Wednesday, January 18, 2017

The Dark Blue Jackets Definitive History of the CBJ: Part IVA; #Unsustainabowl

The first stage has dropped away from the Atlas V Rocket that is the Columbus Blue Jackets.  We are in that odd space in time where we are waiting for the second stage to ignite, and the heights it will propel us to are still unknown.  But we got a heckuva lift from that first stage.

The engineers at CBJ central packed that sucker full of an undefeated December and an NHL record.  When you mix those two unstable compounds, well BOOM!

As our brains try to recover from the G forces they have been subjected to, we will come to realize that some losses are an inevitable part of that drifting time while we wait for the second stage to ignite.  Will adding a little Korpisalo be the ingredient we need?  This remains to be seen.

This part of the blog is intended to chronicle the journey of the Columbus Blue Jackets.  When last we left, we were trying to determine the significance of Joonas Korpisalo’s run in goal for the 2015-16 CBJ.  Ironically, at the mid-point of the 2016-17 season we are in the same position, but not the same place.  As I write this the Blue Jackets have fallen out of first place in the NHL for the first time since before Christmas.  This in itself is worthy of note. 

But this iteration of the Blue Jackets is intent on larger goals, while having also accomplished other things of historic significance.  It is indeed a rich time to be writing about Blue Jackets history.
A short list of the team’s accomplishments in the first half of the season is as follows:

A.      Second longest win streak in NHL history, 16 games.
B.      First time in major North American Sports where two professional teams with win streaks of 12 games or more have faced off against one another, when the Jackets played the Minnesota Wild.  The Jackets prevail in that New Year’s Eve game.  The previous best was two 11 game streaks playing each other in the NBA (as cited by the Columbus Dispatch).
C.      Undefeated in the month of December.

The things that flow from this success are many, including a prolonged run in first place overall in the NHL. 

Setting The Stage

Following the disastrous campaign of 2015-16 the consensus for the Blue Jackets was a near bottom finish in the NHL.  The view of the team was that they were hamstrung by bad contracts, and there was a vocal contingent of the media that was loudly trumpeting that John Tortorella would be the first coach fired in the 2016-17 season.  Instead, Torts is going to the All Star game because his team has the highest winning percentage in the league. 

The only move of substance prior to the beginning of training camp was the acquisition of free agent Sam Gagner for near the league minimum to help shore up the center position.  In addition, the team had several veterans, some with pretty good pedigrees on Player Try Out (PTO) agreements in camp.  This reinforced the view from the outside that this wasn’t a very good team. 

Instead of nearly washed up veterans making the team, the thing that emerged from Tortorella’s brutal (but advertised ahead of time) training camp was a cadre of young players pushing veterans down the depth chart, or out of the league.  The Jackets routinely looked slow and ineffective in preseason games because they were skating so hard in training camp.  Their preseason record was poor compared to last year, and it seemed as if some of the fatigue carried over into the first two games of the season.

The Start

The 2016-17 Blue Jackets started the season much like the 2015-16 CBJ, by coughing up a lead in the third period to lose the opener, this time to the Bruins instead of the Rangers.    After losing the second game to the Sharks, certain people, such as this writer, were in panic mode with the thought that a repeat of 2015-16 might be in the offing.  As a result of the schedule, the CBJ got their 5 day break early in the season after those two games.  John Tortorella used that time as a mini-training camp to solidify systems.  You can talk about systems all you want, but waiting at the end of the 5 day hiatus were the powerful Chicago Blackhawks, followed by a road trip to the West Coast.
Shockingly, the Blue Jackets beat the Blackhawks, 3-2, and headed out west.  First stop was Dallas, a preseason pick to have a fine season, but the CBJ jumped them, and Bobrovsky garnered his first shutout of the year in the 3-0 win.  Continuing west to play the LA Kings, a game which the CBJ lost in overtime to secure a point, the Jackets had back to back games against San Jose and Anaheim.  Losing to San Jose again, and thankfully closing out that season series, the CBJ beat Anaheim 4-0, erupting for 4 goals in the first period, and shutting them down to earn Bob his second shutout of the road trip.  This allowed the Jackets to come back from the west coast, and end October with a credible .500 record at 3 wins-3 losses and 1 OT loss (3-3-1), which gave them 7 points.  No need to compare points to the previous year, as the Jackets had not yet won a game in 2015-16 at this stage of the season.

