Monday, November 27, 2017

Why This Season is Unlikely to Go South

Bjorkstrand
Well, Thanksgiving has come and gone, and the Blue Jackets sit one point out of first place in the Metro and 3 points out of a tie for first place in the league.  Rarefied atmosphere to be sure.  On the other hand, as of this morning, the Penguins sit out of playoff contention, but only 5 points out of a tie for first in the Metro.  That puts the CBJ and 3 other Metro teams between them and a tie with the surprising NJ Devils.  So the Division is super tight, and likely to remain that way for some time to come.

We have seen this before, the old timey Blue Jackets fans.  The times of yore, when the CBJ faced the Red Wings of a different era in a back to back for Central Division supremacy just after Thanksgiving.  A money on the board game at home, followed by the loss on the road and the dreaded December swoon as the team lost 8 straight to fall out of playoff contention for good.  So what's to keep this year's team from following the same pattern?

Defense, mostly.  And Bob.  In the aforementioned scenario we were looking for Steve Mason to recreate his awesome performance of 08-09, and it just didn't happen.  It this case, well, Bob.  And Seth, and Zach.  And Murray and Nutivaara emerging to challenge Johnson and Savard for the second pair role.  With Harrington and Carlsson as spares, the CBJ defense is deep.  In the aforementioned scenario, Lidstrom was still patrolling the blue line for the Winged Wheel, at the height of his awesomeness (dammit).  Fortunately we have the reincarnation of said Lidstrom, in the form of Werenski, carrying the puck up the ice.  Not to mention Seth Jones.  Oy!  What a player!

So yeah, this team looks and functions a lot better than those old Western Conference teams ever did.  As evidenced by how the team skillfully managed the dreaded December swoon last year by winning ALL of the games in December.  While it is unlikely to happen again this year, there are two things that make me hopeful.  First of all, the Cleveland Indians went on to put together two ridiculous streaks, in back to back years.  The CBJ players were in town preparing for camp and were able to observe the record setting run by the Tribe.  At some point they will think, 'why can't we do that?' Secondly, they have a nice little run going now, to be sure, but importantly they are starting to play the kind of smothering forecheck and defensive game that this team can play when it has it going.

During last year's streak, the CBJ were allowing less than 2 goals per game, a tremendous defensive feat.  To AVERAGE less than two goals per game, you need to hold people to 1 goal or no goals lots of times, especially for every 3 goals surrendered game you might have.  But in the last two games, Calgary and Ottawa, that smothering defense has emerged again, and it seems like the other team doesn't have a chance to turn around and there is a Blue Jacket on the puck.  That defensive effort was the foundation for The Streak.

So we'll see.  Les Habitants tonight in Montreal.  That ought to be a fun game.  Carey Price in goal tonight, instead of the time they rolled Montoya out and surrendered 10 (ten!) goals.  It should be a hard fought, close checking affair.  Dubois and Savard back on their home turf, and I hope the Jackets come away with more badly needed points to keep pace in the Metro!

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!
#SaveTheCrew


Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Warming to the Kid

PLD, Hartsy, and Torts, in the old days
Tonight, the CBJ lost to the Nashville Predators 3-1.  The only goal was scored on a rush by Pierre-Luc Dubois, which represents visible strides taken by this young player with each game.  It won't always be this way.  He will hit plateaus, have slumps, get hot, just like every other player.  This is a normal progression, with the exception of how well he has played over the last few games.

Dubois has shown a steady progression early in this 2017-18 season, and has shown signs that he may be a driver of play in the future.  He certainly did his part in that department tonight, scoring the only goal, but also being a visible presence all over the ice. 

Tough night tonight for the CBJ, losing their second game in two nights.  Korpisalo played well enough to get them the W, giving up only two goal, but the CBJ could only solve Pekka Rinne for one goal.  There it is. 

A young, young, young team gains more experience, and they still lurk at the top of the division and the conference.  A good Metro tilt coming up on Friday, which is becoming a must win game against a similar, young, and talented Carolina team.  It should be fun to watch, much like tonight's game.

The CBJ have a lot of growth to accomplish as the season progresses.  That process should result in some entertaining hockey.  I'm looking forward to it!

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Saturday, November 4, 2017

This is the Future of Hockey

Hannikainen has as many goals as Dubinsky and
Panarin combined.  
Tonight the Blue Jackets lost in a shoot out to the Tampa Bay Lightning for a score of 5-4.  This was a game of raw speed, with both teams flying up and down the ice.  The entertainment factor was huge, and I thought the Bolts were going to skate the Jackets off the ice, the CBJ rallied in the third period to tie the game and steal a point. 

For all of the complaining about our fourth line not having an identity, the fourth line has gotten on the board in the last two games, with critical goals, driven by Marcus Hannikainen who doesn't want to go to Cleveland any more.  It is important to keep in mind that this is a VERY young team, but the talent level is very high, shockingly so for a long time Jackets fan. 

Dubois is getting better every shift.  Love the commentary from the Dispatch and the Athletic about Dubois being in center.  The quote was that it helps him keep his legs moving.  Late in this game, he was playing high in the lineup, albeit as wing, and finding the play physically rich.  But he is a big boy, and he can make that adjustment as the season goes on.  Sonny Milano may fade, or he may get better.  I'm not sure where this will go yet, but I think he is ready for it, and I am betting that he will find his way in the NHL this year.  As long as the coach is feeling he wants to learn, and he has reasonable success in implementing those lessons, it will be okay.  He has less than 20 games experience now, when he makes it to 60 he is going to be a steadier player.  He took his first shoot out shot tonight.  It will come.

This is the kind of game the NHL has envisioned, and shockingly, the CBJ are right on the curve in adapting to the new, fast, mobile, NHL game.  The CBJ are looking like an offensive juggernaut without the power play, and with the stars not playing well at all.  The stars will start to play well as the season matures, and some of the guys that are hot now will fade, but there is a lot of depth on this team right now, and a lot of guys who can score on any given night.  The power play cannot remain this pitiful can it??  Gosh is this going to be a fun season, however it turns out.

Great rally in the third to steal a point on the road.  Well done lads!!  Rangers are up next, go get that one!

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Monday, October 30, 2017

Spousal Strife. Is it Better to Beat the Bruins or the Penguins? #SaveTheCrew

Shoot Out Winner Oliver Bjorkstrand
Okay, right out of the gate.  It feels good beating the Bruins.  They did their usual crappy cheater game, set a good pick on the tying goal, and climbed back into a game where the Jackets tried to set the tone early.  It's a good pick if interference isn't called right? 

