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!!


Sunday, February 19, 2017

That's Why You Play Best of Seven in the Playoffs

Werenski and Bjorkstrand, just like in the Calder Cup Finals
Tonight the Nashville Predators defeated the Blue Jackets 4-3, in a game that the CBJ clawed back to a tie, but lost in the end.  Coach Tortorella ascribes that to a bad line change; perhaps so.  But all night long, it struck me that no matter what the CBJ did, the puck ended up on the tape for Nashville.  Not in the skates, but on the tape.  Perhaps that's what they did, but I didn't think our guys played that poorly.  That's hockey, to be sure.  Sometimes the bounces go your way, sometimes they don't.  It would be hard for a team that won 16 straight to say they never got a bounce, so you swallow a night like tonight.

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!

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Saturday, February 18, 2017

You're Our Only Hope, Obi Wan Dubinsky

Hmm, Looks like Princess Leia had a tough night.
Reviewing last night's post, it looks like I was a little fired up after the game.  That kind of thing happens with Penguins games.  No matter though, I wanted to take a few moments to talk about Brandon Dubinsky, Boone Jenner, and Cam Atkinson.  Dubi and Boone started slow, and Cam carried the scoring for the line.  However Boone is just playing like a wrecking ball, forechecking with wild abandon, and Dubinsky's play has continued to elevate.  Last night's overtime winner was a solid play from a line that was verging on being trapped on the ice after a long shift, and the Penguins had already made a change.  So a really strong play by Dubinsky, aided and abetted by Cam Atkinson pressure to the net.

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.
Go JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

No Goal!!

Dubinsky and Werenski
I resolved early in tonight's hockey game to not throw my hat when the refs waved off a third goal for the Blue Jackets, reasoning that it was a hat trick that did not deserve a hat.  Shockingly, the referees did not wave off the Jackets fourth goal, which resulted in a 2-1 win against the Pittsburgh Penguins in overtime.  I really don't want to dwell on the flimsy excuses the referees used to wave off Blue Jackets goals.  We saw a graphic example of the leagues position on these things by their refusal to discipline Evengi Malkin on his egregious head shot on Blake Wheeler of the Jets.  If it's bad for the champs, it doesn't work for the league.

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!

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!


Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Bjork!!!

Oliver Bjorkstrand
While tonight might have really belonged to Joonas Korpisalo, I have long followed the career of Oliver Bjorkstrand, and his break away goal tonight, his first of the season in the NHL, was a huge goal, and a beautiful snipe.  It was a 'Yuge' game tonight for the Blue Jackets, as they defeated a young and talented Toronto Maple Leafs squad 5-2, including an empty net goal by Matt Calvert.

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!

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Sunday, February 12, 2017

Much Better, But Challenges Loom

The Columbus Blue Jackets played a more complete game last night, eking out a 2-1 win against the Detroit Redwings.  Bobrovsky earned his first star of the game the hard way, turning away many quality shots, and making the big saves when they counted.  He was especially sharp all night long.  So how do we measure "better"?  

It is important to remember that during The Streak, the Jackets were scoring just a touch over 3 goals a game, but at one point were giving up as few as 2.19 goals per game.  To get that goals against number so low, you have to be holding a lot of people to one goal or fewer.  A three goal game, even if you win, will really drag that number up.  So last night, the CBJ held the Red Wings without a goal in 2 periods.  If you look over the last stretch of games (8, 10, take your pick) the Jackets have struggled to keep people off the board in any given period.  That this has coincided with a run of injuries to the defensive corps should really come as no surprise.  Last night, with the top 6 back in the lineup for the first time in a long time, the Jackets returned to their stingy ways.  So to keep your fingers on the pulse going forward, just ask yourself if we gave up any goals in the last period?  If the answer to that is 'no', more often than not, then we are trending in the right direction.

So the Rangers come to town on Monday on our only nationally televised game of the year.  Judging by the last couple of these games, it ought to be a barn burner,  There's likely to be a couple of times when you ask yourself the question above and the answer will be 'yes'.  If we answer 'no' more than once, we got a good chance in that one.  But it will be a 'no lead is safe' game.  The Rangers are nipping at our heels in the standings, and want to push us down into a wild card position.  Pittsburgh is tied with us, and in between those two clubs come the Toronto Maple Leafs with their pack of young stars.  That's a group where you want to establish the pecking order early, so our young team should come to play.  But let's not get ahead of ourselves, the Rangers next.  Since even a 6 goal lead apparently isn't enough on the Rangers, we better get to their goal tenders, and get to them early.  It should be a heckuva game.

