Tuesday, March 31, 2009

The Force Is Strong With This One . . .

After a disappointing home and home with St. Louis, and the ensuing panic among the more squeamish CBJ fans, the last name many wanted to see on the schedule was Nashville. Darth Vader. Death Star. Doom.

Well, not so much actually . . . Our own version of Luke Skywalker, Raffi Torres, slammed home the winning goal 4:05 into the third period, and turned the affair over to the rest of the Rebels to finish the job. Through a combination of deft puck possession in the offensive zone, a tenacious defense, a superb penalty kill and solid goaltending, the Jackets killed off the balance of the period, restoring order to The Force.

Sure, this was a depleted Nashville team, with Arnott, Erat and Legwand out. They received another blow when Dumont went hard into the boards and lay motionless for a good period of time. He eventually left the ice with moderate assistance, but I suspect that a concussion is a real possibility. But, as Nash observed in the paper this morning --everybody goes through it, and you just have to keep playing. (AP Photo/Jay LaPetre)

The Calgary win was artistic -- this one was a mechanical marvel. The pieces all fit together, and even when a gear slipped a little bit, the clutch engaged and smoothed it right out. Nashville's lone goal came on a gorgeous cross-ice feed at the left post for a tip in that Mason had no chance on. It was started by an ill-advised pinch attempt, I believe by Tyutin, and he and Boll got caught up ice. A Huselius turnover leading to a breakaway was negated by a beautiful back check by . . .Huselius. Russell thwarted a later breakaway effort. Mason made a number of terrific saves, but none nicer than a second period beauty. He slid to his left as the shooter came down the right wing, reminiscent of Martin St. Louis' winning goal for Tampa in OT. Just as then, the shot went to the far post as Mason was sliding the other direction, but he reached back with the glove and made a terrific save. Give Rinne credit for Nashville -- he singlehandedly kept them in the game.

Here are +/- for tonight:

+ Discipline -- We played an extremely disciplined game, taking zero penalties in the first two frames. Our defensive corps was much better on the puck and in support, after a little bit of initial shakiness. We cycled, we put pucks on the net, and did not get out of our game plan when we could not get things to go. We kept grinding and got rewarded, at the same time wearing Nashville down.

+Possession -- We dominated possession in this one, but in a totally different way than against Calgary. There, we had artisitic passes and combinations that flowed artistically, Here, we continued to cycle, get the puck deep, chase it down, center it, shoot, get the rebound, cycle it . It was amazing to watch for those of us Day 1 season ticket holders who only dreamed about days like this. We generated traffic in front, and though we did not cash in on all our opportunities, we won the majority of the battles.

+ Penalty Kill -- We didn't need to use it much, but when we needed it, the PK came through in spades! The only two power plays of the night for the Preds came back to back, with 28 seconds of overlapping 5-on-3 time. This coming just minutes after we had taken the lead. Nothing like a 3rd period 5-on-3 against you during a heated playoff race to get the blood moving! With Mason as the foundation, the penalty killers were aggressive, challenging the puck handlers and creating havoc. Well done!

+Special Mention---- Aside from the obvious, Jake Voracek was ENORMOUS tonight, though he won't show up on the scoresheet. He was all over the ice, making plays, keeping possession. Vermette was a monster as well. Boll had some good moments, and hopefully was not dinged too badly by his blocked shot. Backman (yes, him) was solid, if unspectacular. Russell was a key contributor in moving the puck and keeping momentum going.

-- Columbus -- 6 games to go in the regular season, we are in 6th place, with a 2 point lead over Nashville, and the Predators are in town. It is Spring Break for most of the kids, so no school tomorrow. No blizzard, no tornado, no NASCAR on television, no OSU rowing meet to distract. So why the hell were there only 14,495 in the house? Shame on you Columbus -- you showed yourselves for the fair weather, attention-deficit fans that you really are. Disgusting . . .

A great win at a clutch time for the team. With 88 points and 5 games left, the fat lady hasn't sung, but I hear something in the wings . . . Vancouver has now taken over the lead in the Northwest Division, so Calgary drops to 4th. Chicago is also standing still. A well-earned rest for the boys now, until Saturday in Nashville. We swept the season series here, now need to break through in their barn. A contingent of 30 or so Jacket Backers will be in the house on Saturday, so we will represent. Funny, I didn't hear any "Let's Go Predators" chants at Nationwide tonight. Hmmm . . . maybe too many syllables.

Luke slays Darth. Pleased we are.

Go Jackets!

Calm The Nerves!

OK, think of the following as a bit of calming medication to keep you from going berserk as we head into the final half of the Dirty Dozen games to end the season.  The good news is that we are in a playoff race as April begins!  The bad news is that we are in a playoff race as April begins!  

This is a new experience for Jackets fans, and can be unnerving for those who have not experienced the daily ups, downs and twists.  In listening to and reading fan comments, you would think we were in 12th.  So, armed with some facts, let me attempt to return some degree of rationality to the debate.

First, I have updated the site to provide a permanent link to the Playoff Tracker spreadsheet to the right at the top.  So those of you needing your latest information fix can get it there.  Secondly, here are the current projections, based upon every team playing as they have up to the present time:

1. San Jose 120 points
2. Detroit  116 points
3. Calgary 99 points
4. Chicago 101 points
5. Vancouver 99 points
6. Columbus 93 points
7. Nashville  91 points
8. St. Louis  90 points
9. Anaheim  88 points
10. Edmonton 87 points
11. Minnesota  86 points
12. Dallas  82 points
13. Los Angeles  80 points
14. Phoenix  77 points
15. Colorado  69 points.

Thus, the bar sits at 90 points right now, elevated by the St. Louis 5 game winning streak and Nashville's 6 game point streak.  For reasons explained below, I expect the #8 slot point total to go back to 89 or 88 before the season ends.

Consider the following:
  • The Jackets are 3-1-2 for the first 6 games of the Dirty Dozen, for 8 out of a possible 12 points.  Nashville has earned points in the last 6 games, for a total of 9 points.  So, they have gained exactly 1 point on us over 6 games.  That's acceptable -- I'll let them pick up 1 more point over the final six games -- no problem!
  • St. Louis plays 5 of their last 6 on the road, Nashville plays 4 of 6 on the road, as does Anaheim.  
  • Edmonton plays San Jose, Vancouver, Anaheim, Calgary twice
  • Nashville, besides contending with us, has Chicago twice, Detroit and Minnesota.
  • Anaheim has Edmonton, Vancouver and San Jose (twice)
  • We have played extremely well against Chicago, have a 2 - 2 record against Nashville (including a loss with Norrena in goal), and have played Minnesota tough.  We have 3 home games left and 3 road games.  Split 'em and we keep 6th easily.
We have the easiest job of any of those fighting for playoff spots, because we are above the bar and they have to catch us.  Lots of games between each other, so lots of leapfrogging will go on, which slows the pace of the pursuers. 

This team has played with intensity and character all year long, and is not going to stop now.  Darth Vader is dead.  Nashville is coming to OUR house, and is not leaving without a whipping.  The playoffs will take care of themselves within the next week.  

Think soft, calming thoughts.  All will be well . . . Go Jackets!!

