Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Thoughts Between Games

Fedor Tyutin back in the line up last night
OK, sorry for the little whimsical post last night.  The Jackets play a superb game and I'm off on some tangent.  But I guess you're used to it by now.  

But on a more serious note, if you want to look at a sophomore slump, look no further than Ryan Murray.  Yeesh.  What a year.  I really think that once he is fully healthy he should go down to the AHL to develop his game more.  We know he can play in the NHL.  At this point, why rush it?  But I digress again.

The CBJ are back to playing 'Jackets' hockey, and have started to play it with some consistency.  They are coming off two games against opponents at the top of the standings in which they played very well.  This winning streak includes both leaders of the Atlantic Division, and the leader of the Metropolitan Division.  Tomorrow we play a team we are chasing, sitting in the third place spot of the Metro.  Oh yeah, we will also be seeking to tie the franchise record for consecutive wins, set last season.

Much as it did last year, a significant winning streak has vaulted us up into the conversation for making the playoffs.  Last night's win allowed us to vault Philly and New Jersey in the Metro standings.  There is a lot of hockey left to play this year, and it is important to get these points while we are playing well.  Last night's game was a great exhibition of disciplined hockey by both teams, and was a really great game for a 0-0 game.

The Jackets will need that discipline and effort, and more against the Capitals tomorrow.  They are already talking about getting in Bob's grill, and the best way to stop that will be to forecheck relentlessly in the Captitals zone.  I get the impression that Trotz's boys will be coming loaded for bear.  Plus, being on the losing side of a 20 round shoot out probably has them very frustrated.  We will need to work and be disciplined tomorrow to tie the winning streak.

Bob is on fire.  He has had a number of unbelievable performances in this streak, and rang one up against the Caps.  I don't think they liked it.  Should be a really fun game at Nationwide Arena tomorrow.  I'm really looking forward to it.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sophomore Slump

Boone Jenner
I think it is important for Blue Jackets fans to realize that young players often have what is known as the sophomore slump.  When they have a really good year, sometimes young players tend to regress in their second year in the NHL.  Fans need to be patient as they work through these growing pains.  It is not unusual for a player to spend some time in the minors as part of their normal growth.  

Jackets fans should remember that Boone Jenner is a very young player, and that his development should be given plenty of time.  Patience, patience, patience!  

As with his recent run of poor play, he ...... wait, what?  Penalty shot?  Shoot out winner??

Dammit Jim, he's only a sophomore, he, well...... Oh. 

Never mind!*

Ha ha!! Seven Straight!  OK, a serious post tomorrow.

Go Jackets!!!

*underlined italics is the official sarcasm font of the Dark Blue Jacket

Monday, December 15, 2014

A New Dynamic

I have been reflecting a bit on the new dynamic in the games versus the Penguins.  For most old experienced season ticket holders like myself, we carry scars of that game about 4 or 5 years ago, when the Blue Jackets were still playing in the Western Conference.  It was the first time that Pittsburgh had played in Nationwide Arena for several years, and the Penguins fans just took the place over.  Through an error, a Pittsburgh fan even rode the zamboni during the intermission.  It was a totally humiliating experience for a season ticket holder.

A big part of that was the crowd noise.  At that time, the main chant Jackets fans were using was the old 'Let's Go Jackets, clap, clap clappity, clap'.  And oldie but goodie that many teams use (e.g. the Red Wings).  During that game, when the Pittsburgh fans started roaring 'Let's Go Pens', all the Jackets fans had to respond was 'clap, clap, clappity, clap', which isn't exactly a visceral response.   The Penguins fans used their 'Let's Go Pens' chant to run the Blue Jackets fans out of the building (this is not an exaggeration).  It didn't help that the Penguins waxed the Blue Jackets on the ice.

However, late in the run to the playoffs last year, a new cheer arose from the depths of Nationwide Arena.  A homegrown (the best kind) cheer, a stirring chant of C-B-J repeatedly bellowed at the top of your lungs.  This cheer allows the fans to really bring the thunder, and anyone who experienced last year's playoff games will not easily forget that sound.  Scout around YouTube in those playoff clips.  There are some excellent examples.

