Wednesday, March 22, 2017
One team wanted to play well tonight. One team wanted to win. The team that wanted to win did so, as the Jackets were obviously focused on tomorrow's match-up with the Capitals. If you do that in the NHL you get burned. That's what happened to the Jackets tonight. Since looking past an opponent rarely benefits a team, they may well lose tomorrow as well. The Jackets were a one line team tonight, with lots of passengers. I didn't like the hit on Bjorkstrand when it happened, but I never got a real good look at it. The refs had already let the game get away from them, so calling a major when it got out of hand seemed appropriate I guess. The league will review it, but had the refs taken a stronger stance on high hits earlier in the game it might have never happened.
The Jackets played tonight like a team that had clinched the playoffs that was playing against a team that is still fighting to hold its playoff position. Since the team needs to take some losses down the stretch, this isn't such a bad loss to take. Like any loss it is galling, but at the end of the day, it is not the focus of this team any longer. Tomorrow's game against the Caps is more important, though it is hard to think of ways that tonight's stinker somehow prepares you for tomorrow's game that counts. This game was winnable for the Jackets. They just couldn't reach out and do it. So the team that deserved to win ended up winning. That doesn't always happen, but it did tonight.
We gotta lose some games. It might as well be that one. We certainly don't want a 16 game winning streak now (as if you can turn that on), we would want that in the playoffs. So there it is. Losing sucks, and kinda burns. But it has to happen. Better to feel the pain now to make you stronger in the future.
Monday, March 20, 2017
|Josh Anderson is rolling.|
I am really happy for the team that they have the President's whatchamacallit to chase. It keeps them playing good hockey as the playoffs approach. Failure to win the President's Trophy could not possibly take away from the pleasure I have had in watching this team succeed they way they have this year. This group has stomped all over the franchise record books in a way that will resonate through years, and that makes me feel really good. This group of players are always going to be remembered as something special, no matter how this all turns out. Because the sledding is about to get tougher.
But before we go there, reflecting on the fact that this team has 100 points in the books, have clinched a playoff spot, and there are still 10 games left in the regular season just blows my mind. And they have a unique opportunity. You can have a very good team, have a very good year, but not be in a position to have a chance to take a run at the President's Trophy. So you want to take full advantage of that opportunity. But the Blackhawks seem to be wanting to make this a four team race, However, we get a crack at them up in Chicago, the same way we get a crack at the Pens, and two more cracks at the Caps. That ought to be some really fun hockey down the stretch.
As far as the playoffs, it seems to me that the match-up with the Penguins is somewhat pre-ordained. We've been staring at it for months now, and it seems inevitable. The bad thing about this playoff set up is that a really good team, one of the Caps, Pens or CBJ is going to lose in the first round. But the hockey will be compelling. And for sure you want home ice advantage if you have any way to get it. So we will see where the chips fall in these next 10 games. But the team seems to have some momentum right now, and that is really good to see. Now is the time when the lessons of The Streak, and the aftermath become the most beneficial. They know what it is like to look toward a big thing, they know what it is like to see it end. The one game at a time mantra that they preach and seem to practice will help them here.
Amazingly, as much as this team has accomplished this year, it still has a lot to prove, and in my opinion the players recognize that. Watching some national outlets go out of their way to take shots at this team because they do not fit the predetermined narrative has been a real surprise for me. I've been stomaching poorly researched, poorly executed, and just plain biased writing from outlets I formerly respected. It is interesting to see that at work. And there has been a little tooth grinding as I had to stomach this stuff. It is quite possible that the Jackets will bow out in the first round. It looks like they are playing the Caps or the Pens in the first round, and both of these squads are formidable opponents. That doesn't mean I am conceding these match-ups, far from it. But the final outcome is certainly in doubt, that's why you play the games. I reiterate. One of three really good Metropolitan Division teams is going to lose in the first round. That's the way these playoffs are structured, and the purpose is to generate steaming hot rivalries. This is precisely what the rivalry geeks wanted, and they are gonna get some dandy games out of it.