Anyway, that ravening beast, Oliver Bjorkstrand drew his first NHL major for boarding (LOL!!!), but the Jackets still got the power play because it was really a minor and their guy jumped Bjorkstrand, who threw his first punch in his career (watch out NHL, you have unleashed the Kraken), and then turtled like a guy who ought to turtle.  Then he undressed Rask in the shootout with the game winner.  Bjorkstrand has to learn to stand up for himself in a league that will physically dominate your game if you let it.  This is a journey for all young hockey players trying to break into the NHL.  You end up needing to handle teams like the Bruins (or the Kings, that was not intended as a slam against the Bruins, it's who they are), and learn to play your game in spite of that.  In the end, Bjorkstrand did so, scoring the game winner.  That's his game. 

So my lovely and faithful spouse and I got in a good natured tiff about whether it was better to beat the Bruins or the Penguins.  We beat the Bruins tonight, so of course that was my argument, but she held that it was better to beat the Penguins.  Tough call.  It's always delicious to beat the Pens.  So there it is, I'm likely to lean toward who we played last, so long as the Jackets win.

According to Twitter, the Jackets are a mess.  No centers, we can't beat good teams, power play sucks, back-up goal tenders no good, etc.  Best October in franchise history.  It is good to be this much of a mess, and this far along.  The team well knows that they can be better.  But they are resilient, and that will take you far.  Now the challenge of a good November, with the dreaded December swoon laying in wait.  Our guys have a lot of climbing to do.

Tomorrow our home town Columbus Crew embark on a further playoff run.  Best of luck to the players.  Interesting news out of San Antonio today.  Those folks are thinking they have been ripped off by the Crew's enterprising owner, and have assigned a criminal prosecutor to the job.  Do yourself a favor MLS.  Vote down the move to Austin, and keep the Crew in Columbus.  You have to ask yourself; 'Have you ever been in a Texas jail?'  On the other hand, life is a journey, and six months of hard confinement so your buddy can have his team in Austin isn't that much of your life, right?  Just think of the stories you will be able to tell!!

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!
GO COLUMBUS CREW!!!

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Getting a Sense for the 2017-19 CBJ

Booooooooooonne!
I've been kind of quiet here at the beginning of this hockey season.  Probably because my angst level is low.  A top 5 finish the year before helps that a lot.  It's also because I haven't been real sure what we are seeing.  Most of our early season wins have been against teams that have struggled coming out of the gate (Rangers! Whew!), but these last two games against Tampa and LA I thought would be good measuring stick games against two very different teams.

Tampa, wow!  They dismantled the Penguins last night, almost extending their shutout streak to two games.  That's a fast, balanced team that has their goal tending problem solved, and are playing like a team two years removed from a Cup final that is mad they did not make the playoffs last year.  They really have it going.

The Kings presented a much different problem, that big weighty team, and I wondered how much our younger players were going to get pushed around.  And, coming into last night they had only given up about 10 goals all season, and their penalty kill had given up none (zero, 0).  The Jackets lit them up for 4 goals, including an early power play goal, so that was good.  Unfortunately, the Jackets surrendered 5 and an empty netter, with Kopitar potting a killer goal with 2:34 remaining last night.  So it goes.  It was a 'rich' game for our youngsters, and they will benefit from the experience. 

As far as the CBJ this year, we inexplicably got younger, with Bjorkstrand, Milano and Dubois all making the team and playing.  Nice to see both Milano and Bjorkstrand score last night.  One thing for sure there is a lot of room for growth in the 2017-18 CBJ, and we will see the ups and downs of that growth as the season goes on.  Having Boone Jenner return to the lineup stiffens the team, and will be very helpful going forward.  Don't judge Nick Foligno's ability to play center until you get to the end of the year.  It's possible the Jackets will make a move, but if they don't have to they may not. 

For Milano, Dubois, and perhaps to a lesser extent Bjorkstrand, you want to see how they are playing at about the 15 game mark.  That way any bump in energy they got from making the team is long gone, and what you are seeing is the best picture of what you've got.  If at that point they are playing solidly, and still generally improving (with ups and downs allowable), then we are in pretty good shape for the future. 

Everyone has Werenski circled this year, and it is interesting watching him deal with that.  Other teams know what they want to do with him, so he'll have to play through that attention.  I was interested to see Werenski skate by Drew Doughty last night.  Werenski is actually bigger, which surprised me.  He might not be thicker yet, that will come.  Seth Jones, likewise, is still trying to really get going.  I did a preseason poll of some die hard Jackets fans, and they were unanimous that you don't split these guys up yet.  I guess I see what they are saying.  They need to learn to be a dominant pair first, and they are not there yet.

Next up is Buffalo, our 'Rivalry Night' game, for some reason or another.  Perhaps they thought the Foligno brothers would have a steak riding on the game, but Marcus got traded to Minnesota.  Buffalo is an interesting team, it should be a fun game. 

Last night we didn't really get the result we wanted, but there was no doubt that it was a fun game to watch.  And a good test for our young team.  There are more of those to come!

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Saturday, October 14, 2017

109 Goals Off the Table; 3 Big Metro Wins

Sonny Milano
Sonny Milano did not score tonight.  That means he has fallen off his 109 goal pace, down to a mere 82 goal pace.  That does not mean he was not a significant player on the ice tonight against the Rangers.  Indeed, I thought he was one of the better players.  But I also thought that John Tortorella's decision to roll out an all rookie line of Bjorkstrand, Dubois, and Milano, which was an effective line for at least one shift, was a real kick in the pants to the veteran players, and you saw a real elevation in their games as this game came to a close.

Artemi Panarin scored his first goal as a Blue Jacket, a game winner that brought the crowd out of it's seats.  Just wow!  It was an awesome thing to see, and one of the things that are going to make this season really fun to watch.  The veterans have been patient with how things are coming together, but late in the game, Panarin took things into his own hands in spectacular style.  Arguably, better function and scoring earlier in the game would eliminate that need, but that assumes the Blue Shirts are a push over, and they are far from that.  Nonetheless they fall to 1-4 while the CBJ climb to 3-1. 

It's early in the season.  The Jackets have avoided falling behind the 8-Ball, which is a good thing to date.  In addition, they have achieved wins over 3 Metro Division opponents with the win tonight, which puts them in good standing from a playoff viewpoint.  Divisional games are important games, and the wins early are every bit as important as the wins late. 