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sunday Night Check In

Wife and I were victimized by the rather freakish snowstorm that hit certain parts of the midwest last night and early today. So, our rather simple 7:50 AM flight from St. Louis to Chicago, then Chicago to Columbus, turned into an 11:45 flight from St. Louis to Chicago, followed by a flight from Chicago to Cleveland, followed by a drive from Cleveland to Columbus. Lovely day . . .

Of course, got home to be greeted by a rare stinker by the CBJ. Time for the boys to take a day off, get their focus back. Tonight we had plenty of energy, just no execution, and some really catastrophic mistakes, particularly in our own zone. Steve made some great saves, but also some bad decisions. With Nashville winning as well, and Anaheim currently beating Colorado, things are tightening up. We are still in the driver's seat, and the other teams have their challenges in the final half dozen as well.

We are 3-1-2 for the first half of the Dirty Dozen, so that ain't half bad. 8 of 12 possible points -- a .750 clip. Just need to get back to basics.

Exhaustion has set in, so will defer the game review and playoff status posts until tomorrow. Thanks to all the CBJ fans who represented well in St. Louis. Go Jackets!

A Bizarre Road Point

There was quite a debate a few nights ago, when the Jackets came away with an OTL vs. Tampa Bay. Many were concerned that the Jackets seemed satisfied with the point, and that they did not display the requisite angst over the OTL.

Tonight, same result, but I submit a very different attitude.  Every one of the assembled 70+ Bluejackets fans was content with the road point, if not thrilled. Nobody was pleased with the way the CBJ played for the first 47 minutes of the game, nor with the officiating, which seemed hyper-technical agains the CBJ, while Nash was getting pummeled by the Blues.

Make no mistake, St. Louis is a desperate team, and played like it.  This was their next-to-last home game, and was an absolute must-win if they are to keep their playoff homes alive heading out on a 5 day road trip.  Their energy was fueled by an insane (and nasty) Blues crowd, who has embraced the stretch drive this team has put together.  The Blues swarmed the offensive zone, making you wonder if they had too many men on the ice.  The first goal was the result of a convention of 3 players in the crease.  Mason never had a chance.  The second was a bizarre, sweeping backhand in traffic that hit the far post and caromed in.  In between Vermette provided our only hopeful moment of the first two frames, taking a feed from Umberger on the power play and beating Chris Mason for a shorthanded tally.  

The third St. Louis goal epitomized what was ailing the Jackets during the first two frames.  The puck came toward the net, and was deflected by a body.  It sat in the crease -- a Blues player shot it -- saved.  Another Blues player found the puck and shot it -- saved.  Mason couldn't stop the third try. We couldn't put our sticks on the pucks, particularly in our own zone.  We lost every battle along the boards.  Only some fantastic saves by Mason kept us in the game.  The Blues and their fans smelled blood, but the Jackets refused to collapse.

Just as things looked like they might not turn around, Huselius followed a shot with a stuff past Mason's stick.  All of a sudden, despite being outplayed, the Jackets were in the game.  Just under two minutes later, Nash took things into his own hands.  Coming off the boards, he fought off a couple of defenders, cruised the middle, and fired a wrister past Mason.  Tie game!   Clearly unnerved, St. Louis took a timeout, and the crowd was silent.

The Jackets dominated possession for the balance of the game, holding St. Louis to 4 shots in the third.  Same for the OT.  The shootout was huge for the Blues, and the crowd was going nuts.  Huselius beat Chris Mason, but lost the handle moving it to his backhand.  Nash buried his, but Williams made one too many moves.  For St. Louis, Oshie and McDonald were stuffed by our Mason, but Boyes blasted a rocket high glove, and Perron copied him in the 4th round for the win.

No plus/minus tonight, as we have to be up at 5:30 am to catch our plane, and I am watching my alma mater, Stanford, put the finishing touches of a victory over OSU in the Women's NCCA Basketball Tournament round of 16.  Sorry, folks, but -- GO CARDINAL!!!

Here are my observations:
  • All the credit in the world to St. Louis and its fans.  This was an unbelievably pumped up team and crowd, and the environment was electric. (For our part, I think we represented the Army of the Ohio pretty well -- our cheering generated boos from the crowd and some particularly nasty remarks from San Jose fans)
  • Steve Mason kept us alive until we found our legs and a way to match the St. Louis intensity.  
  • All credit to the CBJ for digging deep to take a road point under hostile conditions and with seemingly everything stacked against them.
  • We need to get back to hitting instead of just skating near the offensive player in our zone.  Klesla was weak again in this regard.  We lost the hit battle, lost lots of battles on the boards, and just broke even in the faceoff circle.  Our younger players seem tentative, not wanting to make a mistake.
  • On the positive side, we are 3-0-2 during the Dirty Dozen, 8 out of a possible 10 points, and that is the type of tenacity we need heading into the playoffs.
  • I updated the spreadsheet, and will have more on playoff standings after tomorrow night's games.  However, we eliminated LA from passing us tonight (thanks, roadman for pointing out the tiebreaker on most wins!)  I am officially calling Dallas out of the race as well. Minnesota is on life support after losing to Calgary.  St. Louis has only 1 home game left, and Nashville has only 2 home games left.  It is a 4 horse race for 2 slots coming down the stretch.
  • I fully expect that the Jackets (and the crowd) will demonstrate the same enthusiasm that the Blues fans did today.
More later today after we return to Columbus.  Go Jackets!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Missouri Musings

Getting ready to suit up and head out for pre-game festivities, and thought I would share some miscellaneous rambling, some hockey related, some not:

St. Louis Transit:  With the weather being less than optimal, we have been using the Metro Link system to get around St. Louis, and it has been fantastic.  Station right across from the hotel, and $7.50 gets you an all day pass that gets you virtually anywhere you want in St. Louis.  One semi-comical note are the drivers in the cars -- as you approach a station they announce the arrival, the bus lines you can connect to at the station, what other Metro lines can be accessed, etc.  This is done live, not via recording.  Only problem is that the intrepid drivers are obviously a tad bored by having done this every 30 seconds or so for God-knows-how-long, so most of them speak so quickly, softly and indistinctly, that you have difficulty figuring out what language is being spoken, let alone what is being said.  Sort of of like the old-time radio traffic reports that would come directly from the helicopter, blade noise and all.  

Non-Smoking?  Not so much . . . Maybe I notice this more as a former smoker, but it is a bit of a shock to the system to be in restaurants, etc. here and be exposed to smoking right next to you.  I watched the Miami upset of Denver in the NCAA Hockey tourney last night through a haze of smoke, and same for the pre-comedy show festivities (though the show itself was smoke-free).  This town is one of the few that can make Columbus look like a bastion of the healthy lifestyle!

Playoff Madness:  A good amount of buzz here in St. Louis over the Blues surge toward the playoffs. Chatting with a couple of the Scottrade Center folks this morning, it was clear that they were proud of the effort, and shared our enthusiasm for the Jackets effort.  Don't get me wrong, both squads will be out for blood tonight (and reports from Portzline indicate a very high energy level at the morning skates), but there is a healthy respect for the mutual level of effort that has been required to put the squads where they are.  The Blues have even more desperation, as they are still on the outside looking in, and tonight represents the next-to-last home game for them, so the challenge is stiff as they head out on the road.