So when a game like Saturday's game starts to come up, the old scars start to tingle.  The fear of being run out of the building lurks like a shadow.  But there is a new dynamic in these games.  The C-B-J chant is the exact same cadence as that 'Let's Go Pens' chant, and it gives the fan something that you can use to really respond.  So now in these games, when some knuckle dragging mouth breather starts yelling in support of his flightless sea birds, I promptly, and effectively crank up the C-B-J chant.  This gives the fans an ability to go toe to toe with the opposition, and contributes to the playoff-like atmosphere that we experienced on Saturday.  And you gotta love that.

C-B-J!!  C-B-J!!!  C-B-J!!!!

Sunday, December 14, 2014

What a Great Hockey Game, Thanks for Losing!

Classic 2013-14 Playoff Imagery
So quoth Mrs. Gallos, to a Penguins fan in the restaurant after the game.  'What a Great Hockey Game, Thanks for Losing!'  The guy's date was sporting CBJ colors, and he was wearing a Lemieux jersey, indicating a certain constancy of fandom, and he had the grace to be hurt by it and laugh at the same time.  That's the good stuff about rivalries.

The CBJ took a step forward tonight, beating the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-3 in a shoot-out.  The CBJ did not beat the Pens in the regular season last year, so the win represents an incremental gain for our battered team, and helps to erase a 6 game losing streak earlier in the season.

Nationwide Arena was absolutely rocking tonight, as the CBJ faithful did battle with a throaty Penguins contingent.  It was very much of a playoff atmosphere in the barn tonight, which seemed fitting for the level of hockey played.  Both teams brought their lunch bucket, and their brass knuckles, and proceeded to get it on.  It was a very intense hockey game, periodically interrupted by fights, including the semblance of a line brawl in the second period.  The best part was our players sticking up for each other.

Nick Foligno started the scoring with a power play goal, a tap in he kicked up to his stick, earned by camping at the edge of the crease as the man unmarked by the penalty kill.  That got the CBJ an early lead, and they really ramped up the pressure, skating hard and playing physically.  This was exemplified by a play in which Sutter was winning a board battle down low in our defensive zone, and Jack Johnson came from in front of the net to plant a shoulder into his chest that lifted him off his skates, and literally 'knocked him on his ass'.  (That one was a beauty, and really seemed to get Jack engaged in the game).

Friday, December 12, 2014

Ochovechkin Down, Geno to Go

Thank You Bob!!!!
Last night the CBJ stole a game from the Capitals, prevailing in overtime on Nick Foligno's second goal.  It was a '2' night for Nick.  2 goals on 2 shots.  The fancy stats folks will tell you that this is an unsustainable shooting percentage, and he will regress towards his average.  Ummm, yeah, 100% seems a little unsustainable.  He also had 2 hits, 2 takeaways and 2 points.  Since I wear a Nick's number 71 to most games, I am loving this.  I was especially pleased to see that Jarmo reached out to his agent about contract discussions.  Nick is having a really good season.

At any rate, in spite of losing big in the shot column, the Jackets somehow managed to come out on top of Alexander Ovechkin (or Ochovechkin as Mrs. Gallos likes to call him, since he wears number 8) and company.  When the fancy stats people tell you that shots, missed shots, and blocked shots (e.g. Corsi events) are a surrogate for possession, they are not lying.  Washington dominated puck possession, especially during the first two periods, with Ochovechkin taking a season high 9 shots.  But the Jackets came away with the two points, though they left the Caps with one, because this is where the conversation turns to Sergei Bobrovsky.

Bobrovsky has been on an unbelievable tear, posting crazy numbers over the last few games.  Let me check.  According to the lads over at Puck Rakers, Bobrovsky has saved 167 of 176 shots during the 5 game win streak, for a .949 save percentage.  Wowza.  Bob has been exceptionally sharp of late, which the team is going to need if it is going to climb back into the playoff race.  Interestingly, the team is actually very close to the position it was in last year at this time (based on number of games), but last year razor sharp Bob did not appear until January.  In short, the CBJ have about as good a chance of making the playoffs this year as they did last year.

