All-Blogs.net directory Light the Lamp - a Columbus Blue Jackets blog: 09/01/2007 - 10/01/2007

Countdown to Rick Nash's contract expiration:

Sunday, September 30, 2007

...and then there were 26

The Blue Jackets announced more cuts today trimming their roster to 26.

Out are:

Derrick Brassard - reassigned to the AHL
Tom Sestito - reassigned to the AHL
Joakim Lindstrom - reassigned to the AHL
Shedlon Brookbank - reassigned to the AHL (pending clearing waivers)
Derick MacKenzie - reassigned to the AHL (pending clearning waivers)
Jakub Voracek - reassigned to the QMJHL
Joel Bouchard - released from PTO (professional try out contract)

So that means some bubble players that are sticking, at least for now, are:

Gilbert Brule
Kris Russell
Jared Boll
Steve Mason
Marc Methot
Curtis Glencross

Definitely a couple of surprises here to discuss.

First the guys who were reassigned. Derick Brassard is definitely the name that sticks out the most here. He scored 5 points 6 preseason games, the majority of his points coming in the first couple of contests. The skill level is definitely there but it appears the staff felt it better to start him in the AHL and then go from there. I'm sure we'll see plenty of Brassard this year and I personally think this is a good decision - if there was any doubt then I'm glad they took the conservative approach with his development.

Jakum Voracek, 7th overall pick from this year's draft, really had a nice camp considering his age and experience. He actually exceeded my personal expectations and hung around until the very last moment. He'll go back, rip up the QMJHL this year for the Halifax Mooseheads, play in the World Juniors Championships and then come into camp next year full of confidence and then make a serious run at this team.

Tommy Sestito was another surprise, at least for me, to make it this far in camp. The coaches loved his size and willingness to mix it up out there. He and Jared Boll really brought a physical presence to the lineup. I suspect we'll see Tommy Sestito make his NHL debut sometime this year.

Sheldon Brookbank was a guy who at first seemed way to slow for the pro game, at least in practice, but as the games began it was clear that even though this guy wasn't very fleet of foot he was very sound positionally and had a nice shot from the point. He also brings alot of size and toughness to the lineup. He'll see plenty of time this year on the blueline for the Jackets as injuries start to mount.

The rest of the guys sent down; MacKenzie & Lindstrom were pretty much expected. Lindstrom's window of opportunity is definitely closing here in Columbus so he is going to have to have a strong year in the AHL to get another look with the big club. He needs to get to those dirty scoring areas and instead of playing just a perimeter game. MacKenzie was signed as a UFA this summer as a depth guy for the Crunch and that what it looks like he'll be.

Finally Joel Bouchard was not offered a contract. He played pretty good but I suspect more than anything it was a numbers game for Bouchard. With Foote/Klesla/Westcott/Hainsey/Hejda/Tollefsen all on 1-way contracts...and with Russell and Methot playing as well as they did, there just wasn't any room for another 1-way deal unless some trades are made.

Its also important to note that Brookbank and MacKenzie must clear waivers. Brookbank may be attractive to some teams looking for size and toughness on defense.

So one man's loss is another gain.

Gilbert Brule had a few questions coming into camp and he answered them in spades. He came into camp much more physically prepared...and mentally prepared...he battled hard in the corners, went to scoring areas and even prompted coach Ken Hitchcock to say "he looks like an NHL player out there now". He'll play wing.

Kris Russell was the talk of camp...by just about everyone. At times he was clearly this team's best defensemen in the preseason. He has a skill set this team desperately needs and that's a smooth skating, offensively aware and strong positionally defensemen. He is undersized but the way he plays the game it doesn't matter. His play tailed off in the last game but I think that was more to do with playing 3 games in 4 nights than anything else. He'll most likely start out playing on the bottom pairing and will see even strength and loads of PP time.

Jared Boll. Probably the biggest surprise of camp. This kid will never be a big time scorer but he's gonna excel at what he brings to the table and that annoying the crap out of the other team. This kid hit anything, fought anything and iritated anything in his path in preseason. He'll play on the fourth line and add a Darcy Tucker / Sean Avery presence to this team. Oh, and this kid can back it up with his fists if needed. He'll be a fan favorite in no time.

Steve Mason is a guy who I'm surprised is still here. This guy is the goalie of the future but with Norrena and Leclaire showing very well so far there isn't going to be any room for this guy on the roster. For now I suspect he's here as insurance in case Leclaire or Norrena need to take a practice or two off to get to 100% health. There is no denying this kid has had a great camp and could make this team permanently as early as next season.

Marc Methot (pictured right) is another guy who showed very well in camp. Each and every day he played his butt off letting it be known he's here to stay. He obviously got his taste of the big time last year and was going to do everything in his power to stick. With he and Russell though that makes 8 d-man on this roster when Foote gets healthy. Both he and Russell are AHL eligible so Methot may still see some AHL time this year as there is no benefit to letting him sit in the press box -- need to keep this guy playing and developing.

So as of today, this is how I see the lineup assuming Modin and Foote are out of the lineup on opening night:

Nash - Malhotra - Vyborny
Zherdev - Fedorov - Brule
Chimera - Peca - Fritsche
Shelley/Beech - Novonty - Boll
extra: Shelley/Beech

Klesla - Westcott
Hejda - Tollefsen
Hainsey/Methot - Russell
extra: Methot/Hainsey

Leclaire/Norrena (way to close to call here whose #1)

The defense will be a mix of those seven guys assuming Foote is still out but the line pairings are anyone's guess.

I never in my wildest dreams would have thought I'd be penciling in Manny as our #1 center on opening night but at this point it sure looks that way for the time being.

