directory Light the Lamp - a Columbus Blue Jackets blog: Who's smokin, who's chokin - 20 game edition

Countdown to Rick Nash's contract expiration:

Monday, November 19, 2007

Who's smokin, who's chokin - 20 game edition

Its been 20 games for the 2007-2008 edition of your Columbus Blue Jackets -- that means the season is 1/4 of the way over -- so in that vein lets take a look at who's smoked and who's choked thus far this year:

Who's smokin

The Blue Jackets team as a whole has been smokin -- especially when compared to seasons of yesteryear. The Jackets have 22 points which is good for 13th in the league overall and 8th in the Western Conference. They are only 2 points out of the 3rd best record in the West. Just to really put things in perspective this team last year after 20 games was 5-14-1 for 11 points and had already fired head coach Gerrard Gallant.

Rick Nash. 14 goals which is good for 3rd best in the league. 23 points which is good for 13th in the league. Leading scorer in all categories for the Jackets. More importantly is that Nash has really matured and become the franchise player and leader this team needed him to be. Rick Nash is unquestionably playing his best hockey of his pro career.

Nikolai Zherdev. Has this guy really silenced his critics (myself included) this season. I'm not sure what caused the turn around...whether it be Ken Hitchcock's confidence in the young dynamo....the departure of the egotistical Doug MacLean...the arrival of soft spoken but steadfast new GM Scott Howson....or just Z maturing.....or a combo of a lot of things... Zherdev is also playing the best hockey of his career. With 15 points in 20 games Z is also off to the best start of his career and is starting to become the consistent impact player the Jackets hoped they had drafted 4th overall in 2003.

Pascal Leclaire. Although he's taken an inevitable step back from his blistering start to the season. Leclaire has posted a lead leading 5 shutouts, is 2nd in the league in GAA with 1.77, 4th in the league in save % with a .935 - Leclaire is also showing why the Jackets took him 8th overall in the 2001 draft. He's remained healthy (knock on wood), played consistent and has really given the Jackets that reliable goaltending this team needed to get off to a solid start.

Penalty kill. The Jackets PK has held the #1 spot for most of the season killing at above 90% (although it did drop to 4th in the league at 89% after last night's game) and has been a major key in the Jackets success this season.

Face offs. This is another area where the Jackets have smoked where in the past they've choked. Currently they sit at 4th in league at 52.7%. Manny Malhotra has really come into his own in this area leading the way for the Jackets with a 59.9% and is in the top 5 of the league.

Offseason acquisitions. Who says the more the spend the better off you are? Its no secret the Jackets did not have a lot of budget flexibility this offseason so they had to go bargain shopping. GM Scott Howson appears to have gotten some great deals specifically in Jan Hejda and Jiri Novotny. Hedja leads the team in +/- with a +7 while Novotny is centering the top line and has 10 points in 20 games. Michael Peca is another guy who looks solid even though he's had to battle through some injury issues -- he's got 7 points in 13 games and is playing a key role on the PK/PP and even strength.

Defense. The Jackets are ranked 4th overall in the league giving up only 2.30 goals per game. This a tremendous credit to team defense, goaltending as well as coaching. The defense led by Adam Foote and Jan Hejda have done an outstanding job shutting down the opposition's top lines game in and game out. Captain Adam Foote, who leads this team with over 23 minutes per game, in particular has since found his groove now that he's being played to his strengths which is even strength and penalty kill.

Coaching staff. Outside of maybe trading up to draft Rick Nash - has there ever been a more important move for this organization than bringing in Ken Hitchcock? He's taken essentially the same team that was 7th worst in the league last year and turned them into a contender this year. If he can get this squad into the playoffs can coach of the year be far off?

Cannon. Still a beautiful piece of artillery.

Rbar Arena. The undisputed kind of hockey bars in Central Ohio. Don't forget to join them for their "Wings Sucks less" promotion this Saturday. For $15 bucks you get unlimited wings and a free t-shirt!

Who's chokin

David Vyborny. 7 points in 20 games for the leading scorer of the past 2 seasons? Some say its just a slump -- I'm not so sure. I personally think is more of his game being exposed under a system that actually demands competitive physical hockey every night. If you were to ask me today if I thought David Vyborny, an original Blue Jackets who will be a UFA after this season, would be retained I'd say no and that I think the 3-4 mil he'll want could be spent better elsewhere in this lineup.

Fredrik Modin. No way he makes this list if he could stay healthy. Still though the injuries he's suffered this season have certainly been disappointing as this team could certainly use the 20-25 goals he would bring to this lineup. Modin has only been able to play in 6 games while collecting 2 assists. He's had back spasm and groin issues.

Gilbert Brule. Probably the absolute most disappointing player for me is Brule. I really thought this would be a break through year for this kid but so far it hasn't been as he's only been able to collect 2 points (1g, 1a) through 20 games. I just can't quite put my finger on what is wrong with this kid -- he's a good skater, good hands, will hit and go in the dirty areas but just doesn't seem to have kind of consistency out there. I really think he could use a few games in the AHL but the coaching staff seems committed to this kid and letting him develop at the NHL level. Who am I to question them after the turn arounds we've seen with Z and Nash right?

Powerplay. The Jackets PP has really cost them some points this season. Although it did seem to find its groove last night against the Wings its still ranked 20th in the league converting at 15.5 which is disappointing. Gary Agnew is in charge of this special team so perhaps its time to let another member of the staff have a crack at it - the PP needs to be at least top 15 especially for a team that's not loaded with scoring.

Sergei Fedorov. Even though he's on pace for 50+ points this season I personally have not been pleased with Sergei's effort. He's our highest paid player but on some nights he plays like our lowest paid. The money is what it is at this point but there is absolutely no excuse for Feds to hurt this team like he's done some nights -- the most recent being against St. Louis. I still don't see any possibility 91 is back next year but what I'd like to see the rest of this season - or at least until the deadline b/c I think no matter what he gets traded - is just a consistent solid effort, one that doesn't hurt this team's post season chances because of lazy uninspired play.

Rookies. After solid starts rookies Jared Boll and Kris Russell have tailed off a bit in the past 5 to 8 games. These kids are certainly part of this team's future and this stretches are inevitable for rookies but I'd like to see them get back to the games that got them on this team here in this next 20 game stretch.

Attendance. Average is 3 last in the league. Need a lot of improvement there Columbus faithful! Also a tip of the cap to Doug MacLean for inflating the numbers to save his skin those last few years.

Game ops. Great job on the cannon but they have got to stop it with these movie clips right after a goal scored. All of the crowd noise and momentum is completely taken away when they play these clips right after the home team scores as the fans look at the jumbo tron -- we need more crowd noise not less. Here's a tip - play more replays or some good rock music instead!


No comments: