHG World Junior Championships kicks off today in Ottawa. Action starts at 2:30 PM , with Russia (featuring Nikita Filatov and Maxim Mayorov) taking on Latvia. The US team opens against Germany at 3:30 PM, and Canada takes on the Czech Republic at 7:30 PM. The USA/Germany game and the Canada/Czech Republic games are both televised on TSN. The NHL Network will also carry the USA game in it's US markets, and the Canada game in the Canadian markets.
We will keep you up to day on significant developments here. You can also track the action at the official IIHF World Junior Championship site.
Good luck to all!

Thursday, December 25, 2008

Merry Christmas

My brief Christmas wishes:

Let the CBJ find some goals, healthy players and maybe a new center under their tree.

May the NHL Toronto War Room find some new prescription glasses in their stockings.

May Hitchcock find lots of competitive composure and heavy games in his pile of presents.

Finally, here is hoping that all of you enjoy the merriest Christmas ever!!! Let me know what you would like to see here as we move in to the New Year. Thanks for reading!

Go Jackets!!!!

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Statistical Update

While I hate to confuse things with facts, as I know central Ohio fans as a rule much prefer reacting on emotion, ;-) here is an update of how the Western Conference playoff picture would look at season end if all of the teams played at their current pace from here out:

1. San Jose 137 Points (Pacific Leader)
2. Detroit 124 Points (Central Leader)
3. Calgary 101 Points (Northwest Leader)
4. Chicago 114 Points
5. Vancouver 96 Points
6. Anaheim 91 Points
7. Minnesota 89 Points
8. Nashville 87 Points
9. Phoenix 87 Points
10. Edmonton 85 Points
11. Colorado 84 Points
12. Los Angeles 82 Points
13. Dallas 82 Points
14. Columbus 77 Points
15. St. Louis 70 Points

So, what we have here is a situation where the Top 4 are playing other-worldly hockey, Vancouver is playing really, really well, and the rest are beating the crap out of each other. Since the first time I published this analysis 2 weeks ago, the CBJ have actually improved their projected point total by 1, and the target number for the #8 spot has come down by 1, for a net gain of 2 in the playoff hunt.

We have improved considerably in the number of goals we are surrendering. For the season, we are at a 3.029 GAA, and for the past 15 games, it is a stingy 2.533! (Thank you Mr. Mason!) Unfortunately, our offensive production has turned the other way. We are at 2.618 GPG for the season, but only 2.067 for the last 15 games, including our only 3 shutouts of the year.

The good news is that if we can turn our offense around, we are poised to win a lot of games. The bad news is that the injury situation makes that difficult. Tough not to envision a scenario where Mr. Howson enters the picture here, followed by Filatov at end of January. While he still needs to gain size, with Brass out we need another skill player. If Hitch handles him like he handled Brass, I think he will contribute.

Other Statistical Oddities -- While San Jose has shown signs of being almost human, Boston continues on a tear. They are 2ndto SJ in projected points, 2nd to Detroit in GPG, and 1st in GAPG, with a very meager 2.265 goals allowed. With the way Tim Thomas is playing, and if they can survive the Sturm injury, this could be the team to beat for the Cup.

Timing is everything . . . the NY Rangers have amassed a 22 - 12 -3 record, while scoring just 1 more goal than they have allowed -- 100 GF/99 GA. It jsut goes to show you that it ain't how many you score, it's when you score them. Keep in mind that the Rangers only rank 20th in GPG, but are 8th in GA. Starting to understand the Hitchcock obsession with defense?

Finally, to keep consistent with the defense theme, Florida has womed their way into the Eastern Conference playoff picture, and would hold the 8th spot there with 89 points if everyone played their way out at the same pace from here. Don't thank their offense -- they rank 27th in the NHL with 2.485 GPG, but are surrendering only 2.576 per game, good for 4th in the league.

Moral of story -- this will be a wild and wooly race to the end. If we keep our defense going, and put more pucks on the net, we will pull out of this funk and be a contender. Right now it is the psychological barrier that we need to overcome, between the injuries, the fiasco that is NHL officiating, and the pressure of an extended road trip. Some controlled recklessness is in order in the offensive zone!

Go Jackets!!!

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Happy Holidays!!! Now Who Do We Trade and For Whom???

Merry Christmas and Happy Hannukah to all of you followers of my blog . . . both of you. ;-) Let this be deemed the official Year End Trade thread. Post your comments with who you would give up, who you would take, and why.

I'll seed the discussion with a couple:

3rd Round Draft Pick for Doug Weight -- not a long term investment, but at under $1 million for the remainder of the season, he brings experience and toughness, and can create havoc in the middle.

Picard and Klesla for Jason Spezza -- Probably not happening, for a lot of reasons, including too much salary for us to take on, and probably not enough offered in this deal. However, with a 2nd pair defenseman and some young talent, who knows? This is Christmas, isn't it? ;-)

Let's hear your ideas!

Out Gunned. . .

A poor showing by the team tonight, all the way around. Sure, we got jobbed by the NHL officiating crew again (see below), but that did not cost us the game. Here is what I saw:

Poor Energy -- We took the first 10 minutes off, and LA didn't. Result was 2 goals against, and Mason really didn't have a chance on either of them. We showed more energy after that, but could never get the upper hand. When we did get some momentum, it seems like we took a penalty, committed a turnover, etc.