Scoreboard Watching:  Here is the slate of games on tap tonight, and the probably rooting interest:

Los Angeles @ Nashville -- LA is done in the playoff race, so we want them to knock of the Predators.  Tough job with the Preds at home, but could be a battle of goaltenders.

Florida @ Dallas -- Panthers are another desperate club, and a win for them puts the final nail in the Stars' playoff hopes coffin.  

Minnesota @ Calgary -- Another very tough road test for the Wild, against a very motivated Calgary club, coming off of being shut out in consecutive games, and needing to defend their division lead over Vancouver.  Root for the Flames.

Big night in the chase.  Go Jackets!!!

Game Day!

37 degrees and raining in St. Louis as Game Day dawns. Snow moves in late tonight.  Put hot water bottles under that blue hair!  Playoff spreadsheet has been updated here, and now includes the Magic Numbers for each contender.

We are going to head across the street to the Scottrade Center to see if we can talk our way into the morning skate, and will let you know if we succeed.  Portzline thinks security is tightened after the idiotic threat to Mason.  I'll report back either way.  

Unlikely to have time for a formal Game Preview today, so I will leave that to LTL over at Light The Lamp, assuming he is back in time.  You can check my tweets on Twitter, which I will update frequently during the day and during the game itself.  Watch Fox Sports Ohio tonight for the broadcast and see if they give some air time to the Jacket Backers and R Bar contingents that are invading St. Louis.

Edmonton put a little damper in Anaheim's run last night, which means that we now have a 4 point lead over 7th, with a game in hand.  A little more exciting each day, and tonight will come down to which Mason can withstand the intensity that will be flowing from both teams.  St. Louis goes on a long road trip after tonight, so the key is to do exactly what we did vs. Calgary -- match the intensity and play Hitch Hockey!

Go Jackets!

Friday, March 27, 2009

Tonight's Watching Guide

Despite the CBJ having the night off, the Western Conference Playoff race continues at full speed.  Games to watch for tonight:

Vancouver at Colorado -- Colorado is at home, which provides some hope, and Vancouver has been awful on the road.  A Colorado win would get Vancouver muttering to itself.

New Jersey at Chicago -- Chicago is at home, but New Jersey is very tough anywhere.  What kind of goaltending effort will Chicago get??  That could tell the tale and continue the mild intrigue for the 4 and 5 slots.

Edmonton at Anaheim -- This is the big one from the CBJ perspective.  An Edmonton loss here is not fatal to their cause, but it would certainly put them on the critical list, due to points lost and further advantage to Anaheim.  Anaheim is looking for its 6th straight victory.  Probably want to root for Edmonton in this one, making only a 1 point narrowing of the gap, with the CBJ holding a game in hand over both teams.

Go Jackets!

Live From St. Louis !!!!

After the incredible effort last night, I was keyed up and could not sleep, so I finished up post game blog entry, playoff update, etc., mindful of the fact that wife and I needed to arise at 4:15 am for our flight to St. Louis.  

So, a little worse for the wear, we headed out and arrived without incident, getting a 1 day head start on the rest of the Jacket Backers contingent arriving tomorrow. We were treated to a pretty rough flight, courtesy of a storm system scheduled to hit Columbus tomorrow.  Arrived in St. Louis to very chilly and windy conditions -- and of course I declined my wife's suggestion to bring a jacket.  

Staying at the Sheraton just a lob wedge away from the Scottrade Center, and have already paid the first installment of our Missouri Transit Tax at the Lumiere Casino.  More to follow, I am sure.  Trying to find out if we can get in to see the morning skate tomorrow, so if anybody has info on this, let me know.  

Off to a comedy show this evening a small club in The Landing, presumably preceded by dinner nearby.  It warned up a bit today, but is not "shorts and T-Shirt" weather.

We have the blue hair in our suitcases, the camera ready, appropriate CBJ attire and are ready to see us move closer to the Promised Land.  I will provide updates here as I can, and via Twitter when I can't.  Look for us on the broadcast!!  Go Jackets!!

Playoff Update for Friday

The 5 -0 thrashing of Calgary tonight not only gets the Flames muttering to themselves -- it helps us along the merry path to the playoffs. Here is the updated spreadsheet, reflecting each team's progress through Thursday night's games.

As is evident, Nashville and St. Louis helped themselves with nice wins tonight. They are far from shoo-ins, but are making legitimate runs, along with Anaheim. Dallas is done, stick a fork in them after their OT loss to the Kings tonight. Edmonton is reeling after their 3rd straight loss, but does have an extended home stand to look foward to. In contrast, St. Louis has only 2 home games left -- both against the Jackets. They are playing great hockey, but closing with 6 of 8 on the road is brutal in such a close race.

Here are the new Magic Numbers for each team. Again, as a reminder, this number represents the number of Bluejackets wins and/or pursuing team losses that will ensure that team cannot pass the CBJ in the standings. An OTL by either the CBJ or the pursuing team reduces the Magic Number by 0.5.

Los Angeles 2
Dallas 3.5
Minnesota 5
St. Louis 5.5
Nashville 6
Anaheim 6
Edmonton 5.5

Once 5 of these teams have a Magic Number of 0, the CBJ have clinched! Saturday night presents a big opportunity against the Blues. Look for my Tweets and miscellaneous ramblings over the next few days.

Statement Made!

The Columbus Bluejackets beat the Calgary Flames tonight, 5 - 0. Let me repeat that . . . the Columbus Bluejackets beat the Calgary Flames tonight, 5 -0. And you know what? The game wasn't that close!

Playing the most spirited 60 minutes of masterfully executed hockey that I can remember seeing, at both ends of the ice, the Bluejackets had the Northwest Division leaders skating aimlessly in their own end, and frankly looking a bit shell-schocked.

With the real possibility that these two teams could meet in the first round of the playoffs, the Bluejackets wanted to make a statement -- show that the physcial intimidation (a.k.a. thuggery) that Calgary loves to employ would not put the CBJ off their Game. (AP Photo -- Paul Vernon)

The superlatives in this one are too numerous to put in a blog entry. Starting with Mason, who was other-worldly. Not seriously challenged until the 3rd, he was amazing throughout. We surrendered 7 power plays to the #4 power play team in the league, and they got zip, nada, zilch. A lot was due to our PK, which was a simple extension of our defense all night long. We challenged the puck all over the ice, from the forecheck through the neutral zone. We kept wings wide, cleared the crease, and made smart and quick exit passes. Hejda was a monster tonight -- all over the ice.

On offense, Hitchcock obviously saw something when he chose to keep Malhotra on the top line, and Williams on the 3rd line. Might have had something to do with faceoffs -- the CBJ enjoyed a 44 - 24 advantage, with Malhotra going 15-8, and Vermette 20-6. Two (and really three) power play goals. 4 assists each to Nash and Huselius. Umberger notching another one, as does Torres.

You want to know how good an effort this one was? Jason Williams scores two goals (and plays superbly otherwise) and can't even crack the 3 stars! (3. Mason, 2. Huselius, 1. Nash).

