Saturday, January 31, 2009

Sometimes Stuff Just Happens . . .

Mama always said there would be days like this . . .

The CBJ had just about everything go wrong tonight that could go wrong, and dropped a 7 - 3 decision to the Dallas Stars, further tightening the Western Conference playoff race.

The tone was set early when Dallas gets three goals on 8 shots of a defletion from Methot's skate, another end board deflection, and a 2 on 1 after Russell hits the post (1 of 4 posts nailed by the CBJ tonight, on top of a number of other great chances that were either saved by Turco, or went just wide or just high). Mase was given an early rest, and Dubielewicz came in for what proved to be an inauspicious debut. We closed to 3 - 2, off of a nifty goal by Huselius, and a power play goal by Tyutin, but some softies made it 5 to 2 pretty quickly. Boll made a tenacious goal to narrow it to 5 - 3, but another bouncer and another long distance bomb ended it.

No point in debating anything about this game. We got our rear ends handed to us, and Dallas got every bounce, while we didn't. Not an excuse, but factual nonetheless. We had several opportunities for a long lead pass to an open winger, but another of our guys in the same general direction intercepted the pass, thinking it was headed for them. That kind of night. Give Dallas credit for being tenacious all night and putting big pressure in our zone. Conversely we had long stretches of the latter part of the first period and much of the second, where we dominated play in their zone.

No plusses tonight, though Huselius worked hard, as did Commodore and Malhotra. Nash and Voracek were also hard workers. Here are the major minuses:

-- Policing Our Own End -- We were simply awful in our own end tonight. Dallas watched us play a slowed down game last night, and clearly made the choice to force the tempo all night, bringing all 5 skaters into the offense early and often. It worked. We had too much gap between our defensemen and forwards, didn't cover the passing lanes, and were sloppy in our clears. We gave up wide open opportunities, and for one of the few times this year, we did not have the goaltending to plug the gaps. We lost every battle for the puck along the boards, and were slow reacting all night.

--Cashing Opportunities -- In most of the games where the goaltending was not up to par, the offense filled the gap and stepped up the scoring. We put 3 on the board tonight, but could have had 8 without much trouble. Some credit to Turco, sure, but we missed some painfully wide open nets early that could have swung the momentum and kept the crowd engaged.

--Goaltending -- Maybe the first time I have had to put this one in as a minus since Mason emerged on the scene. Mase was not awful, and the defense put him in a bad situation, but those bad bounce goals early kind of got to him, and a nice move by Hitch to give him a rest. Hopefully that knock he took to the knee did not get worse. I know Dubielewicz has not played anywhere in awhile, and has not played an NHL game in an even longer spell, but Oh My Word . . . He looks less comfortable in the pipes than Chimera looks at center. At leat two shots from near the blue line found their mark, and he repeatedly gave up huge, juicy delectable rebounds. We need to work him hard to get him back in game shape, or renew our interest in Sanford.

Everything aligned wrong for us tonight, and yet when it was 3 - 2 and we were forcing all of the action, I think almost everyone at Nationwide believed we had taken control of the game. Didn't happen tonight, but just the fact that the feeling was in the house is a quantum shift for the CBJ. These types of games used to be standard fare, and now they are pretty damn rare. It happens to every team, and it was just our turn in the barrell. Ask Edmonton, who got blasted by Buffalo 10 - 2 the other night. Detroit dropped their 4th straight tonight as well.

We need to put this behind us and move on to the St. Louis game. We have won 2 out of 3 since the break, and if we keep that pace up, we will easily make the playoffs. As Tony Soprano would say == fuggedaboudit!

Stars On Our Turf

C After two scrappy, contentious, controversial games in Dallas, this battle comes to the Jackets home turf for the next edition. The teams have split the season series thus far, with both games requiring extra time to be decided. The Jackets won on opening day with a Rick Nash overtime goal, and later Dallas prevailed in a shootout in the game best remembered for the Toronto War Room negating Malhotra's goal in OT, and for the injury that left Brass out for the year.

Both squads have a different look coming into this one. Steve Mason is the owner of the net for Columbus, so this is unlikely to be a high scoring affair. Similarly, Mary Turco has shrugged off his early season awfulness, being 3-0 in his last three games, sporting a 1.00 GAA and .961 save percent over that span. For the season, he is 2.98 and .888 Sean Avery is gone from the Stars locker room, and Ribeiro has stepped up his game.

Both teams are hot, and in the thick of the playoff chase in the West. With 53 points, the Jackets are in 6th, with Dallas snapping at their heels with 51 points, but two games in hand. The CBJ similarly have games in hand over Phoenix and Anaheim. The Jackets have won 2 in a row since the break, and are on a positive run. The Stars have won 3 straight, and 5 of 7. Lots on the line, lots of history to account for, so this promises to be an intense game.

Neither team excels on special teams, with Dallas ranking 25th in the league on both the Power Play and Penalty Kill, though both have been better of late. The CBJ are 30th on the PP, but 19 on the PK, and had a very strong effort last night.

Both teams are familiar with each other, but at the same time each has evolved since they last met. Here are the keys to a CBJ victory:

--Continue the Hitch-Hockey Mantra -- Since the break, we have returned to the Hitch style of controlling the neutral and defensive zones, supporting the defense, breaking out from the back, and forechecking and hitting hard. Keep it up. As with last night, keep their top line to the perimeter, limit their shots, and give Mase clear lines of vision.

--Offensive Aggression -- We need to play 3 period of forceful hockey in the offensive zone. Shoot, shoot, shoot!! A little success early will go a long way. Traffic in front, point shots, 3 men abreast -- it all needs to happen.

-- Composure -- Do not get drawn in to penalties or unnecessary fights. Keep Ott in check, and don't let him bait us. Let them make the mistakes. We are on the back end of a back-to-back, so we don't want to waste energy on the PK. If we do have to kill penalties, be aggressive, as in the Ottawa game.

-- Crispness -- The Ottawa effort was marred by substandard passing and general disorganization. Keep it simple, put it on the tape, play the role prescribed.

Should be a great one, with undisputed possession of 5th on the line. Go Jackets!!!

Commodore "Lays It On The Line" -- TSN

In an attempt to quantify some of the intangibles that make some players so valuable, despite perhaps not showing up on the scorecard, TSN has put together a list of 75 players who meet the "lay it on the line" standard through blocked shots, hits, takeaways, faceoffs, etc. Our own Mike Commodore ranks 3rd in this compilation, behind only Brooks Orpik of Pittsburgh and the Predators' Greg Zanon. Congrats, Mike!

No other Jackets are cited in the top 75, but Manny Malhotra gets the nod as the forward on the team leading in these categories. Take a gander at the full list here.

Go Jackets

Not For The Faint Of Heart

Ladies & Gentlemen -- if at any time during tonight's game we should experience a loss of breathable air, a phenomenal young goalkeeper will appear in net, breathe life into everyone, and settle affairs nicely, once and for all. Thank you for listening . . .

Not unexpectedly, the Ottawa Senators put up a game fight tonight, but failed to overcome rock solid goaltending, a stingy defense, and just enough puck possession to keep the scary Spezza, Alfredsson, Heatley line at bay. The result: Jackets 1 Senators 0. Shutout #7 for Mase, and a sudden elevation to the lofty perch of a tie for 5th in the Western Conference standings. OK, accounting for games in hand, it is more like 6th or 7th, depending how you want to view it, but the point is made. The Jackets are for real, and the rest of the league had better climb on board.