Puck Handling -- We had an awful time keeping the puck on our sticks, finding open men, getting the zone cleared, etc. I know the lines are shaken up, but being able to pass and hold onto the puck is critical, especially against a high energy offense and high risk defense like LA.

Defense -- Klesla looked awful -- slow, tentative. Methot was not decisive or quick tonight, and Hejda was not effective. We were a step behind all night in our own zone. This prevented us from getting good crisp breakouts. 42 shots for LA, 23 for us tells much of the story.

Missed Chances -- Once again, we could not get our sticks on the ice when the puck was in front, or find the corners with point blank shots. Ironically, we got good traffic in front of Quick on several occasions, but we didn't fire the puck into the fray. We seem to be continually looking for a crystal clear lane to shoot through. News flash boys -- if you can see him, he can see you.

Power Play -- See Puck Handling and Missed Chances, above.

Talent -- We are in a position right now where we are relying on Boll, Murray, Dorsett, Novotny, Picard to create things and make things happen, and they just don't have the skills and\or experience yet to do it. Boll and Murray showed a lot of energy out there, but energy is not enough. That is what both Brassard and Chimera had learned this year -- speed and energy is worthless if you can't finish. Chimera took a few mph off his skating, and was finishing more chances and creating others before he got hurt. Brassard is highly skilled, but has also learned the knack of finding space and finishing his chances. Voracek is playing well, but needs to shoot more. Peca and Malhotra were non-participants tonight. Modin was also invisible. When Nash is having to create his own opportunities, the rest tend to stand around and watch. That has to change.

If anybody can get them out of this current funk, it is Hitchcock. He has 4 days to do it before Philly comes in with an attitude. You KNOW Hitch badly wants to beat Philly -- badly. We can do it, but we need the defense to show up and we need the same consistent energy we showed against SJ and Dallas.

I guarantee you that Howson is on the phone right now. Weight has been mentioned and could likely be had for next to nothing, given his age and the fact that the Islanders are going nowhere this year. Nothing going to happen for a week yet, but let's hope Chimera is healthy soon.

Go Jackets!!!

Not Again . . .

Well, we all saw it again . . . 3rd Period, tipped puck, Nash in the slot, puck in the air, puck in net. No goal.

How the hell can the NHL look itself in the mirror?? How can Colin Campbell deny, with a straight face, that the NHL, including the "War Room", have some undefined beef with or grudge against the Jackets? Just 24 hours after Sidney Crosby gets his gift goal, they cannot overrule this?

Jim Day just said on TV that Toronto said their review was inconclusive, so the call on the ice stands. Bull. Toronto exists to make sure the call is right. If they are not going to do it, why the hell have them?

Use the address below -- let 'em know how you feel.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Brass Gone For The Year

According to Scott Howson, Derek Brassard will have season-ending surgery in early January, which will put him on the shelf for 4 to 6 months. (Closer to 6, according to Howson)

A damn shame, given how brilliantly he had emerged as a top front liner for us, and the fact that he had a real shot at the Calder. Doubly painful to suffer this loss as the result of a fight.

Here's wishing all the best to Derek, and hoping he is back at 100% for next season. We will miss you Brass!!

Shop Giant Eagle -- Buy Pepsi -- Get Tickets!!!

From Light The Lamp and the CBJ website itself, the Jackets have a great promotion in cooperation with local Giant Eagle Stores and Pepsi. Buy 4 12 packs of a Pepsi product in a single transaction, using your Giant Eagle Advantage Card, and you will receive a voucher good for 4 tickets to any CBJ game through March 3. Details Here

Support the Jackets -- shop Giant Eagle and buy your Pepsi products today to get 4 free tickets to the CBJ. Go Jackets!!

Gut Check Time/Monday Miscellany

Brassard Surgery--As reported on Puck-Rakers, Brassard is likely headed to surgery, after MRI results showed more significant damage than hoped, and in a bad location in terms of recurrence. Hate to see it, but let's get him fixed up right so that he has lots of years in front of him. The young man is too valuable to risk long term injury for a quick fix now.

Anybody See A Center?? With Brass down, we lose our number 2 point man on the team, and a lot of energy and playmaking. Combined with Chimera, Murray and Torres being out, and Filatov out for the World Juniors, we need to suck it up and play over our heads for the next two at home and the ensuing road trip. Defense will need to be tighter than ever, and Mason needs to stay at his 2 GPG clip. Russell and Tyutin will need to move the puck up and anchor the point on the PP, and Modin, Peca, Malhotra will have to step up to provide some goals. Not easy, but this team has showed some toughness and resliency. We will need it now to stay in the race.

Very Much A Race -- Make no mistake about it, the Western Conference playoff race will be a dogfight all the way to the wire. I'll post projection numbers tomorrow, but with everbody beating everybody, the injury bug starting to bite a number of teams, and many having goaltending struggles, teams just need to avoid those 5 and 6 game losing streaks, which could prove fatal. Similarly, any substantial winning streak is going to pay huge dividends this year.

LA Outlook -- The Kings were no doubt thrilled to arrive in Columbus and be greeted by 5 degree weather, which is even colder than their goaltending has been. After LaBarbera had a great game against us, they have been in somewhat of a quandry in the net. They started this road trip with a 5 - 0 shutout at the hands of the Sabres (though they did get 40 shots on Ryan Miller). LaBarbera (0-2-2 in his last four starts) was pulled, and the untested Jonathan Quick replaced him, surrendering 1 goal on 8 shots. Quick started in a 6 - 4 loss to the Red Wings, giving up 5 goals in 35 shots faced.