The roster will need to be trimmed to 23 on Tuesday but with Modin and Foote on the shelf for the foreseeable future there will only need to be one more cut and that's likely sending Steve Mason back to his junior team in London Ontario.

Its great to see management stick by their word that the best players will make this team. Congrats to Jared Boll and Kris Russell for becoming NHLers -- helluva an accomplishment by those two young men.

I think its safe to say now - welcome to your 2007-2008 Columbus Blue Jackets!

-LTL

4 days until the puck drops for real!

Central news and notes..

A brief little nugget from NHL.com this morning regarding the central and defensive tandems:


Another young defenseman getting raves is Columbus Blue Jackets defenseman Kris Russell, a smallish (5-10, 167 pounds) third-round pick in 2005 out of Medicine Hat. Coach Ken Hitchcock raves about Russell’s maturity and hockey sense the way he did with Daryl Sydor, another Western Hockey League defender he coached in Kamloops and eventually brought to Dallas. Power-play goals will be key in Columbus -- and Hitchcock seems prepared to start the season against Anaheim at home Oct. 5 with Russell and Sergei Fedorov on the points when the Blue Jackets have the man advantage. ... If Derick Brassard, the Jackets’ No. 1 pick in 2006, continues to shine, Hitchcock may have to consider using him at center on the team’s No. 1 line with Rick Nash and David Vyborny. For now, the coach doesn’t want to put undo pressure on such a kid who just turned 20 on Sept. 22. ...

Word is definitely starting to spread regarding Russell (pictured right). After further reflection on the game last night and reading some other reviews he did seem lose a step last night and of course there is the thought that the competition level has been raised thus its harder to shine out there.....but lets not also forget that he played 3 games in 4 nights.

The kid is a rookie so we have to remember that he'll have some up and downs as he works his way through the regular season.

Read more here.

-LTL

Nash and Norrena lead Jackets past Preds 3-0

Despite getting outshot 41-17 the Jackets blanked the Predators 3-0 last night in Nashville evening their preseason record to 3-3-1 (3-0-1 on the road).

Fredrik Norrena (pictured right) earned the much deserved shutout after making countless saves off point blank shots and held the Jackets in the game during 11 PP opportunities for the Predators. He certainly made a strong statement for that #1 starter position last night.

Rick Nash capitalized on his opportunities tonight scoring a short handed goal and knocking one home off a Manny Malhotra faceoff win in the offensive zone. Nash ended the preseason scoring 4 goals in 5 games and for the first time appeared to be rounding into regular season form and becoming the best player on the ice for the Jackets. Nash's ability to kill penalties has been a tremendous asset that coach Ken Hitchcock has uncovered since his arrival. "(Nash) is a horse right now and we're going to ride him," coach Ken Hitchcock said.

Sergei Fedorov added the 3rd goal from Derick Brassard and Nikolai Zherdev 83 seconds after Nash scored his second.

This was the first time beating the Nashville Predators in preseason or the regular season in more than a full calendar year.

Lit it up

Outside of the Nash and Norrena there were a number of other players who played well, the first of which was Manny Malhotra. In the Columbus Dispatch this morning, coach Ken Hitchcock was quoted as saying "Malhotra has been the team's best all-around player in camp". Manny, who won 68% of his faceoffs last night going 11 for 5 in the circle, played a solid North American style game last night. Manny, who isn't known for his scoring prowess, may find himself in that #1 center position on opening night due mostly to the fact that nobody else has stepped up and b/c of his strong 2-way game and ability in the circle he won't be a liability as Nash and Vybes work their magic.

The kids are alright. Kris Russell continues to shine pulling 18+ minutes and going a +2 on the evening. He's been given a big test in the preseason and appears to be ready for the challenge of the NHL grind.

Derick Brassard, who tallied an assist last night off of Sergei Fedorov's 2nd period goal and was a +2 also is making a strong case - he has 5 points in 5 preseason games.

Finally, fireball Jared Boll did just about everything short of a score a point in the preseason to make his case for this team. He almost single handedly changed the momentum of last night's game getting under the skin of the entire Nashville team - this team needs his agitation and in-your-face style of play. He also fought Nashville tough guy Darcy Hordichuck (although I don't want this kid fighting every enforcer in this league).

All three of these kids should be in the lineup opening night and they have all earned it which is the key -- no inherited roles based on draft positions or individual biases here - that ship has sailed thankfully in this organization. Look for Derick Brassard to play further down the lineup as all signs point to Hitch not being ready to put the pressure of a #1 center job at the recently turned 20 year old's feet quite yet. Kris Russel should play in the top 4 but pull mostly even strength power play minutes - he won't see much PK time. Boll will be a fourth liner initially but could move up to the 3rd line as the season progresses.

Dim the light

Russians playing better. Both Nikolai Zherdev and Sergei Fedorov appear to have lifted their game's a notch or two. Fedorov has 3 points (2g, 1a) in his last 3 preseason games and Zherdev scored his first point of the preseason last night and has averaged 22 min in ice time his last two outings. So for a pair that had some real bad stretches during the preseason for them to start finding their games as the regular season approaches is a real plus for this team.

Defense and PK. The team defense and more specifically the PK continues to play strong. Last night was more of Norrena standing on his head but PK and team defense has been strong throughout the preseason which is an excellent sign of things to come. This team is not going to blow teams out of the water in the scoring department most nights so it must excel in goaltending and team defense and win those close games.

Busted bulbs

Penalties. This team continues to rack up the penalties and must reduce them as teams are too good in this league not to capitalize most nights. We also can't expect Leclaire and Norrena to stand on their heads night in and night out. I realize the referees are calling some extremely suspect penalties but the hooks, holds and trips must be limited especially in the offensive zone.