Which makes us turn our attention to the Penguins.  The news, via Puck Rakers again that Crosby is out for the game, because he appears to have the mumps that is sweeping through the NHL is good for the CBJ.  However, we know too well that Evgeni Malkin is plenty capable of carrying the Penguins.  If you recall Geno pretty much single handedly punched us out of the playoffs with a hat trick in Game 6, so he's got the goods to make tomorrow's game very uncomfortable for the CBJ.

Last year we did not have much, if any, success against the elite teams during the regular season.  Even though the Penguins are somewhat battered, they are still a very good team.  A win would be a step forward in the grand scheme of things, and given the crazy injury situation seems a bit much to expect at this juncture in the season.  Thus, a loss tomorrow is no reason for worry, so long as we play respectably.  A win would be 6 straight, and would erase a previous 6 game losing streak, so would be mighty nice.  We shall see.

And again, the injury bug has bit us.  The bad news, brought once again by the Puck Rakers, is that Scott Hartnell has a broken finger, and is on injured reserve.  Let's see, that's Boone, Bob, Wiz, and Hartnell who have all experienced a broken finger.  Gee whiz, when is it gonna stop?  Apparently Kerby Rychal has been called up from the AHL to fill the vacant forward spot.

The hits just keep on coming.  But the team is hanging in there.


Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Eastern Conference Hi-Jinks

RJ Umberger as a Blue Jacket
Interesting game tonight.  We hosted a couple of Flyer Fans which made it a little crazy, but fun.  Which is what this whole Eastern Conference gig is all about.  These games just feel so natural.  The Flyers are a bit of a train wreck, and the CBJ express is rumbling down the rails leaking steam and sparks in all directions.  It made for a fun hockey game.  In some ways this is still the age of innocence, where the CBJ have yet to punch some of these teams out of a playoff.  That bad blood is earned, and we haven't done it yet.

Perhaps we have a teeny bit of bad blood with Pittsburgh, but who doesn't?  In that regard, this is all still new to us, and these games are really fun. The CBJ <we interrupt this statement to point out the redundant use of the word 'fun'.  The office of redundancy office deplores this fan boy schilling to the powers that be because it implies that cynical bashing might be slightly out of style> prevailed tonight 3-2 in overtime on an improbable breakaway feed from Ryan Johansen to Kevin Connauton for the winning goal.  Once again the CBJ  went into a defensive shell to try to preserve a 2-1 lead late in the third period.  With about 5 minutes left in the game, and the CBJ going on the power play, the power play strategy appeared to be to play the old basketball 4 corners stall.  The Flyers ate it up, spending the bulk of the power play in their offensive zone, overwhelming our five gliders with 4 skaters.  This gave the Flyers momentum going into the last minutes, and once they pulled the goal tender, they were able to draw even.

The Flyers carried the momentum into the overtime, but Ryan Johansen, at the end of a long shift ended up on a 2 on 1 breakaway with Kevin Connauton, in which he delayed and put the puck right on Connauton's stick, and he beat Steve Mason for the winner.  This play resulted in a pile of exultant players on top of Connauton, as he scored his first goal for the CBJ, a game winner.  Cool stuff.

Other interesting story lines in this game was the return of RJ Umberger to Nationwide Arena as a member of the Flyers.  He got a brief mention on the jumbotron (he did ask for a trade after all) and Scott Hartnell got on the board with a goal, while Umberger was pretty invisible in over 15 minutes of ice time.  It is important to keep in mind that the value of this trade needs to be evaluated in the long term, as both players have several more years on their contract, but in the short term this trade is tilted decidedly towards Hartnell.

At the end of the day, this is the fourth straight win for the CBJ.  They are making progress towards erasing the recent 6 game losing streak, but the 9 game losing streak still lurks on their record.  It's not the end of the world if they lose a game, but they cannot afford any more losing streaks.  They are making the baby steps they need to climb back in it, and have lulled the other teams to sleep.  We'll see if they can sneak back into it.


