In an effort to stem mass panic and people flinging themselves into the Scioto River over the recent turn of events on the ice, I am going to eschew my normal game review/game preview approach for today, and focus on some observations and some facts (the two are not necessarily synonymous, though I like to think they are).
First let's get two groups of bad news out of the way:
Pittsburgh -- We dropped the ball last night, no question. Dubie was not an NHL caliber goalie last night, despite making a couple of nice saves after the horse was already out of the barn. We did lots of good things, particularly in the last 17 minutes of the first, and most of the third, but too little, too late.
Illness & Injury Update -- Per Puck-Rakers, Mason felt horrible after the morning skate, so he will not go tonight. Dubielewicz has the flu (or should I say upper body illness?), Commodore has food poisoning, courtesy of an unnamed Pittsburgh establishment on Friday night, and Voracek is suffering from effects of undisclosed malady sustained in last night's game. Methot also suffering from flu. All are either questionable or doubtful for tonight's game. Dan LaCosta starts in goal tonight against the Sharks. Dubie will be available for back up duty.
OK, that's done. Now, for some better news:
Standings & Such -- Despite the three game slide, the Jackets remain 2 points out of the 7th spot, and 4 points out of 5th. Some of the teams behind have narrowed the gap, and we give away 1 game to a few teams, but we also still hold games in hand over Phoenix, who is tied with us, and Anaheim, now in 6th. Most of our rivals have tough games tonight as well, so even a loss to SJ does not dramatically alter the picture. Remember the 60% rule -- win 3 out of 5 for the final 35 and we are easily in the playoffs. We were 2 - 3 for the first 5, so came up a little short, but after tonight we start a string of very winnable games, including Tuesday night's love fest vs. Colorado. Most of our rivals have at least 2 or 3 games left vs. the Sharks, while we are done with them after tonight.
Power Play -- We were only 1 for 4 vs. Pittsburgh, but it is starting to look like an NHL caliber special team. Beautiful pass from Juice to Tyutin, and we got a number of shots on goal. As we gain confidence, the pace of the passing will pick up, resulting in even better numbers. Nice to see.
Finally, some observations:
New Blood -- While I am not of the school that believes you can simply bring a new body in and all will be well, the unusual circumstances we face would dictate that Howson act sooner than later. Dubielewicz is not going to be an NHL caliber goaltender this year. He could prove to be a worthy backup in time, but adjusting from a year off from the NHL small ice world is not something we have time for right now. Legace cleared waivers for St. Louis, so conventional wisdom must be that he can be had for less than the waiver price. Same likely with Curtis Sandford. Time to do 3 deals -- backup goalie who can be credible while Mason recovers, wing/center, right handed shot defenseman. No need to wait for the deadline -- we need the move now, due both to health status and need for psychological boost.
Chemistry -- What I hoped would not happen, but unfortunately has, is that the returning players have come back hitting on fewer than all cylinders, and have been dispersed across the lines, disrupting the chemistry we had going during their recuperative periods. This, in turn, has resulted in more intra-game line shifting by Hitch, which I think creates further disruption. Chimera has admitted that he can't go full tilt yet, and that is a huge part of his game. Torres is still working on stamina, and isn't consistent. Peca, though not hurt, has not been able to consistently put numbers on the board, and Modin is looking awfully slow. Let's put Peca, Chimera and Torres on a line, control their minutes, and let them get their confidence back. Boll, Modin and Dorsett/Murray on the other checking line, with Nash, Malhotra, Huselius and Voracek, Williams, Umberger as the scoring lines, and stick with them for the whole game.
With The Good Comes The Bad -- There are tons of positives to Hitch-Hockey, and also tons of positives in having so many good, young players on the squad. The flip side is that the Jackets are not yet a steeled group psychologically. With the whole system keyed from the back end, our play is often dependent on who is in goal The team played noticeably differently in front of Norrena than in front of Leclaire, and this year played much more confidently in front of Mason than Leclaire. Knowing that you have that solid backbone enables players to play looser, knowing that if they should make a mistake, the goalie has their back. When we get tentative, our grip on the stick gets tighter, we aren't as decisive in transition. Dubie does not inspire confidence, and the results were palpable last night. Tonight, with the Sharks in town and LaCosta in net, Hitch has to tell the guys to go for it, like we did in the NW Canada trip. Not many expect us to win this one, so why not go for it.
Veteran Time -- In a similar vein, this team has been carried by a bunch of youngsters for most of the season. Even our Captain cannot be considered a grizzled veteran. Commodore and Tyutin have done great jobs, and Nash and Huselius have chalked up numbers, but we have not seen the consistent performance from Peca and Modin, in particular. Time for these guys to strap it on and cash in some chances, at the same time re-energizing our kids.
Real Fans Don't Whine -- Reading the posts elsewhere, certain segments of CBJ Nation are already in full retreat and have abandoned all hope. Please . . . We may or may not end up in the playoffs, and the injury problems have gotten silly in terms of magnitude, but let's act like fans here. I feel like buying a copy of "Professional Sports For Dummies" and having copies air-dropped from helicopters over Central Ohio. We as fans pay our money, devote our time and root for wins. That's great. All we can expect is that we get an organization that does it's best, from the front office to the 4th line grinder. While in the past it has been fashionable to dump on Dougie Mac or criticize the heart and character of the team, I am not buying it this year. The guys have played their hearts out, with the rare lapse. Lots of youngsters, lots of new blood, so stuff happens. But to be where they are right now, given what they have gone through this season, is a credit to the players, the coaches and the leadership. I am really weary of the lemmings preparing to jump off the cliff every time we hit a bad stretch. Same group that leads the "Fire Tressel" brigade when OSU doesn't win the national championship.
OK, as I climb down from the soapbox, let's just go out and support the boys tonight against the Sharks, and prepare for what is going to be a good, exciting stretch run. Go Jackets!