Thursday, November 27, 2014

Keep Calm and Carry the Flag

Yesterday in the Columbus Dispatch Mike Arace opined that the Blue Jackets need stirred up.  I agree with him on that assessment.  However, I disagree with him on his suggested method, which was a trade of some kind.   I think the impending return of Brandon Dubinsky will stir things enough to make a trade unnecessary.

Strangely enough, the best quality Jarmo Kekalainen could bring to his job now would be patience.  If this season goes off the rails, all you have to do is look at the injuries.  This team has shown that it can win with the people we have, we just need to get them on the ice.  The story of this season is not yet written.  We are still in 'Book I' where the seeds of the tragedy are sown.  How the rest of the story plays out remains to be seen.  Now is not the time for action for the sake of action.  The pot will be stirred whether we will or no, at a pace dictated by the healing of Dubinsky's groins.  If they keep working, they will be okay.

Thanks for taking the time to read our blog.  We here at the Dark Blue Jacket wish all of you a happy and prosperous Thanksgiving!


Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Scientific Method

The Captain?
Last year, our President of Hockey Operations, John Davidson, and our General Manager, Jarmo Kekalainen often stated the opinion that the Columbus Blue Jackets had plenty of leadership in the locker room, and that naming a Captain was premature.  Let me be clear, I do not doubt their judgement in that.  For last year.  But for this year, I wonder.

There is a funny thing about science.  You have those hypotheses that you are able to advance prior to your experiment.  Those are called by a funny Latin term, a priori.  Those that you are unable to formulate after you have conducted your experiment are called by a funny Latin term, a posteriori.  See what happens when your parents pay for an education?

Scientific method calls for you first to identify a null hypothesis.  This, in laymen's terms, means you are an opinionated schitt head person who doesn't know what you are doing.  So, for the purposes of our current discussion, I postulate a null hypothesis that the Columbus Blue Jackets do not need a captain.  That the current leadership in the room is adequate to get the job done.

Scientific method also calls for you to articulate an alternative hypothesis.  This, in laymen's terms, means you are an opinionated schitt head person who actually knows what they are talking about.  For the purposes of our current discussion, I postulate an alternative hypothesis that the Columbus Blue Jackets should name Brandon Dubinsky their Captain, and that he will drag them into the battle whether they will or no.

As my first piece of evidence, I offer the goal scored by the Winnipeg Jets 9 seconds into tonight's contest.  Since we only score 2 goals per game, I suggest that giving one up in the first moments of the game is not such a good thing.  I postulate that Dubinsky will not tolerate that.  Therefore, he should be named captain.

In order to test my hypothesis, the CBJ's record after Dubinsky returns should be carefully scrutinized.  The record BD (before Dubinsky) and AD (after Dubinsky) should be evaluated by every fancy stat the league has available to see if he makes a measurable difference.

My a priori alternative hypothesis is that Brandon Dubninsky makes a measurable difference in CBJ performance as measured in the win column.  If the data supports such a notion, he should be made Captain.  End of discussion.


Monday, November 24, 2014

Wisniewski Suspended 8 Games Because Lucic Can't Cope

Today James Wisniewski of the Columbus Blue Jackets was suspended for eight games by the Department of Player Safety.  NHL spokesman Steve Questor noted that Milan Lucic's inability to cope with negativity was becoming a serious embarrassment to the NHL, and that the Department of Player safety felt that suspending Wisniewski was a reasonable response to the problem.

In an incident last year, Lucic made a death threat against a victorious Montreal player in the handshake line after the Bruins loss.  Last week, Lucic vowed to get revenge after Dalton Prout dropped him with one punch, stating 'the next time a linesman is holding Prout I'm going to throw two gloves at him!'

Questor said that it was time for the Department of Player Safety to act.  "By suspending Wisniewski we feel we can really send a message to Lucic that his continuing petulance is an embarrassment to the league, distasteful for the advertisers, and an affront to the ticket holders and must stop."  Questor noted that the Department of Player Safety had experienced great success with suspending Wisniewski.  Questor noted "Just look at Shanny!  He's President of the Maple Leafs!  I figure if I suspend Wisniewski, I can be President of Hockey Operations in Edmonton inside of two years.  It's a great career move for me."

When asked his opinion of the issue, Kris Pronger, newly minted member of the Department of Player Safety said 'Did you see that!  Prout dropped him with one punch!  Hell, they should have given Wisniewski 10 games because Lucic couldn't get his left glove off while he charged Prout.  It looked like he was trying to get a ball point pen to work!!  He didn't want to fight he said.  Ha, ha, ha, what a sucker play.  I love that kind of stuff.  But I'm a consensus building kind of guy, so I decided that 8 games was punishment enough for Wisniewski!"

John Davidson, when reached for comment, uttered an unintelligible remark while gazing to the heavens.  Puck Daddy commented thusly.  Yup.


Sunday, November 23, 2014

Awww, Did Wittle Wucic Get His Feewings Huwt??

Dalton Prout and Cam in 2013 Development Camp
In today's Columbus Dispatch Aaron Portzline dropped this article saying Milan Lucic has vowed to get revenge on Dalton Prout for dropping him with one punch.  More antics from Lucic, to go along with threats to kill another player in the handshake line after a playoff loss, which he seems to feel is perfectly in line with hockey's 'code'.  Right.

Okay, let's be up front.  I never 'played the game'.  Rather, I'm a season ticket holder, dropping good coin to pay for your occupation Lucic.  You're a good player.  I can understand harsh words in the emotion of the moment.  I'm not one to be calling the kettle black.  But when you come at a guy, grab him by the collar, and he drops his gloves, just what did you think was coming??  Given your history, I can understand whey another player might not believe you when you say 'you don't want to fight' as you grab him by the collar.  Really?  Maybe you should try the code of 'keeping your mouth shut', like you suggest in the Puck Daddy article above?  Sheesh.

These antics, while entertaining, tend to overshadow the Blue Jackets continuing lack of cohesive play.  That wouldn't be so bad, but the 5 point gap to third place in the Metro has now stretched to a 7 point gap.  Which is still not that daunting with a little over 4 months remaining in the season, except that we have to try to jump over ALL the teams, not just A team.  I'm not really surprised by the 4-2 loss to Philly last night.  We aren't really playing that well, and I just couldn't see Philly losing 5 straight games.  I've seen some of the ones Philly lost on TV, and they just aren't playing that bad.  And then there was the GM, Hextall, going all Doug MacLean on his players.  Pretty funny really.  Honest, and genuine in Hextall, but ill-advised and funny.  So after a tough shoot out loss the night before, I just wasn't that surprised that CBJ didn't have a lot in the tank.

The Blue Jackets are having serious trouble scoring.  They really tend to score just 2 goals a game, and our defense on most nights is not good enough to turn 2 goals into a win.  We have Winnipeg, Vancouver, and Nashville this week.  They need to win two of those three games to keep from losing much more ground.  The CBJ haven't shown they are playing well enough to beat Pekka Rinne, so it would be good to head to Nashville with 2 home wins under our belt.  But we'll see.  We'll have a better feel of our status as a 15th place team (real or imagined) by the time next week is over.  I have an uneasy feeling about the answer we are going to be staring at as we launch into December.


Friday, November 21, 2014

Let the Wookie Win

Dalton Prout
In the strike shortened year of 2012-13, a classic DKM hockey podcast was attributing Star Wars names to CBJ players.  Naturally, Dalton Prout was dubbed 'the Wookie".

Tonight, in a 4-3 CBJ shootout loss to the Bruins, Milan Lucic of Boston ignored the sage advice offered by C3PO to R2D2....Let the Wookie Win.  Nope, Lucic had to do his thing, so suffered a one punch loss in a fight well chronicled in this Puck Daddy article.

Not wishing to risk his precious hide, so he could kill certains habitants later in the year, he waited until a linesman had Prout wrapped up before he managed to take a swing.  Manly Lucic.  Manly.

And totally worth the price of admission.  Boston played a classic Bruins game, and came out with the 2 points.  Our guys played well, didn't close the deal, but came from behind to tie it.  Not what we were looking for in the third period.  Tomorrow, you'll have to put up with more Wennberg love from me.  But tonight, it's all about the Wookie.  Way to go Dalton!


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Poor Systems Game

Stinger Looks Mean, So I'll Put Him in There
Tonight the Detroit Redwings waxed the Columbus Blue Jackets, 5-0.  The Redwings played the way Mike Babcock drew it up.  The Blue Jackets did not play like HCTR drew it up.  I'm going to pick on Brian Gibbons a bit here, but seriously?  You were brought in to compete for a fourth line spot.  You are playing on the top line because of your speed, and the incredible string of injuries.  Our coach says their defensemen are going to confront you, so get the puck deep in the offensive zone.  In the first period, you bring the puck across the blue line, stop, and fiddle with the puck.  Really?  Mentally, I even said to my self 'get it deep'.  Nope.  You had other ideas, Detroit came and took the puck from you, and before the scramble was over, Detroit was ahead 1-0.  WTf  Seriously?

Anyway, tonight was Detroit's night.  Since we've kind of owned them lately, and we are certainly down right now, it makes a certain amount of sense.  They beat us at our game, by winning the puck races, but played their system well.  Jimmy Howard made one brilliant save, a couple of pretty good ones, and the rest were routine to record the shut out.  The Jackets played HCTR's system pretty good in the first period, and then abandoned it for the quick shot, or the quick cycle out to the point for the open shot that Howard yawned before he stopped during the rest of the game.  Two players seemed to resolutely play the Jackets system, Boone Jenner and Alex Wennberg.  And Nick Foligno, of course.  And Hartsy, but he plays that a bit different, since his role is to get in front of the net.

Look.  You have these games in the season.  Detroit did their thing flawlessly.  In spite of my miserable record of prognostication, it's unlikely that Detroit can sustain that for the rest of the season.  But tonight was their night, and credit to them.  They were a step faster in all aspects of the game.  The score showed that.

The CBJ have now scored two goals in two games.  Take the Philly game out of the picture, and we are averaging less than two goals a game.  Other teams are saying, 'take Ryan Johansen out of the game at any costs, and we can beat the rest of those guys'.  We need to make other teams pay for that, but until we do, Joey is going to be shut down.

A response from the team to this game is critical.  They have gone through some tough times, but all they really need to do is respond to the loss with a win in the short term.  Over the long term they need to accumulate some wins, but that is not necessary at this juncture.  Playing .500 hockey is the immediate goal.  We'll save racking up wins for when we ice a reasonably healthy team.

So in the end it was their night, but that does not define our season.  Respond, win, and move on.  Start another losing spiral, and we'll start thinking McTank for McDavid.  But it's early for that yet, way early.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Regarding Erixon

One of the positives of the brutal run of injuries the CBJ have faced early in the 2014-15 season is the play of Tim Erixon.  He was slotted as a bit of a 'tweener coming into this year.  Jarmo and company believed he was an NHL defenseman, and one of the ways they showed that was signing him to a one year, one way contract.

Erixon had yet to 'kick the door down' to the NHL, yet it was time, and this was to be a make or break year for him, much like it was for Savard last year.  While he looked sorta scrambley earlier in the year, he has settled down into his role as Wisniewski's partner.  Erixon has more of an offensive upside than does Murray, our young defenseman with the wonky knee, and I think he has now established himself in the lineup.  It is hard for me to imagine him coming out of the lineup when Murray returns after watching him on the power play with Wiz last night.  When those two are on the points, you have two defensemen with good shots, good puck handling skills, and a great deal of mobility.  They were pretty lethal last night,

So the upside to this whole injury problem has been young people like Erixon and Wennberg who have been thrown into the fire, and appear to be emerging on the other side.  The mistakes have been made, the lessons have been learned, and both are playing well right now.  This could get interesting as the season progresses.

Strangely enough, a win tonight would take a lot of pressure off the CBJ going forward.  They are not really that far out of being in the mix in the Metro.  The Sharks are a really good club, that we beat late on the west coast already this year.  They will be looking to make a statement.  This would be a really good time for the home crowd to behave like a 5th line, and try to make a difference in this game.  It's still early, but the hill that must yet be climbed has been defined.  So come out to the game and be ready to get loud, even if we fall behind early.  It's our chance to make a difference this year.


Friday, November 14, 2014

A Good Step

Nick Foligno
In a four point road game against a Metropolitan Division rival, the Columbus Blue Jackets defeated the Philadelphia Flyers by a score of 4-3.  Had Philly won, they would have been doubling up the CBJ point total in the 2014-15 season with 18 to our 9.  With tonight's win, they remain at 16, while we move to 11.  The CBJ have a lot of work left to do to reach a level of relevance in the Metro, but they have a lot of time to do it.

Tonight's win, of course, broke the franchise record tying losing streak at 9 games.  Like last year, before they really started to win, the CBJ have been playing better, but yet losing.  Tonight they put together a fairly full game, and more importantly, played that distinctive brand of Blue Jackets hockey, with all lines working hard on puck possession in the offensive zone.  The third line of Wennberg, Cracknell, and Tropp was particularly disciplined and effective at this style of play, and it caused real problems for Philadelphia.  Over these last 3 or 4 games, and particularly in the last game, the light has gone on for Alex Wennberg, and he has figured out how to drive that type of play as a centerman.  He and his linemates were very effective tonight.

Finally breaking loose, and scoring more than 2 goals, the CBJ broke the trend from the losing streak of scoring 2 goals but giving up 4.  Both Wisniewski and Foligno scored twice, while Ryan Johansen had 4 assists in the game, a career high.  McElhinney looked much more comfortable in goal tonight.

It was a really great team effort.  Now they need to come back and face a San Jose Sharks team that is already in Columbus.  That should make for a really fun game tomorrow night.  I'm looking forward to it.


Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The Hangover, Part IX

Hee, hee.  Couldn't resist.
I wasn't sure where I was going with this post when I found the picture from previous use.  It was downhill from there.  The losing streak is like a bad hangover, lingering long after it should have stopped.  The goal tending is a throbbing headache that seems to defy medication, the injuries are the unexplained black eye that greets you in the morning.  It will get better, but it will take some time, and until then its ugly.