Evaluating the preseason as a whole there a lot of signs here to get excited about. We've had some young talent emerge - especially in key areas that are lacking on this team like a highly offensively skilled defensemen in Russell and a playmaking center in Brassard.

More importantly we are seeing strong signs of the style of play that Hitch is installing which is an intense, checking, strong team defense in your face style of play. Checking, according to Hitch, is what generates offense and as you watch this team thus far they have shown that to be true. There was only one preseason game where this team did not play this style and that was Thursday's game against Carolina - the positive is that they bounced back from that effort on the road the following two games.

Now lets see if this momentum and style carries over to the regular season and this team gets off to a good start.

Injury update: Peca is expected to practice Monday for the first time in two weeks, Hitchcock said. The coach offered no timetable on a return for Modin and defenseman Adam Foote (hamstring).

I think the odds of Foote and Modin playing in the season opener on Friday are low. So if your wondering where kids like Brassard and Boll fit in the lineup you can start piecing it together from there.

The Dispatch also has an excellent piece on Ken Hitchcock regarding the similarities between how he turned Dallas around 10 years ago to how he looks to turn Columbus around:

"There's nobody talking about our team who is picking us in the top 12 of the conference," Hitchcock said. "There's nobody. What they're missing is that this is a very competitive group of players. I can see it. I know it's there. But you can't measure it until we start the competition."

Read more of that here.

Look for final cuts to be made today or Monday. Final 23 man rosters are due to the NHL by this Tuesday.

On a final note, are we ever going to see the Jackets play in their road white uniforms? I don't believe they broke those out once this preseason.

-LTL

Saturday, September 29, 2007

Columbus Blue Jackets @ 09/29/07 8:00 P.M. EST

Portzline of the Columbus Dispatch has listed the starting lineup for tonight's game against the Nashville Predators:

The other two lines are:


Forwards
Rick Nash - Manny Malhotra - David Vyborny
Jiri Novotny - Sergei Fedorov - Nikolai Zherdev
Kris Beech-Derick Brassard-Gilbert Brule
Jason Chimera-Dan Fritsche-Jason Boll

Defense
Kris Russell-Rostislav Klesla
Jan Hejda-Duvie Westcott
Marc Methot-Sheldon Brookbank

Goaltenders
Fredrik Norrena
Steve Mason

This is certainly an interesting lineup overall. Again a mixed bag of veterans and youngsters still looking to make a statement. That is most due to the veterans who are still out injured in Peca, Modin and Footes.

Speaking of the injured, Portzline comments that Peca is expected back this Monday for skating while Foote and Modin are still out indefinitely. At this point I'm wondering if any of these three are going to be ready for the season opener this Friday.

The big news of this lineup is that Manny Malhotra is next in line to get a look at that #1 center position. This is kind of out of left field but its clear Hitch is trying just about anything at this point.

Fedorov and Zherdev are kept together tonight as by all accounts both played their best games of the preseason last night. It will be interesting to see if Z plays close to the 26 minutes he was given last night. He is also still looking for his first point of the season.

Fedrik Norrena is expected to make the start tonight which is a good sign as he's been battling an injury throughout camp. He'll need a big performance to out duel Leclaire for that starting goaltender position on opening night. Still though I see those two platooning as starters for the first quarter of the season.

Although I would have liked to have seen Brassard in that 1st line center position at some point in camp it definitely appears that Hitchcock is not prepared to put that kind of pressure on the 19 year old and more and more it looks like he's destined to start the year in Syracuse. Its really hard to argue with the "play it safe approach" considering our history with rushing the young guys. I'm convinced we'll see plenty of Brassard throughout the year however.

Jared Boll is in the lineup again tonight and continues to make a strong case to make this team. To be honest its gonna be hard to keep this kid off it. He's brought some much needed energy and toughness to this lineup that his impact can't be ignored.

On defense Kris Russell will continue to see his role increase. Look for him to QB the #1 PP unit and pull a lot of 5 on 5 minutes. This is the 2nd game he'll be paired with Klesla. I look for Duvie Westcott to have a much stronger game tonight and work with Russell on the point of that PP. Sheldon Brookbank and Marc Methot have had pretty good camps and are really battling each other in terms of first call up when the inevitable injuries strike our defensive core.

All in all its kind of a bummer that we are still throwing lineups together at this point in preseason. Unfortunately combined with the preseason schedule that the previous regime set up (which will be much different next year) and the injuries in the lineup it is what it is.

This lineup doesn't quite bring the "ooomph" that last night's did on paper with guys like Tollefsen, Sestito and Glencross out of the lineup, but lets hope the guys that are back in the lineup tonight play with the same kind of intensity and energy.

Game starts at 8 EST tonight - radio only.

Edit: Here is Nashville's lineup:

Martin Erat - David Legwand - Jed Ortmeyer
Vernon Fiddler - Jason Arnott - J.P. Dumont
Jerred Smithson - Radek Bonk - Alexander Radulov
Darcy Hordichuk - Scott Nichol - Jordan Tootoo

Dan Hamhuis - Shea Weber
Ryan Suter - Marek Zidlicky
Greg Zanon - Greg de DeVries

Chris Mason
Dan Ellis

Looks like they are dressing their full roster tonight.

Thanks for the bogus pre-season schedule MacLean - I can gurantee you next year's pre-season schedule will have a little more thought behind it and it certainly won't include 3 games in 4 nights for the final games.

-LTL

2007-2008 Season Opens Today at Noon EST in London!


Just a reminder that the NHL season actually opens today with the defending Stanley Cup Champs Anaheim Ducks taking on the Los Angeles Kings in London England.

This is the first time the NHL has ever played a regular season game outside of North America. This is a two game series which will continue and conclude tomorrow.