So all is well as we prep for trying to get a regular season win for the backup goal tender tomorrow against a depleted Minnesota squad. 

I had a lot of angst tonight.  Problematically for this long time season ticket holder, who has watched more than one season get punted before Halloween, these guys seem real, and I am already highly engaged, and thus vulnerable.  It is a fun, precarious, and unfamiliar position for me.  I did not breathe easy tonight until the Bread Man scored that second goal.  That's when it got fun for me.  Before that, I was a bit of a wreck. 

So the Jackets have banked a reasonable start.  That and $0.05 will get you a cup of coffee.  The NHL cranks up the pace several times from here on out, and it will be interesting to see how the rookies respond. 

But for now, it's a good start, with wins against 3 Metro opponents, which will help us down the road.  A  good night.

GO JACKETS!!!
GO MONSTERS!!!

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

Set for a New Season

Anderson Back in the Fold
As of 5 PM today the lineup for this year's Columbus Blue Jackets is set.  The CBJ (not CLB thank you) are set, and a very interesting group of forwards it is indeed.  The nice part is that the late addition of Josh Anderson will provide some thump to the lineup down the road.  Mark Scheig of the Hockey Writers pointed out that this years addition of the CBJ actually got younger in spite of being another year older.  I think that is largely because Sonny Milano made the team, and I for one could not be happier.  It seems like he has been with the organization for ever, but he is only 21 years old.  But this is a great developmental step.

Sonny Milano is likely to play for the Monsters yet this year.  This will not be a set back, but a normal developmental step for a young player like Sonny.  He may prove me wrong, and no one could hope for that more than I, but pragmatically, he may need a bit more seasoning before he is ready for a full NHL season.  Making the team out of camp, and doing well in the preseason is one thing, but no later than 3 games into the season and the NHL will be up to full speed.  Sonny will have to demonstrate that he can take the increased pace, and thrive.  There will be  3 or 4 more 'crank ups' in the typical NHL season. and Sonny will need to show that he can handle each of those as well.  He's felt that increase in intensity at the Monsters at some level, so maybe he will be ready to rise to the occaision.  We'll see.  But a trip to Cleveland does not mean this player is a bust in any way shape or form.  He is showing good progress.

The funny thing about adding Sonny to the lineup is how much more dynamic it shows the whole group is becoming.  We lost good players from last year, and we need to replace that scoring.  So far, we have added Panarin, Bjorkstrand and Milano to the line up, and they will need to make the scoring happen.  There is a lot in their respective pedigrees to suggest that this is a reasonable expectation, so it will be fascinating to watch the season unfold.  This edition of the CBJ is going to be fun to watch.  They are built to compete with the Penguins.  I'm not sure how they will do against a team like LA Kings, which are big and strong, and going to attempt to stifle you not to mention the attempts at intimidation.  Boston is a bit of the same ilk.  But there is a dynamic streak in the forwards, that if it achieves its potential, could be really good.  Don't discount the stabilizing influence of the Captain, Nick Foligno between Milano and Bjorkstrand.  That group won't lack for play making, and we know the Captain will score when he gets a chance. 

I was pleased to learn recently that Torts had warned Foligno in the off season to get his head around playing center.  It makes a difference, and I think Nick is going to surprise a lot of people with how he does.  Our center depth may not be as bad as everyone thinks (or not, I could be dead wrong, but I drink from a half full glass).

Our defensive corps is deep, and very solid.  We have two defensemen who will be sitting in the press box eating nachos that Colorado would die for, but appearances have to be kept up.  So we'll just settle for a very strong D-Corps, and when adversity shows up, which it inevitably will, Harrington and Nutivaara will come out of the press box and perform.  Why isn't Sakic trying to build around Duchene instead of getting rid of him?  Enquiring minds want to know.  But I digress, as usual.  With our dynamic D-Corps feeding dynamic front lines, the CBJ look like they can compete speed wise with the other fast teams in the league (Pittsburgh, Edmonton, Toronto), yet still have enough stiffness to compete against the heavy teams, especially after Boone Jenner returns.  Anderson makes a big difference there.  Have fun skating off Tortorella's conditioning there Andy.  You'll be okay after a few days. 

Tortorella's a funny guy.  I think he is way more cerebral about the game than a lot of pundits give him credit for, and there are a lot of guys who still see him as New York Rangers Torts.  He is a fiery guy, no doubt.  But he thinks about the game, and his approach all the time.  I think he truly understands that it is how you handle the people, and he is very smart in that context.  That is a give and take thing, and all people make mistakes, but Torts seems to want the players to challenge him.  I think he feels it will make him better.  And that is a healthy situation. It will be fascinating to watch this unfold this year.

It is my personal belief that it is an organizational imperative that they make the playoffs this year.  If we don't, then we haven't moved the needle.  I think they will, mainly because we may have one of the best defensive corps in the league.  Neither Zach Werenski or Seth Jones is a pretender, and those two dudes are gonna be scary, maybe as soon as this year.  But one thing for sure.  This team is gong to be fun to watch, for good or for ill.  As my buddy Bill says, these seasons never turn out the way you think they are going to.  It is a long journey to the end of the year, and the hope for a playoff spot.  The only thing that seems truly certain, is that this will be an exceedingly entertaining year to  watch Blue Jackets hockey.  There will be joy, there will be tears.  That's part of the journey.  But it will be fun.

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Bubble Boys Win 5-2

PLD in 2016 training camp
Interesting game tonight.  CBJ bubble boys against the St. Louis Blues bubble boys.  Much like Bob's early season performances, Jake Allen had a kinda soft night in a game that doesn't count.  Motte, Hannikainen and Nutivaara had goals in the first period for the CBJ.  In the second period the Jackets let a few Blues hang around in front of the goal for extended periods, and they both roofed wicked backhands in the corner opposite Korpisalo.  Dubois in the second period, and Kukan in the third responded to the Blues, and the CBJ came away with the win.

In my opinion, both teams waded into the game, as might be expected from a bunch of players on the bubble.  By the end of the third period the Jackets players were really starting to swirl and look like a dangerous hockey team.

My observations.  The cuts tonight will tell you a lot.  Dubois has made the club.  He has the potential to be an effective wing, and if Boone Jenner is healthy could enable Jenner to move to center because there is someone (Dubois) to replace him in his 'get the puck off the boards' role.  In other words, Dubois = replacement Boone, which enables you to do something creative with Boone Jenner.  As long as Boone is ready early in the regular season, that could be good. 

I think Motte and Dalpe make the team.  Unfortunately, for a favorite player of mine, I think Marcus Nutivaara starts the season in Lake Erie Cleveland because if he plays 2 more NHL games he has to go through waivers.  An unfortunate math problem for him, but the notion of Nutivaara and Collins on the top pair for the Monsters kinda warms my heart, and allows Nutivaara to get big minutes and drive play.  He needs to drive play to stay in the NHL, so be hot with that by playing huge minutes in Cleveland.  What the CBJ depart camp with is not how the whole season will go.  Either Ryan Murray asserts himself, or he doesn't, but Nutivaara needs to be hot and ready from The Monsters, so it makes sense that he goes down.  That allows the team to carry an extra forward instead of an extra defenseman, which they will need to do.

The huge question is do they keep Abramov in the slot Nutivaara formerly occupied?  He looks like a real tweener at this point, and I am not sure that going to Europe helps him as much as sitting in the press box in the NHL.  As a young player, you want him to play, but people will get injured, and if he is the next guy up in the NHL, the waiting might be worth it.  He and Sonny Milano are duking it out for this role, and the health of Dubinsky and Jenner is probably the ultimate arbiter of where they end up.  Sonny can go rock Cleveland without waivers, but he has certainly knocked hard on the NHL door, and would be the first guy up in the face of adversity by the parent club.

So the season looms, but the BEST indicator of how this season might go is the incredibly solid play by Joonas Korpisalo in his last two preseason games, the two wins to date.  The notion that the CBJ has a backup goal tender who can be expected to win is foreign to most long term fans, but would be a refreshing change.  We haven't had that since the Sandman (Curtis Sanford) flashed the amazingly aqua pads in relief of otherwise injured goal tenders.  Joonas has the potential to be a determining factor this year.  Think for a minute about the possibility of Torts confidently rolling out the backup on the second night of a back to back, and expecting a win, rather than hoping for a win.  That could take a ton of pressure off of Bob, and I personally believe that is what Joonas Korpisalo will provide this year.  I may be wrong, I have been before, but this could be a key issue regarding a return to the playoffs this year.  I hopefully predict Joonas Korpisalo will have a winning record this year.

What a great time of year, the games don't count.  Soon they will, and we will be on the journey again.  Cuts today and tomorrow will tell us where we are.  And then we ramp it up for the season!!

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Season Looms; 2017-18

The Sweaters are washed and hung to dry, ready for a new year.
Training camp physicals start tomorrow, and the 2017-18 Columbus Blue Jackets season is upon us.  Like all seasons, there are expectations that will not be met, and there are expectations that will be exceeded.  My buddy Bill has a saying he is fond of that goes 'these seasons never turn out the way you think they will'.  I have found this to be invariably true, because if they always turned out the way you thought they would, why play the games?

We go into this year with something different than expectations.  In my opinion, making the playoffs this year is an organizational imperative.  If we want to establish the fact that the organization has indeed moved forward, the playoffs are imperative.  And the road to the playoffs is long, hard, and full of pitfalls.  In many ways we may be counting on the guys who finished second in OT at the Traverse City Prospects Tournament last night.  We may need those guys to rise up if misfortune visits our team.

They made a credible showing, losing the championship game in 3 on 3 OT.  Those things happen in that format.  They played well against a good Chicago team that they jumped early, but Chicago took over in the latter half of the game.  There is a lot of room for growth.

Due to being home yesterday unexpectedly, I had an opportunity to engage in a spirited Twitter discussion with a lot of CBJ fans, but primarily @CapnCornelius.  The subject of our discussion was the contract status of Josh Anderson, with training camp looming.  On its face, this would seem to be a pretty straight forward negotiation.  The Agent is asking for a lot of money because the CBJ reputedly gave up a lot of assets to keep Anderson.  But Josh is a Restricted Free Agent without arbitration rights.  That means this is the one contract negotiation where the CBJ have the leverage.  Josh had a fine first year in the league.  He needs to duplicate that to get the big money.  Holding out of training camp will not help him to duplicate it, but he would be stone cold crazy to go to camp without a contract.  So whats the sticking point?

According to our Twitter conversation, there are a lot more moving parts to this negotiation than you would think.  First of all, the CBJ are still in the running for a trade to the Colorado Avalanche for Matt Duchene, and his $6 million contract.  So money has to go the other way, and what you give Josh has a real impact on how close you are to the cap this year.  And next year the salary negotiations are just going to be awful, with many good players up for contracts and raises.  You cannot go into next year with enough cap room.  The money they give to Josh takes up some of that space.  Pierre Luc-Dubois is eligible for a lot of bonuses under his ELC.  If those bonuses put you over the cap, there are penalties to be paid, and you sure as heck don't want penalty money on your cap next year.  So the Jackets need to know where these chips are going to fall before they can get serious with Anderson's contract negotiation.

That's a lot of moving parts.

Lastly, on the cross-mojozination front, there has been a lot of change in the CBJ blogosphere.  A couple of new sites have been launched, along with the standards the Cannon and Buckeye State Hockey.  A new site called The First Ohio Battery has been launched, and has maintained a good content stream all summer.  I recommend checking it out.  Secondly, in a phenomenon sweeping the continent, a new site called The Athletic has been launched.  This site is a subscription site behind a paywall, but they have gathered a great deal of talent from across the country.  Aaron Portzline and Tom Reed have both left the Columbus Dispatch to write for The Athletic Cleveland, and the content has been outstanding.  If you can afford it, I recommend it.

I'm looking forward to a fun season.  I haven't had a whole lot of angst this summer, and have enjoyed the summer a great deal.  A top five finish will do that kind of thing for you.  But its a new season, and we are tied for first, and tied for last.  There will probably be some separation once the real games start.  For now, we must be content with preseason.  It's gonna be fun!

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

COGH Tells Sakic to Pound Salt (Fake News!)

Sunday, Central  Ohio Girls' Hockey (COGH) Board Member Natalie emphatically declared that she would not trade any of her girls for Matt Duchene, the talented center of the Colorado Avalanche.  This is a real setback for General Manager Joe Sakic, and one wonders if this diminishes Duchene’s trade value at all.  The unwillingness of the Board to trade assets to an NHL franchise speaks to the core mission of the COGH, which is to support female youth hockey in the Central Ohio area. 

You have to admire the determination of the Board of the COGH, to even consider trading their skaters for Duchene (when pointedly asked about it).  In spite of lingering questions about the ability of a youth hockey organization in central Ohio to bargain with an NHL organization under the current CBA, you cannot question the potential value of the Avalanche Centerman to the Board.  At $6.5 million per year, the COGH could likely leverage significant benefits from owning his rights.