Finally, although the Jackets were outhit substantially, it was a meaningless number. As anyone watching will tell you, there was some brutal action out there. Phaneuf engaged in his usual cheap shots. Klesla, of all people, takes on Todd Bertuzzi in a fight, and crushes him!! Boll and Vandermeer go at it at the same time, and Boll is the victor there, though it cost each of them a game misconduct. A scad of roughing penalties, including 4 10-minute misconducts, were handed out for a scrum at the end of the 2nd. 124 penalty minutes in all were dished out tonight. A physical statement was made . . .

It is with great joy that I present the +/- tonight:

+ Special Teams -- It is so nice to be able to say this. Our power play was 2 for 5 (and really 3 for 5, given that Torres' goal came just after the penalty expired, and before the player got back in the play. They controlled and moved the puck, got bodies in the paint, put shots on net. The PK was perfect, killing off all 7 Calgary power plays, including 1:17 of 5-on-3 and a bizarre double minor for hooking and holding called on Commodore in the 3rd.

+ Defense -- Keeping Calgary off the board is always quite and acheivement, and although we gave up a fair number of shots, almost half of them came in the 3rd period, when things had already been decided. We checked, we put pressure all over the ice, and we supported beautifully in our own zone.

+ Offense -- So much for worrying about top line production, eh? 9 points and +5 between them tonight. We kept possession, we put pucks on net, we passed beautifully, and we were patient. We chased Kiprusoff!!! And as productive as we were, it could have been far bigger. We hit at least two posts, and some terrific saves were made. In the third, Vermette made a no-look, laser beam pass from the right corner behind the goal, straight to Umberger's stick in the crease. McIlhenny just happend to be there or it is a highlight reel goal.

+ Team -- This was 60 minutes of Hitch Hockey at its finest! Everyone, and I mean everyone, contributed at both ends. Well, I guess tecnically Mason only contributed at one end, but we'll take it.

+ Coaching -- Whatever Hitch saw in the films of the Calgary loss at Pittsburgh last night, it sure worked! Nicely done!

+ Officiating -- This may seem like a strange one, and I frankly started writing this with the intent of making hte officiating my only minus, when I realized that they really called the game they had to. They were hyper vigilant about making calls, were ruthless with the misconduct penalties, and gave no inch of room. Unusual for this time of year, but given how Calgary was trying to play, I can understand why they called what they did to keep some vestige of control. A couple of tooth grinders when the official next to the play makes no call, but the guy 80 feet away does. When they actually called Dion Phaneuf for an elbow, I knew the officials were serious.

Another milestone game for the CBJ. Nash sets a new personal best with 71 points for the year. I erroneously reported this as a CBJ record in my Tweets from the game, but in fact is 5 short of Ray Whitney's club record.

Next post will update playoff situation. Wife and I sported the blue hair for the first time tonight, drawing anticipated looks of confusion. The Blue Hair is now safely in the suitcase, as we fly to St. Louis at 6:30 AM tomorrow -- getting in a day early to scout out the opposition and get ready for Saturday, when we rendevouz with our Jacket Backers bus passenger and invate the Scottrade Center. More postings from St. Louis, and Twitter feeds from the game.

Go Jackets!

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Playoff Update for Thursday

Latest Playoff Race spreadsheet is accessible (hopefully) here. Calgary preview later today.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Playoff Math -- Another Magic Number

Another day, another 5,000 views, statistics, omens and other indicia of who will make the playoffs, when the CBJ will clinch, etc. etc. In keeping with the spirit of service to my loyal readership, I humbly offer yet another statistical way to evaluate the crazy Western Conference Playoff Race (henceforth referred to simply as the WCPR).

There are multiple problems in coming up with a true "magic number" in the context of the WCPR. First, we do not know with certainty how many points will qualify a team for the playoffs in the West. Though my tracking over the course of the season leads me to strongly suspect that the number will be 88, that lacks the certainty you need for a magic number. Similarly, with respect to the CBJ, there is no one defined pursuer against whom a magic number can be calculated. The Bluejackets are in 6th place, so even if the 7th place team passes us, and the 8th place team passes us, we are still in the playoffs, so long as nobody else passes us. Complicating the situation is that there are several teams who could fall into any of those slots. So, the key is to develop a magic number for each contender, and gear it off of the concept of them passing us, rather than any unknown absolute number.

If you look at the chart that I have made available through the other posts below, you will note that I have included the maximum possible points that a team could reach, assuming they won all of their remaining games. It is then a relatively simple matter to compare maximum possible values, and, using 2 points for a victory, 1 point for OTL, determine what combination of CBJ Wins/OTL and pursuing team Losses and OTL are needed before it becomes impossible for the pursuing team to pass the CBJ. For example, Los Angeles has 70 points now, and 9 games left, giving them a best possible total of 88 points if they win the rest of their games. The CBJ have 83 points, so need 6 points to shut out LA from equalling or passing them. Thus, dividing by the 2 points awarded for a win, the CBJ's magic number for LA is 3. Any combination of CBJ wins and LA losses that totals 3 does the trick. An OTL by either team reduces the magic number by 0.5.

The magic numbers for the CBJ with respect to each of their pursuers are as follows:

Los Angeles 3
Dallas 5
Minnesota 6
St. Louis 6.5
Nashville 7
Anaheim 7
Edmonton 7.5

In terms of clinching, the CBJ will have definitively secured a playoff spot as soon as all but two of the teams listed above have been eliminated.

Simple? Maybe not, but easy to track ;-) I'll post the numbers here. Go Jackets!!

Updated Playoff Chart

Newest version of the playoff chart can be found here.

Jackets end up picking up a point on Edmonton, who gave up two late goals to Detroit, while their margin over 8th remained the same. With Anaheim winning, the margin over 9th reduced by one.

Dallas and Minnesota are now in desperate situations. St. Louis is looking strong now, but they have 2 home games left this week, against Vancouver and then the CBJ. Starting Sunday in Nationwide, the Blues play 6 of the last 7 on the road.

Go Jackets!

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Great Defense . . . A Road Point . . .But . . .

You can't really complain a lot about getting 3 out of 4 possible points on the road, but this one left the feeling that a point was clearly left on the table.

The Jackets posted one of their best defensive games of the season -- heck, of ANY season, and outshot the Lightning 34 - 17, but could not bury the big chances. A gorgeous shot by Martin St. Louis in OT, going far post to the left while his momentum was taking him to the right.

Give McKenna credit for making lots of key saves, but we missed our chances as well. Voracek missed an open net. Huselius double-clutched under similar circumstances. Williams rattled one off the post. Need to bury those.

It was almost like the Jackets were so dominant in posession, chances, shots, etc. that they put themselves to sleep. They lacked that killer sense of urgency throughout the contest, though they came out with it in the third.

No need for wailing or moaning over this one. A game effort, just one lacking a bit of intensity and finishing. Here are +/- for tonight:

Defensive Play -- We really smothered them all night long in our defensive end, and the neutral zone. We cut off passes, kept them wide, lifted sticks and otherwise made life miserable for Lecavalier, St. Louis and Stamkos. You never had the sense that we were seriously threatened for any extended period of time.

Discipline -- Only one penalty all night long, which unfortunately ended in a tip in by Malone cutting across the crease. We showed good clearing of the puck out of our zone, and good control in the neutral zone.