LA is only 3 - 8 on the road this year, and is looking to head home for the holidays. We need to be wary of their offense, as they posted 40 shots against Buffalo, and netted 4 against Detroit, but we have shown the ability to shut people down, particularly at home. We need to jump on them quickly in the offensive end, and put some serious rubber on net against whoever they throw in there. If we can get them down early, it may be tough for them to regroup, being the last game of the road trip, on the way home for the holidays, etc.

More tomorrow. Go Jackets!!!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Game Effort, But No Breaks

The Jackets put on a game effort tonight, but were just too wounded to bring it home. As Mason has done for us in several games, Bryzgalov won the game for Phoenix tonight. We out shot, out passed, out played Phoenix everywhere except on the scoreboard. Killed them in the faceoff circle, pretty much a draw in hits, and had far more scoring chances. We missed some nets when we needed them on target, and Bryzgalov came through with some great saves.

On the other end of the ice, really very consistent play. Not a lot of good chances, and Mason handled the vast majority of those. One bad rebound and one turnover in our own zone, and that was it.

All in all, tough to be too critical of the team tongiht, with Nash at half speed due to the flu, and the rest of the lines patched together. Still need some shooting practice, but I'll give the boys a pass on this one.

Let's get a few days rest here, then come out smoking on Tuesday night against LA, and the same on Saturday against Philly. Two good home wins before the road trip, combined with hopefully getting Klesla and Murray back, perhaps some good news on the Chimera and Brassard fronts, we will be set to go! Tough stretch coming up, but I think the team has shown they are tough enough to handle it.

In the ongoing saga of the Dallas fiasco, both Puck-Rakers and Light the Lamp feature the following clip of a goal that was allowed against the CBJ. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QdouMRIG-go&eurl=http://hfboards.com/showthread.php?t=585130&page=9&feature=player_embedded If this doesn't get you grinding your teeth, nothing will.

Go Jackets!!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Campbell Speaks

As reported on Puck-Rakers, Colin Campbell spoke with the Dispatch about the fiasco in overtime of the Dallas game. Here are the quotes attributed to Campbell:

I've talked with (president) Mike Priest and (general manager) Scott Howson a few times. I've talked to the whole group there in Columbus. I know they're mad about this. I know they feel like they lost a really difficult game (Thursday), a game the probably felt like they could have won."
“They’re adamant. They’re passionate. Look, every season there’s a club or two that, for whatever reason, has lots of tough calls go against them. They probably think the NHL is against them, too, but it’s not. It’s just not. We have very difficult calls to make, and we make them. It doesn’t matter who the player or the team is. We just make the call.”
“We watched it from numerous angles and at numerous different speeds. Before we make any ruling, we watch it one last time at regular speed. Sometimes we disagree on a call. But on this one we were unanimous that it wasn’t a goal. And there were eight of us in the booth.”

Alll well and good, Colin, but tell us how in the heck this became a "distinct kicking motion". Why is it that the 8 of you allegedly all agreed and nobody else in hockey (willing to talk about it) agrees? We all know how this "unanimous" thing works. For the public face, they have to be unanimous. If they were so unanimous, if this was such an easy call, then why did it take so freaking long? This just does not pass the sniff test, Colin.

Review in Toronto was never intended to supplant the officials on the ice in terms of judgment. But now it is being used that way, where the subjectivity of the Toronto War Room is being substituted for the on ice judgment of the officials, who, in this case, were spontaneously unanimous that it was a goal. If a guy propelled through the air by a defenseman, not even looking at the puck, can be deemed to have made a distinct kicking motion, then we need to revamp this rule. Prohibit goals going off skates of offensive players, or don't, but be consistent, and admit it when you make mistakes, like you did Thursday night.

I have not found any written rule that governs Toronto's reviews of plays, other than that they presumably cannot review anything that the on-site goal judge cannot review under Rule 93. Broadcasters always talk about the need for "conclusive" evidence, but I can't find anything on it. Please let me know if I have missed something, but if I haven't there needs to be a rule limiting Toronto's exercise of subjectivity, which is exactly what happened here.

Carefully parsing Colin's response, he says only these things:

1. We know that people get pissed off
2. We have no grudge against any team.
3. We agreed on the call we made.

Uh, where is the "why" in all of this Colin? What did your guys see in the video that nobody else has seen?

Sorry NHL -- time to get your act together, admit you screwed up, and put the wheels in motion to fix the whole kicking rule and the Toronto review standards. Otherwise, your credibility will just continue to be questioned, and fan faith eroded.

Friday, December 19, 2008

York Called Up -- Decisions To Make -- NHL Letter

Per Puck-Rakers, Mike York has been recalled from Syracuse to join the club, and Clay Wilson has been returned. We need to see if Brassard formally goes on IR today, which will then put some decisions on the desks of Hitch and Howson.

Complicating matters is Leclaire's continued poor play. 6 goals last night, 5 goals to Anaheim, 5 against Detroit, 7 against Edmonton. That's 23 goals in his last 4 starts -- almost 6 GPG. Dead last among eligible goalies in Save %. He needs to go to Syracuse and work the kinks out and get his confidence back. But who to back up Mason???? I think Mr. Howson will be burning a bit of midnight oil.