The game can be seen today on Center Ice and HD Net. If you can't get it at home then head on out the RBar Arena in the Arena District to check out!
The NHL season is here hockey fans - enjoy it!!

-LTL

Another season preview..

Up next is MSNBC's season preivew. The same predictions as the rest but at least the tell a slightly different story and actually note players like Boll.

Goaltending: When Marc Denis was dealt to Tampa Bay last season, it was to make the way clear for former top draft pick Pascal Leclaire to become No. 1 goalie. Instead, Finnish veteran Norrena, 32, stepped in and made the job his own. The only goalie to post a winning season in Blue Jackets history, Norrena is an aggressive butterfly goalie who loves to charge out of his crease to challenge shooters and take away the angles.

Player to watch: RW Jared Boll (pictured left). That's Boll as in bowl you over. Played in the Memorial Cup with Plymouth (OHL) last season and kept opponents on their toes during the pre-season with his aggressive, physical game. He'll never be a big scorer, but can be a physical presence and is willing to drop the gloves and go.

Outlook: The Blue Jackets will be a more difficult team to play against under Ken Hitchcock's tutelage. They will play a better brand of defensive hockey. But with little changed from a team that stumbled home 24th overall last season, not much else will be different.

Prediction: 71 points (5th in Central, 14th seed in West)

I still don't get how these writers think we are actually going to regress from last year's point totals -- this is a team that Hitch took over in shambles and brought them home with one win shy of a .500 record yet now with some fat trimmed in Carter and Berard, some solid NHL depth added, Hitch with a full preseason to work with and countless changes made behind the scenes they actually think we'll actually get worse? Not gonna happen.

I'm certainly not predicting playoffs for this team but I will guarantee you this team finishes with a better point total than last year. I think they'll put up between 85-90 points. That's a record slightly better than .500. They'll be in the mix for that .500 spot. Next week I will have a complete prediction on what I think this team is capable of next year.

At the end of the day, I guess they have to pick someone to finish 14th and why not the Jackets? Its an easy and safe target and a team that quite frankly hasn't earned anyone's respect. I can't wait for this team to serve up a giant platter of crow at the end of the year for all these "experts" and they realize that just because they didn't sign a big name free agent there were some significant changes and improvements to a roster that does have some talent but has never been molded correctly as a team.

I look at a team like Minnesota and then I look at the Jackets. Not a big difference in talent level -- the difference has always been the coaching and commitment towards defense and team play.
Remember two years ago nobody expected the Buffalo Sabres to become the contender they were. Two years nobody expected the Carolina Hurricanes to make the playoffs let alone win the cup.

The Jackets are going to creep up on a lot of teams this year. They can use being under the radar as a spring board to surprise some teams and get off to a good start this season. They keep playing the game they played last night and they'll be in the mix this year.

Oh and that Boll kid is gonna be something to watch this year.....an instant fan favorite.

-LTL

Blue Biscuits

CBSSports.com has a team-by-team preview of the Jackets. Not to worry, they have fallen right in line in panning the Jackets' chances like all the other "experts":

One of these days, the Blue Jackets will actually look like they're actually getting somewhere. Not this year unfortunately, although with the Doug MacLean era mercifully over, there is hope for the future.

Strengths Before we get to what these are, remember this is a franchise that has yet to sniff the playoffs in its six seasons of operation. There's a reason. This team has never been very good and it isn't now. Rick Nash is a talent, although he seemed a lot more exciting when he won the Rocket Richard Trophy three years ago at 19, and David Vyborny and Nikolai Zherdev can produce in spurts. Maybe Sergei Fedorov still has some gas in the tank, and Fredrik Modin is still at least a second-line winger. There are some prospects in the pipeline, but the Jackets haven't done a particularly good job of developing players, even though they've always drafted high.

Weaknesses They've had a country club atmosphere around Columbus for years, which will probably change under the new regime, but the effect will be down the road. For now, the team needs to find some offense to upgrade the 28th worst attack last season. It was nearly as bad on the power play where Columbus ranked 26th, and the defense, on the best of nights is no more than a mediocre collection of players. The goaltending is still an open question because one-time first rounder Pascal Leclaire hasn't been able to stay healthy long enough to prove he can do the job.

Par for the course. The Jackets are going to have to earn their respect on the ice and it all starts with playing the in-your-face brand of hockey they brought to Carolina last night.


Not to be outdone of course, FoxSports.com takes their shots at the Jackets with another prediced 5th place finish in the Central:

With a new regime in place, there is renewed optimism in Columbus that the Blue Jackets are finally going in the right direction. It all started last season when the team hired Ken Hitchcock as its head coach. The taskmaster took his new and mostly-young squad to task right away, steering the club to a 28-29-5 record in 62 games. While that may not seem like anything to get excited about, take into consideration that Columbus had only won five of its first 20 games before Hitchcock came onto the scene.

The other significant move the Blue Jackets made was bringing in Scott Howson as their new GM. Howson made a name for himself with the Edmonton Oilers, where as the team's assistant general manager for six years he helped rebuild the club through the draft and savvy transactions. During his time as Kevin Lowe's understudy, Edmonton had five straight winning seasons, averaging 37 wins and 89 points per campaign, and topping 90 points four times. Howson also had a hand in helping Edmonton advance to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2006.

The Jackets will also look to veterans like Sergei Fedorov, Michael Peca, David Vyborny, Fredrik Modin, Manny Malhotra, and Jason Chimera to do their part if the club is to make up any ground in the Central this coming season. The guess here is that the Jackets will improve on their point total from last year, but will finish the year in the division's basement.

The Dispatch also dispels any Zherdev trade rumors and offers some juicy quotes from Z's agent:

There were eight scouts in Nationwide Arena on Thursday, including two for the Pittsburgh Penguins, fueling rumors that Zherdev could be on the move.