Monday, December 8, 2014

Elevating the Commentary, Dubinsky returns

I thought I would go to the well with the Obi-wan Dubinsky gag again.
Today the Blue Jackets announced that Brandon Dubinsky would make his season debut against the Flyers, as part of his comeback from abdominal surgery during training camp.  It may be weeks before we see the old Dubinsky, as he plays his way into shape, but his return is important for the team.

As you may have noticed, I have been having a bit of fun with our lowly standings position over the last few weeks.  Before I go further I would point out that we have bottomed out at some point in each of the last two years, so that this happening early in the year is no big shock.  Anyway, on our last post I got a comment that I thought was worthy of drawing up into the space for those that don't read the comments, because I think it is pertinent.  So, without further ado...

J F H Jacket  December 7, 2014 at 10:05 PM
The Jackets aren't a Canadian team or a franchise in desperate need (read Chicago/Pittsburgh) of saving. Therefore you are correct, they would not win a lottery draw, weighted or not. As for the "generational talent" a certain publication continues to fawn over; allow me to say we've had enough D**n losing in this franchise. The current management has worked hard to get rid of the country club atmosphere that permeated Nationwide. If the Jackets play well enough to be in contention, but fall short, so be it. If they make the play-offs, anything can happen. This team has quality minor league players who are currently showing what they are and aren't yet able to do. As for the draft, let the Oilers draft first again and see how long it takes for ANOTHER can't-miss prospect to wither on the vines.

There are a lot of things I like about this comment, particularly the part about the minor league players.  I think that is right on point, and as far as talent evaluation, this is as good as it gets for a GM.  The thing about the last game is that a lot of young players felt for the first time what it is like to really play Blue Jackets hockey.  Its not very easy to do, it hurts a lot, and there are a lot of very natural barriers to playing that style.  It takes a certain level of desperation, and we have not seen that kick in over the last two seasons until the team bottomed out in the standings.

At any rate, I think we are in for some very interesting hockey over the next few months, and barring injury at the goal tender position, this team has a shot at being in contention by the All-Star break.  Which would be really nice, I have to say.  We'll learn a lot about this tomorrow night when they play Philly.  They will need to duplicate the type of effort, they had against Tampa, and we will learn a lot if they are able to do so.  History indicates that it is not the end of the world if they can't, but they will need to have a level of desperation on more nights than not for the rest of the season.  And the Flyers are a good place to start!


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Two Shutouts - One Preserved

It was a big night for Columbus last night.  The Columbus Blue Jackets and their sterling goal tender, Sergei Bobrovsky, carried a shutout into the final minutes of their tilt with the Eastern Conference Leading Tampa Bay Lightning.  On the other channel, the Ohio State Buckeye football team preserved its shutout of Wisconsin to earn a Big Ten Football Championship.  Good stuff on, and good story lines on both fronts.

But this is a hockey blog, so we'll return to the fastest game on earth.  Last night the Blue Jackets prevailed over the Bolts 3-1, in a game that wasn't that close.  The Blue Jackets skated with purpose, finally worked their forecheck hard for 57 minutes, and consequently dictated the pace of the game.  Surprisingly, the CBJ looked like the faster team last night, as Tampa Bay has abundant speed.  Once Tampa pulled Bishop, the CBJ kind of sat back, couldn't hit the empty net, and Tampa was able to break the shut out.  But it wasn't really that close.

Head Coach Todd Richards juggled his lines significantly.  Erixon and Tropp were both back into the lineup, and Nick Foligno was moved to center of the top line.  Ryan Johansen was dropped to center the third line with Kerby Rychal and Jack Skille, giving him plenty of speed and grit on his wings.  HCTR has had some issues with Joey's play, but part of this move I think was to create match-up difficulties for Tampa Bay, which seemed to be a successful strategy.  When the CBJ were at their best last year, they were rolling 3 'second' lines, and somewhere in there you get a match-up advantage.