As November rolled around, the Jackets continued to hover around the .500 mark, but with some unusual signs emerging.  They beat Dallas at home in the return game for that season series, sweeping the two games with Dallas.  One of the more unusual games played in Nationwide Arena was next, as the Blue Jackets faced a hot Montreal Canadiens team that was on a 9 game point streak.  The CBJ curb stomped the Habs, scoring 3 goals in the first period, 5 goals in the second period, and 2 goals in the third period to beat them 10-0.  In one of the strangest events I ever witnessed at a CBJ hockey game, late in the third period, with the Jackets leading 9-0, the crowd was chanting “We want 10, we want 10!!” so Josh Anderson obliged the home fans to set the final score. 

The next night the Jackets traveled to St. Louis, where they lost 2-1 in OT, then came back home and beat Anaheim in OT, before traveling to play Boston, where they lost their second game of the year to the Bruins , 5-2.  The Jackets then went on a small four game winning streak by beating St. Louis, Washington and the Rangers at home, and the Capitals again on the road (and really pissing off Barry Trotz), before falling to Colorado at home in overtime.  Calgary beat the Jackets 2-0 in the next game at home, before they traveled to Florida for the back to back with Tampa Bay and the Panthers.  The Jackets won the game against the Bolts, but lost to Florida in overtime the next night.  Then the Jackets came back home and beat Tampa Bay 5-1 to close out the month of November.  As a result of all of this good play, the Jackets went 9-2-3 in November, leaving them 12-5-4 overall, with 28 points. 

This is a very nice start for the CBJ, and positions them well for the remainder of the season.  The national media is disappointed that Tortorella has not yet been fired, and is quick to point out that the CBJ can obviously not sustain this type of performance, with their scorching hot powerplay and excellent save percentage by Bob combining to give them a PDO over 100 (PDO is adding shooting percentage to save percentage), which means the pundits think this is all an illusion that will horrifyingly crash down in flames. 

Tragically for the CBJ, there is ample historical precedent for the team to horrifyingly crash down in flames in December.  In this space I have called it the December swoon, one of the best examples being the 2009-10 CBJ, which despite a hot start lost 8 straight in December to ultimately cost Ken Hitchcock his job.  However, the 2016-17 CBJ opted for another strategy.  They stomped on the gas.

The Streak

Beginning with the last game of November, a 5-1 win over Tampa Bay, the Columbus Blue Jackets launched on a historic run of winning, the likes that this franchise has never seen, and the NHL has seen only once before.  My own observation at the beginning of this time was my take away from the Bolts game.  I thought the CBJ had their way with the Lightening, and I wanted to see how they would react to some adversity.   They got some of that pretty quickly, traveling out to Colorado, and surrendering a 2 goal first period lead in the second period before Boone Jenner won it in the third.  The next night they went to Phoenix, where the CBJ poured 60 shots at Mike Smith, the Coyotes goal tender, but had to come from behind to tie the game and send it to the shootout where Curtis McElhinney prevailed over the exhausted Smith.  Then the CBJ and the Yotes got together in Nationwide Arena two days later and the Jackets won a more convincing 4-1 game.
After a couple of day break, the Jackets traveled to Detroit and won 4-1, before returning home to beat the Islanders 6-2.  Then they had a road trip to Northwestern Canada, where they beat Edmonton 3-1, Calgary 4-1, and Vancouver in OT 4-3.  Sweeping a Western Canada road trip is no easy thing to do.  Then the Jackets returned home to Nationwide arena, and beat the LA Kings in a shootout to split the season series with the Kings, followed by a 7-1 thrashing of the Penguins, and eking out a 2-1 win against a Montreal team that was unhappy with their earlier treatment.  This got the CBJ to the Christmas Holiday break riding a 12 game winning streak, and allowed them to ascend to first place overall in the NHL standings, an unprecedented achievement for the franchise to date.
By mid-December some of the pundits predictions of doom had started to turn to grudging admiration of the Jackets by virtue of what they had earned.  After the Christmas holiday, the media recognition started to snowball into a huge circus. 

After Christmas, the Jackets beat Boston 4-3, then traveled to Winnipeg and beat the Jets 5-3.  This set the stage for another historic moment in this run, as the Blue Jackets brought their 14 game winning streak to Minnesota, to play the Wild on a New Years Eve clash of streaking teams.  The Wild brought their own streak of 12 consecutive wins to the game, making this a historic confrontation.  For the first time in North American major professional sports history, 2 teams with winning streaks of 12 or more games were going to play each other with their respective streaks on the line (as reported by the Columbus Dispatch). 