The team played a wonderful first half of the first period, had a nice first power play, then got a bit complacent and tried to do too much with the puck. That was a bad decision, as our passing was not crisp all night, and we had trouble getting shots through to the goal. Our forwards were attempting to create space, but the crease was vacant much of the night. Still, we looked dominant, leading at one point 8 shots to zip. We came back and dominated the second period completely. 11 shots for us, 2 for Ottawa, giving them a grand total of 10 for 2 periods. I thought I saw Mason reading "War and Peace" in between naps. He could have done that during the second period, as the puck seemingly never made it to our defensive side of the neutral zone. The only slightly scary moment came when one of their two shots clanged off the right post. Whew!

The Voracek-Peca goal was tasty, showing what can happen if you do get in front of the net, and do get the puck through from the point. Glad we got that goal then, as we chose to become passive in the third, which got us grabbing, leading to two power plays and a third for a bonehead too many men penalty. This is where Mason put the book down and shut down Ottawa completely, making 4 really nice shots of the 8 Ottawa tossed his way, including a mano-a-mano, stare-down, slap-down grab of a point blank Danny Heatley wrister that brought the crowd to its feet. Wrap that around a scary moment when Mason stayed down on the ice after taking a puck awkwardly. After the game, he reported that a puck just found the gap in his pads at the knee, and he got "a little stinger." No worries, he is ready for Saturday against Dallas. You gotta love this kid.

Nice crowd, but a little subdued. It was that kind of game. After the Senators failed to intimidate either the CBJ or the officials with some early thuggery, resulting in a Game Misconduct for Chris Neil and a 10 minute misconduct for Jarkko Ruutu, the game settled into a cautious pace. Give credit to the Jackets' defense for keeping Ottawa out of rhythm. Despite being 4-1-1 in their last 6, you can tell Ottawa is hurting for cohesion. Other than the first line, nothing is happening, and even there most of the play is one on one. Vermette has nobody to work with, and neither does Fisher. Watching Vermette in warmups, he just does not look happy. He lined up for a faceoff against Jason Williams, and I wondered whether Jason was telling him how cool it is to play in Columbus.

Here are +/- for the night:

+ Mason -- This is almost a tougher shutout than a 43 shot blanking. Two periods of snoozing, then all of a sudden you have to make some spectacular saves. Full marks for doing what was needed down the stretch to bring home two points.

+ Penalty Kill -- absolutely perfect against one of the scarier power plays in the league. Not only did we kill every penalty, including 3 third period penalties and a brief 5 vs. 3, we were incredibly aggressive, creating turnovers and shorthanded chances. Beautiful to watch.

+ Defense -- Back to Hitch-Hockey. Allowed only 18 shots, most of them coming on the power play, and only a few real scoring chances. We were smart and careful with the puck, for the most part. Good warm-up for Dallas.

+ Possession (1st 2 periods only) -- All 4 lines did a nice job of keeping the puck in the Ottawa zone, not giving Spezza & Co. the opportunity to set up camp in our zone.

+ Players -- Besides Stevie, Commodore and Hejda were dominant in our end. Russell was nice in transition, and both Murray and Voracek showed lots of presence. Peca made himself known as well.

--Puck Handling -- I'm not sure if we thought we were auditioning for a hockey version of the Harlem Globetrotters, but we kept trying fancy passes, made too many passes on the power play, and deprived ourselves of good scoring opportunities. As the old saying goes, "Sometime, you have to stop reading the cookbook and bake the damn cake!" Same here -- shoot the puck.

--Complacency -- In the third periood, we went into the prevent defense too early, and it almost cost us. As Hitch noted postgame, when we do this we get on our heels and get sloppy.

--Musical Chairs -- OK, Hitch. We get it that you are happy to have healthy guys back. We also get it that you like fiddling, and that our team chemistry is such that we can do that now. But can we keep some proven lines together for more than a minute or two??

We played two thirds of a good game tonight and won. In past years, that does not happen. No goals by power play, but movement is better, and we were hampered more by over-passing than anything. We did keep the puck in for extended periods. Baby steps.

Two big points tonight, and Minnesota and Nashville both lost. Quick turnaround for Dallas tomorrow, where the two points will be really big. Preview tomorrow. Great job, Jackets!!

Friday, January 30, 2009

Senators Visit Town, THN Forecasts Calder Race

Ottawa arrives in town tonight, fresh off a win over a St. Louis team that has been playing better than its record. This is a "Watch Out!!!!" game for the Jackets, who have demonstrated the ability to play at or below the level of competition we should beat. Although Ottawa is 17-22-7 for the year, they are 4-1-1 over their last 6 games, and show signs of breaking out of offensive doldrums

Alffredson, Spezza and Heatly are the beasts for Ottawa. Control them, and you have the tiger pretty well cornered. We want to keep them playing 5 vs. 5 as well. The Sens are 16th on the PP, having scored 36 of their 112 total goals with an extra man. They are also an impressive 8th in the league on the PK. Alex Auld is slated to be in the net for Ottawa. He is 9 - 11 this year, with a 2.64 GAA and .907. He went through a bad spell around Christmas, leading to the callup of Brian Elliott.
Keys for this one are no different than the others:
--Hitch Hockey -- Tight checking, good forecheck, lanes for Mason to see through.
--Create Space -- In the offensive zone and on the PP, create space, move the puck, put lots of rubber on net
--Play Smart -- Stay out of the box, don't get drawn into stupid fights, clear the puck, crisp passing.

Calder Preview -- THN has a nice preview of the Calder Trophy race here. It's a good read for Mason fans!
Uncharted Waters: A win tonight will put the CBJ in a flat-footed tie for 5th place with Phoenix, Anaheim and the winner of the Edmonton/Minnesota game later tonight. The better news is that we have games in hand over both Phoenix and Anaheim. We do give away a game to the Edmonton/Minnesota winner, but a win tonight puts us firmly above the line, with another huge game tomorrow against Dallas.
Go Jackets!!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Fritsche Gone Wild!!! is reporting that the Minnesota Wild have acquired former Jacket Dan Fritsche from the New York Rangers in a trade that will send defenseman Erik Reitz from Minnesota to the Big Apple. Fritsche, who had 1 goal and 4 assists for the Rangers, was placed on waivers earlier this week and cleared.

It will be ironic if Dan is in the house at Nationwide for the final game of the regular season against the Wild, hopefully representing the beginning of our first playoff season!!

Here's wishing all the best to Dan, but also hoping that Minnesota begins to fade just a bit. ;-)

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

THN Lauds Jackets' Giant Slayer Ability

Check out this blog at THN -- noting that the CBJ are among the playoff contenders with the best knack for knocking off division leaders this year.

Blue Line and Newcomer Contributions

Here is an interesting stat to show how our off-season acquisitions and Hitchcock's tutelage have paid off.

For all of last season, CBJ defensemen contributed 99 points. This year, the blue line has accounted for 85 points in only 48 games, on a pace for 145 points. Likely higher, due to early troubles getting accustomed to each other. Commodore and Tyutin account for 41 of those by themselves. Think those extra 50 points or so are going to come in handy?

Let's cast the net a little wider -- Commodore, Tyutin and Backman have 9 goals and 36 assists between them. Torres, Huselius, Umberger have 30 goals and 34 assists between them. That's 39 goals and 70 assists, 109 points in 48 games for the folks Howson brought in. Contrast that with the 20 Goals and 56 Assists combined for Gilbert Brule, Nikolai Zherdev, Dan Fritsche, Ron Hainsey and Adam Foote. That gap is only going to widen as the season progresses, as Fritsche has been put on waivers, Brule spends most of his time in the minors, Zherdev has not scored a goal in 13 games, and Foote . . .well, you know. Hainsey leads the Thrashers blue line in points, but we could not afford to keep him anyway.