The addition of Gibbons to the Foligno, Hartnell line gave that line a burst of speed, and Jenner's line with Calvert and Atkinson seems to be really settling in as an effective line.  They gave Tampa fits last night, with Jenner scoring the first goal on a rather improbable shot.  Most importantly though, they kept their feet moving, and got back to playing "Blue Jackets Hockey".  It was a good thing to see, and they were rewarded with their third straight win.

Finally, there is Sergei Bobrovsky.  He has been extremely sharp these last two games, flashing his Vezina form.  If he stays healthy, and plays this way, the CBJ are going to win some games.  Personally, I think <McDavid> they have dug a pretty deep hole <Eichel> to climb out of, but I don't think the players are listening to my subliminal <McDavid> advertising <Eichel>.  Today they sit 8 points out of third place in the Metro with 3 and a half months of hockey left to play.  If they make it interesting down the stretch, I will be content.  They weren't gonna win the damn <McDavid> lottery <Eichel> anyway.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Dropping Like Flies

Mark Letestu
Oh my.  I was not ready for the news today that Mark Letestu underwent surgery to repair his wonky groin.  Now he is out for 6 more weeks.  One of the takeaways from the Puck Rakers article is that a chronic condition was also addressed.

I saw a couple of comments asking why this wasn't done in Columbus.  My response would be that this is the surgeon who detected and repaired a chronic groin problem for Marion Gaborik.  Gabby has been injured a couple of times this year, but not his groin, which was wonky for close to a decade before this Doctor worked on him.  I think the CBJ brass were impressed.  And I think that Dubinsky had  lingering problems repaired as well.  His recovery seems on track, and he is close to returning.

I have to wonder if at some level all NHL players have bad groins.  The level of work and effort demanded by our situation and our system may be revealing  or exacerbating existing weaknesses.  It is to be hoped that these are repaired once and for all, and barring crazy circumstances, will not re-occur.

At any rate, if any of our players were looking at elective surgery, now seems like a good time to get it done.  Sheesh.  Get well Mark.  We miss you, and look forward to when you are healed and can rejoin the team.

Meanwhile, I will keep a <McDavid> stiff upper <McDavid> lip without any <McDavid> gratuitous references <McDavid> to generational talents <McDavid> available in this year's draft <McDavid>, particularly without <McDavid> using subliminal <McDavid> messages <Eichel>.

GO <McDavid> JACKETS!! <Eichel>

Thanks, I Needed That

Big win last night for the CBJ, if only to reward them for the effort, break the skid, and for Kerby Rychal to get his first NHL point.  All good stuff.

I liked JD's comments yesterday.  They have the right of it, we've been dealt a bad hand.  I like to joke about McTanking for McDavid, and the notion of a generational talent coming to this franchise makes me drool uncontrollably, but it's not the be all end all.  We've got a good bunch of players here, and they will find their winning ways before this season is over.  Unfortunately, that is unlikely to be enough for a return to the playoffs.

Last year, in January we were able to put together a franchise record winning streak.  This coincided with Bobrovsky's return from injury, but that run of play that vaulted us back into playoff contention was also the only stretch where we had a relatively healthy Nathan Horton, and his emotional and moral impact on the team was huge.  Horton's current situation is a cruel blow to all involved, and at this point, all I hope for him is freedom from pain.  But we can't realistically look for that spark this year.  True, that we finished off the season, and the playoffs without him, but the direction change that yanked us from a .500 team to a winner coincided with Horton's presence.

We have a team that knows how to win, its just incredibly beat up right now.  Case in point, Mark Letestu.  Keep in mind that Letestu lead the team in points during the strike shortened 2012-13 season.  He has a big impact on this teams ability to score.  He will return to health some day, and it will help our play.

Anisomov's loss is another tough turn of events.  We just have to keep rolling with the punches, and ride this out.  Our prize for not shrinking from this task may well be a generational talent.  So there's that.

But, nonetheless, a good feeling to be back in the win column.