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Thursday, February 9, 2017

One Team Came to Win, Another Came to Play

Tonight the Vancouver Canucks outplayed the Blue Jackets in a game of meh.  I think Vancouver had lost something like 3 games in a row, and were going to be fairly desperate to reverse that on a long road trip.  The Jackets play 2 games against Vancouver, won one already, and sweeping this series just isn't a big motivator.  The schedule has set the Jackets up to go to war in the Metropolitan Division and in the Eastern Conference down the stretch.  That is their focus.  With a middling Pacific Division Team for an opponent, the Jackets seemed to have a hard time getting their juices flowing.

So it goes.  Make no mistake that Vancouver deserved the win.  I felt they got the bounces, but I also felt that they earned the bounces with their effort.  The Jackets simply did not win many puck battles tonight. So they got ignominiously shut out by a team they probably should beat.  If they bring the same so-so effort to the game Saturday night against Detroit they will get spanked, and it will be time to start getting worried.  If they decide to take exception to the unpunished head shot to Josh Anderson, and come to play, they will be fine, and it will be a really fun game to watch.  Even if they lose, they will be able to say they came to play.  A phrase they cannot really use about tonight's effort.

I have felt that I wanted to see the Jackets stand pat at the trade deadline, and get their change from below, from the AHL.  After tonight, I'm not so sure.  Oliver Bjorkstrand is up from Cleveland.  There are a number of players I think he could have subbed in for and done a better job.  Gagne really stands out to me.  He didn't particularly have a bad game tonight, or one that would stand out as bad, but he has become invisible.  The secondary scoring has dried up.  It costs you nothing to dump Bjorkstrand in at right wing on that 4th line and see what happens.  Hartnell seemed like one of the few players that had it going tonight.  It would be nice to go all Bjork on Detroit.  Just saying.

The Jackets were co-conspirators in tonight's win by Vancouver.  The team that worked hardest won the game.  I'm not saying the Jackets didn't try.  I think they did.  Vancouver tried harder, and got the result they deserved.  They earned the bounces they got.  The line is so fine in the NHL right now.

Query?  Would you dump Jerome Iginla on that fourth line in place of Gagne?  What about a rental defenseman at the deadline?  Some of these things are coming into focus for the Jackets.  Tonight's unsatisfactory result helps to give you clarity.

Overall my take on tonight's game?  That's hockey.  No one goes undefeated in an NHL season.  Every team loses some games.   As long as we finish in that 2 or 3 slot in the Metro, its war with the Penguins in the playoffs.  To me, that's as it should be, and we have to go through the Penguins to get anywhere anyway, so you might as well start out there.  Does the outcome of tonight's game affect that.  No.  But you sure want to go into a series like that playing good hockey.  It would be hard to describe tonight's game by the Blue Jackets in that fashion.

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Saturday, February 4, 2017

Running With the Big Dogs

Seth Jones
I was all over the place last night thinking how this blog post should go.  Towards the end of the first period I had "A Tale of Two Defenses" picked out as my title to describe why the Penguins pulled away after scoring 2 goals in the first period.  They finally have their top 6 D-men healthy.  Letang went down right before we played them the first time and Dumoulin suffered a broken jaw; a couple of hits to their top 6 D.  And, of course, now we have injuries to our D corps, and our top 6 are depleted.  I was thinking those injuries would limit our ability to really compete with the elite teams, such as the Penguins.

But a funny thing happened in the second period.  Dubinsky scored a greasy goal to put the Jackets back in the game.  Sure they promptly coughed up another goal, but the CBJ kept at it, tilted the ice, and came up with the third period goals necessary to forge a tie and garner a point.  A tough bounce in overtime and the Jackets lost to the Penguins 4-3.

As I mentioned before, poor Prout has a hard time keeping up when we are playing the elite teams.  I will be interested to see if the same thing is the case with the New Jersey Devils tomorrow night.  We have not played them yet, so I really don't have a good feel for them as a team.  But I get the sense that New Jersey isn't going to try to kill you with speed, and Prouter may feel more comfortable in one of those games.  Plus we are at home, and the CBJ have more control on the match-ups.  But in the Penguins game, the coaches were forced to staple him to the bench, and played with 5 defensemen in the later parts of the game.  At this point the team really seemed to get going.

