Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Validation

It Seems You Have a Problem With Authority, Mr. Anderson...
Last Friday night in Tampa, the Columbus Blue Jackets jumped the Tampa Bay Lightening, winning a game 5-3 after fending off multiple comeback attempts by a very accomplished Lightening team.  Tonight figured to be the payback night.   Tampa was going with the starting goal tender, they were fully warned, yet the Blue Jackets laid down a curb stomping 5-1 victory, that wasn't that close.

The Blue Jackets played a very, very solid first period, dominating the puck, and firing shots from all over, but only lead 1-0 at the end of one period.  Many times I have seen the opposing team rally in the second and take control of the game from that situation.  And indeed, Tampa Bay came out with a far better effort in the second period, dominating stretches of play.  But at the end of the day, the Jackets scored two more goals in the period to go into the third period leading 3-0.  Tampa Bay was doing an excellent job of containing our top lines, but they simply had no answer for Josh Anderson, Scott Hartnell, and Bill Karlsson on the 'fourth' line(Ed. Note: third line), and that line just shredded Tampa.  The entire line made up the three stars in the arena, with first, second, and third stars respectively.

Josh Anderson was a dominant force all night, skating fast and playing physically, and getting to the front of the net.  And Tampa didn't really have an answer for that line, especially on the road.  Woof. Shades of Derek MacKenzie!   This is how Josh Anderson played in the AHL playoffs last year, just a load to handle.  It's really nice to see him taking that to the next level.  But ever since the CBJ let MacKenzie walk, they have been looking for a fourth line like this.

Surprisingly, to the national media, the Jackets "made no changes", but last year the fourth line was Gregory Campbell, Jared Boll, and Rene Bourque.  This year its William Karlsson, Josh Anderson, and Scott Hartnell.  (Ed. Note: I was a little giddy last night.  The fourth line is Sedlak, Gagne, and Hanikainen) And there could not be a greater contrast, with this year's bunch tilting towards the more deadly on the ice.  I think Anderson has more goals now than the fourth line scored all of last year, and then you throw in significant contributions from Karlsson and Hartnell.

Make no mistake, Tampa came to play today, and effectively neutralized the top few lines tonight.  But the bottom two lines overwhelmed their match-ups, and won the game.  That's a picture of sustainability in the NHL.

For me, it is highly gratifying to see the significant contributions of the young Lake Erie Monsters players, Werenski, Sedlak, and Anderson.  It is really awesome to think that the Cleveland Monsters have more to contribute to the parent club down the stretch, as there is a lot of hockey left to play.

I haven't been able to really follow the Monsters this year.  As a solo blogger, its asking a lot to cover two teams, though I gather the start has not been strong.  Given the amount of change the team experienced, especially the loss of Coach Bednar (Congratulations on the Colorado gig!!), one would expect that things would start slowly.  A lot of adjustment to new conditions on the agenda there, especially with disappointed players joining the roster, along with the injuries (e.g. Heatherington).  So the slow start probably should be expected, even if it is not the desired state.  But as the players and the group gather themselves, there is a real prospect that they can contribute measurably to the parent club as this season moves along.  It's all good.

The Jackets did not sneak up on Tampa tonight, but still won the game in convincing fashion.  Well done lads, well done indeed!  The Jackets just tweeted that it was the best November in franchise history.  That kind of thing leaves a glow, I don't care who you are.  Lots of hockey left to play, but if your fourth line is going to dominate playoff teams, you probably have a sustainable model.  Just sayin'.

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Three Out of Four Ain't Bad

You pass it to me there and I'll shoot it blind...
The Blue Jackets took 3 of 4 possible points on a weekend back to back against Tampa and Florida, beating a talented Bolts team and falling in a shootout with the Panthers.  I thought the Jackets carried the play last night, in spite of lacking an edge to their skating, and peppered Roberto Luongo with shots.  Sometimes you see that, when we are just flinging pucks from the outside, and we generate lots of shots.  But I thought the net front presence was good, and the Jackets generated quality scoring chances, however, Luongo stood tall.  So it goes.