Intensity -- We lacked that gritty little edge that we have had in so many games this year. We were outhit 27 - 14, and they had almost twice as many takeaways as we did. Played down to the opponent here.

Precision -- Just could not get the tape to tape passes when we needed them, or if we did, the recipient could not pull the trigger. Power play, except for the third one, showed good movement, but could not get shots all the way through.

No need to call out the calvalry on this one, but another of those educational opportunities that was cheap enough. Minnesota lost, and is in a tough spot. Nashville and Anaheim had a 3 pointer, but the net effect was zero to the Jackets, as Anaheim took Nashville's spot in 8th and we kept our 5 point gap over 8th. Vancouver took Dallas, which just about ends the Dallas run. St. Louis enhanced their chances with a shutout of LA, who is officially toast. Detroit trails Edmonton at the moment, but we will see how that ends up.

Jackets are still in great shape, and will be very intense for Calgary on Thursday, guaranteed. Go Jackets!

Tuesday Tidbits and Lightning Preview

The Bluejackets' Excellent Adventure in Florida comes to a close tonight, when they face the Tampa Bay Lightning, which will bring the Games Remaining number down into single digits.

This is another one of those "trap" games -- one we should win easily on paper, but the game has to be played on the ice. Tampa has had a hellish year, with turmoil in the front office, the coaching ranks and on the ice. Still, they have Vincent LeCavalier and Martin St. Louis who can light it up at any time. Over the past 10 games, they are a respectable 3 - 3 -4, so they are not going down easily.

Tampa has had a tough time getting all of the pieces and parts to work together this year. They are 23rd in Goals Scored (on a per game basis) and 28th in Goals Against. The PP is a respectable 18th, but the PK has struggled to a ranking of 24th in the league. Between the pipes, the Lightning have struggled to find consistency. Mike Smith did not inspire confidence, but turned his numbers around a bit before being sidelined since mid-February with post-concussion syndrome. Since then, the goaltending has been platooned between Mike McKenna and Karri Ramo. Both have GAAs north of 3.0 and save percentages south of .900, though Ramo appears to have the hotter hand of late. After being a disappointment for much of the season, rookie Steven Stamkos has come on of late, and now has 18 goals and 20 assists for a respectable 38 points in his first season.

Befitting their name, the Lightning prefer to strike quickly and use their outside speed in transition, preferably off turnovers from the neutral zone in. Unfortunately, their defense has not been able to force many turnovers, and while Ryan Malone is having a solid offensive year, the defensive effort has not been there, and the inconsistency in goal has not helped.

For the Jackets to prevail, they need to do the following:

  • Don't believe the press clippings -- this one still requires 60 minutes of solid hockey
  • Break them up in the neutral zone, disrupt their tempo and keep them to the perimeter
  • Take care of the puck -- no turnovers
  • Lots of pucks and traffic on the goaltenders, who can be had.

After tonight, we have only four more road games (2 St. Louis, 1 each @ Nashville and Chicago). A chance to put another step or two between us and the chasers, and to inch a bit closer to Vancouver and Chicago.

In other news:

Team Records -- The Jackets have already surpassed their team record for wins in a season with 38 (old record was 35, set in 2005-2006), points with 82 (old record 80 in 07-08), home points with 48 (old record 47, set in 02-03 and 07-08), and road points with 34 (old record 33 in 06-07 and 07-08). A win tonight would give us the most road wins in team history with 16. We also have a positive goal differential (GF - GA) for the first time ever at this point in the season.

NHL Network Respect -- NHL Network has conceded the playoffs to the Jackets. All of their discussions on NHL On The Fly have been focusing on 7th and 8th place.

Infighting -- Big night for the playoff hunt in the West, with all of the contenders in action, and many facing each other. We clearly want the Rangers to beat the Wild, and Detroit to topple Edmonton. We also want LA, who is effectively out of it, to beat the Blues in St. Louis. The Anaheim vs Nashville and Vancouver @ Dalls matchups are good news/bad news stories either way. If Dallas loses, that will all but pull the curtain down on their playoff run. Limber up those thumbs -- the remote might get a workout tonight.

Road Trip -- There should be quite a presense when the CBJ take on the Blues in St. Louis on Saturday. The Jacket Backers are sending a busload, as is the R Bar. We will be at the Scottrade Center for the festivities, and will Twitter away from St. Louis, starting on Friday.

Great time to be a Jackets fan!!!

Monday, March 23, 2009

Chart FIxed (I think)

After being advised that I was apparently the only one who could access the chart, I think I have solved the problem. Try this link. Let me know if it works.

Playoff Updates

I know that Aaron Portzline has already "called" the Jackets as being in the playoffs, but for those of us requiring a bit more analysis, I offer the following updates. First, here is the latest incarnation of playoff projections for the West, based upon each team continuing to play at the pace they have played up to this point in time. Top 3 seeds are reserved for the division winners. Here is the latest:

1. San Jose 121 points
2. Detroit 120 points
3. Calgary 102 points
4. Chicago 100 points
5. Vancouver 98 points
6. Columbus 93 points
7. Edmonton 90 points
8. Nashville 88 points
9. Anaheim 87 points
10. Minnesota 87 points
11. St. Louis 85 points
12. Dallas 84 points
13. Los Angeles 80 points
14. Phoenix 75 points
15. Colorado 72 points

I would expect to see the gap narrow between the CBJ and Vancouver over the next week, as Vancouver just started a 6 game road trip (with a loss in Phoenix.)

For an alternate look at the playoff race, check out the chart I created here, which tracks each of the playoff contenders for the final dozen games of the year, showing current point totals, total games remaining, results for each game, the record they need to reach 90 points, and home/road breakdown. I will update this daily.

Right now, Phoenix and Colorado are out, San Jose, Detroit, Calgary are in. Vancouver and Chicago also need to be included in the "in" category, although they have not mathematically clinched yet.

Los Angeles has to be considered out, as they need a perfect 10-0 record to reach 90 points, and 9 -1 to get to 88, which is still where I see the 8 slot falling. With 7 road games in that stretch, and games against St. Louis, Nashville, San Jose and Vancouver in there, stick a fork in them.

Dallas is on the thin edge, needing an 8 - 2 record to reach 90 points, and 7 - 3 to reach 88. With Brad Richards out for the duration with a spiral fracture of the left hand, they are going to be hard pressed to generate the offense necessary to get past their remaining teams.

St. Louis has made a nice run, but may be running out of real estate. They have 3 games at home, which includes Vancouver and the CBJ, and are in a position where they must win all 3, as 6 of their final 7 are on the road, including consecutive games at Columbus, Chicago and Detroit. Prediction here is that they will fall short.

Anaheim has similarly made a great run, just when folks were counting them out. However, they have a brutal 4 game stretch ahead, where they are at Edmonton, at Vancouver, at San Jose, then home against San Jose. They have to split those games and lose no more than 2 others, to get in.

Minnesota is in a similar bind to Anaheim. They are just starting a 4 game road trip, where they visit the Rangers, Islanders, Oilers and Flames. They return home to face the Canucks and Flames again, then are off to Detroit. They also need to do no worse than a split on the 4 game road trip, and can only lose 2 others. Tough task when you are challenged in scoring as Minnesota is. They did get Gaborik back last night, so they are in the hunt.