Blue Jackets general manager Scott Howson would not comment on the rumors, but he and Hedges said they were without merit.

"We realize it's preseason," Hedges said. "We realize there was a switch to center early in training camp, and now he's back on the wing. There's been an adjustment period there for Nikolai. We realize these things.

"Three weeks from now? If he's not on the top six, then you have to question the situation. But, no, not right now."

Read more here.

Portzline has says in his blog that he'll have some quotes from an Russian interview with Z sometime today.

I personally don't buy all the "Z not on the block" talk. I think he's been on the block but they are waiting for the right deal to come along. If Z picks up his game and starts playing like we know he can then either 1. we'll want even more for him or 2. we keep him. He showed signs of that last night playing over 26 minutes of good hockey which pleased the coaching staff. The question remains, can he sustain it and can he gain the trust of the locker room?

Its an uphill battle for #13. Any way I slice it I don't see him being a member of this team past this season.

I'll have a game preivew against the Predators later today.

-LTL

Friday, September 28, 2007

Jackets fall to Carolina in shootout 2-1

Despite out shooting the Carolina 42 - 21, Hurricans' Andrew Ladd won the game in a shootout after 17 shooters. Curtis Glencross broke the stalemate late in the 2nd period notching a goal off a Fedorov redirection. That lead stood until Eric Cole was able to redirect a shot in the waning minutes of the 3rd period.

It was a strong physical bounce back game for the Jackets who really dominated the 2nd period and most of the 3rd. Unfortunately for the Jackets they only converted 1 of 10 PP chances. Pascal Leclaire made some game saving stops stopping 20 of 21 shots and was the 2nd star of the evening.

The Jackets lineup tonight was a mixed bag of veterans and rookies that went up against a Carolina Hurricanes lineup that is pretty much their full lineup they will take into the season.

Tommy Sestito, Ron Hainsey, OK Tollefsen and Curtis Glencross were all involved in fighting major so this one got physical.

Lit it up

Pascal Leclaire. From the sound of it Pascal Leclaire played a great game. In the interview after the game he said his knee, which held him out of most of last season, felt great and he doesn't even think about it. In fact, he said he's tired of talking about it. His game definitely looks on and I think right now he's got the inside edge at starting opening night. He also looked much better in the shootout tonight even though he was eventually beat by the 8th shooter.

Joel Bouchard (pictured right). Blocked 5 shots, had an assist and played close to 23 minutes. This was by far Bouchard's best game and he's making a case.

Physical game. The Jackets bounced back strong tonight bringing their anticipated style of in-your-face hockey. They got under the 'canes skin and they out hit them 19-9. The checking really opened up the ice for the Jackets and this mix bag of players really took it to the veteran lineup that 'canes iced.

Dim the light

Kris Beech. He played between between Glencross and Lindstom and really seemed to have a rebound game after a dismal performance the night before. He didn't light the world fire but had close to 20 min in ice time, 7 shots, and won 7 of 8 at the circle. Perhaps the pressure was off thus he was more relaxed and played more of his game?

PK. Penalty killing continues to be strong and its needed to be. The Jackets killed off 6 penalties tonight the majority of which coming in the first period.

Russians. Was hard to get a read on both Fedorov (who had an assist) and Zherdev. What amazes me is the amount of time they played tonight. Zherdev played over 26 minutes and Fedorov played over 24. Its clear Hitch is trying to figure just what do with these two playing them in every situation. He must have liked something tonight, especially with Z. Still though, only one point between them and 8 shots.

Busted Bulbs

Offense. The offense continues to be anemic. They got plenty of shots on net but only one fell. This team has to learn to put away opponents when they've got them on the ropes - and they definitely had Carolina on the ropes tonight. Going 1 for 10 is simply unacceptable. Must.find.offense. To the 'canes credit though, Cam Ward played outstanding.

All in all though it was a very good sign to see this squad bounce back after a terrible performance last night. This is the brand of hockey they will be striving for each and every night.

Whats funny is that the Jackets during the preseason are 0-3-1 at home. On the road they are 2-0-1. For a team that has been historically awful on the road the early signs point to them being more loose. Perhaps its the schedule, perhaps its just coincidence but its certainly noteworthy.

Final game of the preseason is Saturday @ Nashville at 8 p.m. EST. No TV for this one, only radio.
-LTL

Leclaire in nets tonight vs. Carolina

Sorry no game preview tonight as the lines were not released.

I am listening to the game over the http://www.1460thefan.com stream (which they need to turn up the volumn) and the announced that Leclaire is in nets tonight.

Edit: Okay got the lines straight now:

Forwards:
Zherdev - Fedorov - Fritsche
Glencross - Beech - Lindstrom
Boll - Malhotra - Sestito
Shelley - McKenzie - Voracek

D-men:
Tollefsen - Hainsey
Methot - Westcott
Bouchard - Brookbank

The 'canes have just about everyone in their lineup tonight including Brindamour, Staal, Whitney, Stillman, Klesla and Cam Warn in nets.

Lets see if the boys come out with more energy than what they brought last night. That and they need to stay out of the box.

-LTL

Downie suspended 20 games for hit to head

Just in from TSN.ca, Steve Downie has been suspended 20 games by the league for his vicious head hit on Dean McAmmond of the Ottawa Senators.

Campbell, who runs the league's hockey operations and serves as chief disciplinarian, assured the players the league would do something significant about headshots, then backed it up by suspending Downie for 20 games, the fifth-longest suspension in league history.

"We'd be fools if we didn't do anything," Campbell said after announcing the suspension. "It wouldn't be worth having a (hockey operations) department if we did act on it after telling the players we would act upon it."