The ageless Jagr scored one he partially whiffed on, and Brandon Saad scored on a blind, backhand that he hit very hard it seemed out of pure frustration.  That set the stage for a fun overtime, and then the shootout, where Barkov was the only scorer.  Nonetheless, a good outcome for the CBJ by salvaging a late point.

The Jackets also ended up taking 6 of a possible 10 points in a five games in seven nights stretch, which is also very good.  I thought the Jackets were playing their system well last night, and overall looked pretty good.  They get a day off, and then they face the Bolts again in Nationwide, which ought to be a pretty fun game.

Our young, mobile defense continues to grow, and Torts continues to roll the forward lines to the extent practicable.  Matt Calvert's absence is notable.

The grind continues, but the Jackets keep picking up points.  That is a good way to go!

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Friday, November 25, 2016

The Start is in the Books, The Grind Begins

The Goal; Playoff Ice at Nationwide Arena
Now that American Thanksgiving, and a normal Thursday in Canada, is over, the start is officially in the books.  The Blue Jackets managed to book end an atrocious, record setting, start last year with one of the franchise's best starts for the 2016-17 season.  A 10-5-3 start has the Jackets with 23 points and sitting 4th in the Metropolitan Division.  Savor that for a bit.

Ok, done.  Now two things happen.  The grind starts, and the intensity of play ramps up a notch, the second of about four informal intensifications of the level of play in the NHL in any given season.  The start of the regular season is one, December/Thanksgiving is another, the beginning of the new year in January is another, and the Trade Deadline and the run to the playoffs is the last.  These milestones represent times when the league starts to separate the pretenders from the contenders by escalating the level of play, and to date the Jackets have successfully weathered only one of these milestones.  There is a lot of hockey to play.

Today Tom Reed has an excellent article in the Columbus Dispatch about how rookie phenom Zach Wereneski is feeling the pace.  He is getting hit more often, and is playing more games in a shorter period of time than he has ever played before.  It's a journey, Werenski has the proper attitude about it, and he should be fine.  I also liked Tom's quote of John Tortorella.  It's not that you are going to have bumps in the season, you are going to have them no matter who and what team you are.  It's how you respond to them.

In 2011-12, new coach Scott Arniel had the Jackets flying with the best start in franchise history, in first place in their Division in the Western Conference, and facing the Red Wings in a matchup for the Division lead about this time of year.  The Jackets lost that game, didn't respond well, had a ~8 game losing streak in December, and couldn't really rally until the New Year, and by that time they were chasing the pack.  After a decent January, they faltered at the trade deadline, and missed the playoffs again.  I have called this the December swoon in the past.

My point is that the Jackets do not need to light the league on fire over the next month or so, they just need to not have a catastrophic losing streak.  If you can answer your losses with wins over this next month, they will be fine.  Anything over .500 over the next month is pure bonus, as our young team tries to adapt to the intensification of play.

Tonight the Jackets face the Tampa Bay Lightening in a 7:30 tilt in Tampa.  This team has recently gone to a Cup final, and understands well the road ahead of them.  We will start to see the intensification of play tonight.  How our young team responds will be key, and I am looking forward to enjoying the game.

The good start has given us an opportunity to be competitive in the Metropolitan Diision.  So long as the Jackets continue to respond well to adversity, this should be fun to watch.   I think Torts is making sure he that their heads are in the right spot.  Here we go.....

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Sometimes You Have Those Nights

Pierre-Luc Dubois, who is irrelevant to this discussion.
Nowhere is the benefit of the Blue Jackets strong start better exemplified than by tonight's result.  Two turnovers at the blue line end up in the net against the good guys, and finally they suffer a loss.  Turns out that happens to every NHL club, every year.  Not time to panic.

The Jackets face a tough back to back later this weekend and it could have negative results.  Their play has been degrading of late, as is normal for teams that keep winning, and now they will have to gather themselves, and re-assert how they played early in the season.

The best part of this loss is that it sucked.  Not like last year, when I was immune to losing by this point.  No, this one did not feel good, and that is a good thing.  Follow me?