So, what will the lines look like for Phoenix? Here is one possible scenario:

Nash -- Umberger -- Voracek
Modin -- Peca -- Huselius
York -- Malhotra -- Dorsett
Boll -- Novotny -- Picard

Finally, I've been receiving communications from various sources about calls and letters being directed at the NHL about last night's fiasco. Keep 'em coming, but let's not go overboard and let's not do stuff to hurt the Jackets (canceling orders for merchandise, etc.) Here is the text of my communique to the NHL:

Dear Commissioner Bettman/Mr. Campbell:

Lest you think that the following are the ramblings of a deranged hockey fan, I want to assure you that I am not a conspiracy theorist, a believer in black helicopters or a member of the lunatic fringe. I like to consider myself a reasonable, well - educated former attorney who immensely enjoys the game of hockey. However, recent events have caused me to seriously question the integrity of the NHL, particularly with respect to the Columbus Bluejackets.

Having had the pleasure of attending Oakland/California Golden Seals games in my youth, and being in attendance at the first San Jose Sharks game in my native SF Bay Area, I was delighted when the NHL expanded to my new home in Columbus. We have been season ticket holders since Day 1, and believe we have a great organization, a great arena, and this year, a really good team that is just beginning to assimilate all of the new players into a cohesive unit.

As the team struggled through the early years, I was not surprised to see us come up on the short end of more than our share of officiating calls. The price of admission to the league, as they say, and every sport has its version of this. It is not right, but it exists. You work through it and come out on the other side. However, the persistence of this bias, and the blatant manipulation of the video replay process, particularly this year, has reached intolerable proportions.

Last night’s game between Dallas and the Bluejackets is just the most recent example of the NHL bias against the club. Malhotra takes the puck backhands it, and it goes behind Turco’s right leg. Malhotra is hit from behind by Ott, sprawls forward, veering to his left as he goes airborne from the hit, trying to avoid Turco. He trips over Turco’s left leg, while the puck is still free in the crease, and as he is flying to the boards, the puck goes off his skate and in. Both referees immediately signal it as a goal. But this is the NHL, and Columbus is apparently not considered worthy of two nice victories in a row. Toronto reverses, claiming a “distinct kicking motion”. Hogwash. The player was airborne, due to a hit from the defenseman, not even looking at the puck. Even Dallas was astonished that the play was reviewed, much less reversed. Isn’t there supposed to be “conclusive” evidence for Toronto to overturn a ruling on the ice? While the NHL network was conveniently silent on the call last night, I have found nobody who believes that this was anything but a goal.

Let’s go back to Minnesota on October 25th. Nash scores the apparent game tying goal as the game is ending. Called a goal on the ice. Toronto reviews, says “inconclusive”. Under the rules, the goal stands, right? Wrong. Despite falsely telling the crowd that Toronto overturned the ruling on the ice, we later learn that after Toronto says “inconclusive” the officials take a vote, and 3 of the 4 believe it was hit with a high stick. No goal. How is that permissible?

The list goes on and on. Calgary (last year, I think) – shot stays out – referee signals no goal, but light and goal horn go off, everyone relaxes, Calgary guy taps puck in. Goal on the tap in. It happens over and over, and has now become something of a joke in Columbus. It would be funny if it weren’t so sad. Take a look at the quick whistles in last night’s game. Shameful stuff.

The NHL needs to provide a clear explanation to the fans of Columbus as to why and how the rules are repeatedly bent, inconsistently interpreted and otherwise ignored, to their detriment. Coach Hitchcock is correct – we won the hockey game last night. I am sure you will fine him – go ahead. We might all chip in and pay it for him. Even to someone who is not a conspiracy nut, it looks increasingly like the NHL would prefer the Columbus team to dry up, so that it can be moved to Ontario or another venue more fitting to the NY and Canadian hockey establishments.

We love the game, and will stand by our team. I think you owe it to us, and to the integrity of the game to look hard at this situation and provide an explanation. It simply has to stop.

Thank you for your time.

Might be some interesting times ahead. I will keep my ear to the tracks and post what I learn here. Please chip in with your comments. Go Jackets!!1

Toronto Beats Bluejackets

As Hitch said "We won the hockey game". I agree, we beat Dallas, we just lost to Toronto. I am not a black helicopter/right wing consipiracy/alien abduction kind of guy, but Colin Campbell and Gary Bettman need to look hard at this and provide an explanation to the Columbus fans, and to hockey in general, how this can happen. Combined with the October 25 debacle in Minnesota, what are we to think? I'll tell you what many are going to think -- that the NHL needs to contract/re-align, and by making it harder for Columbus to get in the playoffs, the league can deteriorate the fan base and prompt a move to, say, Ontario, which is looking for another team. It is a disgrace, plain and simple.

I, for one, am contacting the NHL on this one. I can't find an email address, but here is the contact information for anyone else who cares to join me:

Mr. Gary Bettman, Commisioner
Mr. Colin Campbell, Sr. Executive Vice-President & Director of Hockey Operations
National Hockey League
1251 Avenue of the Americas, 47th Fl.
New York, NY 10020
Phone: 212-789-2000 Fax: 212-789-2020

On to the game. A strong effort, really, except in goal, and in puck management in our own crease. We came out with far more energy than I expected, given the game the night before, and were much more confident and loose in the offensive zone. We were strong hitting, but lost our "competitive composure" a few times, leading to excess penalties, unnecessary fights, and the loss of Brass for a few weeks. Just dumb. With all of the adversity, it was a nice 1 point win.


