I think that famous line from Louise Fletcher in One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest is only appropriate right now, as a couple of losses have brought the Nash bashers, doom sayers, Fire Tressel fanatics and other black helicopter folks out of the woodwork, as evidenced by comments I am seeing elsewhere. Let's put a few things to rest:
1. Nash Is Awful --Well, no. Simply not true. He has already tied a career high for assists for a season, is on track for the high 30s in goals, has been a force on the penalty kill, and has taken the team on his back more times than I can count. Is he going to do that every game? No. Nobody does. In one particularly inane comment I read, Nash was taken to task for not being as energetic as Iginla. Huh? He can sometimes appear not to be moving fast, due to his size and build, then you notice he is pulling away. Look, he is averaging 1 point per game that he has played. He is on pace to break his own mark for points, has already tied his career high for assists, and has done all of this while taking only 187 shots thus far, compared to 329 last year (for the season). Give him 4 shots per game for the rest of the season, and it still is signficantly below last year's total. He is not going to be a star every night, but he will be a big contributor down the stretch.
2. Mason Is Awful -- A variation on #1, people are wailing over the last two games and bemoaning the fact that Mason has "come down to earth." Again, let's look at the facts. The whole team was exhausted for the Anaheim game, so I am not even going there. Let's look at Calgary -- 3 goals scored against him, which would represent a game you would expect a good team to win more times than not. Goal 1 -- he makes the stop on the shot and drops the puck right in front of him. As his glove reaches for the puck, our defenseman and the Calgary forward fall and slide into the puck and Mason. Instead of going forward, the puck kicks dead left onto the stick of a waiting Iginla. Goal 2: Phaneuf is at the point, and Hejda is directly between him and Mason. Hejda braces for the block, but misses it, succeeding only in screening Mason, who never saw the puck. Goal 3: Extra man on for the delayed penalty. Hejda gets caught with his head down and a great cross ice pass finds the Flame at the right post. Mason gets a piece of it, but it goes in. 9 out of 10 goalies don't even touch that shot. Sorry -- "Myth Busted"
3. The Jackets Are In Trouble -- This is a kind of summary of all of the other whining and moaning that is going on, ranging from stuff like "We need to go 15 - 6 over the last 21 to be in the playoffs." to "trade Leclaire, Klesla and our first round pick to get somebody here now!". First of all, yep, we have lost 2 in a row. Know what? We are probably going to lose between 4 and 8 more before the season is over, too. Calgary is a very good team, playing at home. Anaheim was desperate and we were exhausted. Based upon everything we can tell at this point, the 8th playoff spot in the West will go to a team with between 88 and 90 points. There are 6 teams (Vancouver, Dallas, Edmonton, Minnesota, Anaheim, Columbus) really in the hunt for 4 slots. They all play each other and/or teams ahead of them a bunch during the home stretch, so difficult for enough teams to get hot enough to raise the bar of points. If we go 11 - 10, we have 88 points. 11 - 8 - 2, 90 points. We are in 6th, even though a couple of pursuers have games in hand. They have to overtake us, and we are only 2 points out of 5th. Look at it this way -- we just need to fall in the top 2/3 of the contending teams to make the playoffs.
Coming down the stretch, every team is confronting issues. Dallas has lost their center, and is having trouble scoring goals. Edmonton, Minnesota and Anaheim have inconsistent goaltending, and difficulty stringing goals together. Minnesota has a brutal March schedule, as does Edmonton. We have games in hand on Anaheim. So it goes . . .
We are in the best shape we have ever been in --- by far. This is the best team the Bluejackets have ever put on the ice -- by far. Howson will be providing more help over the next few days. After this trip, the majority of our games are in the friendly confines, and the only trip we take other than Nashville, Chicago, Detroit, St. Louis is to Florida and Tampa. 13 of the last 21 are against teams below us in the standings.
As Portzline pointed out in his excellent piece the other day -- this is professional sports, people. 82 games. There are ups and there are downs, particularly when you have a young team like ours. The prediction here remains a 6th place finish and a rough and tumble first playoff series against Calgary.