Nashville can effectively control its own destiny with 6 wins over the final 10, but that will not be easy, with 2 vs. Detroit, 2 vs. Chicago, 2 vs. CBJ, plus Anaheim, San Jose and Minnesota.

Finally,Edmonton needs only a 5 - 5 record to reach 89 points. They play 7 of the final 10 at home, but have some tough games on the slate, including Detroit, Vancouver, San Jose, Calgary (twice), Anaheim (twice). They could falter, but if Kiprusoff stays strong, the prediction here is that they split with Anaheim, split with Calgary, win one of the Detroit, Vancouver, San Jose tilts, and beat LA and Phoenix.

In the final analysis, I am sticking with Chicago in 4th, Vancouver 5th, CBJ 6th, Edmonton 7th.

Nashville, Anaheim and Minnesota will battle for the 8th slot, with Nashville ending up with it.

All of this subject to change. :-) Go Jackets!

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Time and Score . . . and Torres!!!

Bluejackets fans are in a unique position to empathize with the Florida Panthers fans tonight. Over the past 7 years, how many times have we nursed a 1 goal lead with less than 5 minutes left in the game, and had our hopes shattered by a bad bounce, a late penalty or defensive breakdown?
With 2:46 left in the game, Vokoun looked unbeatable. While we did not have all of the energy or sharpness we had displayed in other games of late, we were by no means playing badly, and we had steadily increased our hold on the contest. However, whatever we threw at Vokoun got stopped. It was an unpleasant bit of deja vu, back to his Nashville days.

Then, suddenly, it all changed. A gorgeous feed from Huselius found Torres, who cruised across the center and went high on Vokoun, who couldn't handle it. 1 - 1, and the 17,032 in attendance got suddenly very quiet.

In my 2nd Period summary below, I surmised that one goal would open the floodgates. Well, 2:46 doesn't provide a lot of time for a flood, but it sure is enough time for the water to start rising! Just 1:13 later, Torres received another feed from Peca (who was huge in the 3rd), and lasered one low inside the left post. 2 -1 Jackets, with 1:33 left, and the crowd was stunned.

The following sequence was a microcosm of what the CBJ have shown time and time again this year, but lacked in prior years -- the refusal to quit and the talent to follow through. With Vokoun pulled, the Jackets did not go into scramble mode. Instead, they played sound positional hockey, finished their checks, watched their lanes, and made the extra effort to keep the puck out. Having lost his stick, Peca threw himself to the ice -- not once, but twice, in short succession, to disrupt the point play. His effort led to a turnover onto the stick of Vermette, who finished off an empty netter under pressure from his side of center ice. Party on . . .

Here are +/- for tonight:
Competetive Composure -- With tons of shots on goal (final tally was 37 - 23), and some truly sick saves by Vokoun, it would have been easy for the Jackets to either get down on themselves or go away from their game in an effort to make something happen. That is usually when we give up an odd man rush or take an untimely penalty. Not tonight -- we kept hammering until we put a crack in the dam, and kept hammering after that until the water was flowing steadily. Good stuff! (Thought I'd keep the water metaphor going . . . )

Penalty Kill -- Once again, the PK was perfect. We denied them opportunites, were agressive on the perimeter, and cut off the passing lanes. Everything you need in a tight game.

Escalating Pressure -- Without a spectacular amount of "jump", we nonetheless continued to turn up the pressure as the game went on. The ice tilted sharply from the end of the first through the end of the game. The Panther offense was a non-factor in the 3rd.

Individual Efforts -- Torres was enormous at the precise moment we needed him, which is what Hitchcock and Howson both said when we acquired him. However, we had a lot of other efforts that enabled us to be in the position to win. Mason was tremendously solid. As noted above, Peca was huge (8 - 3 in the faceoff circle). Boll was as strong in the offensive end as I have ever seen him. 16 of our shots came from defensemen, which is exactly what you want to see when the opponent is playing the collapsing kind of defense Florida was.

Defensive Pursuit -- We were not strong on the puck in our own zone throughout the game, and lost too many battles, either along the boards or in open ice. Commodore, Hejda and Klesla were outgunned too many times.

Officiating -- I again find it hard to believe that Florida committed only 1 penalty in 60 minutes of hockey. The call on Boll was ludicrous -- for the second game in a row. I fear that young Mr. Boll is getting a bit of a reputation around the league, and this makes it tough for him to get any calls.

The Bluejackets ripped the hearts out of the teams pursuing us, who were undoubtedly watching the scoreboards, praising Vokoun, and doing some math based upon us having only 80 points with 10 to play. Sorry to disappoint you boys. A 3 point lead over 7th place Edmonton, 5 over 8th place Nashville, and 7 over 9th place St. Louis.

As I wrap this up, Phoenix is ahead of Vancouver, 4 - 0 after 2, and Dallas lost to San Jose. If 88 points is the number for 8th place, as I believe it to be, Dallas needs to go 7 - 3 over the last 10 to reach that level. Fat lady is warming up in the wings for them, especially since Brad Richards apparently fractured his other hand tonight, in his first night back. That is sad to see.

Jackets are now 13 - 3 -1 against the East, and Mason is 12 - 1, with a GAA of 1.00. Unreal . . .

Great to be a member of the Army of the Ohio -- Go Jackets!!!

Getting Better . . .But No Goals Yet

A more Hitch-like period, and we started to get some momentum and possession time toward the end of the period, until the penalty. Good kill going, but great save by Mason on Weiss.

Much improved in the faceoff circle, and tighter defense. We are slow on the battles to loose pucks, and are weak on the puck along the boards in our own zone. Commodore not strong with the puck at all so far. Boll has shown a lot of energy.

Shots favor CBJ 20-17, Hits also in our favor 20 - 18. Faceoffs now favor the CBJ 18 - 14 so they had a huge period in the circle. More of same needed.

You get the feeling that one goal for us will open the floodgates. Need all out effort in the 3rd. We slowed them down that period, and hopefully will do it again here. Go Jackets!

Need To Finish

Though the Jackets dominate the play for much of the first stanza, they trail on the scoreboard 1 - 0. We had the first 9 shots of the period, but only lead in shots 10 - 9. Ahead in hits, 12 - 9. No penalties or giveaways, but trailing in the faceoff circle 11 - 6. Our defensive corps seemed a bit complacent in the second half of that period -- some miscommunications and poor passes in our own zone. Don't like the fact that we had too many guys facing our own goal.

Huselius with another post hit -- perhaps a new statistical category? Boll with an almost amazing goal --flying through the air, wrapping the stick around the defender and slapping it just wide.

No sense that the CBJ are in real trouble, but we need to finish our chances and deny Florida space. They showed that they desperately want this win and can step it up in a heartbeat. Need traffic in front of Vokoun -- he is seeing the puck well tonight. Win the draws and fire the puck!

Go Jackets!!

As The Faceoff Gets Closer . . .