Pleasingly, Scott Harrington seemed up to the pace last night once he started getting paired with Seth Jones.  Harrington has only played in 10 games this year, and only 35 NHL games overall, but he looks like he is a real NHL defenseman.  No wonder Jarmo wouldn't risk sending him to the AHL, even though we would have been compensated with a 5th round pick.

So what we have learned in these last two road games against the elite of the Metropolitan Division is that if you are crazy enough to roll out a Prout-Harrington pairing, the opposition will load up a line to pin you deep and squeeze a goal out of you because your forwards will be forced to come back in the help defend the goal.  I'm happy to give Prout an A for effort, but like every human he has his limitations.  He attempted to stretch those last night by carrying the puck, but the results weren't good.  It's just a statement of how quickly the league has changed to a bunch of speed demons, especially for defensemen, and Prout is a physical, stay at home defenseman.  The team ended up being better off playing with 5 fast defenseman, a la Joel Quenneville and the Blackhawks.  Quenneville won a Cup by ignoring his bottom pairing defensemen.

So if you are reading this, and you listened to the DKM Hockey podcast (see right column or http://www.jacketscannon.com/), you are probably the hockey guy/gal in your office/class, and you are going to be asked the question, "Do the Blue Jackets have what it takes to really compete with the leagues elite?"  And you are going to get those questions with increasing frequency over the upcoming months.  In my opinion, the answer is yes, and I'll tell you why.

First and foremost is the defense.  Well, okay first and foremost is Bob.  But he doesn't score any goals, and you need those to win hockey games.  So back to the defense.  In the space of a little over a year and a half the NHL has become a haven of speed merchants.  Your defense has to able to really skate.  And give Jarmo credit.  When you compare the defense that began 2015-16 to the one that began 2016-17 it has been completely transformed into the prototypical modern NHL defense. Jarmo is aided in this task by having two rookies, Zach Werenski (wow!) and Markus Nutivaara perform at extremely high levels.  Our top 6 D, when healthy, move the puck, transition the puck and more importantly spring the forwards from collapsing defensively so that they can get in on the forecheck.

This was abundantly illustrated last night, as in the first period the forwards were remaining high in the offensive zone launching shots from a distance, because in the face of transition from the Penguins, the third D pair was giving ground, so the forwards had to collapse with them, abandoning the offensive zone.  This results in a lot of 'one and done' shots.  When the coaches started to only put the more mobile defensemen on the ice, they were able to support the forwards in the offensive zone, confident that they could get back in the face of a transition.  Dubinsky's goal was about the third shot the put on Murray, rapid fire from point blank range, the antithesis of one and done.  In spite of giving up another goal, the Jackets game was functioning the way it is supposed to function, and the end result was they were able to tie it up, and put real pressure towards winning it in regulation.  That's how the mobility of the 2016-17 defense makes things work.

One of the other main reasons that I think the team has the wherewithal to 'Run with the Big Dogs' is Alexander Wennberg.  He is quietly transitioning into an elite center in this league.  And though I agree with the DKM boys that picked Bobrovsky as the MVP, my pick is Wennberg.  When you think at this point he has replaced the production of Ryan Johansen, a really good player, it means that functionally the organization got All-Star Seth Jones (what a player!) for free.  Wennberg did not look at all out of place, on the road, in the barn of the Stanley Cup Champions.  And, I think he will continue to improve as the year goes on.

The forward corps is deep, and while it lacks glittering stars, the drop off between the top and the bottom is not really great.  With the fast, mobile defensive corps launching them at the opposition, they are in a position to maximize their abilities, and come at people in waves.  That is what we saw during The Streak.  Since they are not dependent on one or two people for production, you tend to see it out of the line that has the favorable match-ups.

In summary, if you are asked, the Columbus Blue Jackets have what it takes to run with the big dogs.  Lots of hockey yet to play in the regular season.  Tonight's game against the Devils, the first of the year against this team will be interesting.   Part of running with the big dogs is that you get everyone's best shot.  And you need to take that, and handle it.  While the Devils aren't real high in the standings now, they have what it takes to beat you if they are playing their best game.  So after an emotional game last night, how will the Jackets respond to a lesser opponent, albeit on home ice?  (Hint: the fans can help here).  Because we WILL get the Devils best shot.