But here’s the problem.  The COGH doesn’t ACTUALLY have any players to trade in the first place.  That’s because those players are part of the four existing youth hockey leagues in the Columbus area, the Columbus Ice Hockey Club (CIHC), the Easton Youth Hockey Association (EYHA), The Columbus Chill Youth Hockey Association (CCYHA) and the Capital Amateur Hockey Association (CAHA).  The COGH is interested in supporting female youth hockey in all of those leagues, so selecting a few players to trade for Matt Duchene involves brokering a lot of deals, so we think this trade is probably not going to happen. 

However, I had the opportunity to interview Natalie at the hockey talk in August gathering at the R-Bar (@RBar_AD) and found out a lot of things I didn’t know about COGH.  For instance I found out that COGH has a goal to promote the sport of hockey to young women, and then promote ways to keep them in the game as they age.    They also play a role in introducing young girls to the sport.  In that role often find themselves assuring parents the sport is safe, compared to a sport such as gymnastics.  As in all sports there is some risk of injury, but wouldn’t you rather fall off a balance beam wearing hockey gear?

When Natalie answered the safety question, it made me wonder about the gear; hockey equipment can be pricey at times.  So I asked her if they ever help girls starting out with their equipment needs.  Besides dipping into her personal stash of accumulated gear, if there is a significant need, COGH will instead work with the Columbus Ice Hockey Club (CIHC).  CIHC has a mission of promoting diversity in the sport of hockey, and are in a position to help with the more significant needs. 

So here I found myself at an R-Bar event finding out more about youth hockey in our fair City, and I was really enjoying the discussion.  So I asked Natalie what their skaters thought of the Columbus Blue Jackets.   She replied that at the ages they are dealing with (3 and a half and up), they love the games, they love the arena and the love the events.  They are not quite there in terms of player identification yet. 

So at the end of the day, Natalie said, COGH is just a group of people advocating for all of the girls in hockey.  I felt this to be a very worthwhile endeavor, so I asked Natalie how people could help their organization the most.  She replied that things that would help them the most would be to attend events and share information about the organization and its events.  Since COGH just received its 501(c )(3) nonprofit status, they hope to be able to participate in a 50-50 raffle at a Jackets game in the future. 

Hockey is growing for all ages in the City of Columbus.  Organizations such as COGH help to ensure that all of our children are able to play hockey if they want to play.  It’s part of what makes our City great!

GO JACKETS!!

GO MONSTERS!!  

Thursday, July 20, 2017

Lucas Sedlak; Fulcrum for Success

Lucas Sedlak, 2016 Training Camp
I don't know if fulcrum is the right word or not, it's just the one I could come up with that was close to what I meant.  I really regret the loss of William Karlsson, as I think he is going to bloom into a better than average NHL center.  And since Jarmo got him through a bit of grand theft as a throw in from the Wisniewski trade, whom we had acquired as a free agent, we were able get out of the expansion draft without spending a hard earned draft asset (well, except for that late first round pick).

I know there are differing opinions out there on Willia Karlsson, but I will point out that by the end of the playoffs last year, Torts was matching Karlsson up against Crosby as one of our best defenders.  So I think Karlsson will flourish in Vegas.  The reason I say this is that I want to paint the picture of the hole that needs filled, and I think Lucas Sedlak is the guy that will do the filling.

Two years ago, Lucas Sedlak had established himself as an excellent defensive center for the then Lake Erie Monsters.  However, when the playoffs arrived, Sedlak's goal scoring exploded through the simple expedient of crashing the net with his stick on the ice.  Oliver Bjorkstrand routinely found him for tap in goals in that series.

Last year, Lucas was a surprise addition to the team, forcing Gregory Campbell into the Blue Jackets front office in a player development role (see what happens when you save your employer $1 million?).  Lucas had a very steady rookie year in a fourth line center role, finally scored his first NHL goal, and seemed to improve as the season went on.  Unfortunately, a late season injury hampered his play down the stretch, but I thought he was a noticeable force in the last playoff game.

So anyway, just how big of a hole does he have to fill this upcoming year?  Assuming he needs to step in and replace Karlsson as third line center, he needs to upgrade his performance from 7 G - 6 A - 13 P to William Karlsson's 6-19-25 in his sophomore campaign.  Some folks have Oliver Bjorktrand playing on that third line next year, so he likely will have opportunity to up his assist totals with better line mates.  His defensive abilities are certainly good enough to hold down the third line center role, and he is excellent in face offs.

There are some people penciling in Pierre-Luc Dubois into this third line center role.  I think that is fraught with, well, fraughtness.  PLD has to prove he can play in the NHL, and probably should be playing with the Cleveland Monsters this year if his development could override bad arrangements with the Canadian Hockey League.  If PLD doesn't make the NHL squad, he has to go back to the Q and push around 17 year olds, which isn't going to help his development at all.  But I think it unlikely that PLD could duplicate 6-19-25 in his rookie campaign.  If he can, power to him.  So on the big club this year I see him getting his feet wet in a fourth line role.  He has the frame to carry it, and there won't be huge pressure to succeed.  If injuries deplete the top 6, then he could fill in at that level, where the organization hopes he is ultimately going to play.

The reason I say this about PLD is my conviction that it is an organizational imperative that the Blue Jackets make the playoffs again in a murderous Metropolitan Division.  The organization should be past the point of throwing rookies against the wall to see if they stick.  The problem with PLD is that the developmental choices are so crappy.

The reality seems to be that it is not such a stretch to expect Lucas Sedlak to be able to step in and replace William Karlsson's contributions to the team.  A prodctive bottom 6 is a good way to wins games, and I think the Blue Jackets are positioned to have a productive bottom 6 again this year.  Now if only Dubinsky would start scoring.....

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Friday, July 7, 2017

Hartsy, The D-Corps, and Same Ol', Same Ol'

Scott Hartnell
Well, since I last wrote, Scott Hartnell has been bought out, and is now a Nashville Predator.  I am glad for him to go back to his roots, and I wish him a productive year.  Laviolette has coached Hartnell before (I think, correct me if I'm wrong) and knows what he can bring to a team, perhaps more than Torts does, or did.  No matter.  We wish Hartnell well in all he does.  Question: Tribute video when he returns for the first time??  That would give us a sense of how offended our folks were by Joey.  Good luck Scott!