And, like a bad hangover, the current state of the CBJ is something to be endured.  Fortunately though, the cure to all our problems becomes clear!  Hydrate, hydrate, and hydrate some more!  And while we're at it, forecheck, forecheck, and forecheck some more!!  OK, time to get a little more serious.

One thing I keep forgetting about the current crop of AHLers that occupy the lower lines of the CBJ, just about none of these guys (except Chaput) spent the year or two with Brad Larsen down in Springfield learning this system that last year's team had available.  The house afire alacrity that Derek MacKenzie always brought to a good old 'cycle down low' is something that this crop of players needs to learn.  The good news is that they showed last night that they are learning the lesson.  As the game progressed, they really started to play the unique Blue Jackets style that last year's team perfected, but has escaped these guys to date.

Late in the first period, already down 2-0 of course, Nick Foligno put on a real time clinic on puck possession below the other teams net.  Moving his feet, protecting the puck, making the opposition come to him.  And darn if late in the third period, there is Alex Wennberg doing the same thing, moving his feet, protecting the puck, taking the banging that it entails.  That, my friends, is good stuff.  Wennberg's skill is going to be there.  The will to play 'keep away' along the boards in the offensive zone of another NHL team is a learned attribute.  But it pays big dividends, which is why it's so hard.

I felt I saw some really good things in that Caps game.  Things you can build off of.  I'm not really seeing an end to this streak soon, and won't be surprised if it continues for a few more games.  I'm not being a negative nancy, just not being unreasonably optimistic.  They will emerge from this at some point; just as no team has won them all, no team has lost them all.  But the lessons the young players are learning from this will pay dividends down the road.

This current streak is something to be endured, like a bad hangover.  So you find the humor where you can, and soldier on.  Because the combinations are almost limitless in this situation.  McTank for McDavid.  McFlop for McDavid.  McDive for McDavid.  You could do that all day....


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Six Questions for Russian Machine Never Breaks

The guys over at Russian Machine Never Breaks (RNMB) approached us about swapping a Q and A session.  Unfortunately, life (i.e. work) got in the way, but I had already launched my questions.  Doug was kind enough to respond to my questions, even though he was unable to launch his own.  So we owe them one, and will reciprocate later in the season, when hopefully we have something to talk about other than injuries.

So here were my questions for RNMB:

1. We here in Blue Jackets land have been playing against Barry Trotz coached teams for our entire existence.  Those Nashville teams typically featured good goal tending and solid defense, as that's how the teams were constructed.  What has been Trotz' approach to a much different personnel set in the Capitals so far this year?

RNMB:  You put your finger on exactly why Trotz was brought on, and why so many people here are hoping against hope that we can turn this squad around this season. The Ovechkin-era Caps were from the start a reflection of Ovi and his play: explosive offense, wildly unpredictable, a bit shaky on defense. Those 2008-2009 Capitals? I've never seen such maddeningly exciting play.

But that's clearly not been enough. When Boudreau was jettisoned, the squad veered into "Hunter Hockey" - where they tried to reign in this team's natural scoring skill and turn it into something it just isn't. Hunter and Oates always felt like trying to squeeze the square peg into the round hole. So far, however, it seems Trotz has started to find the right balance between respecting what the core of the squad is and adding D to it, rather than shaving away the O.

2.  How do you see the relationship of Trotz and Ovechkin?  I think it's fair to say that Trotz never had a player like that in Nashville, so it must be a novel experience for him.

RNMB: I think it's fair to say there haven't been many players like Ovi anywhere, so any coach coming in was going to have that. Ovi is the tent-pole in this circus; everything else frankly hangs off that; including, it seems, the coaches. When each of our last three coaches left, there was all sorts of murmuring about whether Ovi had anything to do with it, or if he simply quit on his coach. I'm really not convinced about any of that, especially anything malicious, but Ovi is a force unto himself, and converting him into something else may just be a fool's errand.

Right from the get-go, Trotz has both worked to build good communication with Ovi, and the rest of the team, but not at the expense of making clear who's in charge. I think it's very possible one or two of our recent coaches were more focused on the latter than the former. One thing that is notably different so far, however, is how assertive a coach Trotz is during the games. He clearly sees his job as coaching every minute of play, and does not shy away from doing his job from the bench. Most important, I think, is that the entire team, Ovechkin and every one else, is ready to listen and follow Trotz, and he's highly respected by the entire organization.

3. Jason Chimera was a much loved player here in Columbus, and a lot of us were unhappy to see him go in the trade for Chris Clark.  How is he doing?  Does he meet fan expectations?