With the drop of the puck just a few moments away, a few things to keep in mind as the Jackets face off against the Panthers:
  • After a couple of days off, and with Florida in a desperate playoff hunt, need to guard against early sluggishnes and/or sloppiness;
  • Do not let stats vs. East go to our heads (12-3-1 by Jackets, 11-1 by Mason)
  • Keep It Simple -- North/South, secure possession, traffic in front, move puck low to high
  • Discipline -- Unlike the last game, stay out of the penalty box.

San Jose did the Jackets a favor by beating the Stars, 5 - 2 today. Dallas is now on a precarious perch with 10 games left. More as the game progresses . . .

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Put The Coffee On . . .

For all of you out there monitoring the playoff chase via Center Ice or NHL Network, tonight will keep you up late again (at least for those who stayed up to catch the end result of the Anaheim - Nashville game last night). Here are the games, times (EDT) and desired results for the evening's fare:

Colorado over Edmonton (9:30 PM)
Vancouver vs. St. Louis (10:00 PM) *
Phoenix over Anaheim (10:00 PM)
San Jose over Nashville (10:30 PM)

* Two schools of thought for rooting purposes on this one. Plan A would be to root for Vancouver to put another nail in the St. Louis playoff coffin. St. Louis is 7 points behind us, with a game in hand. Take the game in hand away from them tonight, and their job becomes much tougher. Plan B wold be to root for St. Louis to win, keeping us within 3 points of the Canucks, and bringing them down to only 1 game in hand. So, if you are an optimist (focusing on 4th or 5th place) root for St. Louis. If you are a pessimist (worried about the folks chasing us in 9th through 12th place), root for Vancouver. Whichever you are, root against a 3 point game!

So, the winning squad should be butting heads with their goalie in San Jose just about 1:00 AM our time. Combining the NCAA Tournament games with the hockey schedule may make today and tomorrow two of the least productive working days in recent memory . . .

Go Jackets!

Any Way You Can Get It . . .

When Chicago's first shot on net hit the bar, bounced up, landed on Mason's back and into the goal, you had the sense that this might be a rather bizarre game. Consider the following:

  • The CBJ's first goal comes on a redirection by Umberger, with his back to the net, after Voracek cuts off Huet's attempt to rim it around the boards;

  • Our second goal comes when Methot executes a perfect "6 ball in the side pocket" bank shot off the boards, in the slot to Dorsett, who puts it away

  • Our third goal has Nash fitting the puck in an opening the size of a Tim Horton's Stinger Donut, from a ridiculous angle near the goal line.

  • The Jackets spend 18 minutes in the penalty box without a fighting major, surrendering 7 power plays, and allow only 1 power play goal
Such was life in Nationwide last night, with the Jackets ultimately prevailing 4-3 in OT, on a gorgeous centering pass from R.J. Umberger to a charging Antoine Vermette, who just floated the puck over Huet's pads and into the goal, setting off a disappointing but periodically loud crow of 15,190. To cap off the bizarre evening, Vermette does not appear when announced as the First Star, touching off injury fears (apparently unfounded).

This was not an artistic win, but it was skillful. We outhit Chicago 28-18, we created tons of opportunities, some of which we squandered, others Huet took away with some sick saves. We were edged out in the faceoff circle 31-28, but had 8 takeaways to only 2 for the Blackhawks. Mason was strong, if not spectacular, and our penalty kill was spectacular, including a 4 minute kill where the only shots on goal were ours.

In short, this was a game that good teams win down the stretch -- an unlovely, hard working game. That the Jackets were able to win this one without ultimately being able to control the style of play was a credit to their versatility.

Here are the +/- for the night:

Penalty Kill -- Sure, we gave up one PP goal, on a puck that jumped over about 3 sticks in the crease, but othewise we killed off 14 minutes in penalties with assertiveness and skill, against one of the most dangerous power plays in the league. The 4 minute kill on Tyutin's high stick was amazing.

Second Line -- This Umberger, Vermette, Voracek line could be really, really scary good. Aside from the two goals, they created lots of chances, and were frankly robbed a couple of times.

Persistence -- Not sure what else to call it, but when we can come back from 1 -0 and 3 -2 deficits, overcome 18 minutes in penalties, and find a way to win, it is a sign that we have matured well beyond our years as a club. We kept the heat on Huet, and he showed his frustration. Nice to see.

Discipline -- Sure, Chicago puts a lot of pressure on with its speed and skill, but no excuse for 18 minutes in penalties, even if some were atrocious calls. Tyutin alone had 8 minutes in penalties by the 5 minute mark of the second period! Need to keep our heads. Those third period penalties will kill you down the stretch.

Finishing -- Huet made some sick saves on a few sterling chances, but we also flew some golden chances by the net, over the net, or into his breadbasket. Power play showed good puck movement, but our sticks were not on the ice at the right times to put home rebounds.

Officiating -- Oh my, this was bad. The no-call on Boll was one of the most atrocious things I have seen on the ice in awhile. When they called the unsportsmanlike on him, they did not announce "diving", as they usually do, so I assumed that Boll questioned the legitimacy of the referee's birth or some equally offensive byplay. Same thing with the boarding call to Klesla. The referee 5 feet away not only does not call the penalty, he makes the "safe" sign, indicating a good hit. The other ref, on the far side of the red line, makes the call. Credit to Hitch for not running out onto the ice and throttling the guys.

In summary, a huge win for the boys over a very tough opponent. We could not shut them down, but we controlled the intensity and did not let them run away with it. The game was a bit more up tempo than we would normally like, but a win is a win. Dallas loses and Nashville only gets a point in Anaheim, so got help there. More on playoffs later. Go Jackets!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Blackhawks Down

Game 4 of the season series between the CBJ and the Chicago Blackhawks fires up tonight at 7:00 in the friendly confines of Nationwide Arena. The squads are 1 -1- 1 thus far, with Columbus winning the most recent encounter, 5 - 3 in Chicago.

This season represents a brave new world for both franchises. With a playoff position effectively sewn up, Chicago is reaping the benefits from their group of youngsters and an early season coaching shakeup. Similarly, the CBJ are riding many of their young prospects and emerging superstars to unprecedented success, with a playoff berth within their grasp.

Of late, the teams have been experiencing different fortunes, with the Blackhawks losing three in a row, and winning only one game in regulation in their last 10 tilts. (2 others were won in OT). They are coming into town for the back end of a tough back-to-back, having served as the obliging visitors for Martin Brodeur's coronation last night in New Jersey, a 3 -2 victory for the Devils.

The Jackets, in contrast, are winners of 4 of their last 5, with consecutive wins against Detroit, Boston, Pittsburgh and Chicago before being drubbed 4 -0 by a very angry and determined Detroit team on Sunday. They are healthy, for the most part, and rested, ready to tackle the Dirty Dozen games left before the playoffs.

Clearly, the Jackets have more to gain and lose in tonight's contest, though Chicago is in a virtual tie for 4th place with Vancouver. The Blackhawks have a game in hand over the Canucks, and will face them in 10 days. The Jackets, currently in 6th, with a 3 point cushion over 7th place Edmonton and 8th place Nashville, are looking to nail down their first ever playoff slot. Home ice advantage in front of a rabid crowd will be key tonight.