But I have to say, I don't fear the outcome of the playoff series. I think our team is poised to acquit itself well, as a fan I plan on leaving it all out there 'on the ice' so to speak, and I don't plan on having any regrets regardless of the outcome. We shall see.
The second season looms. I have never felt better about a Jackets team going into the playoffs. I plan on being one scruffy looking dude before this is all over. Third playoff series in franchise history. Who knows? Could be third times the charm!
Tuesday, March 7, 2017
Sergei Bobrovsky has given up one goal in 4 games, the lone goal coming on a ticky-tacky call in overtime to create a 4 on 3. He has back to back shut outs, and it is my earnest hope that Torts benches him for Friday's game, bringing in 'the kid', Joonas Korpisalo, to give Bob the extra day of rest. Joonas also had a shut out in his last game, and deserves to see the net, as the Jackets have a Friday-Saturday home and home against the dangerous Buffalo Sabres.
The Blue Jackets are re-writing the franchise record books at a furious pace right now. Zach Werenski has tied Rick Nash in the rookie points category, and has a mere 17 games in which to get an assist and eclipse that mark. You never know what will happen in this sport, but it is satisfying to be able to view him as one of the most significant rookies in franchise history, even though the Toronto Press will award the Calder Trophy elsewhere (not without justification, but still).
It is a real delight to see Cam Atkinson join the 30 goal club in the Blue Jackets history. He is very deserving of this, and it will help the team, as his teammates will be less focused on trying to get him that goal. I think he will score quite a few more down the stretch now that the thirty goal monkey is gone.
And finally, Sergei Bobrovsky, in spite of being the best goal tender in franchise history for several years, has finally claimed the 'most wins in a season' spot from Steve Mason, and tonight extended that record to 35 wins. That Mason's 2008-09 winning performance stood up this long is a testament to how well he played that year in propelling to the CBJ to its first playoff appearance. He had nothing left in the tank when the Red Wings came to town in the playoffs. It is my earnest hope that it is a rested Bobrovsky that faces the CBJ's playoff opponent this year. I think that can happen, while keeping Bob hot. We'll see.
The team sits at 90 points on the season, with 17 games remaining. The franchise record for a season is 93 points. That gives you an idea of how good this team is. They will re-write the record books in their own image before this year is done. I could point out that they did that type of thing last year in a negative direction, but I would only do so in order to show the point that the pendulum swings both ways. Hockey is a funny game.
On a night when they didn't have their game, the goal tender did, and bailed them out. The team got their legs, and made the shutout into a winner in the third period. A very big win, and evidence that the team is playing well, and heading in the right direction.
But before I leave, I want to make mention that TJ Tynan made his NHL debut tonight. I was really pleased to see that, as he has performed well for the Cleveland Monsters, and has earned that chance. Way to go TJ!!
A home and home with Buffalo this weekend. This is a good Buffalo team, that got up 3-0 on the Penguins, but couldn't close the deal. The Jackets will need to bring a good game Friday night. they actually get to have a practice on Thursday, which should help the team.
A good win tonight. That's enough to think about.
Sunday, March 5, 2017
|One goal in 3 games. 'Nuff said.|
The Jackets continue to stay in the hunt for the second place finish in the Metro, winning 2 out of 3 again. The Jackets have 88 points with 18 games remaining. This is significant when you consider that the franchise record for points is 93, a record that seems certain to be eclipsed. It is also an important number as it is the sort of acknowledged minimum number of points necessary to make the playoffs. So the Jackets are well positioned, and in a battle with Pittsburgh for home ice advantage in the playoff clash that looks inevitable at this point. One of the two teams needs to collapse, or the Caps, and I don't see any of that happening.
