Had a full day of domestic chores yesterday, getting the prodigal son ready to go back to Miami U. after Spring Break, etc., so had the opportunity to bask in the glow of the Jackets' current 4 games stretch. What kind of odds could you have gotten in Vegas that the Jackets would beat Detroit, Boston, Pittsburgh, Chicago in sequence, with 2 on the road, and the backup goalie in one game?
Startling Newcomers -- How brilliant does Howson look right now for getting Williams and Vermette in exchange for a minor league defenseman, an injured goalie and a 2nd round pick? Here are some numbers to consider: In 41 games with Atlanta, Williams had 7 goals, 11 assists for 18 points, and a +/- of -9. In 26 games here, he has 8 goals, 11 assists 19 points and is +7. Over 82 games, that boils down to 25 goals, 35 assists, 60 points and +22. I'd take that, wouldn't you?
Same story with Vermette, except more so. In 62 games with Ottawa, Vermette had 9 goals, 19 assists 28 points and was - 12. In 4 games with the CBJ, he has 3 goals, 3 assists, 6 points and is +4. That extends to 61 goals, 61 assists, 122 points, +82! :-)
What this shows is one of the great things about hockey -- the chemistry aspect. It is not enough to have individually talented people, though you certainly need that. The flow of a hockey game is so quick, and the margin between success and failure so small, that the ability to read your teammates and know where they are going to be is critical. Look at Detroit as a great example of guys who know each other and play as a seamless unit.
Howson as a keen eye for players that are being misused by their current clubs, and are currently underperforming. He and Hitch have also showed the required patience to let our boys gel as a unit and create their own chemistry. As predicted here, they have played better and better with each passing week and month, as that chemistry has developed. Watching Williams and Vermette blend in has been fun. Williams is effusive in his praise for Columbus, and Vermette is sounding more upbeat with each game. These guys are two keepers!
Startling Newcomers, Part II -- This one refers not to the players, but to the fans who have recently jumped on the CBJ bandwagon or have changed their tune from one of rank pessimism to cheerleaders. In typical fashion for the lunatic fringe of Central Ohio sports fans, people who couldn't have told you the difference between Mike Commodore and Commodore Perry three weeks ago are now buying jerseys and claiming long time allegiance. Don't get me wrong, the more the merrier, but it is pretty amusing to watch. To a lesser extent I saw the same thing back in San Francisco, when Walsh and Montan came on the scene as saviors for us long suffering Niner fans, while scores of new bandwagon members jumped on. Hopefully, this will represent the turning point where Central Ohio sports fans begin to recognize that there is more to life than college sports.
Perception Changing -- Lots of key indicators showing that perception of the Jackets is changing, not only locally, but across the league. TSH, THN and NHL.com have featured an increasing number of complimentary feature pieces on the Jackets, and the blogs are full of positive observations. NHL Network has pretty much conceded the Calder Trophy to Mason (and in contention for the Vezina and Hart), and believes the Jackets not only will be in the playoffs, but could do some damage once there. Even the volume of questionable calls seems to have gone down from the officials, but that may be imagination on my part. However, I will note that the last two Toronto reviews have gone in our favor. A team record, I believe. . . .
Schedule Relief -- After wading through the majority of the schedule most heavily laden with back-to-back games in the league, the Jackets now have a couple of weeks of sanity. The next consecutive game instance is not until March 28-29, with a home and home against St. Louis. (We will be in St. Louis with the Jacket Backers!) While you want to play frequently when you are hot, a few days between games will be just what the doctor ordered, literally, for the guys.
Red Wings Keys -- The final game of the regular season (nice to have to specify "regular") against Detroit this afternoon, just over a week after we were part of the giddy contingent in Joe Louis Arena cheering on the 8 - 2 drubbing of the Wings. Don't expect the same tonight. Detroit will be out for revenge, and needs a win to salvage a .500 record against the Jackets this season. They are also in a tight race for the top seed in the West. They had the offense clicking yesterday in St. Louis, so have some momentum coming in.
On the Jacket's side, they are playing perhaps the best hockey in the league right now, have some offensive confidence and mometum, and Steve Mason with some extra rest. Detroit is on the back end of a back-to-back, and their goaltending situation is, shall we say, unsettled. Osgood played well yesterday, so don't know if they will go with him again, figuring he is hot, or go with Conklin in light of the consecutive day games. Either way, we just need to stay out of the box, play Hitch Hockey like we have been, and pepper the net.
We'll be in our usual spot in Section 110, and likely hanging around the JacketBackers table at the first intermission. Go Jackets!