Campbell said he met with GMs and members of the league's competition committee over the summer and they came up with a total of 52 hits from last season that were considered blows to the head and established five basic criteria for supplementary discipline when it comes to headshots.
A tape was sent to each team and they were warned a player would be subject to a suspension when:

- a player targets an opponent's head;
- launches himself by leaving his feet to hit a player in the head area;
- when a hit to the head is delivered to an unsuspecting opponent;
- when the hit is a late one;
- whether the player delivering the hit is a repeat offender


This was a viscious hit by a kid that was known for such acts throughout his junior career -- you can see the hit below:




Good for the NHL to crack down on such nonsense. Those kinds of needless hits could kill someone. I actually think they could have made that suspension even longer. Hopefully the kid learns the hard way and the rest of the NHL serves notice.

-LTL

Blue Biscuits

Don't look now but our boy Eklund over at hockeybuzz.com has a new Z rumor for us:

Looking into this now. Being told it is likely in the East....possibly Washington...I am talking to a few people who have been involved and said, "No." stay tuned.

You've gotta think at this point that the Jackets are listening or knocking on doors to see what they could get for #13 -- the question is is there any interest? I would say there probably is but unless he is moved as part of a package we aren't looking at any big names coming back. At this point though, losing Z could be addition by subtraction for that locker room.

Kevin Allen (who is one of my favorite hockey writers) of USAToday.com has a fun article up today - even has a Blue Jacket nugget in there:

Who you should watch: 1. The Pittsburgh Penguins. It's not too early for them to win it all. 2. Columbus Blue Jackets winger Rick Nash. He has the talent to be among the top five offensive players. 3. Nashville Predators defenseman Shea Weber. Not this season, but some day he'll win a Norris Trophy because he can do it all.

He also makes some predictions:

Teams that could slip in the standings: 1. Edmonton Oilers. 2. New Jersey Devils. 3. New York Islanders.

Teams that could be in the hunt for the No. 1 pick: 1. Coyotes.. 2. Oilers. 3. Boston Bruins.

Most improved teams: 1. Philadelphia Flyers. 2. Los Angeles Kings. 3. Washington Capitals.

Who's under pressure: 1. Toronto Maple Leafs GM John Ferguson. 2. Buffalo's $7 million man, Tomas Vanek. 3. Boston GM Peter Chiarelli. 4. Edmonton's Dustin Penner. 5. The Tampa Bay Lightning's goaltenders.

The good news is that he doesn't pick us to be in the hunt for the #1 pick. The bad news is that he also doesn't pick us to be one of the most improved teams.

Read more from Allen here.

TSN.ca takes a look at rookies to watch for and finally someone mentions our boy Russell's name:

Kris Russell, D, Columbus - Undersized (5-foot-10, 167 pounds) blueliner who has superior smarts along with terrific puck skills and was named the WHL's top defenceman in each of the last two seasons. A third-round pick in 2005, Russell scored 32 goals last season and has could land a spot on the Blue Jackets' power play.

They not only metion Russell but Brassard gets some notice as well:

Derick Brassard, C, Columbus - The sixth overall pick in 2006, Brassard missed most of last season with a shoulder injury, but he's impressing in camp with the Jackets this year. He might need some seasoning in the AHL, but Brassard has the kind of playmaking ability that could be a real boost for the Blue Jackets.

TSN.ca has also released their first "power rankings" of the season - here is where the Jackets stack up to start the year:

#29
At the very least, the Blue Jackets can be expected to play a more responsible game under Ken Hitchcock's leadership and they could surprise if some of their young players can get used to the idea of bringing it every night. Key Injuries: None.

Umm... key injuries: none? Well I guess if your don't count Adam Foote, Michael Peca or Fredrik Modin then I guess it is none.

NHL.com takes a look at 82 reasons to be excited this year:

43. Watching David Vyborny playing sound, fundamental hockey in Columbus. Maybe this is the season that he will be recognized across the League for how good he is.

I personally like this one:

76. Blogs. The new frontier of hockey journalism is finding its feet and feeling its oats. More in-depth information on teams is available now because of these dedicated and independent posters.

Yahoo.com has an article that "Faces off with Dan Fritsche":

1) What CD would you have to have with you on a cross-country drive?
I would have to go with a country mix CD. Maybe a Kenny Chesney CD. I'm a country guy.


2) Who would portray you in a movie about your life?
I would say Kiefer Sutherland because I'm pretty much obsessed with him.


3) What celebrity "melts the ice" for you?
Jessica Simpson, for sure.


4) Who is your all-time favorite roommate on the road?
Aaron Johnson, without a doubt. He is the best guy in the world.

5) What's the worst movie you've ever seen?
Worst movie I have ever seen is "Napoleon Dynamite." I walked right out of the theater.


Yahoo.com also has a team by team preview capsules:

COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
LAST SEASON: 33-42-7, 73 points. Out of playoffs.
COACH: Ken Hitchcock, 2nd season, 28-29-5; 13th overall, 436-278-105.
ADDED: D
Sheldon Brookbank, C Jiri Novotny, C Michael Peca,
LOST: G
Brian Boucher, D Bryan Berard, D Anders Eriksson, D Aaron Johnson, C Alexander Svitov,

PLAYER TO WATCH: Nikolai Zherdev continues to be an enigma after dropping from 27 goals in 2005-06 to 10 last season. Hitchcock is trying him as a first-line center between LW Rick Nash RW David Vyborny.