This does not even include the contributions of our other newcomers that are home grown -- Brassard, Voracek, Russell, Methot. Oh, yeah -- and that Mason guy.

Also not included is the Williams for Wilson/6th Round Pick. That is also a very promising deal.

In short, Howson has done a nice job for us so far, and hopefully this will put an end to the Zherdev apologists. And don't talk to me about Backman -- that will resolve itself, and he was a tag along for Tyutin, our target.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sound Off On THN

Check out this new blog item at THN: Enter your comments to counter some really ignorant posts.

Go Jackets!!

Oh Captain, My Captain!

Well, it was bound to happen sooner or later. . . After all, it has been almost three weeks since a Bluejacket had a home hat trick! (And boy is it fun to write that line!!!)

So, with apologies to Walt Whitman for hijacking his title to describe tonight's game, nothing else describes it. Nash took the team on his shoulders, played every role he needed to play -- scorer, defender, passer, penalty killer, leader, and led the CBJ to a hard-earned 3-2 overtime victory over Detroit, in front of what I would guess was 14,000 or so intrepid souls who braved the Central Ohio version of awful conditions to loudly cheer on their team. Although Hitch scoffs at this weather, no mistaking the awful state of the roads.

Tonight was a return to Hitch-Hockey. 3 - 2 final score, 23 shots apiece, including OT. We had three power plays, Detroit 2, so most of the play was at even strength. Good to see after the wild and wooly swing through NW Canada.

The Jackets could easily have been ahead 3 - 0 with about 5 minutes gone in the game. A tape to tape pass in the slot ricocheted off Osgood. Another great shot hit the post. Another nice save by Osgood. In the meantime, on Detroit's first power play, a freakish bounce off the boards comes right to a streaking Hossa for a tap-in. However, on the next Detroit power play, Nash does his thing, captures the puck , leaves the defense in the rear view mirror (as George Matthews said on the air), and cashes in the shorthanded opportunity. After Lebda scores on a seeing eye puck that found the inside left corner after bouncing around for awhile, Nash caps off a nice power play with a nasty zipper from a low angle that deflects over Osgood's shoulder. We survive a 3rd period where we were more spectators than participants, and proceed to dominate the OT, culminating with Nash emulating Detroit by parking on the weak side and parking the rebound. A natural hat trick with a shortie, a pp goal and an even strength goal.

Here are the +/- for the game:

+ Fans -- When we completed our 1 hour drive from Gahanna and walked in, I thought "uh oh" -- looked like more red jerseys than anything else. But in typical Columbus fashion, it was a late arriving crowd that was apprehensively quiet early, but exploded after the first goal and never looked back. Nash made a point of acknowledging the crowd in his post-game interview, and there is no denying that the mood is returning to that of the first few years. Well done!!

+ Nash -- Duhhhh, but it is more than the hat trick. It is the PK, sprinting back after turning over the puck late to deny a breakaway opportunity, being hugely strong on the puck all night long. Awesome.

+ Defense -- The support and attention to detail returned. We kept Detroit at the perimeter quite a bit, and though there were plenty of anxious moments in our zone, we kept our cool. Great discipline in not taking penalties.

+ Special Teams -- 1 for 3 on the power play may not seem like a lot, but we really moved the puck well and had some great chances, besides Nash's goal. Our PK was strong leading up to the Nash shortie, and tough to fault them for the Happy Birthday bounce off the boards directly to Hossa's stick.

+ Goaltending -- Mason returned to looking comfortable, and made some nice saves in clutch situations, particularly in the 3rd, when we were outshot 9 - 2. One anxious moment when he had brain freeze while handling the puck in the trapezoid, which almost cost us a late goal. The hockey gods were with us on that one. Obviously Stevie was more refreshed and had his focus back.

+ Players -- Huselius was great all night, and Commodore was huge at both ends. Boll hustled all night and is showing some real improvement on the skill side. Dorsett battled hard, as did Murray. Voracek just keeps looking bigger and stronger.

- Experiment -- Sorry Hitch, I know you said after the game that you liked Chimera at center tonight, I am not buying it. He looks as comfortable in the faceoff circle as a teenage boy holding his girlfriend's purse. Why, in God's name, is Chimera taking the faceoff when you have Peca and Umberger on the ice at the same time??? 10 points for creativity, but let's allow the poor boy to return to the wing and do what he does best. He was actually hitting the target this year before the injury -- let's let him get that confidence back!

- Officiating -- Lots of non calls, and some really, really bad line calls. Offsides seems really simple to me, but boy did the linesmen struggle with the concept tonight.

In sum, a great win to start off the run toward the playoffs. Sure, Detroit was missing Datsuyk and Lidstrom, but don't cry to me about injuries. We did what we had to do to get the 2 points, and were able to give Modin a night off to boot. We returned to Hitch-Hockey, and did what we do really well right now -- stay in the game until the opportunity arises. Great job boys!!!

Monday, January 26, 2009

Heading Around The Far Turn . . .

Sorry for the lapse in postings, but have been enjoying a bit of an All-Star Break myself, and have been working on a couple of long pieces that are not quite yet ready for prime time.

Good time had by all at the Jacket Backers All-Star Game Watching party at the Garage Bar. Good food, some great giveaways (including a team autographed jersey), and general cheering for Nash's three points, the first penalty in recent All Star memory and an All Star Shootout.

Horse racing enthusiasts will recognize the title of this piece, representing the beginning of the long downhill journey to the finish line. It is not yet time for the stretch run, we are in position, but need to use a little whip to put us where we want to be.

Reading Puck-Rakers today, I was amused by Tom Reed's piece, breaking down the next 13 games, determining that the Jackets can and should go 9 - 3 -1 over this stretch, then basically crafting it into an expectation, strongly intimating that nothing less will do if we are to make the playoffs. Whoa!! Time for a sanity check here. Let's take a look at how the Western Conference would look at season's end if every team continued playing at the same pace they played up to the All Star break: (Division Winners get top 3 seeds)

1. San Jose -- 133 points
2. Detroit -- 121 points
3. Calgary -- 107 points
4. Chicago -- 106 points
5. Edmonton -- 91 points
6. Phoenix -- 91 points
7. Minnesota -- 87 points
8. Vancouver -- 87 points
9. Dallas -- 86 points
10. Columbus -- 85 points
11. Anaheim -- 85 points
12. Colorado -- 82 points
13. Los Angeles -- 80 points
14. Nashville -- 77 points
15. St. Louis -- 75 points

So, as it stands today, 87 points gets you in the playoffs, and 8 teams are vying for 4 spots (Nashville and St. Louis have huge hills to climb, and Los Angeles plays 24 of its final 36 on the road) Finish in the top half of that group, and you are in. Let's even be generous and say that everyone steps up their game, so that 90 points is the number.

If the Jackets follow Tom Reed's formula, and indeed go 9 - 3 - 1 over the next 13, that will put them at 68 points with 22 games left. A very easy calculation shows that .500 hockey (by points) gets them home -- 10-10-2, for example. Very nice situation to have, but hardly essential. 20 - 14 - 1 gets us to the magic 90, as does 18-12-5. All very doable. Here are the keys/reasons I see us having what it takes to reach the promised land, and bring playoff hockey to Nationwide:

Road Warriors -- The CBJ have only 15 road games left -- and only 1 significant road stretch -- a three game NW Canada swing, a home game vs. LA, then away at Detroit and Nashville. Three road games are against Eastern Conference teams, against whom we have enjoyed considerable success. In contrast, every other contending team faces more road games: Phoenix (17), Edmonton (17), Vancouver (17), Minnesota (20), Dallas (17), Colorado (18), Los Angeles (24). The CBJ have become increasingly good at home, and the fans have generated more energy. This symbiosis should continue.