I don't mind telling you that I have fully embraced the notion that the Jackets and the Pens will square off in the first round. You have to get through them if you want to do anything anyway, might as well get it over early. However, this just doesn't feel like the last time we played the Pens, or when we were facing off against Detroit. In those I was hoping we would win some. In this go around, I feel a great deal more positive. Its the playoffs, The teams will get an opportunity to fully explore each others strengths and weaknesses, and the best team will win. It could well be Pittsburgh. But the two teams are a lot closer in this go around then they were in 2013-14.
It's time to start ramping up for the playoffs. You want to be playing well in all facets of the game (power play, I'm talking to you), and the Jackets seem to be playing very solid hockey. They have played tight games against top teams in the NHL and are succeeding at a pace that would result in advancing in the playoffs. This is not the playoffs, to be sure, it is the grind of the season. But it's good prep work.
The Jackets return against New Jersey on Tuesday at home in Nationwide Arena, and face Buffalo on a home and home starting Friday night at Nationwide. The next 3 should be interesting.
Wednesday, March 1, 2017
Nonetheless the Jackets played a very tight game, buoyed by spectacular Sergei Bobrovsky, in what was actually a game full of adversity. William Karlsson turned up ill before the game, and coupled with other forward injuries, they were short a forward all night. So they used 3 centers, which tended to scramble the lines a bit. But they played through the adversity in a very tight, 0-0 game. The only redeeming value about the ending was that it was not a shoot out, but other than that, the Jackets deserved a better fate.
Thus ends the season series against the Atlantic Division leading Habs. Two wins, and an overtime loss, a 12-2 score differential in the Jackets favor, and they never trailed in regulation. So while the ending of last nights game might not be what we wanted, the notion that the Jackets would sweep Montreal this year seems like a stretch. We are not there yet. Two years from now, when Seth Jones is making Shea Weber feel his age, maybe. But not now. This is a very good Montreal team, and the acquisition of Weber has made it even stronger. And don't look to the 10-0 blowout to give you any insight, as Montreal came prepared to play the 2015-16 Blue Jackets for that one, and paid the price for their mistake.
However, it was clear that Tortorella, while diplomatically unhappy with the outcome, is pleased with his team. Even though he was kept off the score sheet, Oliver Bjorkstrand was all over the ice with speed and tenacity in a fairly physical game. This is the Bjorkstrand we have seen in the past, and he is going to be making lineup choices tough down the stretch.
And seriously. Gagne is never going to score again, right? Man the guy can't buy a goal.
I liked the depth acquisition of Zach Dalpe, currently assigned to Lake Erie. Tortorella knows this player from Vancouver, and having plucked him off the waiver wire, the CBJ front office showed they knew the rules. Normally a waiver acquisition has to report to the NHL club and be on the roster. That wasn't the case with Zach. He has had a tough season, with 2 surgeries on a beat up meniscus, but he is in form now, so time on ice at the Monsters is what he needs. He could easily play a role down the stretch. Don't be surprised if he bolts from the Monsters over the next few days as he and his wife are expecting their first child, and she is still in Iowa. I'll have to dig through my old OSU hockey pics and see if I have one of him.
After a period of unfocused play, floating around .500 in the win-loss column, the Jackets seem to have come out of the bye week playing really good hockey, and seem focused for the stretch run to the playoffs. This morning, we have home ice against the Penguins, who lost last night, on tie breakers. It is really going to be fun down the stretch!
Thursday, February 23, 2017
|Ryan Craig Receives the Calder Cup on the Jumbotron|
This history has jumped around a bit lately, driven inexorably by circumstances. The loss of Richards at the beginning of the 2015-16 season, the ascent of Tortorella, and the startling beginning of 2016-17 have driven the narrative of this history. However, it is time to step back during this first ever 5 day bye week, and look to events after the end of the 2015-16 season that have great foreshadowing on what we have seen this year, and will see in the near future. The events I refer to are those surrounding the startling run by the Lake Erie Monsters, the new Cleveland AHL affiliate of the Blue Jackets, to a Calder Cup Championship.
The first hint of this was the announcement of the good news in the summer of 2015 that the Blue Jackets had established an affiliation with the Lake Erie Monsters. Notwithstanding the fact that the team was rebranded to the Cleveland Monsters for the 2016-17 season; for the bulk of this post I will refer to them as the Lake Erie Monsters, as that is the name they bore when they won the Calder Cup. Future editions will celebrate the exploits of the Cleveland Monsters.
In their first year as a CBJ affiliate, the Monsters had a very good season, one of the best ever for a Blue Jackets affiliate. The Springfield Falcons had made the playoffs for two years as the Jackets affiliate, and the Monsters looked to be well on the way to accomplishing the feat again when the Blue Jackets goal tending problems reached down to stir the waters of the affiliate.
The Monsters had cruised through the year, solidly competing for a playoff position. They had a number of good players. Josh Anderson, TJ Tynan, Michael Chaput, Oliver Bjorkstrand, Dillon Heatherington, Dean Kukan, and of course Anton Forsberg and Joonas Korpisalo as the goal tending tandem. Finally the goal tending situation at the parent club became so dire that both Forsberg and Korpisalo were called up to the Blue Jackets, stripping the Monsters of their primary goal tending tandem. At that point you wondered if the Jackets were cashing in the Monster's season because of the Jackets woes.
Enter Brad Thiessen, called up from the ECHL. Brad responded in a big way, in 22 games played, he recorded a 12-4-4 record with a sparkling 1.95 GAA and 0.929 save percentage. Events later on might push Brad aside, but his contribution was critical to keeping the Monsters in the playoff hunt late in the season. Then, once Sergei Bobrovsky was returned to health, a strange sequence of events occurred in the goal tending ranks. But Brad Thiessen's contribution to the Monsters' success in mid-season cannot be understated.
While Korpisalo was leading Jackets goal tenders with 16 wins in 31 games played, with a .920 save percentage and a 2.60 GAA, Anton Forsberg was returned to the Monsters once Bobrovsky healed. In spite of the fact that he has yet to break through at the NHL level, Forsberg returned to the Monsters and was very solid down the stretch, ensuring that the Monsters were in the playoffs in the first year of their affiliation with the CBJ.
With the Monsters on the cusp of a playoff appearance, an event occurred that continues to shake the organization's foundations to this day. That event was the ending of the University of Michigan's hockey season, coupled with some artful work by the front office types of the Blue Jackets, the Monsters, and hockey agents. In a bit of work that demonstrated an acute knowledge of the NHL and AHL collective bargaining agreements, Zach Werenski agreed to a amateur try out agreement, which made him eligible for the AHL playoffs. Shortly thereafter, the Jackets and Zach agreed to his entry level contract, and things began to get interesting.
|Zach Werenski with the Calder Cup|
When a player comes from the NCAA to the AHL, it is often a very big jump. The NCAA plays far fewer games, and the competition is quite different. And all sides agreed that Zach would start at the bottom of the barrel in the AHL, and the only things he would get he would earn. Using that simplistic assessment tool, Zach was soon a top pairing defenseman on the Monsters, because in hind sight it is easy to see that he was that good. Watching it as it happens, there is an odd commingling of hope, desire, and what you are really seeing that can cloud the picture. In this case, the first two things did not cloud vision; the guy was really that good. And from there, great events flowed. Zach Werenski played a mere 7 games in the regular season, but scored a goal, prefacing a more prodigious output in the post season.
Having said all that, it's not like Wereneski was all the Monsters had. Oliver Bjorkstrand and Josh Anderson had really good seasons, coming off strong campaigns in the Junior ranks, and the goal tending had been solid. They were an accomplished AHL team. The addition of Werenski was a catalyst to make them a truly great AHL team, as we shall see.
Going into the playoffs, the Monsters saw some changes. Sweet relief to the Blue Jackets disastrous 2015-16 season had finally come with the end of the season. Since Joonas Korpisalo had won the NHL job over Anton Forsberg, he was given the net for the playoffs in place of the red hot Forsberg. Korpisalo did not disappoint, as he recorded a three game sweep of the Blackhawks AHL team, the Chicago Wolves. About this time Lukas Sedlak was starting to catch fire, and start the process of scoring his 9 playoff goals.
The 3 game sweep of the Wolves propelled the Monsters into a second round series with the Grand Rapids Griffins, the affiliate of the Detroit Redwings. The Monsters started quickly, winning the first three games. In the fourth game, the Monsters rapidly scored 4 goals, yet Korpisalo inexplicably gave up 5 in the last period and OT to give the Monsters their first loss of the playoffs. In game game 5, Korpisalo gave up two quick goals, and yielded the net to Anton Fosberg as the Monsters lost their second and last game of the 2015-16 AHL playoffs.
|Anton Forsberg in the final.|
From that point, Anton Forsberg went on an incredible run, refusing to yield the net, and winning the next start against the Griffins, sweeping the Ontario (CA) Reign in 4 games, and in the Calder Cup final sweeping the Hershey Bears 4 -0, an incredible 9-0 run to the championship; refusing to yield the net to his friend who had taken it from him. During this run, Lukas Sedlak scored many more goals than he did in the regular season, Josh Anderson carried the team at times, and Oliver Bjorkstrand was lethal.
In the final game of the 2015-16 AHL playoffs, in front of a sold out and rocking Quicken Loans Arena, the Monsters and the Bears went to overtime, before Oliver Bjorkstrand recovered and scored on a rebound from a Zach Werenski shot, and the Monsters were celebrating a Calder Cup Championship in front of yours truly. What a moment, what a great game, and what a season by the Lake Erie Monsters.
In 2016-17 we have seen Zach Werenski bring many of the same things he brought to the Monsters to the Blue Jackets, and he has contributed to making history with the parent club with The Streak. That Zac Wereneski is a special player is exemplified by the Calder Cup, and The Streak, but you have to have a strong supporting cast to accomplish great things.
|The 2015-16 Lake Erie Monsters|
The 2016-17 Cleveland Monsters were decimated by the Calder Cup Championship. Many players were lost to pro contracts in other franchises, and the promotion of Josh Anderson, Zach Werenski, and Lukas Sedlak left holes in the lineup. Likewise, Coach Jared Bednar scored an NHL coaching position from the performance of the team. So 2016-17 is a season of reforming for the Monsters. Yet the Monsters of 2015-16 brought a historic championship to Cleveland, the first in 40 years, before it was soon eclipsed by a motivated Cleveland Cavaliers NBA team. Props to the Cavs in all ways, for beating the previous year's champion, yet there will always be a part of this writer who thinks that the Cavs watched the Monsters raise a Calder Cup, get a parade, and form an unshakeable resolve that they wanted that too. The Cavs parade was richly deserved, something to behold, and indeed did honor to the parade that preceded them. The Calder Cup Championship of the 2015-16 Lake Erie Monsters!
Labels: Definitive History
Sunday, February 19, 2017
|Werenski and Bjorkstrand, just like in the Calder Cup Finals|
In many ways, that's why all hockey playoffs are best of seven. The bounces go both ways, but in the end, they equal out, and you find out who is better. It would be hard to say the Jackets were 'better' than Nashville this year, the Preds won both games. They also got to play the CBJ as the last game before a significant break in both tries. That's the schedule. The Preds took advantage of it, and props to them. But that's why you play seven in the playoffs.
Now the Jackets take a 5 day vacation, which I think they well deserve. If it has taken awhile to get back to our game after The Streak, it will also take us awhile to get back to that after this break. So it goes. An easy opportunity for the Jackets would be to handle the break better than other teams. That can only be measured after the break.
Time to take a breath, as a fan. I know the grind is starting to tell on our group of season ticket holders. This is uncharted territory for us, and we need to get ourselves ready to power through to the playoffs. Likewise, the team must as well. There is a lot of hockey yet to be played.