The Jackets know what they need to do to win. First, play with energy and passion for 60 minutes. Do not give Chicago hope, and let them go remedy their ills against another team. No letdowns of the type we had in the 2nd period last game, where 2 quick goals tied it up. Second, stay out of the box -- Chicago has a tremendous power play. Third, play Hitch Hockey, taking care of the puck in our own end and making swift, sure transitions. Support each other with and without the puck, and keep the aisles clear for Mason. Finally, put lots of rubber on net. Goaltending has been an intermittent soft spot for Chicago, and Khabibulin is just coming back from injury, and Huet is vulnerable to early pressure.

Great contest at a great time of year. Late March, and in the thick of the playoff hunt for the first time!! Go Jackets!!

Monday, March 16, 2009

Playoff Follies

Coming off of a fantastic week for Bluejacket hockey, last night notwithstanding, and with 12 games to go (the Dirty Dozen), it is an appropriate time to revisit where things stand in the playoff hunt.

First, let's look at the projected standings, based upon every team playing at the same pace they have played from Day 1 through last night. Obviously, by this point in the season, this becomes more accurate, as the opportunity to move the numbers hugely in any direction are fairly limited, and various hot and cold spells have been accounted for. Top 3 seeds are reserved for division winners, regardless of point totals.

1. San Jose 121 points
2. Detroit 118 points
3. Calgary 102 points
4. Chicago 102 points
5. Vancouver 98 points
6. Columbus 91 points
7. Edmonton 88 points
8. Dallas 88 points
9. Nashville 87 points
10. Minnesota 86 points
11. St. Louis 86 points
12. Anaheim 83 points
13. Los Angeles 82 points
14. Colorado 74 points
15. Phoenix 74 points

So, the final two qualifying slots are hovering right in that 87-88-89 point area where they have been for awhile, and are likely to stay there. Assuming that the top 5 (San Jose, Detroit, Calgary, Chicago, Vancouver) are in the playoffs, let's look at the contenders for the final 3 spots, and what faces them down the stretch.

In looking at this, I tried to quantify games remaining, games against the top echelon teams (defined as teams with more than 80 points right now), home road games, etc. One factor that also needs to be considered is the "games in hand" concept, which at this point in the year cuts both ways. Of the 7 contenders (Columbus, Edmonton, Dallas, Nashville, Minnesota, St. Louis & Anaheim), all have played 69 games except the Bluejackets (70), and the Oilers (68). The Bluejackets have just finished a tough string of games, and now get some breaks between games. The other teams are just embarking on those strings, so will be coping with fatigue along with playoff pressure. Finally, the analysis includes what each team needs to do to reach 90 points. Although the 8th spot will likely fall at 88, 90 provides a good standard for comparison purposes. Here is the skinny:

Bluejackets -- 78 points, 12 games left, 6 home 6 road, 5 games vs. elite teams. The Jackets have 3 remaining with Chicago (1-1-1 so far), 3 with St. Louis (1-2-0 so far) and 2 with Nashville (2-2-0 so far). Nothing easy, but no more killer road trips, and just need 6-6 record to reach 90 points. Health is good, schedule provides rest, we have a bit of a bulge, so things are better than we could have expected heading into the Dirty Dozen.

Edmonton -- 73 points, 14 games left, 8 home 6 road, 6 games vs. elite teams. While the Oilers have a good home/road mix and 2 games in hand, they also have a brutal schedule. Starting tomorrow, they play 8 games in 12 days, and still have the Sharks, Flames, Canucks, Blackhawks and Red Wings on the schedule. Need an 8 -5 -1 record to reach 90 points, which will require them to really bear down coming home. They are 3-2-5 in their last 10.

Dallas-- 74 points, 13 games left, 5 home 8 road, 5 games vs. elite teams. The Stars have been up and down more than a see saw this year. Without Brad Richards, they are searching for scoring help, and Turco has been hot and cold of late. They are just about .500 on the road, which they will need to improve upon down the stretch. Need 8 - 5 - 0 or 7 - 4 - 2 to reach 90 points, which will be tough with 5 vs. San Jose, Calgary and Vancouver on the slate.

Nashville -- 73 points, 13 games left, 5 home 8 road, 6 vs. elite teams. Nashville had a nice surge to get themselves into contention, but face a road-heavy schedule coming home, including 2 on the road in Detroit, and home & home series with Chicago and San Jose. They need 8 - 4 - 1 to reach 90 points, which will be a tall order. They are 7 - 2- 1 for the last 10, but only 2-2-1 in the last 5. They start a 3 game California road trip tonight, including a wicked Anaheim-San Jose back-to-back on Wednesday & Thursday. They also have to improve on their NHL rank of 27th in scoring, as you can't rely exclusively on defense and goaltending down the stretch.

Minnesota -- 72 points, 13 games left, 6 home 7 road, 6 vs. elite teams. The Wild are an enigma, in the sense that they have a terrific goal differential number (177 Goals for, 172 Goals against -- 12 in the NHL on a per game basiis). However, the overall numbers don't support enough scoring to translate into necessary wins. They are 26th in the league in scoring which puts huge pressure on Backstrom in goal, and upon the defense. They need a 9 - 4 record to reach 90, and face an East Coast swing, with games against the Devils, Rangers and Islanders, on top of remaining games with Vancouver, Calgary, Chicago, Detroit.

St. Louis -- 72 points, 13 games left, 4 home 9 road, 5 vs. elite teams. After being an after-thought for most of the season, St. Louis has made a nice run to get their name in the playoff conversation. Unfortunately, their run came at the expense of home games, as they have only 4 left at Scottrade Center, and 2 of those are against the Jackets. Remaining road games against Vancouver, Calgary, Chicago, Detroit will make it tough for them to reach the promised land. Like Minnesota, need a 9 - 4 record to reach 90.

Anaheim -- 70 points, 13 games left, 6 home 7 road, 3 vs elite teams. Anaheim is right on the fringe of contender status, but needs to be included due to their schedule. Just about an even split between home and road, and only 3 games against elite teams. They face Phoenix and Colorado a total of 5 times, and have another 5 against Nashville, Edmonton and Dallas. 2 against the Sharks and 1 in Vancouver round it out. Still, Anaheim needs a 10-3 record coming home to reach 90, which looks fairly undoable, particularly since ownership sent white flag sounds out at the trade deadline. Still a proud organization, but one that is probably more focused on retooling than on mounting a serious playoff run this year.

Finally, keep in mind that these 7 teams have a total of 91 games left, 35 of which are among each other. This is one of the big reasons the Jackets current advantage is so big -- very difficult to make big jumps in the standings at this time of year, particularly in the West. Also, keep in mind that for the Jackets to miss the playoffs, 3 teams would have to play well enough to pass them and take the 6 through 8 spots. Anything is possible, but not very likely, considering the difficulties each team has in its schedule, and the character the Jackets have shown to date. Only twice this year have the Jackets gone 3 games without a point, and that was under vastly different circumstances than now.

Put it all together, here is how I see the Western Playoff Race right now:

1. San Jose
2. Detroit
3. Calgary
4. Chicago
5. Vancouver
6. Columbus
7. Edmonton
8. Nashville
9. Dallas
10. Minnesota
11. St. Louis
12. Anaheim
13. Los Angeles
14. Colorado
15. Phoenix

Go Jackets !!