I've been following the Matt Duchene saga, where it is rumored that Colorado wants half our D-Corps for a guy who scored as many points as Gagne last year.  Well he had a down year.  So did Ryan Murray.  Screw 'em I say.  I think Colorado is a bunch of stone cold lunatics for even thinking of trading Duchene, but he is the only asset they really have other than McKinnon.  Why aren't you planning on building around this guy?  If not, why should we mortgage our future for him?  I know he is the sparkly bauble on the other side of the grass is always greener fence.  I know our center depth took a hit with the loss of Karlsson.  It is what it is.  If Duchene will get us a Cup, fine.  I don't think he will.  So he's not worth it.

When I think of D-Corps depth I always think of the last time Vancouver made a run to the finals.  They had arguably the best and deepest defensive group in the league, and all season long pundits and fans talked about the trades that Vancouver could make with that depth.  By the time they got to the Stanley Cup final, maybe one of those guys was still standing, and they lost him to injury in the final.  You can't have enough defensive depth.  Ryan Murray has seen several players pass him on the depth chart.  That is a unique experience for him, as he has always been the best defenseman on his team.  This summer he is essentially healthy, and has an opportunity to do something about it.  Don't undersell this guy.  It is, however, a 'show me' season, where he needs to demonstrate he is a Top 4 D-man.  Could he unseat Jack Johnson as Savard's partner?  We assume he can't, or won't, but that will be determined in training camp.  Or could he seize a top pair role opposite Seth Jones, pushing Werenski down to Savard's partner?  Think about Seth Jones or Werenski on the ice for 50 minutes of a 60 minute game.

Joe Sakic is trying to rebuild a fundamentally depleted roster with one trade.  Jarmo HAS to stand firm on this.  Duchene is a nice addition, but he does not single-handedly loft our team to the Cup.  Defensive depth is essential to a run to the Cup, as we don't have the forwards to overcome that lack (see Penguins, Pittsburgh).  So the Colorado fans think other teams are underselling them.  If this guy is worth 3 players and a pick, why the heck are you trying to trade him?  Don't you think the new GM in Colorado is going to want to build around this guy?  Stand fast Jarmo.  Don't do it.  It's okay to talk, but just don't.

So while I was indiscriminately re-tweeting every thing CBJ related around the opening of free agency, I came across a series of tweets about 'if we don't get Duchene it's the Same Ol', Same Ol' Jackets'.  I guess I don't agree with that, though I concede the fact that there are people who are going to feel that way.  I think there is a ton of back pressure on the parent club being provided by a talented group of youngsters.  Gabriel Carlsson is putting a lot of heat on our Defensive Corps from below.  Markus Nutivaara had a break out season, but could be on the bench this year.  Scott Harrington as well played a depth role effectively, but Carlsson may have passed both of them.  This is a GREAT problem to have.

Likewise, there is a lot of pressure in the forward corps.  Oliver Bjorkstrand will have an opportunity to train effectively this summer, something he was unable to do last year.  I have high hopes for this player.  Pierre-Luc Dubois is looking to make the team, but the other huge wild card is Vitaly Abramov.  The guy won the scoring title AND the MVP in the Quebec Major Junior league in his draft year.  Now the Q is not renowned for its great defensive play, and the ability to play defense will likely determine if Abramov makes the team.  But, like Dubois, he is either going back to the Q or playing on the big club.  But he is another potential sniper that will keep the heat on everyone playing above him.

So, in the end, I don't think we are looking at a 'Same Ol', Same Ol' Jackets' season no matter what.  I think that it is an organizational imperative to make the playoffs this year.  Injuries, defections, mumps, lose 8 in a row, what have you; we need to be deep enough to carry it through.  Eke in as the last wild card, on the last day, it doesn't matter.  This organization HAS to make the playoffs this year, or last year's superlative season is reduced to 'Same Ol', Same Ol'.  This just can't happen.  Maybe it will.  It's a tough league, and a lot of teams are getting better, particularly in our Division.  But our team is very young, and getting better is what they are going to be doing for the next little while.  And I am unwilling to sacrifice that for an overvalued bauble so that another team can rebuild their shattered roster at our expense.

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Monday, June 26, 2017

Another Good Hockey Trade

Brandon Saad, 1 day before taking a smile altering puck
in the teeth.  Training Camp 2015
On Friday morning, Jarmo Kekalainen made another 'good hockey trade', by sending Brandon Saad back to Chicago in exchange for Artemi Panarin, in a trade that likely improves both hockey clubs.  There were other moving parts to the trade, but this was the headline, and rightfully so.

Brandon Saad was a good player for the Blue Jackets, and it could fairly be said that we likely had not yet seen the best he had to offer.  We had signed him to a long contract, and in my mind he had plenty of time to become the guy we needed him to become.

Consider this.  Saad came from a Cup victory to a team that rewarded him with a hefty contract, and promptly punted a season in the span of 8 games.  This had to be baffling to him. Fortunately he got to experience a turn around with essentially the same group the following year.  That experience will make him a better player in the context of Chicago.  When he speaks of adversity in their locker room, the words will come from one who has known adversity.  So good luck in Chicago Mr. Saad.

Coming the other way is a player who can be a dynamic scorer.  Panarin has scored 30 goals in consecutive years, and will move from the second line to the top line.  Yes, other teams will adjust, but the Jackets have shown an ability to score by committee, so it won't be like in days of yore when Nash was the only scoring threat on the team.  Between Panarin, Atkinson, and Bjorkstrand, we have some guys who can do some serious sniping, so if another team commits to shutting down Panarin, we have other guys who can make it hard for them.  In addition, he does a lot of his scoring on the Power Play, and ours looked like it needed another finisher towards the end of the year.  It should be fascinating to see how this plays out.

I watched a video clip of Panarin one-timing a pass from Brent Seabrook for a goal, and all I thought to myself was: Zach Wereneski can make that pass.  Seth Jones can make that pass.  Heck, Markus Nutivaara can make that pass.  So, this looks really good.

A good hockey trade is defined as a trade that helps both hockey clubs, and both players.  The Seth Jones for Ryan Johansen has proven to be a good hockey trade.  I feel this trade fits that mold.

Welcome to Columbus, Artemi!  We have a few details to work out.  Do you like 'the Breadman'?  Are we allowed to have an Arti Parti?  We'll sort that out during the season, a season that may well promise some highlight reel stuff from a dynamic player in a new role.  Dang, I can hardly wait.