ICING: Scott Howson was hired as general manager in June, but his only major signing came in late August in Peca, who had four goals and had 11 assists in 35 games with the Maple Leafs before breaking his right leg in a collision last December. ... Svitov signed a two-year, $2.25 million contract with the Blue Jackets in early July, but has since remained in Russia to play for Avangard Omsk of the Russian Super League. ... Goaltending continues to be a question mark. Pascal Leclaire was limited to 24 games last season because of a knee injury and finished 6-12-2, but Frederik Norrena was a competent replacement with a 24-23-3 mark. ... The Blue Jackets are the only one of the 30 NHL teams to never play in the playoffs. ... C Sergei Fedorov and D Adam Foote may both be playing in their final seasons in 2007-08.

ESPN.com also has a preview of the NHL up including an in depth look at the Central:



ESPN.com's Bunside previews the Jackets as well:

So, you've been in the NHL for six seasons and haven't come within a country mile of a playoff berth. What do you do? Well, you get the biggest incendiary device you can find, and when the dust clears, you start from scratch. That's sort of what the Blue Jackets have done over the past year, first with the firing of overmatched coach Gerard Gallant and the subsequent offseason dismissal of the mess' architect, GM Doug MacLean.

Ken Hitchcock now will have a full season to impose his considerable will and hockey smarts on the team, while new GM Scott Howson will try to sort out exactly what he's got in terms of talent. It won't be pretty this season, but by next summer, we wager the Blue Jackets will be a completely different team.

Read much more about that preview here.

FSN Ohio will air a special Blue Jackets season preview on October 1st at 7:30 EST. It will air a total of five times.

..and if that's not enough I have some Crunch news for you as well:

At least Karl Goehring won't play the role of a Crunch enemy, which is great for fans but bad for him.

The popular ex-Syracuse goalie was released from his tryout contract in Buffalo on Tuesday. Had he stuck with the organization, he might have played for the Amerks against Syracuse.

and...

Dan LaCosta will get the start in goal on Friday when Syracuse visits Albany for its first exhibition game.

and some info on Zenon Konopka who is out with a hand injury...

The one hitch, from a Crunch perspective, is that Konopka has to clear NHL waivers before he can be assigned here. Konopka fell in love with Syracuse like few other players I've covered when he got here last mid-season, and he took missing the playoffs hard. But, of course, getting claimed on waivers means he'd get a shot at the NHL.
"I want a championship this year. I'm hungry to win again,'' he said. "I think we have more than a legit chance of raising the Calder Cup this year. Obviously, if I'm playing in the NHL, it's something I want to do. If I'm playing in Syracuse, it's no problem. I'm really looking forward to having an enjoyable season this year. I think it's way overdue, that city having a winning team on the ice.''

Read more about the Crunch here.

-LTL

Jackets blanked by 'canes 3-0

After suffering through an NHL modern day record 14 shutout losses last season, the Columbus Blue Jackets suffered their first shutout of this season falling to the Carolina Hurricanes 3-0 at Nationwide Arena last night.


Its was a largely lethargic effort by the Jackets that saw way to many first and second period penalties combined with an anemic offense.

The first period ended in a 0-0 tie and saw the Jackets take 4 penalties and register 7 shots on goal which oddly enough was 1 more shot than he 'canes mustered. The Jackets penalty killers preformed well and Steve Mason (pictured left) looked strong and confident in the net (he stopped 18 of 20 shots on the night).

The second period saw more penalties from the Jackets which resulted in a 5 on 3 PP advantage for Carolina. A PP that sputtered mightily in the first period found some rhythm and Jeff Hamilton (of Englwood Ohio) converted off a nifty pass from Eric Staal putting the 'canes up 1-0. Goaltender Steve Mason, who was making his 2nd NHL start of his career, had no chance.

Cory Stillman fired a shot from just inside the faceoff circle off a Duvie Westcott turnover to put the 'canes ahead 2-0 less than 5 minutes into the 3rd. Stillman added his 2nd of the evening into an empty net to put the final nail into this one.

The Hurricanes dressed an NHL lineup last night with 15 regulars while the Jackets dressed 12. This game was to be used as a good barometer for where the Jackets will stack up against NHL competition this year and if the season is going to be like last night, its gonna be a long one. The energy and scoring prowess the team has shown up to this point in the preseason was pretty much invisible last night. The good news is that the Jackets don't have to wait long to get another shot as they play the Hurricanes in Raleigh tonight.

Lit it up

There weren't very many areas or players who "lit it up" for the Jackets last night but the 19 year old rookie, Steve Mason, was one of them. He played a very strong game between the pipes and has no chance on either shot that got by him. This was likely his last game for the Jackets this season but will certainly be back next year with one goal in mind - to make this team.

Penalty killing. This was an area I thought the Jackets excelled in last night. This was my first look at Jiri Novotny (who played over 16 mins) and for what I was expecting, he didn't disappoint. He was a fixture on the PK unit, has nice lateral movement and was strong on the faceoff circle. He's got a heavy game and an NHL build. He's not going to light up the scoreboard but he's going to excel at the position he was brought in for which is a 4th line forward and PK specialist. Think Svitov without the physical edge in his game.

Dim the light
Kris Russel played another strong game with over 20 mins of ice but didn't look as good as he's looked previously. He missed some pinpoint passes, especially in the first period, and got beat once or twice. The good news for him -- although not for our defense -- is that he still looked like our most skilled defensemen by a long shot. He started to find his game in the 2nd. He held a lot of lot of pucks in the zone on the PP and recovered nicely on one particular play where he was beat. Oh and by the way - this kid can skate like the wind. He's a rookie and is going to make some mistakes so we can't lose sight of that -- this kid is a lock to make this team.

I actually thought for the most part our defense looked solid. Ron Hainsey, outside of still being terrible QBing the PP, looked much better last night than when I've seen him previously - especially 5 on 5. Once the puck was set up in the zone he was also moving laterally getting it on net. Hejda, Klesla and OKT were also pretty good. Nothing pretty but played solid stay at home games.