This is a young team, and growth isn't necessarily a straight line to the promised land.  There are usually a few side trips to hell on the side, and this group is a long way from ready for a trip to the promised land.  The Flames looked like the first team we saw this year that came in resolved to put some pressure on Werenski, and he had some negative moments tonight.  Therein lies the seeds of wisdom.  The voice of experience can be harsh, but that is as journey each young player must make on their own.

Let me start this by saying John Torterella has done a great job with this group.  Torts is notorious for his line blender, but he has had the discipline to keep his lines relatively static this year.  He deserves a lot more credit than he is going to get for this.  He may make changes in the wake of tonight's loss, just to keep the opposition guessing, which would be a strategic move.  Give the other guy combinations he did not figure on.

I thought our guys played well tonight, and there was nothing lacking in their effort.  There were a lot of scramble plays tonight, which is the hallmark of good defensive play on both sides.  Calgary put their chances in the net tonight, while I thought the Jackets were trying to be a bit to fine around the net.  Nonetheless we did not score tonight.  No arguments with the result, if you want to win you better score some goals.

Not a night to worry about.  I raises the concern level about the weekend tilts, but we have to catch up on number of games at some point, and the next few days is a result.

I'd like to see the defensive pairs switched up.  Werenski with Savard, Jones with Murray, and Johnson with Nutivaara.  Jack has to play the right side, but he can do it, and the speed of that third pair would be something to behold.

Props to Calgary tonight.  Good on them.  They are irrelevant to the Blue Jacket's mission, though you would like every point you can lay your hands on.  So there it is, time to move on already.

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Monday, November 21, 2016

Jackets Salvage a Late Point, and the Fun Times Continue

Atkinson Ties it Late
Ok, let's face it.  These last few games the Jackets have played have been a lot of fun to watch, especially because they keep winning.  The reality of NHL hockey is that some of these games are going to turn to losses.  It happens to EVERY team.  So to imagine the young Blue Jackets are immune to it is to be thinking crazy stuff.

And the Jackets have had an awesome week.  Beating the Caps, beating the Rangers, beating the Caps.  Awesome stuff.  The puck has bounced their way some, sure.  I promise they saved up a crap load of luck last year because the puck never seemed to bounce their way.

So tonight was a night you figure the worm could turn.   Second night of a back to back, a team waiting in town while you travel; a young team similar to the CBJ with last year's Lake Erie Monsters Coach, Jared Bednar, at the helm.  Good coach.  Loved what he did with the Monsters.  He also got gifted Zach Werenski late in the season, and I have a feeling that before it is said and done, Zach Werenski could make ME a good coach, much less someone with actual talent.  But they have a good set up in Colorado, and they are likely to improve as the year moves on.

But the Jackets.  Gee.  It was another sloppy game at first, as they got engaged.  The Jackets and Avs traded sloppy goals, and it was 1-1.  Then about midway in the second period the Avs go ahead.  The Jackets keep battling, and finally draw a penalty.  The ensuing power play scores, but is waived off on a goal tender interference call against Scott Hartnell.  Meh.  I don't think Varlamov had a clue on the shot, but Hartsy kinda gave him a 'can-opener'.  So, Meh.  And the Jackets sort of plateaued for a bit after the call, but like last game slowly started to gather themselves.  But they just could not seem to get one past Varlamov, once he got his reprieve.

Finally, the Jackets pulled McElhinney, and had a man advantage.  With little time remaining, Cam Atkinson takes a shot, and the blocked puck comes back to Gagne.  He passes back out to Atkinson, who with the time and space afforded to the 6th skater skates in and buries one top shelf to tie the game and salvage a point.

Subsequently, Colorado's Duchene was able to tip in a sweet pass for the win during overtime, which was a bummer until you think that the Jackets need to lose at some point.  So salvaging a point in the last 10 seconds of a game you pretty much had lost is the kind of thing that will get you in the playoffs in the long run.

So it was fun.  A little meh at the end of a pretty meh game until the complete adrenaline squeeze of Atkinson scoring with 7 seconds remaining.  That's fun stuff.

So on a tough back to back, the Jackets eke out a point with the back up goal tender.  And all in all, a pretty fun game.  It has been a fun season so far!