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sorry to Hear About Joey, Rainy Morning in Columbus

Ryan Johansen knocked out of playoffs. :-(
The news came the other day that former Blue Jacket Ryan Johansen was knocked out of the playoffs by a thigh injury that required season ending emergency surgery.  I am really disappointed for Joey, as I was enjoying the exploits of the Predators this year.  They handled the repeated match-ups with Cup winning Chicago the right way.  It made them better, and they finally kicked the crap out of Chicago.  Probably the only thing standing between us and doing the same thing to the Penguins is Mike Sullivan, and they will stupidly fire him soon for some dumb reason (insert diabolical laughter).  So don't whine about the playoff format.  Just get better.

As for the Predators, they rallied to win a game on the road yesterday, and stand one game away from a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.  Best of luck to them.  I am disappointed for Joey because he was really coming into his own after the trade to Nashville.  That trade remains a great hockey trade, as both teams and both players benefited from the trade.  Good luck in your healing processes Joey!

It's been awhile since I've posted, as I have been really busy, as well as trying to digest the totality of the Blue Jackets season.  This was the best season for the Blue Jackets, by far, but after thinking about the whole thing, they really need to return to the playoffs next year to validate this season.  The analogy I am going to use is the Islanders.  The went a long time as a not real good team in terms of where they finished in the league.  Then they got to the playoffs, but were out the next year,  Back in, then out again.  So really sort of on the cusp.  The Jackets might have gained a modicum of respect around the league, but for them to grow that, they need to return to the playoffs next year.  Miss the playoffs, and the rest of the league will look at it as 'same old Jackets'.  No excuses this time.  No injuries, no craptastic start, gotta go back.  Expectations are one thing, but this is not an expectation, it is a need, and its not really optional.  Anything else is a major step backwards.

But, this year was the best year in franchise history.  So let's play with some of the 'firsts'.  Right now I am up to thirteen, but I suspect I am missing some.  Let me know what I missed.  Here we go!

2016-17 Columbus Blue Jackets Firsts:

  • Most wins, 50 
  • Most points, 106
  • Consecutive wins, 16 
  • Most wins by a goalie, 41 by Bobrovsky
  • Most points by a rookie, 47 by Werenski
  • Most goals scored, 249
  • Fewest goals allowed, 195
  • Best league finish, 4th
  • First top 5 finish in the league
  • First non-wild card playoff spot
  • First playoff win in regulation time (no OT)
  • First playoff elimination game win
  • First road elimination game
As you can see, that first batch of 'firsts' is from the regular season, the second half of the list is from the playoffs.  So even if we got bounced by the defending champs in 5 games, we did some things that represent baby steps in our playoff development.  That development can continue apace if we return to the playoffs again in 2017-18.  But that is a long time away right now.  Whether it is a long distance away remains to be seen.

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Friday, April 21, 2017

What a Ride!

Nationwide Arena Glows in a Playoff Light
Well my friends.  That was a beauty.  The cool thing is that I think a lot of people got to see how the barn can thunder in the playoffs.  When Cam scored that goal at the beginning of Game 3 I wasn't sure the roof was going to stay on the building.  That was really fun, what a moment!  I also think that some fans felt for the first time what it means to engage on your team's behalf, and what a battle that can be.  Because that's what it means to be a fan.  You have to sell out for something, and take the consequences as they come.  This last week had some rough spots for me, I can assure you.  I think it was likely that way for many of you.

Yet here we are.

I am starting to ingest some of the angry emotions from being bounced from the playoffs, and am starting to be able to look back with pride at what this team has accomplished.  I'm not in a big hurry here.  Playing with the lists of 'firsts' that came this year is going to be a lot of fun.

But first a comment on where this team now stands.  In 2008-09 Rick Nash pulled the team to its first playoff appearance by sheer strength of will.  I can remember wondering after that series if Nash would be able to climb that mountain again.  To his credit I think he tried, but his efforts were in vain, and it became time to move on.

After the 2013-14 playoffs the lack of organizational depth showed, and the team on one hand was unable to shrug off a rash of injuries and on the other stumbled and fell out of the gate, thus putting them well behind in the race, which they gamely finished.

So what about the 2016-17 CBJ?  This club was substantially better in all facets than the 2013-14 playoff team and they accomplished a number of franchise firsts.  Will they too stumble or be too short handed to succeed?  I guess my point is that the  2017-18 team doesn't need to repeat or exceed any of the firsts they had this year, so long as they become the first team in franchise history to go to the playoffs in consecutive years.  From there, as we just experienced, we will see what we will see.  Experience tempers expectations I guess, but next years team has lofty goals to achieve.

Now for some fun with lists.  A couple of cool firsts pointed out by Lori Schmidt (@LoriSchmidt); the first playoff game won in regulation, the first elimination game that the Jackets have won, and of course the corollary, their first road elimination game lost.    So that's a step in the right direction.  A baby step, yes, but a step.

Next, I think it was the boys over at the Dispatch that pointed out  that 10 CBJ players had their playoff debut.  In no particular order they are ( - r means they were a rookie):

Wennberg
Werenski - r
Karlsson, WB
Carlson, G - r
Nutivaara - r
Sedlak - r
Bjorkstrand - r
Milano - r
Harrington - r
Anderson - r

It is significant that 8 of the 10 Blue Jackets that made their playoff debut were rookies.  There is a lot of growth to be had internally

Enough for now.  You will hear plenty of negativity out there.  Don't let it bother you.  The negatives help if they provide perspective, but they should be regarded warily, especially if the self-aggrandization is evident.  Then all you are getting is a narrow view, and it should be considered with caution.  I know that some sources I formerly used to gain perspective are now unreliable.  It's a shame.

Since I said that, I wanted to clarify that I write these for fun, and I do it for free.  When its not fun, I'll quit.  I do however, pay for season tickets.  So my hockey knowledge is bought with cash money.   Whether or not that is wise is probably subject for debate.  But its definitely a ton of fun!

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Bated Breath (short post)

Well.  The prelims are over.  The big show starts tomorrow.  Look around the blogosphere, and there is a lot of great coverage of the Blue Jackets team versus the Penguins.  This is our best team ever.  I am going to sit back and enjoy the ride, no matter how short, or no matter how long.

The guys I am happiest for are Mike Arace, Aaron Portzline, and Tom Reed of the Columbus Dispatch.  These guys have poured a lot of blood sweat and tears into covering a sometimes awful team.  This should be a blast for them.  We are lucky to have good coverage in the local rag, and I hope they enjoy covering the high times as well as the low.

The Jackets are in the playoffs.  The Monsters are locked in a tight fight to make the playoffs.  It's a great time to be a Jackets fan.

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Thursday, April 6, 2017

More Gliding than the Ice Capades

It's good for Saad to feel the net
Hi folks.  I've been kinda quiet lately.  A big part of my silence is that I feel my role in the blogosphere is to try to provide perspective.  Welp.  I have no perspective here.  This is uncharted territory for the franchise, and even if I look back at it in hindsight all I can say is that this is our best team ever, hands down.  What that means in the grand scheme of things is something to be considered later.  Now, it's just the ride.

So I have this to offer for Blue Jackets fans.  Tonight's 5-4 loss to the Winnipeg Jets is the most meaningless game the Jackets have played since preseason.  It has no impact on the standings or playoff position.  And seriously, a late season swoon by the Jackets is the perfect sucker play, because there will be a number of national pundits saying 'see, I told you so, these guys aren't that good'.  True.  They have performed poorly in games that don't really count all year long.  Props to the Caps for salting down their second consecutive President's Trophy.  They deserve it, they have played a lot of winning hockey.  Likewise, the Penguins deserve home ice, by winning in spite of their injuries.  And lastly, the Jackets have a big interest in having the Penguins believe they are the better team.  Perhaps they are.  They need to win a 7 game series to prove it, just as the Jackets do.  We get to watch.  Woot!

One thing the Blue Jackets know how to do is block shots.  However, shot blocking tonight was rather symbolic.  I watched Seth Jones do this funky genuflect, pretending he was blocking a shot, and the guy walked around him and scored Winnipeg's second (?) goal.  I promise that Seth Jones gets that puck in the playoffs, or the guy never gets that shot off.  That's how meaningless these games are.

So there it is.  Four goals tonight is something.  The CBJ know how to play defense.  They need to get their offense going.  Look for these next two meaningless games to be pretty wide open, fast skating affairs.  And look for the defensive pressure from both sides to ramp up in the playoffs.  That much, at least, I know.

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Buckle Up!

Yesterday afternoon the Captain of the Columbus Blue Jackets, Nick Foligno, exhorted the fans to 'buckle up' for a fun ride!  Truer words could not be spoken for this fan, who is looking forward to the ride through the playoffs.  Likely disappointment will await, as it does for all teams but one, but the team goes on this journey vastly improved from previous additions.

Yesterday's 1-0 win was a slugging match with the Flyers, the type of game you have to be able to win in the playoffs.  For the moment the Jackets have home ice advantage in the playoffs, a position that is sure to vary over these last two weeks of the season.  With a 3 game stretch next weekend of Chicago, Washington, and Pittsburgh, the President's Trophy competition will sort itself out on the ice, which is all you can ask for.  It should be a fantastic learning experience for our young team, where mistakes, and lessons from those mistakes, don't translate into playoff losses.  You can't really ask for a more fitting ending to an outstanding season for the Blue Jackets.

More than anything you want to go into the playoffs playing good hockey, and the Jackets are working on solidifying their game.  Day off today, I believe, a chance to practice tomorrow, and then the Sabres are coming to town, the first of the three remaining home games.  Not many chances to get out and see the best team in franchise history at work getting ready for the playoffs.  You may want to take advantage of that opportunity.

Last two weeks of the season, and then girding for the playoffs!

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Joonas Steps Up and Takes the Loss

A fundamental reality of the NHL, in this day and age, is that no team, no matter how many guys you have called Cindy, is good enough to win all of its games.  Losing efforts are inevitable, and the question becomes "when do they happen and how much damage does it cause?"  Tonight, Joonas Korpisalo was his normal kinda 'scrambly like he is a young goal tender' self, and ended up taking the loss to the Toronto Maple Leafs.  To his credit, Joonas was perhaps the most aggressive player on the 5 minute power play in the third period, throwing the puck up the ice.  The rest of the team seemed content to glide around the ice in the face of Toronto pressure.  One shot on a 5 minute power play, on the Jackets lone man advantage, is pretty pitiful.  The power play got booed of all things; in Nationwide Arena. But it was no more than they deserved.  By the way, have I ever mentioned how much I hate drop passes?

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.

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Monday, March 20, 2017

They Made It! Playoffs Clinched!

Josh Anderson is rolling.
Hi folks.  Sorry I've been so quiet lately, but I've been gripping the stick a little too tight down the stretch here.  Almost afraid to write about stuff, for fear of jinxing something.  But this team has something going, and is playing some very tough hockey down the stretch.  It is a real pleasure to watch these guys play, though I have to admit there have been a few referees cursed loudly in the friendly confines of my own home during these away games.

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!

GO JACKETS!!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Give 'em a Bjorking!!

On a night when the New Jersey Devils had the legs on the Blue Jackets, the CBJ (read Bob) hung in there until the third period.  In a play eerily reminiscent of the Calder Cup Championship series last year, Oliver Bjorkstrand slipped through a seam in the defense and Sam Gagne hit him with a sweet, gentle pass that Bjorkstrand took top shelf blocker side on the Jersey goal tender Kinkaid who had played a heck of a game.  This ended up being the winning margin, with Cam Atkinson sweetly wrapping up the game with an empty netter for his 30th goal of the season.

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.

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Slugging Through Three More

One goal in 3 games.  'Nuff said.
The games are coming too thick and fast for me, as a solo blogger, to really keep up with.  But if I had to characterize the Jackets play, I would say it was solid.  The veterans picked up at the trade deadline have seamlessly assimilated, and the major trade deadline acquisition, Oliver Bjorkstrand, is showing he belongs in the NHL.  This batch of three games started with a 1-0 win against the Minnesota Wild, a 3-2 loss to Ottawa in which the back up goal tender played well enough to win, and a 3-0 win at New Jersey, in which Bobrovsky got his second shut out of the week.

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.

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Three Good Games

Since emerging from the 5 day 'bye week' mandated by the contract with the NHLPA, the Blue Jackets have played what they call their 6 best periods of hockey this year in the 7-0 win over the Islanders and the 5-2 win at the Rangers.  Last night they followed those up by garnering a point on the road in a 1-0 overtime loss to the Montreal Canadiens courtesy of a questionable call.  It happens.  The refs aren't perfect, and in the playoffs that call doesn't get made.

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!

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Dark Blue Jacket's Definitive History of the CBJ, Part IVB; A Calder Cup is Raised in Cleveland

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!

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!