Health -- At a time of year when most teams are getting hurt and exhausted, we are getting healthy and rested. Chimera, Novotny, Klesla all give us depth and options as we emerge from the far turn and head into the stretch.

Confidence -- The Jackets have gone through a baptism of fire with their brutal injury record and the most arduous road stretch of the season. Our offense, without many of its key parts, found its stride and scored lots of goals in the NW Canada stretch, enabling us to salvage 3 of 6 points on that trip. No matter what the score, they know they have the ability to bring the win home. As the pressure builds, the veterans will guide the youngsters and this confidence will serve as a buttress for the boys.

Pacing -- Hitch has had to go hard to the whip over the past several weeks, due to the injury situation. He knew it was a risk, but he really had no choice, if they were to stay in this race. Now that we are in the thick of it, watch him be a bit more judicious about overusing his resources. He won't jeopardize wins, but he will want fresh legs. Short shifts, maximum focus will be his bywords.

Howson -- If anyone had any doubts about Howson (after Tyutin, Commodore, Umberger, Huselius, how could you?), they should have been put to rest by the Jason Williams deal. Howson recognized that Atlanta was misusing Williams, who can make plays with the puck, and shared the line with Kovalchuk, who also demands the puck. Two guys, one puck, bad combo. We get Williams at a great discount, and it pays immediate dividends. Howson has at least one more up his sleeve and will pull the trigger once he sees what our true health situation is.

Hitch -Hockey -- We have found some offensive legs, now time to return to the stingy defensive ways that got us where we are. We are only 4 goals short of being even in the goals for/goals against column. (In contrast, Phoenix and Edmonton are -13 and -6 in this stat). We need to dictate tempo, stand people up at the blue line, and create lanes for our goaltenders to see. Keep the blue paint clear, and we will do well.

Special Teams -- Yes, the power play needs to improve, and the PK needs to regain the form it had before the Vancouver/Edmonton/Calgary trip. Here, I think our confidence and return to Hitch-Hockey will take over. We have a bunch of guys playing well together now, and a PP quarterback who can really move the puck. Look for big improvement here.

In short, there are tons of reasons to be optimistic for the last 3/8 mile of this 1 mile race. Keep in mind that the listing above is premised upon everyone playing at the same pace as they have for the rest of the season. In the CBJ case, that pace includes an early season when our guys were learning each other's names, let alone playing together. Other teams were wildly hot. Things have a way of evening out, and this works to the CBJ's advantage.

Win or lose, playoffs or not, this team is by far the best we have ever fielded, and are a lot of fun to watch right now. Nationwide is a great place to be on game nights, and excitement is building. We know we will get effort every night, and that we will be in every game. Those are great things to have going for us as we head into February. Go Jackets!

Filatov To IR

The Bluejackets have placed forward Nikita Filatov on the IR list, retroactive to January 18th, per Scott Howson.

No indication that this is any hint of a dire injury to Filatov. With Chimera, Novotny, Klesla all destined to return this week, this is primarily a move to clear some roster space while they decide whether to keep Filatov here or down in Syracuse.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

A War, A Point . . .A Break

Sorry that this review of the Calgary game is so late, but late night and busy day put the squeeze on the available hours.

If you had come to me yesterday and said that the Bluejackets could have 1 point for the Calgary game, no need to play, just go off to break, I would have snatched up the opportunity like a $20 bill lying on the street. Once word got out that both Juice and Peca were out, and Filatov was not available to fill the void, things looked bleak.

The Jackets are proving every night that we need to scrub our brains of past teams' tendencies. In any prior year, this one was destined to be a 7 - 1 drubbing. These guys just don't care about the fans' collective memories -- they just want to win. For anybody who wants to climb on the old "these guys don't play like they care" wagon, just replay the tapes of the last 12 games, then shut up. These guys care deeply, are giving it everything they have, and are getting results beyond what reason would indicate was possible.

Last night the Calgary Thugs, I mean Flames, threw a gaudy home record, a lot of speed, and some of the dirtiest play I have seen in some time at a wounded and exhausted Jackets club, and we battled them to an effective draw. Sure we gave up 4 1 goal leads, but who would have expected us to score 4 goals in the first place?

Credit to the officials for doing the right thing on the Phaneuf hit, but equal shame for not doing precisely the same thing on the Regher cross-check to Dorsett's face. As many penalties as Calagary drew, they deserved more. Just before the penalty was imposed for hooking Russell, the officials missed a high stick and a slash. We could have been on a 5 vs 3 for most of the period. It is baffling to me why a team with such skill resorts to the caliber of play they do. Fortunately, the NHL is taking its own look at the Regher hit. About time . . .

Here are the +/- for the game:

+ Team Effort -- Having every reason to lie down and just get on with the All-Star Break, the team refused to do it. They played with a lot of grit, stood up for each other, made some great plays on offense, and showed a lot of character. Hitch has to be proud.

+ Offense -- 4 goals by 3 different players, lots of pressure and some great chances. While our defense impacted our offensive zone presence, we made the most of the time in the zone, and improved as the game wore on. We scored 12 regulation goals during the 3 game trip, which is amazing, considering our injury status.

+ Players --Umberger obviously was huge, as was Nash. Russell and Voracek just keep getting better, and Williams was great. Boll is looking more comfortable, and Murray showed some good punch. Methot had another good game.

- Defensive Zone Play -- I'm not going to go on at great lengths about this, as I know some rest and a couple of practices will get us back to where we are comfortable with Hitch Hockey, but our defensive zone effort continued to be poor. We hit OK, did a better (but not outstanding) job of clearing the puck, and won our share of board battles, but we were a couple of steps slow all night. After a hectic first, we were able to slow the pace down in the second, but lost it again at the end of the third. We gave Calgary way too much space in our end of the ice. We were just beaten to too many pucks, which gave them opportunities. Mason was sub-par in goal, but that's what fatigue will do.

We reach the All-Star Break with 49 points, 22-20-5, with 3 out of 6 points on a 1-1-1 road trip. We are likely to emerge from the break as healthy as we have been since early in the season, with a distinct majority of home games and two thirds of our back-to-back games behind us. Given the adversity we have been through, that ain't all bad.

I am working on some special features, and will have one or two of them up over the All Star Break. All Star Game watching party at the Garage Bar, hosted by the Jacket Backers, so come on out!!! I'll be sporting the white CBJ practice jersey with the #24.

Go Jackets!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

55 Minutes

The Jackets learned a hard lesson last night -- hockey games are 60 minutes, not 55. After playing a really strong, solid game, for the most part, for 55 minutes, we lost our focus and paid the price.

First, the good. After taking a bit of time to adjust to the pace, we found our rhythm, started getting pucks deep, and established our forecheck. This resulted in some great early chances, forcing Roloson to make some nice saves, especially on Voracek's point-blank shot. Our gritty 3rd and 4th lines created lots of movement and possession. Visnovsky uncorked a bullet that I'm not sure anyone could see for the first goal, but we responded beautifully with Boll's gritty goal.

It was Hemsky's first goal that got me wondering. Hemsky came in at speed, and Tyutin looked lost. Not sure if Tyutin just blew the assignment or if Methot was supposed to provide support, but it was way too easy for him. Nifty move on Mason, who seems to be over-reacting and getting a bit deep in the crease in the last couple of games. Still, we kept the pressure on, and Methot's goal was a beauty, as was Williams' goal off a nice feed from Boll. (Howson is looking like a genius on this Williams deal. This is looking like a situation where Williams was totally misused in Atlanta, putting him with Kovalchuk. Williams likes to make plays and handles the puck well. Kovalchuck also loves the puck on his stick. Only one puck, two guys, bad combination).

We continued some gritty play all the way up to the 55 minute mark, but there were signs that I did not like. As in Vancouver, the pace was too quick for that point in the game with the lead. Our defense allowed too much space, and Mason was trapped deep in his net. Backman's penalty was a ticky-tack call, but you can't take that penalty at that time and place. (Up to that point, he had played his best game as a Jacket, being strong with the puck, getting some shots through, and showing good forcing to the outside on defense. Even though it was an even strength goal, it was really the PK that allowed that one, again allowing too much space. The last goal was attributable to total lack of focus. Commodore skates hard up the left wing to the offensive blue line, and then leaves the puck for nobody in particular. We had mentally cashed one point, and were going for OT. Unfortunatelyl, Edmonton wasn't conceding that fact. A sprint up the right wing, Mason reacts too strongly to the near post, and a perfect shot to the upper far corner. Done deal.

Game +/-:

+ Offensive Pressure: We did a lot of great things in the offensive zone in this game. We had possession, drove hard for pucks, had our heads up, made good passes, followed rebounds. Every line created pressure. Really nice to see this kind of road effort from a team that is still wounded and is very young.

+ Discipline -- For 55 minutes, we showed good patience, dominated the faceoff circle, and took only 1 penalty. Just the recipe for a road effort. We displayed a good forecheck for most of the game.

+ Players -- Williams was great, as were Boll, Modin, Voracek and Huselius. Nash's no look feed to Malhotra was amazing, and almost clicked for a goal. Russell played another strong game at both ends. Backman had his best game as a Jacket, discounting the penalty at the end.

- Tempo -- While we dominated play for much of the game, we did so largely at Edmonton's tempo. That is not our style, and it is the second game in a row where we have allowed that to happen. We paid for it this time. Hemsky has a ton of energy right now, and it showed. We allowed way too much space in our own zone. Defensivie assignments got confused, and we paid.

- Finishing -- We ran 99 yards of a 100 yard race. Commodore knows better, as do the others. Mason was adequate, but not great. Edmonton put some nice shots on him, but timely saves are key.

Bottom line is that we learned a hard lesson last night. Hitch warned that this would be a roller coaster with our young players, and we took the dip last night. Panic, however, is not in order. Overall, they played a very nice game, and are showing skills that we have only dreamed about in past seasons. They are fun to watch, and are never out of a game. We are just 3 points shy of Anaheim, Edmonton, Vancouver and just 5 shy of Phoenix, with 2 games in hand over Anaheim, Vancouver and Phoenix. 20 of the last 35 are at home, we are getting heathy, and have five days of rest after tonight.

We always play Calgary strong, even in their house. Hitch will have the boys ready tonight, and I would not be amazed to see Filatov in the lineup. Lesson learned. Move on. Go Jackets!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Oilers Game Day Preview

The Bluejackets invade Rexall Place in Edmonton tonight in another one of those games against a close rival for playoff positioning. Howson returns to his former club, while Hitch returns to his birthplace.

The Oilers and Jackets are two clubs in similar situations. Edmonton has 49 points in 45 games, while the CBJ have 48. Both clubs are extolling the virtues of coming together as a club, and developing some chemistry. Though the Jackets have been bitten more seriously by the injury bug, Alex Hemsky returned from injury to score 2 goals for the Oilers in their 6 - 3 victory over Phoenix, a win that took advantage of the positive energy generated by the retirement of Glenn Anderson's #9. Ethan Moreau notched a hat trick for the Oilers in that contest.

Both clubs have won 4 of their last 5. Edmonton and Columbus rank 17 and 22, respectively in Goals Scored. Columbus has a significant edge in Goals Against, ranking 8th in the NHL, compared to Edmonton's 21st. Edmonton beats out Columbus on the power play, ranking 16th, while Columbus remains last, though improvement has been shown in recent games. The converse is true for the PK, where Columbus ranks 19th, and Edmonton trails, ranking 28th.

In net, Edmonton will go with 39 year old Duan Roloson, who sports a 2.72 GAA and .914 save percentage. Mase now sits at 1.91 GAA .932 save percentage.

The numbers say that the CBJ have a distinct advantage 5 vs 5. The +/- leader for the Oilers is at +7, while the CBJ have several players in double digits, led by Jan Hejda's gaudy +18. Edmonton boasts 7 active players with 10+ goals, but none over 12. The Jackets need to watch Edmonton's defensive corps jumping up on the play. Sheldon Souray is tied for the team lead with 10 goals, and is second with 31 points. Lubomir Visnovsky is not far behind with 27 points.

The CBJ might have some emotion going for themselves tonight, due to the ties that Hitch and Howson have, and Raffi Torres returning to Rexall place for the first time since his trade. They are also looking to clinch their second consecutive winning road trip and move back into 8th place in the West. The CBJ are 6 - 1 vs Canadian teams this year, but the lone loss came to Edmonton.

After a Wild,Wild West affair in Vancover, look for a return to Hitch-Hockey tonight. Strong forechecking, neutral zone pressure and keeping Edmonton to the perimeter. At the same time, we need to take advantage of Edmonton's defense. Put lots of rubber on Roloson early, possess the puck, stay out of the box, and take advantage of the 3rd worst PK in the league.

Guaranteed to be an interesting match between 2 clubs with lots to play for. Go Jackets!

Leclaire Out, Campbell Miffed

It's now official -- Pazzy will have season-ending ankle surgery for torn ligaments and bone spurs in his ankle. Surgery will likely take place later this week at the Cleveland Clinic, with a recovery period of 10 -12 weeks ahead. He is expected to fully recover before next training camp.

This is the best move all the way around. The cycle of doctor appointment/back to the ice/IR/doctor appointment is not good for him or the club. Get healthy, come back at full strength. Whether he comes back as the first string goalie for us, a top flight backup, or prime trade material, a healthy Pazzy is what everybody wants. Bon Chance!

Columbus' favorite NHL Executive, Colin Campbell, is apparently not pleased with the CBJ brass at the moment. Per an item in Puck-Rakers, Campbell is not at all happy that Columbus is holding Steve Mason out of the Young Stars game. Seems that we found a loophole, in that while a player who plays in the regular season game immediately before the All Star game must play in the big game, the same rule is not in place for the Young Stars tilt. Given Mason's back issues and the schedule he has played, it makes sense to give him a week of rest and treatment. Sorry, Colin. How about looking at those replays a little closer next time?

Monday, January 19, 2009

Nash #1

As Puck-Rakers just reported, Rick Nash is now the all-time leading scorer for the Columbus Bluejackets, with 318 points in 404 games. His total includes 172 goals and 146 assists. He broke the prior record held by original Jacket David Vyborny, who posted 317 points in 543 games (113 goals, 204 assists),

Congratulations, Rick!!!! Many, Many, Many more!!!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Improbable Victory!!

Hitch had it right ----in his post game comments, Hitch noted that it was "games like this that make coaches go into scouting." In an exhausting, gut-wrenching, insanely schizophrenic effort, the CBJ outlasted the Canucks, gaining a 6 - 5 shootout victory and 2 very big points in the last road trip before the All-Star break.

Make no mistake, this was an ad lib performance, one where the script got thrown out early on. Instead of Hitch-Hockey, it became a track meet, a dizzying up and back affair that seemed destined to be decided only because rules say these things eventually have to end. There were moments of pure elegance, when you could swear our team was composed of Hall of Famers -- the tic, tac, toe passing leading to Malhotra's first goal. The precision of the Rick Nash to Kris Russell to Jason Williams power play goal. Commodore's beauty from the point. There were also tons of moments that made you wonder where these slow footed, jet lag laden guys came from. In between, there were ludicrous moments, such as the floater that Mason kicks appropriately toward the corner -- except that Nash happens to be skating by at that moment, and it hits his thigh and goes in. Vancouver fans booing Roberto Luongo. Yep, lots of bizarre goings on at the 3,000th game in Canuck's history.

Most of all, this win was one of character, of toughness, of refusal to lose. The Malhotra goal to tie it in the first. Two great goals at the end of the second to come back from a two goal deficit to tie it. Read that last sentence again -- two goal deficit. On the road. Against Vancover. This ain't your father's Bluejacket team. Having gotten into Luongo's head with those two goals to cap the second, they proceed to score 2 quickies from Torres and Commodore at the start of the 3rd, to go up 5 - 3. The celebration is on, right? Nope. The fluke goal off of Nash and a nasty power play shot from one of those pain-in-the-neck Sedin twins, and we are tied at 5. Two All Star goalies, and the game has more points than the Steelers-Ravens game . . . Again, past Bluejacket teams fold up their tent at this point, graciously thank their hosts, and move on to the next town. Not this bunch. They dusted themselves off, dominated the rest of the third and the OT, got beautiful SO goals from Williams (great choice to lead off, Hitch!) and Nash, Mason shuts down Wellwood and Sundin, and you walk away with 2 points. Whew!!!!

Here are the +/- for the game:

+ Nash -- Give this guy a week off more often. A beautiful wraparound goal, two nice assists, and overall domination of the ice when he was there. That line with Huselius, Malhotra and Nash is scary every time they cross the blue line.

+ Attitude -- This is probably the 3rd or 4th time I have awarded a + for attitude, which in itself says volumes about this hockey club. These guys had every reason to quit, and didn't. They had dead legs (see below), were in a hitting contest, got some bad breaks, some non-calls, fell behind, came back, fell behind, came back, took the lead, lost it -- and then dominated. That is the mark of a winning club, folks.

+ Power Play -- Yes, you are reading this right. Due to a rash of coincidental minors, and a lot of non-calls, we only had two power plays all night, and one of those was a 4 vs 3 in OT. However, the one PP we did have in regulation was so pretty, I had to give it a plus. We created space, we moved the puck quickly -- we used the width of the ice, not just the perimeter, and Jason Williams converted a one-timer from Russell into a wide open net. Well done! Honorable mention to the PK, which was great, except for an awful kill attempt that gave the Canucks their 4th goal.

+ Players -- Besides Nash, you have to give the + sign to Jason Williams, who scored the PP goal, made a beautiful shot in the shootout, and generally showed speed, puck handling and an ability to take control. Imagine what he will look like when he gets to know his line mates. + signs also for Boll and Torres, who were tenacious on the puck all night, and created lots of opportunities. Tyutin continues to get shots through from the point, Russell is just fun to watch with the puck, and Commodore has turned into a scoring machine. Modin also played a heavy game. Not sure what to say about Huselius. On the one hand, he created lots of opportunities and had two assists. On the other hand, he failed to convert some beautiful opportunities. He is great, but frustrates the heck out of me at times.

--Defense-- We looked slow, tentative and generally clueless in our own zone much of the night. Tollefson was befuddled by the Vancouver forwards. Methot had his second awful game in a row. He let his man go, leading to the first goal, and got himself trapped with the puck, made turnovers, just generally bad. The All-Star break is coming at the right time for him. Canuck forwards coming down the middle were either left alone or just harassed with some feeble attempts at poke checks.

--Legs -- As I noted above, while at times we clicked, at other times we looked like we had just gotten off the flight -- from China. Come on guys, it's not that long of a flight, and you have had a day to get over it. They almost looked at times like some of our younger guys were awed by the 3000 game hoopla and the whole Sundin mystique. Get over it --- soon!

This was a victory engineered by veterans -- Nash, Modin, Commodore, Tyutin, Williams,Huselius. The kids provided energy at times, and their never-say-die attitude is becoming contagious. 2 huge points on the road, in the type of game we have historically never won. We came to Mason's aid (and he was far from bad) and did what needed to be done for the victory. That is 4 out of the last 5, 8 out of the last 11, and 5 for 7 on the road. Great job. I'm exhausted . . .

Game Day Ramblings

As the CBJ get prepared to begin their final road trip befor the All-Star break, they are likely getting warmer weather in Vancouver than we have had here in Columbus.

The trip is beginning on a good note. Per Puck Rakers, Rick Nash has been activated from IR, and Craig MacDonald has been, or will soon be, sent to Syracuse. Let's just hope Nash isn't pushing things -- his responsibility to the team is long term, and we need him for the stretch run.

The Vancouver bloggers, and the Canucks themselves are referring to themselves as "fragile", needing to maintain composure, and needing to get back to a defensive game. Hmm, any of that sound familiar from times past? Vancouver has lost four in a row at home, including a 4 -1 loss to Phoenix on Thursday, when Roberto Luongo made his return, showing some rust, but stopping the last 21 shots he faced. They have scored only 10 goals in those four losses, so offense has also been a sticking point for the Canucks.

Don't buy into the wounded whale story. They are a tough team, with a three point lead on the Jackets in the standings. They have played 46 games, however, to the Jackets' 44, so this presents an opportunity to make some real gains in the logjam that is the Western Conference right now. 9 teams are with in 8 points, ranging from 5th place, all the way to 13th. We need to stay in the hunt, but the season will not be won or lost on this trip, particularly when we have 10 of 13 at home coming out of the break.

Sammy Salo returns for Vancover tonight, so look for them to hit hard early. For that reason, Filatov is a likely scratch. We need to respond in kind, but keep our composure and Hitch-Hockey fully in place. We need to turn the skill lines, including the Nash-Malhotra-Huselius line, fully loose on Luongo and let the rubber fly. Keep pressure in the neutral zone and keep the Sedin brothers to the outside. Watch for them to crowd Mason, so we need to clear the lanes and crease without taking penalties. Finally, let's see if Williams and friends can cash in on a power play or two.

Energy, chemistry, effort, patience. These will carry the day. Go Jackets!!

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Another Piece Falls Into Place /More on Koharski Call

Kudos to Rick, for steering me to this emerging news that appeared on Puck-Rakers a couple of hours ago:

The CBJ have claimed goalie Wade Dubielewicz off of waivers from the New York Islanders, and have sent Dan LaCosta to Syracuse. Dubielewicz will join the team in Vancouver for tomorrow night's game, and will likely stay with the big club for the foreseeable future, as he will need to clear waivers if we try to send him to the AHL.

Dubielewicz, who will turn 30 in two weeks, was origninally signed by the Islanders in 2003. A British Columbia native, "Dubie" catches left, stands 5'10" and 185. He was instrumental in the Islanders stretch run to the playoffs in 2007 after Rick DiPietro was sidelined with a concussion, and was THN's #1 star that April for guiding the Isles to the last playoff slot. He holds a number of AHL records, and was the 2003-2004 AHL Rookie of the Year. He shared time between the big club and AHL Bridgeport before leaving for the KHL in Russia for this season. Apparently disenchanted with the Russian league, he negotiated a release from his club and was signed to a pro-rated 1 year, $500,000 contract by the Islanders this week. However, as a KHL player, he had to clear waivers to re-enter the league, and Howson pounced.

Dubielewicz has a career 2.55 GAA in the NHL and 2.53 in the AHL. His save percentage in both leagues is .920. Interestingly, his former KHL club is the new home of former Jacket goalie Frederick Norrena.
This is a crafty move by Howson. For little more than the NHL/AHL differential of LaCosta's contract, we have a credible back up goalie. The Jackets are denying that Leclaire is done for the year, but if the fat lady hasn't sung yet, I suspect she is warming up in the wings. Alternatively, Howson could be orchestrating something bigger. I strongly suspect it is the ankle, however.