Offensive Flow -- Great energy, puck movement and aggressiveness in the offensive zone. Fewer shots than normal, but more chances, and we converted on a bigger percentage.

Energy & Attitude -- Lots of hits, lots of tenacity, refused to get down after Brass goes down or we go down by 2.

Individuals: Nash was huge, particularly in as the game went on. Voracek continued his strong play, as did Russell. Malhotra and Umberger were big as well. On the D side, Methot, Tyutin and Commodore were huge. Backman was OK on the offensive end, but was primarily responsible for Dallas' first goal.


Composure -- Our young players lost their heads a bit, and got involved in scraps they shouldn't have, particularly when we were ahead. Took too many stupid penalties again. We had been better at this.

Puck Control -- Still an issue in our own zone, particularly in those scrambles in front of the net. We need to be bigger and more decisive. In fairness, LeClaire was awful in playing the puck, either in front or in back, and I think our D has gotten used to Mason clearing the garbage out.

Goaltending -- Sorry, Pazzy, but you look like a caffeine overdosed teenager in the net -- lots of motion and no results, no rebound control, zip. Since the Buffalo game, at least 5 goals go in when Pazzy is in the crease.

Injuries -- Maybe I am not old school enough, but Brassard has no business fighting, particularly that guy, when we have the lead. Boll, Torres, Brassard -- c'mon guys, we are here to win hockey games. Let's not give the opponents life by creating emotion for them. Get well soon, Brass!

Officiating -- Can't fault the on ice refs for the OT fiasco, as they both called it a goal. However, a few really quick whistles and some non-calls (Nash getting run over by a charge) were just bizarre. Bad night all around for the zebras.

Bottom line -- a good road point to keep some momentum going, but an insufficient reward for a game we won and deserved to win. More later. Go Jackets!!!!

Thursday, December 18, 2008

WOW!!! Happy Birthday HItch!!!

If Hitch has a list of things he wanted for his birthday (and I doubt that he does), #1, #2 and #3 on that list would likely have been a gutty home win over the best team in Hockey, the San Jose Sharks. Well, he got his wishes . . .in spades.

Make no mistake about it, the Sharks are the best team in the NHL right now, and I'm not sure second is relevant. They have built a solid team that has gelled as a unit, and they just keep coming at you. Their transition game is scary, and they are always, always in position to make a play. They brought all they had las night as well, peppering Mason with 48 shots (though a big share of these were from the point, and our defense did a nice job of creating lanes of visibility).

Last night, however, was all about the Bluejackets. Yes, there were occassional periods where SJ appeared to dominate and where we appeared to scramble, but the overriding theme of the night was the ability to play hard, technically sound hockey for 60 minutes, and at the same time find another gear when they needed it. I suspect Hitch has been waiting for the team to find that gear, and they did it last night.

Up to the Shark's goal in the 3rd, the Jackets had played tough defense, technically sound offense, and had been spotless on the PK. When SJ scored however, their game elevated to a place those of us who have been in the seats since Day 1 have rarely, if ever, seen. They were not "reckless", in the style of the NY Islanders, but were intensely aggressive. Their game got heavy in a hurry. It was as if the team had collectively said to themselves, "No, no, not in OUR house!" I have to think that the steel curtain Mason was throwing up provided them with the freedom to play that way, and it was refreshing to see.

Don't get me wrong, the graveyard is filled with teams who have tried to play the up and back game with San Jose, and I am not necessarily suggesting it as a 60 minute strategy (though wouldn't that be something to watch?) However, at that time and place, it was necessary and the team responded. Sure, we gave up more chances that way, but Mason was not surrendering rebounds, and our defense was clearing the dangerous pucks with reasonable efficiency. You are not going to play the Sharks for 60 minutes without giving up chances.

It was great to see Huselius bounce back from some bad decisions and bad shooting to assist on the game winner with calm efficiency. Some fans were riding him pretty hard for the way he handled some prime chances during the game, but we also have to remember that his skill put him in the position to have those chances in the first place.

Great to see the fan response as well. Instead of flocking to the exits the minute the horn sounded, they stayed to cheer the team, hear the 3 Stars and cheer Mason as he got interviewed. Well done. Pass the word!

Plusses and Minuses:

Guts -- Call it "competetive composure", a "heavy" game, whatever. The CBJ reached down at crunch time and found a way to win against a superior opponent. Both sides had chances that were squandered during the game, but when it mattered most, we were there. Also overcame some very questionable officiating down the stretch. Some bad calls against us, and some equally bad non-calls on the Sharks.

Goaltending -- Those who watched NHL On The Fly on the NHL Network after the game were treated to some great stuff on the CBJ in general and Mason in particular. They were just about ready to wrap the Calder Trophy and send it to Mason's house. Great stuff!

PK -- A really solid and decisive PK effort against a very good PP team.

Defense -- We were really good in our own zone for the most part. Many of the 48 shots were from the blue line, and we created lanes for Mason to see. We reacted quickly to fill gaps, and survived some missteps with great goaltending. However you slice it, limiting the best team in the league to 1 goal is huge.

Offense -- Sure, it took overtime to get us two goals, but we did put 32 shots on net, and had some awfully good shifts throughout.

Individual Stars -- Everyone played hard, tough hockey. Really a team effort. The obvious stars are Mason, Umberger, Tyutin, Peca. Russell played great and took clearing into his own hands. He created space in the offensive zone as well. Brassard was in constant motion, and created lots of action at both ends. Voracek had another strong game and is obviously more comfortable. Nash makes the one key play when it is needed most. Backman played noticeably better, and Methot was strong.