In the run-up to this game, the Minnesota Wild had received a roughly equal amount of criticism about their ability to sustain the level of performance they were showing.  Since both teams had been repeatedly told by national pundits that their performance was unsustainable, the New Year’s Eve matchup was dubbed “the unsustainabowl”, a clash of two teams that were not supposed to be where they were. 

In front of a playoff like atmosphere, the Jackets jumped out to a 3-1 lead, and ended up winning the game 4-2 to push their winning streak to 15 games, and to tie for the second longest winning streak in NHL history.

This win allowed the Jackets to also go UNDEFEATED in the month of December an amazing accomplishment, allowing them to finish the calendar year with 56 points, compared to the 72 points that they achieved in all of 2015-16. 

In their next game, the CBJ faced a talented young Edmonton Oilers team who vowed to break the Jackets streak.  The Blue Jackets won that home game 3-1 to give themselves sole possession of the second longest winning streak in NHL history.

Next, they would go to Washington to play the Capitals and see if they could tie the longest win streak in NHL history set by the 91-92 Penguins of Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux.  Instead, it was Washington’s night, and they skated away with a 5-0 win to finally break the Blue Jackets winning streak.  But sole possession of the second longest winning streak in NHL History, 16 games, belongs to the Columbus Blue Jackets.  For the first time the franchise splashes its name across the record books in a significant and positive way.

Since that time, some of the stresses of the streak have emerged, and Bobrovsky has had to fight off a significant illness.  The team has been playing .500 hockey as they try to put The Streak behind them.  The media circus has packed its tents and gone elsewhere chasing news, and the team has to settle down to the task of securing advantageous position in the playoffs.
In addition, the team has finally gone down a path it thought it would have to walk much sooner in the year, and Curtis McElhinney was put on waivers after a late collapse against the New York Rangers, and Anton Forsberg was elevated to the NHL club.  CMac was claimed by Toronto, and has already won a game for them.

In the meantime, Forsberg had one shaky outing, and was sent down.  Korpisalo looks to be the guy with a leg up on the back up competition, and has gone 1-1 so far.  We need a winning backup down the stretch here.
So much has happened this year, putting this history off until the summer was just not an option.  And there will be much more of a story to tell, as a playoff run seems certain for this club, barring utter disaster.

Hope Is Not A Strategy

Before I wind this down, I want to take a moment to acknowledge the passing of Jeff Little, a long time Jackets fan, and a gifted writer.  Jeff lately wrote for our colleagues over at The Cannon, and had amazing analytical ability on top of his gifts as a writer.  Jeff’s writing often shed light on the baffling twists and turns of the Blue Jackets early years, and it was he who coined the phrase “hope is not a strategy”. 

Jeff’s insight will be sorely missed, along with his wit and wisdom.  My only solace is that the Columbus Blue Jackets sat in first place in the NHL at the time of his passing, a phenomenon that must have been pleasing to him.  We will keep you in our minds and our hearts Jeff.

Interim Summation

So, we have had to delve into the history of the Blue Jackets at an unlikely point of the season, but the need to recap this first half was overwhelming.  There is a long journey yet ahead of these young Blue Jackets, and many miles to go before they sleep.  But it will be a lot of fun!!



Saturday, January 14, 2017

First Place at the Turn. But Wait! There's More!

Joonas Korpisalo wins a big one.
The Columbus Blue Jackets reached the mid-point of their season, and remain in first place in the NHL on the strength of a solid win by Joonas Korpisalo.  The big Finn got his glove engaged early, and did a good job swallowing pucks against the surging Tampa Bay Lightening.  The Bolts were surging due to the energy provided by the ceremony for the retirement of Marty St. Louis' jersey by the home team, and the Jackets had to contain their charge.

Eventually the Jackets found their legs, potted 2 goals and an empty netter to pull away and win 3-1 to maintain their first place position against the streaking Washington Capitals.  To me, the ice firmly tilted in the Jackets favor when the newly constituted second power play unit got on the ice, with Seth Jones and Ryan Murray on D, and William Karlsson, Brandon Saad and Scott Hartnell as forwards.  This group put on pressure to score, and seamlessly transitioned into 5 on 5 play when the power play was over.  This evidently got the attention of the first power play unit, which responded by scoring on its next opportunity instead of just passing the puck around.  So far that second unit has only seen the ice one time.  I can't wait to see what happens when they get familiar with one another. And I like the pressure to score they put on the first unit.  Healthy competition.

So, the first half of the season is in the books, and the Jackets end up in holding first place.  A very creditable effort.  So what will we see in the second half of the season?  Scarily, I think this team could get better, and perhaps challenge for a President's trophy.  Crazy?  Absolutely!  But here is why I think this is possible.  It starts with Joonas Korpisalo, and it ends with Markus Nutivaara.
Markus Nutivaara.

Let's start with Joonas Korpisalo.  With the crazy run to the Calder Cup Championship by the Lake Erie Monsters, I forgot the magnitude of the  importance of Korpisalo's contribution to the Blue Jackets last year.  A lost team in a lost season, the goal tending corps decimated by injuries, and along comes the young Finn to stake the team to a 13-3 run to let them complete the year with a winning feeling.  I may have forgotten, but John Tortorella and the leadership core of the players have not forgotten.  It was the only real success they enjoyed last year.  So to say that they are comfortable with Korpisalo in net is an understatement.

If you superimpose that 13-3 run from last year on top of the way Bob is playing, this team starts to look really scary good.  Korpisalo doesn't really need to be that good for the team to have success, but he might need it if he wants to keep the number 2 job.

Before I go on, I'd like to quickly digress about Anton Forsberg.  I am disappointed for him that his initial shot at the number 2 spot didn't work out.  But I think this guy is a good goal tender, he just needs to learn to play with confidence in the NHL, and so far he has been unable to do that.  But I think it will come.  Hang in there Anton!  The likelihood that Vegas is going to snatch Korpisalo will be growing ever higher, so organizationally we need Anton Forsberg to succeed.

Okay, back on topic.  The second thing I wanted to talk about was the importance of Markus Nutivaara's contribution.  The fleet defenseman brings a real turn of speed and composure to the third pairing.  He is simply fantastic for a rookie playing in North America for the first time.  But let's examine more closely what he has been able to do.  In order to accommodate the rookie in the lineup, Nutivaara's line mate, Ryan Murray shifted to the right side, as they are both left shot defenseman.  This put Murray on his backhand for probably the first time in his career, and it took awhile for Murray to get comfortable there.  It is a credit to the young defenseman that he could make such a shift in the midst of an NHL season.  But here of late I have noticed that Nutivaara has been playing the right side, which puts Murray on his forehand again.  And last night I saw Nutivaara circle behind the net, gather Murray's pass on his back hand and go steaming up the ice.  Markus' ability to play the right side raises interesting possibilities.

Zach Werenski, also a left shot defenseman,  has had an amazing rookie campaign of his own.  And he has stood up well to the white hot pressure of playing on a top pairing with Jones.  But he is now at a point where he is playing more games than he has ever played in any given year.  And he is showing some of the normal signs of struggle that young players go through when the entire NHL decides that it is worth their while to mess with your game.  If the heat starts to get a little much, it may be well to give him some relief from that top pair so he can still get the minutes in.  So if Nutivaara can play the right side, I am immensely curious to see what would happen if you paired Werenski with Nutivaara at times.  That is a defensive pairing that could REALLY skate, and it might open up some real possibilities offensively.  In addition, it allows you to move Murray up with Jones, which may yet be the best pairing on the team.  That Wereneski can move that pairing around as a rookie is a real testament to his talent and ability to play at a high level.

So as crazy as it seems, even though the Jackets are in first place, there are some real reasons to think that they may get better as we go down the stretch.  And there yet remains a great deal of talent in the AHL should people start to falter as the heat gets turned up (thinking Bjorkstrand on the top PP unit here).

Tonight its the Panthers, and Torts said Joonas might get the net again.  This is not Gerard Gallant's Panthers, so lets hope the Jackets can do some damage tonight!


Thursday, January 12, 2017

Searching for a Winning Backup

Joonas Korpisalo is now the backup.
Surprisingly today, the Columbus Blue Jackets sent Anton Forsberg back to the Cleveland Monsters and retained Joonas Korpisalo as the backup goal tender behind Sergei Bobrovsky.

Even though he was rushed into duty, Forsberg did not have a particularly strong game against Carolina.  That assessment was applicable to most of the roster as well, but the goal tender seemed unable to make the key save.  The team played well in front of Joonas Korpisalo last year, and I imagine they are interested in seeing if the same thing holds for this year.  For Korpisalo it is a good opportunity to get on track.  I think he believes he proved he could play in this league last year, so its time to see if he can back that thought up with wins.  Going forward it is clear though, the back up goal tender position is on a short leash.  We need that position to be a winning position with greater frequency in the last half of the season.  Forsberg and Korpisalo will change positions with frequency until the winning starts to happen.  That is part of the process.


Monday, January 9, 2017

Goal Tending Change

Anton Forsberg Called Up from Cleveland.
Early this morning Tom Reed of the Columbus Dispatch tweeted that Curtis McElhinney was going on waivers and that Anton Forsberg had been called up from the Cleveland Monsters.  This move is the organization positioning itself for a playoff run.  This is a good move at this time.

Curtis McElhinney performed admirably in his role by enabling the organization to develop the young goal tending talent that it had acquired.  Said another way, Curtis was just good enough, at a very reasonable rate, for the CBJ to not have to go shopping for a backup goal tender, while their young goal tenders matured.  His 2 year contract was a bargain for the organization, and any failure in that period had little to do with the backup goal tender.  Curtis McElhinney and his professionalism allow the space for this move.  Anton Forsberg is ready for this challenge and the time has come for him to rise to the challenge.

This is a changing of the guard at the back up position for the organization.  Joonas Korpisalo gets the net full time in Cleveland and Forsberg comes up to the big show for the chance he earned in last year's Calder Cup Finals.  He comes up hot, having been playing consistently for the Monsters.  Joonas Korpisalo is at a point in his development where it is really important to get him into the net consistently.  This move allows the action to happen.  CMac will back up Joonas in the AHL.

Well done Curtis McElhinney!!  You did an outstanding job for the organization.  Your role is now to be the mentor in the AHL.  To show the younger members of the organization how to be a pro, and prepare them for success at the next level.  The set up in Cleveland is really nice Curtis.  It's a good place to be.

Anton Forsberg.  Now is your time.  You are ready for this challenge.  Best of luck to you as you make this jump.  I will look forward to watching your efforts.

The organization has been able to take its time with the young goal tenders, but they are ripe to assume this role in the organization.  We need a back up goal tender with a winning record in 20 games.  It would be ideal for the backup to steal the net on some nights, by doing things like pitching a shutout.  It is crucial that Bob get rested for the playoffs.  He has worked hard to get us to this place of advantage, Number 1 in the NHL.  He deserves an active support to optimize his net time.

Anton Forsberg knows Lucas Sedlak, Zach Werenski, and Josh Anderson.  He should, he won a Championship with them last year.  Forsberg is already part of this team.  Good luck Anton!!


Saturday, January 7, 2017

That's Hockey

CMac didn't have the game he wanted tonight.
So if I ran the concept by you during the preseason that Curtis McElhinney would go undefeated from Thanksgiving through Christmas you would give me a bit of the old horse laugh.  Ha ha ha ha ha.  CMac won two games during The Streak (hereinafter capitalized, second longest in NHL history), but the notion that he would go undefeated is a bit of a reach.

So it was tonight, as the Rangers came back and beat the Blue Jackets 5-4 on a last second goal off a turn over, as the Jackets tried to win the game.  Two lessons.  One, when you are skating someone off the ice in the first 10 minutes of the game, you need more than 2 goals.  The Jackets failure to get enough goals to put the game away in the first ten minutes cost them in the end.  The second lesson is that 4 goals ought to be enough to get you the win.  Coming into this year, I thought the Rangers were going to be bad.  But in preseason I heard a lot of talk about how they had gotten much faster.  That was in evidence tonight, as the Jackets did not handle the Rangers speed well.  In the end, that cost them.

Tragically, this loss drops the Jackets to.,..first overall in the NHL.  Obviously I mean that our position is good, but with half the season left it is like a 2 goal lead.  You need to win the rest of the way if you want to make it count.  To do that you have to play your back up goal tender.  Tonight we did, after a long layoff.  CMac had a hard time making the crucial stop, which is the kind of thing you see from a guy who doesn't see the net that often.  So it goes.  It is better to eat this one, and have a rested Bobrovsky for tomorrow's game against the Flyers.  We have already beaten the Rangers once this year.  They managed to draw even tonight.  It is more important to establish something against Philadelphia.

Tonight was a really fun night for this old season ticket holder.   Yes, I would have liked a different outcome.  But the young and talented Blue Jackets squad continues to mature before our eyes.  Like Torts says, it is not the mistakes, it is what you do to correct them that is important.

The Jackets made mistakes of aggression tonight that cost them the game.  So it goes.  Continue the aggressive play, because in the long run, it will take you somewhere.


Friday, January 6, 2017

Processing the End of The Streak

The Columbus Blue Jackets win streak came to an end last night.  Now that the frivolities are over, we can get back to focusing on the real prize, the playoffs and The Grail waiting at the end of them.  As the players turn their attention from the heights to a more mundane existence, significant challenges await.  A home back to back with powerful Metropolitan Division foes; and standings points that are available for the taking for those with a heart stout enough for the task.

The Jackets have shown that they have stout hearts, but they are unaccustomed to setbacks of late, and it is not a given that they will respond right away.  I however, know exactly how I will respond when I see the team take the ice for tomorrow's game.  I will be standing, clapping, and yelling my loudest to salute their accomplishment.  I look forward to that moment.  For their accomplishment is both rare and significant.

The second longest winning streak in NHL history, 16 consecutive wins.  Last night's game is an excellent example of how hard it is to maintain a streak in the NHL, because on any given night even the worst team can beat you, or have a goalie stand on his head, and the Capitals are far from the worst team in the league.  By the end of the streak, the Jackets were taking everyone's best shot, and doing remarkably well at dealing with that pressure.  The Minnesota game, with two teams that had huge streaks on the line was a great game.  The Edmonton win that gave them second place all to themselves was a solid, well played game.

They finally ran into a Capitals team that is a.) really good, and b.) had to be ecstatic to have something significant to play for in early January.  When I heard Holtby had been pulled in the previous game, I knew the Jackets would have a hard time scoring.  And it was the Capitals night.  Good for them.  That allowed the Caps to move into the win column in the four game series that the two teams play this year, the Jackets having won the previous two meetings.  The Capitals will get a chance to visit Nationwide Arena in early April and see if they can pull the score even, with playoff positioning likely on the line.

And there is a reasonably high probability that, before this is all over, the Jackets and the Capitals will get to play an additional 7 game series to settle the score once and for all in 2016-17.  So the Caps had their night last night.  There are more games out there to be played and they will have to come through Nationwide Arena to get anywhere.  I'm pretty sure I'm going to be looking forward to that game a lot.

But for now, the Rangers and the Flyers loom.  The Jackets need to put the streak behind them, and play their best hockey this weekend.  Curtis McElhinney needs to win a game this weekend and Bob needs to rebound.  The Jackets sit first in the NHL, atop the Metropolitan Division in January.  That's like a 2 goal lead.  It's nice to have, but it doesn't mean that's how it is going to turn out in the end.  You have to keep the pedal to the metal.


Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Sixteen Straight. History!

Jackets Make History
We've always tried to take a bit of a historical perspective on this blog, as part of our effort to understand what is going on around us related to the Columbus Blue Jackets.  I've got to tell you that writing the 'Definitive History' of the 2015-16 season was not a lot of fun.  The task of that summertime perspective post is going to be a lot different this year, I can assure you.

Tonight the Columbus Blue Jackets staked their own place in the history of the NHL by winning their 16th consecutive game by prevailing against the Edmonton Oilers 3-1.  In this they pass the Crosby-Malkin Penguins and the Mike Bossy Islanders, in their glory years, to seize the second longest winning streak of all time for their own.  My attempt to put this into perspective is to say that this is a victory for team play.  This team lacks the stars that define the competition in the winning streak game, but they definitely have a very strong team structure.  This is the most beautiful thing in hockey.  This is what attracted me to the game in the first place.  Those lovable losers of the inaugural season knew they were going to be outmatched every night.  They turned to effort and teamwork in an NHL season with the deck stacked against them, and accomplished some very good things.

John Tortorella and the players have forged a remarkably strong team structure over the last two years, heated to incandescent heat in the crucible of another NHL record, an 8 game losing streak.  I keep waiting for this team to struggle with adversity, but I also keep waiting to see the type of adversity they experienced last year.  The core of this team knows adversity like no one else.  Another team scoring a goal on them late in a period does not constitute adversity for this group.  The end result of that resilience was on full display in Nationwide Arena this evening.

Tonight was an incredibly awesome night for a season ticket holder.  Incredibly fun, really good hockey, a raucous good time.  Something that I am reveling in, it just feels so sweet.  I am truly happy for the players, for they have earned these distinctions.  And yet, they have it right, they haven't done anything yet.

The Jackets own the second longest winning streak in NHL history, in this year of 2017 where we celebrate 100 years of NHL hockey.  They continue to chase the Jaromir Jagr and Mario Lemieux Penguins for that overall title.  It should be interesting to see how this turns out.  A team chasing two of the biggest stars the game has known.  The hockey gods might like this.

Tonight, as always, I am proud to be a Blue Jackets fan.  But tonight is somewhat different in that our team has set a bar that only one other team has achieved.  My recommendation for those who choose to pursue this goal in the future is to bring a solid team structure.  You are going to need it.


Saturday, December 31, 2016

Rare Air

Lucas Sedlak
Tonight the Columbus Blue Jackets participate in hockey history, on the other side of the win-loss column.  Last year they participated in the loss column, setting an NHL record for opening the season with futility.  This year, they are participating in the win column.

Tonight the Blue Jackets, sporting a 14 game winning streak, play the Wild, sporting a 12 game winning streak.  Both teams have achieved significant accomplishments.  This is the first time (according to Elias Sports Bureau) that North American professional sports teams that both have at least a 12 game winning streak will play each other.  Hockey history on the eve of the hockey centenial.

Ironically, at this historic moment, the Jackets would be best served by maintaining their one game at a time approach.  But I also see this as a precursor to the pressure of the playoffs, the need to win or go home, without having to go home.  So win or lose it will be valuable experience for our cadre of young Blue Jackets.  Ironically, our cadre of  young Blue Jackets has great experience in playing with this kind of pressure, albeit in the AHL in their march to a Calder Cup Championship.  This is where Zach Werenski comes in.  Much as he made a good Lake Erie Monsters team a great team, he is having the same affect on the Blue Jackets. While the Wild and Bruce Boudreau, will have done their scouting, this is not a Blue Jackets team that they are used to playing.  It should be interesting to see how this plays out.

I understand from the reporters at The Dispatch that Torts wants his guys to revel in this game.  He has the right of it.  Much more hockey to be played, but you don't get to do this kind of thing, and the players should find a sense of joy in it.  Why?  Because you need that to have a long term sustainability for the players.  If you have your head down grinding towards the prize and all of a sudden it ends, you have to cope with that, win or lose.   Tortorella has taken pains to make sure this team is on a sustainable path, limiting rink time to set them up for the grind of the season that lies ahead.  To me, wanting his team to revel in this game is an extension of that path.

What, 47 more games to go?  This is just one game, but a glimpse at the pressure to come.  It is indeed, something for players, fans, and coaches to revel in, and enjoy to the fullest.  At its very worst, it is good experience for our young players.  I certainly plan on enjoying this game, and I am not afraid of them losing.  The CBJ have already staked themselves out a piece of history, and a loss can't take that away from them.

On the other hand, win a few more games and steal a record from a Divisional rival (need an 18 win streak to steal the overall record from the Pens), just to piss them off.  :-).  That's something worth winning tonight's game for!!!


Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Pushing, Being Pushed, Hanging on for Thirteen in a Row

Matt Calvert Scored a Critical Goal
It all started with a cross check/boarding on Scott Hartnell that wasn't called after 2 minutes had gone by in the first period.  Hartnell laid there, unsuccessfully trying to draw the call.  He got up and started slowly up the ice.  Meanwhile, out by the blue line, his line mates had conspired to thwart Boston's breakout, and Lucas Sedlak walked the blue line and kept the puck in the offensive zone.  This put Hartnell in front of the play, on the door step of the goal, instead of behind the play, and Sedlak hit him for the easy goal.

Five minutes later, with the Blue Jackets power play expired, Hartnell laid a bunny pass out to Seth Jones from behind the net, and the big defenseman leaned into it for the second goal.  Less than a minute later, Matt Calvert intercepted a break out pass from Boston, charged the net, shot, collected his own rebound and shot again for the third goal.  Before 10 minutes had gone by, the Jackets had a handy 3 goal lead, and the third consecutive sellout crowd was rocking.

This, it seems, annoyed Boston.  And they pushed back hard.  Before three more minutes had passed, Boston had scored two goals to bring the score to 3-2 with 8 minutes remaining in the first period.  The Blue Jackets rallied to stop the bleeding, but the majority of the next 30 minutes of hockey were dominated by Boston, and the doubled up the Blue Jackets on shots on goal.  Finally, late in the second period, Boston scored to tie the game, and the teams entered the third period with the score knotted at 3 goals apiece.

In the third period the game tightened up, and the Blue Jackets finally broke through when Nick Foligno scored a power play tally of the greasiest variety, whacking twice at the puck to bounce it over Rask's goalie pads and into the net.  Then the Jackets tightened up their play, effectively killed a late penalty, survived the 6 on 5 with the goal tender pulled and salted away their thirteenth win in a row.  It warn't a purty one, but two more points in the bank.

After the game the coach opined that the game film would be burned, and that they needed to move on.  I think he has the right of it.  The only teachable thing would be to point out that they gathered themselves and held on under adversity.  They had difficulty dealing with Boston's size and strength, but the stuck with it, buckled down, and fought their way through it.  The combination of the power play and Bobrovsky sealed the win, and now they go to Winnipeg.

Forty-nine games left to play.  Fifty-two points in the bank.  At this point Tortorella is right, is all they should be concentrating on is how well they play their game, and let the wins and losses sort themselves out down the stretch.  The CBJ keep their hold on first place for another day, and move on.

It was totally awesome to see the full barn tonight.  There was a really great turn out, and better yet, the Jackets won.  So the Jackets finish their 2016-17 series with Boston, losing 2 games to 1.  It will be good to not have to play them down the stretch.  We have plenty of other Metro games coming up.  But for now, out west, and Winnipeg, and then Minnesota, who has a 10 game win streak of their own.  There will be fun hockey to watch!!


Saturday, December 24, 2016

First Place for the Holidays

The Columbus Blue Jackets finished the run up to the Christmas Holiday with a bang, beating the second Eastern Conference Leader in two nights by holding on over the Montreal Canadiens 2-1.  It was kind of an ugly game, but winning ugly games is what gives you 50 points by Christmas.  It also gives you first place in the NHL over the Christmas break, and even the most fervent naysayer can take that away from them.

The defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins made it tough, by taking out their frustration on the Devils, to make sure that the Jackets needed to win if they wanted to be number 1.  But the CBJ took care of business, so here we sit for a couple of days, with an opportunity to bask in their early season achievement.  But there are still 50 games yet to be played, and next up is a Boston team that is responsible for 2 of our 5 losses.  So things get interesting quick after the break, because 3 games out the CBJ face a Minnesota Wild team with a 10 game winning streak of their own.  And, the Jackets will need to respond to the league wide bump in intensity that happens after the holidays

A word to Jackets fans frustrated by the 'Jackets will come to earth club'.  First of all 'they' may be correct.  Or, they may not be.  But a certain amount of their logic has a fundamental flaw.  Fully one third of the Blue Jackets defense is not represented in the statistical data bases that are used to conclude that the Jackets will regress.  If you want to make conclusions about Zach Werenski, you need to be projecting NCAA data up to the NHL level.  I don't think anyone is doing that.  More importantly, you need to be able to project AHL playoff data to the NHL, and I don't think anyone is doing that.  Finally, if you want to determine what average Marcus Nutivaara will regress to, you need an extensive data base from the Finnish professional leagues extrapolated to the NHL.  No one has that.

Yet this is the one third of our defensive pairings that transform a relatively slow, defensively oriented D-corps of 2015-16 to the swift, puck moving group of 2016-17.  Zach Werenski's contribution is significant enough that he has pushed Ryan Murray out of the top pair.  Marcus Nutivaara's contribution is significant enough to that it has pushed Ryan Murray to his backhand for the first time in his career.  This is not a bad reflection on Ryan Murray, it is a reflection of the magnitude of the impact these other players have had.  Zach Werenski basically jumped everyone on the depth chart.  Marcus Nutivaara jumped some pretty good defensemen to snatch the 6th spot from Dalton Prout.  And no one has any data to accurately project what these players can do for this year.  By next year, yes.

'They' repeatedly say that the power play will come back to earth.  No database exists that can tell you what the 'average' performance of a Zach Werenski lead 1-3-1 power play looks like, and anyone who tells you that it can't run at 25% success rate forever is just guessing.  Of course, anyone who tells you it CAN run a 25% efficiency is just guessing too.  That's why you play the games.

Or, as the DKM folks will tell you, it's :