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!


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.

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!


Wednesday, February 15, 2017


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!


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.


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.


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, 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.


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.