Minuses -- Just a couple to note for this one:

Power Play -- Didn't make anything happen on our couple of chances, but it was not a deciding factor in the game.

Puck Control In Our Zone -- We continue to be a bit lazy with the puck in our own zone. Much like a receiver waiting for the pass in football, we too often stay stationary and wait for the puck to get to us. With a team like the Sharks, it often doesn't get there, as they are in motion and we aren't. Methot and Commodore had some bad giveaways in our zone, but we got away with them.

Injuries -- Chimera and Murray go down -- no word yet on severity. Novotny will need to step up, and Wilson will likely share remaining slot with another call up.

Bottom line -- a huge win for the organization, and at exactly the right time. Let's build on this one and get 4 points in Dallas and Phoenix. Go Jackets!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Time For Frozen Fish

The Sharks swam into town yesterday, arriving at about 6:30 AM after a red-eye charter from the West Coast. Officially had the day off, but a few did an informal skate yesterday afternoon. Some advance thoughts before tonight's game:

Looking Ahead? David Pollak of the San Jose Mercury heads his piece on the game with "Sharks Face Bluejackets Before Big Game at Detroit" . His lead line is as follows: "No one on the Sharks would want to be caught looking past the Columbus Blue Jackets today." The rest of the article pretty much talks about Detroit . . . except for a passing note that we played them hard on December 4, and maybe they can get a big lead so they can roll 4 lines.

Missing Pieces -- Jeremey Roenick is out, and may require surgery. Pavelski and Cheechoo skated yesterday afternoon on their own, but will be game time decisions.

Great Sharks Are Not Developed Overnight-- No question about it -- the Sharks have been the class of the NHL thus far this season, putting together some mind-numbing numbers. The Jackets can learn a lot from the Sharks experience, as can the Columbus fans. As a native of the SF Bay Area, I was at the first-ever Sharks game, held in the Cow Palace in Daly City, where the Sharks spent their first two seasons. With the laser shark images swimming in the ice and the slightly different aquamarine jerseys, there was a lot of enthusiasm in those first two year, but the Sharks set a record for futility that still stands -- 72 losses in the 92 -93 season. They retooled, and made the playoffs the next two seasons, then returned to the cellar for another two years before returning. All the while, they added a piece here, a piece there.

The Sharks today are not a team of All-Stars. Sure they have Marleau and Nabokov, but you can look at lots of other teams with far more "star quality" . The Sharks, however, are exquisite at the way they play together, much in the same way that Detroit does. This takes time. Watch, CBJ fans, as our team develops that chemistry more and more over the rest of the season. We may make the playoffs, maybe not, but we are past the point of needing an overhaul. Howson has done that. Let's take some Ritalin and let the team mature.

Notes on Freddy -- A lot has been written on the Fred Norrena saga, but from this vantage point -- see ya'! He seems like a nice guy, but his attitude through this whole process has been bush league. Refusing to sign the flag on his way out of Nationwide, as reported in the Dispatch, refusing the minor league assignment . . . give me a break. Nobody likes having their job taken (see Pascal LeClaire), but it happens, and it should motivate you to work hard to take it back. Instead of taking a conditioning assignment which would allow some scouts to see him play, he takes the low road, which leads straight out of the NHL.

Keys To Victory -- Nothing new or earth-shattering here: Stay out of the box, continue the good defense, control the puck in our own zone, maintain spacing in the offensive zone, bury our chances. We have the stuff to beat this team, especially on our home turf when they might just be peeking up north to Detroit.

Remember, these San Jose boys don't handle cold weather very well, so let's put the fish on ice. Go Jackets!

Monday, December 15, 2008

Another One That Got Away

Put another one in the "Great Losing Effort" category. We skated well, had intensity (except for the early stages of the 3rd period), but lost. Missed chances, untimely penalties, and though mistakes are fewer, they invariably happen at exactly the wrong times.

Make no mistake, Chicago is a very good team and they got a great effort from Huet. However, we also made Huet look good by putting a lot of pucks right in his breadbasket.


Defense -- Chicago puts a lot of pressure on, and we were able to respond well for the most part. A little lack of energy early in the 3rd had us scrambling.

PK -- PP at end of 2nd was a fluke. Still good effort all around.

Offensive Possession -- We are able to move the puck in the zone and keep it there for long periods of time. Point shots getting through and more havoc being created. But see Minus below . . .

Plus Players - Modin, Peca, Mason, Russell, Tyutin


Clearing -- Too many clearing passes are ending up on the opposition's stick, or pucks are being taken from us in our own zone. Take a page from Russell's book on how to decisively get the puck out of the zone. Nash's surrender of the puck gave them the winning goal.

Spacing and Time -- We are holding the puck in the zone for a long time , but are not getting any efficiency out of it. Except for the point play, which has been very good the last two games, our passing down low and in the middle has not been sharp. We have gotten in the habit of bunching up, not creating space, and firing passes that we have to spend time getting to, rather than being on the stick. This gives goaltender and defense time to adjust. Also need to have our sticks on the ice when in the crease.

Finishing -- Goes without saying -- we are not being accurate with our shots.