This plugs our most obvious vulnerability, while simultaneously taking Doug Weight out of the picture, as NYI will be about as grateful for this deal as Tampa Bay was for receiving Mark Denis for Norrena and Modin. Weight, at his age and with his current injury profile, is a bad fit for Howson's strategy anyway, as I do not read Howson as wanting rentals at this point. Greg Wyshynski at Puck-Daddy likes the move:

Rookie Steve Mason, when he isn't getting the shaft from obese referees, is the unquestioned No. 1 goalie in Columbus. The Jackets had been in the market for a veteran backup recently, with discussions about potentially snagging Curtis Sanford from the Vancouver Canucks. They were wise to hold off; Dubie's a better goalie.

You gotta love Scott Howson -- no flashiness or bombastic pronouncements, just quietly paying very close attention and making some really slick moves that fit right in with the long term plan while providing immediate help. I should have Howson do my shopping for me . . .
Koharski Call Update --
Here is the NHL's explanation of the scope of the War Room review of the Koharski call:
"The referee's call on the ice was 'good goal,'" NHL Senior Vice President of Hockey Operations Mike Murphy said in an e-mail. "The Toronto Video Room reviewed the play to determine if the net was completely off its pegs before the puck crossed the goal line [under Rule 78.5 (x)]......after reviewing the play we could not conclusively determine that the net was completely off its peg prior to the puck crossing the goal line and ruled the play 'inconclusive', as a result the referee's call on the ice stood"
Again, given the current set of standards governing the War Room in Toronto, and based upon my look at it, the review was inconclusive. My problem is with Koharski, and the NHL -- specifically:
1. They need to revamp the rules governing Toronto review and tighten them up across the board.
2. When you have 1 referee, as with last night, the review needs to be expanded, so that Toronto acts as the second referee.
3. Koharski missed the blatant takedown of Tyutin by Clarkson.
4. Koharski was woefully out of position during the critical sequence of events.
Done on that one.
What is next for Mr. Howson? My gut tells me Vermette, Antropov or Staal. I think Howson is happy with our blue line right now, and that is something that can be done nearer the trade deadline if he wants depth there. Center is the key, and once Klesla is healthy, watch for a move.
Let me know your thoughts. Go Jackets!

Friday, January 16, 2009

A Post, A Bounce, A Call . . .

For 50 minutes of hockey, the Bluejackets did everything I indicated they should do in my game preview -- they checked, they kept the New Jersey forwards at the perimeters, possessed the puck in the offensive zone, stayed out of the box, and got timely saves from Mason. It was a chess match, with most of the game played against the boards and in the neutral zone. While the Devils had the better of the first few shifts of the game, the balance of power shifted to the CBJ side and pretty much stayed there. The CBJ goal was a beautiful setup from Huselius to Malhotra, who made a perfect 5 hole shot.

First, Tyutin fires a laser from the point that rockets off the right post. That would have been a 2 -0 lead, and the fabric of the game would have changed. Then, with 10:00 minutes left in the third, Dorsett takes a dumb tripping penalty in the neutral zone. The faceoff is won by Malhotra, who feeds it right to Umberger. Umberger moves to clear, and whiffs. Actually, it would have been better had he whiffed. Instead, he catches just enough of the puck to send it bouncing meekly into the left slot, where Zajac fires it past a helpless Mason, just 6 seconds into the power play.

Finally, we come to the call, which will consume most of the conversation until the Vancouver game on Sunday. With just under 9:00 left, the puck is being battled over by Tyutin, Clarkson, Methot and Madden. Clarkson takes Tyutin down, then falls on top of him. No call. Clarkson gets up, takes the puck around the net, to Mason's right side, to try a wraparound. Mason gets over to the post and stops the shot. Koharski (the only referree at this point) is perched on goal line next to the boards at the opposite side. He starts skating along the goal line, looking as if he is looking for the puck. Although most fans think Mason has the puck frozen, it is actually between his legs. Methot at this point is tangled up with Clarkson, causing the near post to tip. Koharski has angled back below the goal line, still apparently looking for the puck. Tyutin is in front, Mason is sliding over, the puck still between his legs. Madden comes around from the opposite post and makes contact with the puck, then knocks the far post off. Koharski is looking at the puck the entire time, and signals goal. Toronto finds the video inconclusive, and the rest is history.

First, let me reiterate my position that the rules governing review by Toronto need to be changed, made uniform and be applied evenly. However, that was not really at issue here. What was at issue was the fact that Koharski was alone. Toronto should have expanded review responsibilities when that happens, as a single referee cannot have his eyes everywhere. However, from the overhead and other angles I have reveiwed (and I just spend 40 minutes doing it), here is what I see:

1. Clarkson took down Tyutin, then laid on top of him. Koharski was below the goal line at this point, staring straight at the play. No excuse for not calling holding or interference - take your pick.

2. The puck was not frozen by Mason after Clarkson's attempt, so it was still alive. However, at this point Koharski is far to the other side of the goal, and from his actions seemingly cannot see the puck. You can see him ducking his head, then ultimately dipping below the goal line for a better view. He should have been closer to the play from the outset, and arguably should have blown the whistle if he could not see the puck. On the other hand, a single referee is probably not going to blow the whistle as readily for a puck being out of view, as that would likely disrupt the game.

3. The near post starts to tip when Methot hits it as he is tangled up with Clarkson. While the CBJ fan in me would like to say that Clarkson pushed him into the post, to be honest it really looks like Methot was the intiator of the contact.

4. The overhead is unclear as to whether the other post comes off before the puck crosses the line. It shimmies, then appears to settle, then goes off, apparently in response to contact from Madden after the shot. Koharski's eyes are focused on the puck at this point, and neither the standard view or the overhead is definitive about the sequence.

Bottom line is that, while the goal probably should not have happened, due to the fact that Clarkson should have been in the box, the goal itself was something that you could call any way and find justification in the film. It is a shame, though, that the deciding goal in a well played game had to be determined this way. However, I am not dusting off the Toronto conspiracy articles yet.

Give tons of credit to Weekes in goal for New Jersey. He made some great saves, robbing Torres, Huselius and Williams at various times. He won the game for them.

+/- for the night:

+ Hitch-Hockey -- The team really played it the way we wanted it drawn up on the chalkboard. They had energy, attention to detail, few mistakes. They frustrated two of the best forward lines in hockey. Mason had some nice saves. A post, a bounce, a call (and 1 dumb penalty).

+ Possession -- Again, we were able to consume vast amounts of time with the puck in the offensive zone. Even though we had no power play goals, it was a revelation to watch Williams work with the others. You could see improvement each of the three power plays.

+ Individuals -- Huselius, Malhotra, Russell were all very consistent and good at both ends. Williams showed a lot in his first game as a Jacket. He has a big shot, good sense, and better movement than I expected. Filatov did a lot of little things, and Modin was solid. Methot did not have one of his better games, as he seemed indecisive all night, both with the puck and in his defensive reactions.

-Cashing In -- This was the difference in the game. Sure, NJ scored on a blown clearing pass, and then on a flluke goal, but we kept them in the game by not converting. Credit to their goalie, for sure, but we also just missed some open chances.

A tough loss, but one against a very good team. No need to dwell on this one, as it was really a well played game, with very few mistakes on either side. Not a momentum killer or one that should have anyone scratching their heads. This was one of those weird hockey games, which we should have guessed when the referee slipped and left the game (shoulder injury--a repetetive problem for him).