Hockey is a game of bounces. The other guy got the bounces tonight, and they capitalized on our mistakes. That's why you play seven in the playoffs. As much as I think we have played the Penguins tough this year, that's why it's not a given you beat them in best of seven. But I look forward to the chance!
Saturday, February 18, 2017
|Hmm, Looks like Princess Leia had a tough night.|
So in honor of how Dubinsky is playing, I decided to dig this old picture up. I've had a lot of fun with it before. So after two real emotional games, the Jackets have one more tomorrow against the Predators before they get their 5 day break. Here's hoping that the Jackets can generate the same level of play, and get some payback for the loss in Nashville before the All Star break.
|Dubinsky and Werenski|
By the way, once James Wisneiwski is done playing, he should definitely sue the league for a disproportionate enforcement of a rule. Any lawyer would take that case on spec (i.e. payment upon victory), because it would be so easy to show how Shanahan leveraged that position into president of hockey operations for the Maple Leafs, and how the league has enforced that rule disproportionately. They made an example of Wiz, so Shanny could get a job. Malkin leaves his feet for a head shot, and it's 'oh he's a star so no hearing'! What a bunch of crap, and easy to litigate. Wiz should get his suspension money back, or the league should force Shanny to bite it and hire Wiz as a scout. Wiz got an 8 game regular season suspension with his feet on the ice. Malkin jumped up and targeted the head and they wouldn't even review it. Any judge is going to give Wiz the benefit of laughing Cal Clutterbuck. Certainly Josh Anderson is free and clear for the rest of the year, no matter what he does. Any court room hearing that examines this travesty will result in a loss to the league. Make it right Malkin. Feign injury, take two games off, though you should have gotten five, and call it even. Then move on.
Speaking of moving on, the Jackets prevailed tonight against the Penguins, in spite of the fact that the referees waved off two goals using any pretext they could come up with. The first one maybe, the second one was waved off on the pretext that the Penguins actually had possession of the puck while Oliver Bjorkstrand was firing it into the net. What a crock of brown butter.
So if you are the Penguins, what is the worst thing that could happen to you? I mean, after all, your buddies the referees have bailed you out by waving off two goals! The hat trick is right there!! Instead, effing Dubinsky scores the winner against you, and there is no possible pretext for your buddies to bail you out. Well, you got your charity point, so at present you maintain home ice advantage over a playoff match up that is starting to look inevitable.
Which is what it is all about. What a fun game, Pittsburgh sucks, and we'll see you in the playoffs, flightless sea birds!
Wednesday, February 15, 2017
The Jackets seemed to recognize that if you gave this team any room they were going to burn you, and played a very tight game for most of the night. Toronto made a push in the third period, but the Jackets contained them. This is not to say that there were not tense moments in Nationwide Arena tonight. That was there in abundance down the stretch. But Korpisalo kept them in the game early, and the team fought hard down the stretch, and they surpassed last year's point total finally.
With Scott Hartnell, a blog favorite, out of the line up on a day to day basis, Coach Tortorella took advantage of the presence of Oliver Bjorkstrand to do some line scrambling. The biggest questions for Bjorkstrand in the NHL game are his game away from the puck, and I thought tonight he was a heady player in the defensive zone, making sure his positioning was what it should be. Once when Seth Jones was caught up ice, making the play he should have made, Bjorkstrand was one of the two guys back covering the counter punch by the Leafs. So I view this game as a good step in his development, but still don't really see Bjorkstrand as a year long impact player until next year. At that time, someone is really going to have to show something to keep him off the team. This year he is a bit of a tweener, so the time he gets being 'the man' in Cleveland is great for his development. So I think his future looks really bright.
Awesome game tonight, well played by the CBJ when they really needed to play a good one. The Flightless Sea Birds are up next, in town for a Friday night Metro tilt. Yahoo!! That ought to be a ton of fun!