Two road games against elite teams in the Metropolitan Division, 3 of a possible 4 points.  That kind of performance will take you far.  Should be a great time at Nationwide tonight!  Hope to see you there.

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Ruminating on the Rangers Game

Dalton Prout
Well, the Rangers went out of their way last night to prove my point in the last post.  They loaded up a speed line against the Prout-Harrington pair to the extent that Brad Shaw had to juggle the pairings.  Dalton Prout is a stout, physical defender, but can't keep up with the speed of some teams.  I don't intend for this to be a Prout bashing session. He has done what he can with the limited ice time he has had this year.  But I would like to point out that if we end up in a playoff series against one of those big heavy teams, like Boston or San Jose, that we seem to struggle with, we may find Prout and Harrington coming to the fore.

Actually, for a guy with darn few NHL games, Harrington has played credibly.  Paired with Seth Jones last night after the pairs juggling by Shaw he acquitted himself well.  And, even though the Rangers loaded up on the Prout-Harrington pair, and pinned them deep a few times in the first period, the Rangers still didn't score.  In the third period outburst by the Rangers, the Jackets got pinned deep by feeble attempts to clear the puck.  That is something that is correctable.  But these Rangers games are going to turn my hair gray before the season is over.  No lead is safe.  Yeesh.

On the great news front, according to Twitter, Markus Nutivaara skated before practice today, then stuck around for the whole practice.  It may be a bit until he is ready to go, but having him back in the lineup would be a big plus.  Who plays the right side on the third pairing is somewhat in question, but that will become clear in time.

It was great to see the Jackets get back in the win column, even though it was a bit hair raising at times.  Next stop Pittsburgh, which should be an interesting measuring stick to see where we are, and how rough this is going to be down the stretch.

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Confronting Speed at the Blue Line

Markus Nutivaara
For many Blue Jackets fans this last few games since the streak has been hard, as the team is not playing particularly well.  Personally I think this kind of thing is normal after a streak of that magnitude, but there are some underlying issues that erode the teams ability to play the smothering style of defense that they played during the streak.  It is related to the injuries in the defensive corps, and it was illustrated last night very clearly (i.e. even I saw it).

Dalton Prout is a sturdy, defensive defenseman, and I will always love him for that one-punch knock down of Milan Lucic, which settled his hash with the Blue Jackets.  However, even his mother wouldn't call him fast (by NHL standards).  So a good solid depth defenseman.  And in this particular instance it illustrates what the Islanders did to the Blue Jackets last night.

The Islanders scored a couple of goals late in the game by attacking through the neutral zone with speed.  Prout has two options.  First he could confront the speed at the blue line.  If he wins that confrontation, its all good.  However, if he gets beat, the opposing forward is going to make him look like a pylon as he goes flying around him wide.  So Prout exercises his second option.  He gives ground (ice) back into the defensive zone.  The Islanders were coming through the neutral zone so fast that he was giving up a lot of ice so they wouldn't beat him.  This gives the shooter time and space, and the Islanders were using the Jackets defensemen as screens to confuse Bob as they launched their shots.  And NHL shooters with time and space make goalies look bad.

How does this happen?  During the streak, it was near impossible for the opposition to get through the neutral zone.  To illustrate the recent differences, I am going to talk about Markus Nutivaara.  He was a revelation in training camp, jumping over several people on the depth chart, and has had an outstanding rookie season so far.  His primary asset is his speed, and he can flat out fly for a defenseman.  When he confronts someone with speed at the blue line, he has the speed to recover from losing that confrontation.  Prout simply doesn't have that option.

But wait, our offense has dried up too!  Well, what Nutivaara and Jones, and Zach, and Murray are doing is confronting the opponents speed at the offensive blue line, not the defensive blue line.  If Nutivarra gets beat by a play at the offensive blue line, which causes a break away, he has the speed to chase the play down and interfere with the shooter so they don't have a clean shot at Bob.  So on a 50-50 play, Nutivarra can afford to hold the fort at the blue line.  Prout, on the other hand, has to give up the offensive blue line on that 50-50 play, and starts giving ice before the play has exited the offensive zone in order to make sure he at least gets into a defensive position.  This allows for cleaner exits by the opposing team, and all of a sudden the CBJ forwards are trapped deep on the forecheck because we can't hold the offensive blue line with confidence.  With cleaner exits, the opposing team generates more speed, Prout gives more ground, and you get a result like last night.