Time to get on the plane and continue our great play against the Canadian teams. Let's get to Luongo before he gets hot!

Devils Preview

Across the frozen tundra . . . Ooops, sorry. Looked outside and thought I was watching NFL Films and Lambeau Field for a moment. My mistake. . .
The New Jersey Devils invade Nationwide tonight, having won 4 of their last 5, including wins over Ottawa, Montreal, St. Louis, and the N.Y. Rangers, scoring 4 goals in each of those contests. The Devils sport a very strong 12 - 7 -2 record on the road this year, but are only batting .500 vs Western Conference teams in 8 starts, and are 3 - 3 - 0 vs. the West on the road. In contrast, the Jackets are 7 - 1 -1 vs. the East this year, and are 4 - 1 at home against the right coasters.
Playing the Devils is all about stopping their top forwards. Patrik Elias and Zack Parise each have 50 points coming into this game, with Parise evenly splitting his total, 25 goals and 25 assists. He is also +16 for the year Brian Gionta, Travis Zajic and Jamie Langenbrunner all have 30 points. They bring speed and skill to every shift, and will present our defense with a big challenge.

Scott Clemmenson has filled in admirably for the injured Brodeur, carrying a record of 16-9-1, with a 2.4 GAA and .918 save percentage. The Devils have 53 points through 43 games, good for the 6th spot in the East.

This will be a challenging game, but the teams match up much more closely than you might think. The Devils and Jackets are 7 and 8 in the league in Goals Agains, are 2 and 3 in the league in 5 vs. 5 scoring, 15 and 19 in penalty kill. The Devils average 1 more shot per game than the Jackets, but also surrender 1 more per game. They have a .35 edge in Goals Per game, but that largely disappears if you focus on recent history. Their power play has clicked 18% of the time, to only 11% for us. Still, a close tale of the tape.

Nash will be out tonight, as the team is trying to be cautious about bringing him back too soon. Tollefson will return and take Backman's place in the lineup tonight. Look for Modin to join Malhotra and Huselius on the top line, with the Goats II line of Voracek, Peca and Filatov staying intact. Torres and Umberger will be on a line, probably joined by Boll or MacDonald, with Williams, Dorsett filling out the fourth line with the remaining forward.

Keys for tonight:

1. Promote Frustration -- Hitch-Hockey needs to be the order of the night, disrupting flow in the neutral zones, keeping their wings to the outside, providing support in the middle and down low, hard checking and a strong fore-check. We don't want to get in a free-wheeling, end-to-end sprint with these guys.

2. Puck Possession -- We have been doing a great job recently of cycling, keeping pucks in the zone, and tiring the opposition out in their zone. We need to keep doing that tonight.

3. Cash In -- If we do #1 and #2, we will have plenty of scoring chances. Take advantage of them!

4. Stonewall Mason -- Just doing my part to keep this nickname going . . . Mase needs to be large in net, as he has been, and add to the NJ frustration factor. He has had a couple of days to rest, so hopefully has his batteries fresh.

5. Special Teams -- Continue our strong play on the PK, and don't lose focus when we have offensive opportunities. Let's see how Jason Williams looks with Russell at the point on the PP.

Two of the best 5 vs. 5 teams in the league getting it on tonight, so it should be a good one. Last home game before the All Star break, so let's get everyone there, and make some noise!!

Go Jackets!

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Road Ahead

Although today was a relatively quiet day in CBJ land in terms of news, there is anticipation in the air.

--As Puck-Rakers reported, the Jackets had 25 players on the ice in practice today, enough for 5 forward lines. Nash is iffy for Friday, but Torres will go. Mackenzie has already made his way back to Syracuse, and MacDonald is probably not far behind. Novotny, Chimera and Klesla a ways off. Who stays, who goes? Don't rush Nash back too early . . .

--With Jason Williams in the fold, the focus now turns to the next deal. (We fans are insatiable -- blood in the water makes us look for more!) The news from Ottawa is that they really want Rostislav Klesla, even with his injury history. Klesla (+/- a draft pick) for Vermette?? Could happen. Brian Burke's trigger finger in Toronto also has to be getting itchy. Antropov for draft choices? Also feasible. Then, what is LeClaire's status and what do we do for backup there? Sandford cleared waivers in Vancouver and is headed for AHL. He should be had for 7th round pick. Martin Gerber has accepted AHL reconditioning assignment for Ottawa, but his contract is awfully rich. We can't play Mason every game, and La Costa is not the answer right now.

-- Four tough games before the All Star break -- New Jersey at home, followed by the NW Canada trip to Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton. 3 - 1 would be outstanding. We then come back to10 our of 13 at home, and the chance to put some distance between us and the pack of other contenders. While Minnesota leaped over us tonight by a point with their win over Edmonton, keep in mind that we are only 3 points out of the 5th slot, and have two games in hand over both Vancouver and Anaheim.

Cause for hope: Luongo has surrendered 2 goals on 11 shots in the 1st period vs. the Coyotes. Hopefully he stays rusty through our visit!!!

Lots of things to be optimistic about right now!

Go Jackets!!

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Jackets Land Williams From Thrashers

While my wife and I were doing our best Canadian impersonations . . . shoveling our driveway (my wife for the second time today), the Jackets completed a trade with the Atlanta Thrashers, acquiring Center Jason Williams in return for Clay Wilson and a 6th round draft pick in the 2009 draft.

Williams, a 28 year old Ontario native, brings a right-handed shot and power play point experience to the Jackets. His NHL debut with the Detroit Red Wings came in the Jackets' inaugural season of 2000-2001. He spent most of the next 3 seasons bouncing between the AHL and the big club, though stuck with Detroit through the 2002 Stanley Cup campaign. His breakout year came in 2005 - 2006, when he had 21 goals and 37 assists in 80 games for the Red Wings. He netted his first career hat trick against the Bluejackets on October 22 of that year in a 6 - 0 Wings victory. All 3 goals came in the first period. The following year, 2006 -2007, he was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks after he sustained a concussion in a hit delivered by then-Edmonton Oiler Raffi Torres. His contributions during the 2007 -2008 season were limited by a sports hernia injury. He became a free agent after that season, signing with the Atlanta Thrashers.

A power play specialist with a strong shot and good savvy, Williams is on the smallish side, at 5' 11" and 195 pounds. THN describes his skill set as follows:

ASSETS: Is gifted and savvy. Can put up solid numbers and works well with talented linemates. Is very useful on the power play and can even play the point.
FLAWS: Lacks size and supreme skating ability. Must play a grittier game in order to maximize his productivity on a scoring line.
CAREER POTENTIAL: Top six forward.

This seems like a nice pick-up by Howson on several levels. We simultaneously get a right handed shot, power play experience and depth at forward, while not giving up much. Wilson was clearly not in the long term plans for the Jackets, and the 6th round choice is a no-brainer. We are on the hook for about $1 million of his $2.2 million salary. He has only a 1 year deal, so some risk on being able to sign him. However, having spent most of his career in Chicago and Detroit, Columbus could not be viewed as a stretch for him. At 28, he is experienced, but still young enough to potentially be around for a long time.

This was a fine bit of sleight of hand -- everyone was looking at potential PP help coming from a defenseman with a right handed shot, with most attention focusing on Pavel Kubina of Toronto. That could still happen, but I would still look now for a draft choice deal for Nik Antropov from Toronto. With Vancouver having put Curtis Sandford on waivers, we may take a shot at him, if he is around, to provide insurance for Le Claire.

Bottom line, the first piece of the puzzle is in place, with minimal investment on our part. Good start Scott!!!