Minus Players -- Nash & Huselius. Nash was working hard in the offensive zone, but seemed a step slow, took a bad penalty and made the key turnover. Huselius is showing a tendency of late to skate in circles a la Zherdev. He needs to get back to being more decisive with the puck and fire some more shots.

A disappointing loss, but the caliber of play is certainly better. 3rd game in 4 nights showed in the early 3rd period. If we keep winning 2 out of 3, we will be OK, but need to start cashing in on chances.

Go Jackets.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

So Long, Adieu, Auf Wiedersehen, Goodbye . . . Avery

Least surprising NHL news of the day is that Sean Avery will not be rejoining the Dallas Stars, despite completion of his 6 games suspension. TSN.ca reports as follows:

The Stars said the team will continue to honor Avery's contract while exploring all options for his hockey future consistent with the terms of his counseling.
"We do care about Sean and want what is best for him," said Hull. "We've agreed to do what we can to help find him a place to play hockey once he addresses his personal issues."

Wonder how long "addressing his personal issues" will take . . ? My bet is that Dallas will make an effort to move him after the New Year, once they are able to proclaim him "cured"? Sean Avery, Terrell Owens --- what is it about Dallas that attracts these types . . . ?

Would you invest your team's dollars in Sean Avery?? Let's hear some feedback.

Who Are Those Guys???

For those wondering about the sudden emergence of the Swedish flag-toting "Dancing With The Stars" wannabe at the last two CBJ games, Tom Reed has the answer in Puck-Rakers:

Huselius provided tickets to Thursday night's game for his former personal trainer, Christian Rosen, and his brother, Johan, aka, the Deney Terrio of Stockholm. Decked out in a blue Swedish soccer shirt and waving the flag of Sweden, Johan danced the night away in Section 120.
His entertaining moves occasionally were captured on the arena Jumbotron. At one point, the crowd saw shots of both Johan and beefy fan favorite, Kevin Schroeder. Huselius recalls looking up at the scoreboard and smiling. He is not a toxicologist, but he suspects alcohol might have been involved.
"He was having a good time for sure. It was the first NHL game for both of them," Huselius said. "He probably had a little too much to drink before the game."


Saturday, December 13, 2008

Voted Off The Island

The boys put together a very nice, solid effort tonight in their 3 - 1 victory over the Islanders. But for an unfortunate bounce of the puck, Mason could have had his 3rd shutout of the season. As Hitch said in the Dispatch this morning, the Islanders have a diffcult style to play against, and they did not disappoint in that regard. Despite the choruses of "Old McDonald" emanating from Section 108, MacDonald had a solid game for the Islanders, and was really the primary reason they were in the game at all.

Here are my plus/minus views for this one:

First the plusses:

Defense -- 3 solid periods of not giving the Islanders a lot of good looks, which is tough, given their style. Good communication and support, and great goaltending when we did have a lapse.

Special Teams -- Penalty kill was perfect and we got a power play goal. Yeah, we gave up a shortie, but that was a bad bounce, followed by a great effort. Have to mention a nice decrease in the stupid minor penalties, which keeps the PK team fresher. Also need to note 1 bizarre call and 1 borderline call. The borderline was the Umberger goaltender interference call that negated a goal for us. From my angle behind the goal, it looked like he was pushed into MacDonald, and the referee right there did not wave off the goal. The bizarre one was the Voracek diving penalty. A cross check to the head, and they call diving???? Please . . .

Possession -- Some beautiful work with the puck in the offensive zone, bringing the fans to their feet several times.

Goaltending -- Mason. 'Nuff said. (Check out the CBJ Vision tribute to him as Rookie of the Month in the CBJ Vision bar to the right)

Individual Efforts -- Tyutin, Commodore, Russell & Methot were magnificent all night. Hejda was good most of the time, but made some bad decisions and got caught more than once. Chimera's goal was a thing of beauty, and Voracek looks very strong. Malhotra came back with a strong effort, and Peca was more visible. Murray got a goal and spent a lot of time getting the hell beat out of him in front of the net. Even Backman looked better, which was a matter of concern coming in, due to the pressure NYI uses, and Backman has not been nifty with the puck. Great move on his breakaway, just couldn't finish.

Now the few minuses:

Finishing -- To our credit, after a couple of minutes of feeling out the opposition, we dominated a long stretch of the first period, but could not finish our chances. Ironic metaphor at the end when we had an empty net and hit two posts . . .

Clearing -- While I understand that the tendency against the Islanders can be to rush the passes, that is playing into their hands. We had too many sloppy clearing attempts, which created the few opportunities that the Islanders had, and negated our transition game.

Hitting -- While it may have been in our best interest to keep ourselves free of physical entaglements that could lead to odd man rushes elsewhere, we were badly outhit tonight. Again, more of a style thing, but something to keep an eye on.

While nobody will confuse the Islanders with the Sharks this year, they nonetheless play a style that has historically given the Jackets fits. We handled it with "competitive composure" tonight, and did not let our inability to finish or the late shorthanded goal against us in the 2nd get under our skin. We had a strong third period, and did what we had to to finish the deal. Well done!!

Let's take this show on the road and beat the Blackhawks! Go Jackets!

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Has to be . . . A Shot From the Point!

Hitchcock's latest offensive experiment is paying off! What? No, no -- not the Wilson at wing experiment. The "Get The Puck To Commodore" experiment!!! 7 shots on goal, including a beauty from 50 feet to tie the game in the 3rd (aided by a nifty Umberger screen), just when fans thought another great effort was going to go to waste.