With our defense healthy, and Nutivarra and Murray playing that third pairing, we have as good a third pair as anyone in the league.  When the other team was trying to make a breakout, they would confront the puck at the offensive blue line (as would Jones and Werenski as well as Johnson and Savard), and those 50-50 plays they won would contribute to increased offensive pressure.  With Prout conceding the 50-50 play up front, the offensive pressure breaks down, and bad things happen.

Prout has played what, four games this year?  He will get better at some of these things, and find ways to do better.  He's a solid NHL defenseman.  But his strength is physicality, and the league is getting faster.  When Nutivarra gets healthy, it will help solidify some of the systems that are breaking down now.

But injuries are part of the gig in the NHL.  That's when your depth is tested.  So we have sagged to a .500 team.  I gotta be true to you folks, that's all I was hoping for at this point in the season before the season started.  I'd be looking for a late playoff run based on my preseason expectations as well, not figuring they would do that in December!  Woot!  16-0 baby!  Ahem.  Sorry.

So the speed of the game is bothering part of our defensive corps right now, but not every team has enough speed to cause that kind of problem.  That will change when defenseman heal.  We were going to lose some games anyway, because this certainly isn't a 136 point team, yet.  So this is a natural process in a long season, tough as it may be to stomach.  Get well fast Markus!!

P.S.  Will everyone please lay off Ryan Murray!  He is a left shot playing the right side for the first time in his career in the toughest league on the planet.  There will be warts!  He is playing on his backhand.  If you feel you need to criticize, okay, but spend a day doing everything with your off hand.  You likely will find it awkward.  Do if for a year, no problem, you get used to it.  He is somewhere in between right now.

These guys have earned a break.  Sneak out of Nashville with a win, and you went .500 after the streak, and you deserve a vacation.

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Monday, January 23, 2017

Cam Is Getting Kinda Scary

Cam Atkinson has been on an unbelievable tear lately.  He is playing with supreme confidence, and his goal in overtime against Ottawa was spectacular.  Cam is playing at a point a game clip, which is sort of the semi-official threshold of Wow!  His goal total for last year was 27, which is really solid.  After 46 games he already has 23 goals, eclipsing his totals in 2013-14 and 2014-15. And I think he is playing within himself.  This isn't a lucky shooting streak, this is Cam at the top of his game.

Most importantly, Cam is learning to be "the man" at crunch time. In the 2013-14 playoff series against the Penguins the Blue Jackets were eliminated in six games.  At the end of game 6 I longed for the recently traded Marion Gaborik to be coming down the ice with the puck on his stick.  I wanted someone who is truly dangerous and capable of generating a real wicked shot.  Well in the 2016-17 playoffs, Cam needs to be that man and I think he is growing into the role.  Which is really cool to see, when you get right down to it.

Look Cam.  You are an All-Star in my book.  No doubt.  But its a break!  Take some time off to recharge, and come back ready for the assault on the 2016-17 playoffs.  We are playing Metro games the rest of the way pretty much.  The preliminaries are starting here.  Do you play a wild card, a team that's playing hot, or do you get the Penguins, or the Capitals??  No easy road forward, but lots of questions out there yet.

The depth of the organization is being tested for the first time this season.  So far it is holding up okay.  But honestly, I had real intestinal discomfort with the image of Zach Werenski laying on the ice.  Fortunately he is okay.  But he gets a 3-4 day break with the All-Star game.  Important heal up time!

The intensity of the play across the NHL picks up after the All-Star break.  It is one of those ratchet periods in a season.  I hope the Jackets come back rested, renewed and ready for the drive to the playoffs.

If the Jackets can win their next two games (not at all necessary), they will equal the number of points they had last year before the All-Star break.  That's pretty cool.  They have performed well, but there will be sterner demands ahead.  I really believe these players are up to the task.  This is going to be a lot of fun.

GO JACKETS!!
GO MONSTERS!!

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting The Stage

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

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

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

The Start

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

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

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

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

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

The Streak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hope Is Not A Strategy

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

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

Interim Summation

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

GO JACKETS!!

GO MONSTERS!!