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Beating the Best

I can stop pucks with my face!
Tonight the Blue Jackets completed their sweep of Divisional Leaders in the NHL by beating the Metropolitan Division leading New York Rangers by a score of 4-2.  Additionally, the Jackets have taken the season series from the Pacific Division leading Anaheim Ducks, beat the Central Division leading Chicago Blackhawks in Nationwide Arena, and of course manged to eke out a win against Atlantic Division leading Montreal (stick tap to my buddy Bill for pointing this out to me).

Before we start planning the parade route, let's remember that there is a lot of hockey left to play this year.  On the other hand, the last two games have been against fast, capable opponents, and the Jackets have shown patience, and capitalized on errors by the other guy.  Even if certain percentages (e.g. power play) must regress, there is balance in the scoring, which allows the team to score on any given night based on the match-ups, not necessarily based on the play of any individual player.

Another great line by my buddy Bill is his response to Montreal fans he ran into while vacationing in Mexico.  They were quick to point out that Carey Price had not played in the 10-0 Blue Jackets win against Montreal, to which Bill replied "how many goals do you think Price would have scored?"  This seemed to end that angle of the conversation pretty quickly.

So, as the faithful scribes at the Columbus Dispatch have accurately pointed out, the journey to respectability takes more than just beating Divisional leaders.  We need to be able to show we can do that kind of thing in a best of seven series, but we still have a ways to go to get there.

Really amazingly fun game tonight.  The Jackets are playing well, and came out with a franchise record seventh straight home game.  That makes for fun hockey to watch, and I have really enjoyed this run of success.  Props to our young team, please keep it up!

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Werenski Wins it in Overtime

Nice OT Goal
Zach Werenski took the pass from Alexander Wennberg on his right side, with his momentum going right.  Gibson, the Anaheim goal tender thought he would continue going to the right, and looked around his defenseman to that side.  Werenski made an instantaneous, slick, sick move back to his left, shot the puck and buried it.  Gibson kicked his leg out as the puck was going by, but too late, and the Blue Jackets took a 3-2 overtime win against Anaheim to take the season series against the Ducks 4 points to 1 point.

The Jackets came into the game in high gear, out skating the Ducks, and quickly got a goal after Hartnell charged the net and took a great shot, that Gibson somehow stopped (unbelievable play by the goalie), but Boone Jenner punched in the rebound for his first goal of the year.  Shortly thereafter, Ryan Murray skated down low to the bottom of the circle, and passed back to Brandon Saad, who bore down and lasered a goal into the net for the quick 2 - 0 lead, and Carlyle called his time out.  After that, the Ducks started clogging the passing lanes, and the Jackets offensive push slowly withered.

Over the next 2 and a half periods the Ducks managed to get 2 goals on a weird re-direct that short-hopped Bobrovsky, breaking his 4 period shut out against the Ducks, and another goal that was generated by a misplayed puck behind the net by Bob.  So it goes.  He played well to keep the Jackets in the game.  That was all the scoring, the game went to overtime, and Werenski won it.

Two really good points to get tonight, to keep pace in the east.  We gave up a point to a team in the west that we could care less about, and Tortorella has a number of coaching points available to work on.  It's safe to say that the Jackets did not play a 60 minute game tonight.  On the other hand, they didn't really play that well for most of the game, but still came out with the win.  They will be needing a much better performance against the Bruins tomorrow night.

Slick goal by Werenski, super sweet pass from Wennberg.  There is a lot to like about that!

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Wow. Just Wow!! Jackets beat Habs 10-0

Nick Foligno has his mojo back.
Tonight the Columbus Blue Jackets curb stomped the 9-0-1 Montreal Canadiens by a score of 10-0 in front of an exuberant home crowd at Nationwide Arena.  Four players, Atkinson, Anderson, Hartnell and Foligno had 2 goals.  Wennberg had 4 assists.  The CBJ forecheck was very good, their power play was a dominant 4 for 5, making any Montreal mistakes hurt.

Tonight was a glorious night for the long suffering CBJ fans.  With the score standing at 9-0, and the crowd chanting 'WE WANT TEN', the Jackets responded and got the 10th goal.  Better yet, they kept skating and battling to help Bobrovsky get his third shutout of the new year.  A great team effort by the CBJ all around.

I felt the loss for Montreal was a team loss as well.  The back-up goal tender Montoya did not play that great, but the CBJ were getting open looks at the net that are the plays the D-zone coverage should have picked up.  Because the Jackets were winning the puck battles, they were able to sustain pressure in the offensive zone, which paid high dividends tonight.

Fortunately the Jackets don't get any time to sit around thinking that this is a reality that is not really there.  Rather, they have to mount up tonight and go play St. Louis, a team that will not be impressed at all by this game.  If you want that respect, you have to go take it.  If the CBJ skate tomorrow the way they skated tonight, they have a chance anyhow.

A great night, and a really fun game to attend.  But we are not that good, and they are not that bad.  It was just one of those nights for Montreal.  Enjoy the moment and get ready to play again tomorrow.

But what a moment it was!

GO JACKETS!!!

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Bob Steals One, with Co-Conspirators...

Seth Jones Clanks Home the OT Winner
Since the CBJ launched their West Coast road trip by jumping the Dallas Stars a week ago Saturday, and beating them 3-0, Lindy Ruff has been banging on his team to get harder.  After all, they turned in their 'worst effort of the season', etc. etc.  All the things any losing coach says to their team.  Tonight was pay back night for Lindy's team, and although the Jackets took a 1-0 lead, Dallas carried the play for most of the night.   Finally, Dallas broke through and scored on Bobrovsky in the second period to tie the game, and Seguin somehow sneaked a shot through a hole Bob thought was closed for the 2-1 Dallas lead in the third period.

The Stars continued to carry the play as time waned in the third period, until finally the CBJ pulled Bobrovsky for the extra skater.  During the ensuing pressure, the Jackets drew a slashing penalty against Dallas, and in the ensuing 6 on 4, Sam Gagner scored the tying goal with 36 seconds remaining.

That tying goal gave the Jackets the season series against Dallas, all two games of it anyway, so it was all good as the teams went to Overtime.  Seth Jones played pretty conservatively on his first shift, having been burned in L.A. taking a chance, but walking across the formation with the puck on his forehand was a very conservative play until he shot the puck, and rattled it in for the winner off the pipe, and the Jackets and the fans went home happy.

This was a game that Bobrovsky stole.  He was very good against 37 shots, and was all the Jackets had for large stretches of this game.  Well done Bob.

This was a really big win to start a long home stand.  Next up is Montreal, who has yet to lose in regulation.  Friday's game is going to be a lot of fun.

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!
GO TRIBE!!

Saturday, October 29, 2016

Four Goals in Four Minutes

Sam Gagne
The Blue Jackets scored 4 goals in under four minutes against the Anaheim Ducks to put the game away early, and played solid hockey the rest of the way to win the finale of their west coast trip 4-0.  Sam Gagne got it started with his first goal as a Blue Jacket.  After that he and Brandon Saad alternated scoring goals, with both Gagne and Saad finishing the game with 2 goals apiece.

Sergei Bobrovsky collected his second shut out of the season, and is playing very well.  Nick Foligno was flying tonight, collecting primary assists on the first 3 goals.  Zach Werenski is an amazingly smooth and heady player, who makes his teammates better.  Seth Jones is playing at a high level.  Matt Calvert was all over the ice all night, and it was just a really good team game.  You could call out every player, they all seemed to be playing well.

This win means the Jackets achieved the goal I set for them before the season, which was to finish October at .500, and come out with 7 points.  Although they will continue to face playoff teams from last year for the next little while (except Montreal, who is undefeated this year, or close to it), they rallied from a tough start to the season to remain in the hunt.  Plenty of tough games coming up, but lots of them at home.

So, first goal accomplished, now to build on that.  The next goal is to make Nationwide Arena a tough place to play.  The Jackets will have plenty of opportunity with 9 games at home in November.  I'm really looking forward to see how this team continues to play.

Three out of a possible 6 points in the journey through the Valley of Death in California, five of a possible 8 points for the road trip.  That kind of road trip will take you far.

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!