This was a total team effort -- stifling defense, solid goaltending, generally heady play. Some highlights, and a few "Needs Improvement" notes:

Defensive Coverage -- we were strong throughout our own zone for most of the night, played a good neutral zone game, for the most part, and had a persistent forecheck. Commodore was huge, Russell, Hejda and Tyutin all played well. Wingers did a good job of coming back and assisting. Erat's goal was a perfect shot -- just inside the far post in the upper corner, going at full speed. Nothing to be done there.

Special Teams -- Yes, you are reading right -- special teams. Perfect on the penalty kill, including a magnificent kill of a 1:07 5 vs. 3 advantage. Interesting choice of Modin, Commodore and Hejda to defend that at the outset. Power play will not show any tallies, but Commodore's goal, 1 sec after expiration, is almost as good as, and we showed some real flashes of great puck movement and greater willingness to shoot.

Goaltending -- Mason was stellar -- again. Erat's goal was a perfect shot to the high corner far post at full speed. No stopping it, period. Showed great presence when traffic was around, but the defense also helped by giving him some good lanes. He also handled the puck well outside the crease.

Possession -- Though we sometimes struggled to gain possession, once we had it, we kept it moving and in possession in the offensive zone for extended periods of time. We missed a few drop passes where we thought someone was going to be there, but overall showed much improved communication.

Kudos To: Nash (monster all night, great forehand to backhand move in the SO), Voracek (much more energy, very strong on the puck, nice fake to the post then 5 hole backhand in the SO), Russell (another assist and generally strong play), Chimera (not much on the shooting side, but in lots of plays and made a lot happen).

A few nagging items on the negative side:

Faceoffs -- OMG, we were awful in the circle!!! We are lucky we got away with it. Winning faceoffs has been Malhotra's one saving grace of late, and if he can't do that, well . . . .

Defensive Puck Control -- We have trouble gaining control behind our own net. Way too many casual passes along the boards in our own zone or just at the blue line. We need crispness from our defensemen on these passes

Offensive About Face -- Nashville is tough this way, but we spend too much time in the offensive zone with our backs toward the middle of the ice, trapped along the boards. Back to Dave King hockey at times. Difference is that our skill players are now able to get and keep possession. Let's try getting more stuff to the middle and firing more on net. Still a woeful shooting percentage. . .

Nitpicking items aside, this is one to be enjoyed. A lot of pressure on the boys tonight, as many were calling this a "must win", at least from the emotional standpoint. They stood toe to toe with Darth Vader and knocked his light saber off. Well done!!!

Next up, an Islanders team that escaped with an OT win over us at home, after we had a sterling 3 goal comeback in the 3rd. They might be a tad on the irritable side -- Pittsburgh 9, NYI 2 tonight. Ouch!

Go Jackets!

Nashville Preview and Statistical Madness

Predatory Visit -- Nashville comes to town, which customarily has the local scribes and other pundits wailing and beating their breasts about the imminent loss. Never more so than now, on the heels of a shutout West Coast trip. Sure history supports their angst, but consider that half of the CBJ roster has no experience, background or understanding of past failures with Nashville, and frankly -- they don't care! Mason, Tyutin, Backman, Methot, Brassard, Voracek, Torres, Commodore, Huselius, Umberger are strangers to the fray, and Commodore made his feelings pretty well known earlier. Keys for tonight:
Short memory -- forget the road trip, forget the past. Play for tonight.
Stand them up -- the Preds get most of their offense from the back line. If we collapse, we create opportunities for them to jump in deep. Stand them up at the blue line and create opportunities for turnovers -- that keeps the D at bay.
Bury the chances-- no more excuses, take the time to tickle the twine when we have the chance. (See discussion below)

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics (Part I) -- With the recent road problems, there has been a lot of noise about how we are done, or will be by (Xmas, New Years - -pick one), and how the 3 point game makes it impossible to catch up. Based upon performances to date, here is how the Western Conference would shape up at the end of the season:

1. San Jose 140 pts
2. Detroit 128 pts
3. Chicago 104 pts
4. Vancouver 99 pts
5. Anaheim 99 pts
6. Minnesota 98 pts
7. Calgary 96 pts
8. Edmonton 88 pts
9. Nashville 88 pts
10. Colorado 85 pts
11. St. Louis 82 pts
12. Phoenix 82 pts
13. L.A. 79 pts
14. Columbus 76 pts
15. Dallas 73 pts

So, if we say that 90 points ends up as the magic number for the playoffs in the West, that means 65 points in 55 games. 27 -17-11. Or 30 - 20 - 5. Those are not unrealistic numbers for a young team that should be playing better as time goes on. Add a little help from Howson, some tightened defense, and it is very doable. Fans in Columbus never seem to account for a hot streak, which is how teams build a points advantage. We will have that hot streak, hopefully more than one, and simply need to minimize the down streaks, which everyone will have.

Lies, Damn Lies & Statistics (Part II) -- Target Practice -- Lots being said about burying chances, but what does that really mean? Consider this: through 27 games, the CBJ has outshot the opposition 805 to 736, but has been outscored 86 to 76. Our shooting percentage is a paltry .0944, while the opposition is shooting .1168. Tiny difference? Not so much. If we just shot the same percentage as our opponents, we would have 18 more goals, for a total of 94. Spread those across the schedule and see what that would do for our record. How about shooting practice, Hitch??

Go Jackets!!!