Busted Bulbs

The offense. Somebody put out an amber alert for Nash and Vyborny because they were no where to be found last night. I won't be to fast to jump on Vyborny as this was essentially his first full preseason game after suffering a brutal hit by Martin Erat in the opening game against Nashville. Nash, while scoring a couple of goals, has not yet been the dominant force I was hoping for - even against preseason competition. Big #61 needs to get it going has he's the engine that makes this offense go. Its not a good thing when rookies like Russell and Brassard are creating most of your offense.

Kris Beech was largely ineffective in that #1 center position last night. I hate to judge the guy after just one shot but I really can't think of one play last night that even gave us a sign that he could be that player there. Perhaps Hitch will give him another go around tonight in Carolina but I doubt it.

Penalties. This team is going to absolutely nowhere if it continues to rack up penalties like they have in preseason. They are giving up at least two 5 on 3 per games and I don't care how good your goaltending is, or how good your PK is -- at this level, goals are going get to scored in that situation. Granted the officials have made some strange calls but these guys have to adapt. Its especially the penalties in the offensive zone that are back breakers -- they kill any and all momentum sustained at that time. Both Brule and Nash had penalties in the offensive zone last night that I can recall off the top of my head.

No edge. Last night's game lacked the physical edge we've seen in the previous preseason games. Boll and Sestito were irrelevant. Only good hits thrown were from Tollefsen but he can't be the only one doing that night in and night out. Perhaps their legs were gone from the "team building" but I don't buy that. For this team to be successful they have to play a hard nosed brand hockey with an edge every single night regardless if at home or away.

Speaking of home - this team has get to win a game at home in the preseason.

So as mentioned the Jackets are back at it again tonight against the Hurricanes in Raleigh. I'll have a game preview once Portzline announces the roster. I suspect both Fedorov and Zherdev will be back in the lineup.

It was announced this morning in the Dispatch that Foote, Peca and Modin will miss the final two preseason games. These "minor injuries" sure don't appear to be minor at this point.

-LTL

Thursday, September 27, 2007

Carolina Hurricanes @ Columbus Blue Jackets 09/27/07 7:00 P.M. EST

Here is the lineup tonight for the Blue Jackets (will post Carolina's later once obtained):

Forwards
Rick Nash - Kris Beech - David Vyborny
Jason Chimera - Derick Brassard - Gilbert Brule
Dan Fritsche - Jiri Novotny - Jakub Voracek
Tom Sestito - Manny Malhotra -Jared Boll

Defensemen
Kris Russell - Rostislav Klesla
O-K Tollefsen - Duvie Westcott
Jan Hejda - Ron Hainsey

Goaltenders
Steve Mason
Tomas Popperle

Some key story lines to watch:

Spots are really on the line starting tonight and playing out over the next 3 preseason games in 4 nights. Its now or never time for the bubble guys like Beech/Russell/Boll/Brassard/Brule/Sestito/Voracek to show they belong in this lineup on opening night October 5th.

The Jackets are starting 12 regulars tonight and this game will give us a really good look at how this team is gonna stack up this season. Carolina will also be icing a lineup made predominately up of NHL regulars and is out to prove something after missing the playoffs last year -- which was just 1 year removed from winning the cup.

Tonight is Kris Beech's night to make an impact. The 1st round pick from the 1999 draft gets his chance to center the top line of Rick Nash and David Vyborny and earn a spot in this lineup. He's had a decent camp up to this point but will need to create plays and play a solid two-way physical game to make a lasting impression. He is the man to watch this evening.

Derick Brassard also gets another opportunity, only this time he will be looking to make an impression against a group of established NHLers. Tonight could also go a long way towards earning a spot on this team if he continues to light it up. He is our best skilled center at this point, the question is can he perform against grown men and keep up that high level of play he displayed thus far in camp?

Kris Russell is as much of a lock to make this team as any rookie still at camp. Still though, he gets another opportunity to show his skill set tonight against men as well. Hitch has said on the record that Russell has arguably been our best defensemen through camp thus far. Its been a treat to watch this kid perform.

Gilbert Brule would be next in my line of locks. Brule, the 5th overall pick from the 2005 draft, had a rough start to camp last year and quite frankly wasn't ready. This year has been a different story, Brule came to camp in great shape and has played well throughout -- to the point where Hitch has said "he looks like an NHL player out there". We'll see him opening night and he is gonna open some eyes this season.

Boll and Sestito are young energy guys making their pro debuts this season who can drop the mits if needed. Both have had very good camps are looking to carve out roles for themselves at the bottom of the lineup. Boll has been in the middle of everything in every games he's played - he's a character guy who has very good chance at making the squad. Sestio will most likely start the year in the AHL but could see time up at the big team as the year progresses.

Voracek, the first round pick from this season, has certainly served himself well in camp. This kid is gonna be a good player for us. This will likely be his last game this season before he's sent back to junior but look for this kid to make a big push for this team next year.

On defense we'll see pretty much the lineup we'll ice opening night outside of Adam Foote who is still nursing an injury. There are some slightly different pairs with Russell seeing time with Klesla while Duvie and OK holding down the 2nd pairing. Hejda and Hainsey, who quite frankly is being pushed hard by Russell, round out the pairing and I think both can use solid games to solidfy spots.

Steve Mason will get his 2nd nod in goal this preseason. He's shown quite well in camp and will look to continue his excellent play. He'll likely be sent back down to juniors after this game but has certainly shown management and coaching his ability to be the goaltender of the future here.
Adam Foote, Michael Peca, Fredrik Modin are all nursing injuries. Peca hopes to play in the final two preseason games.

Also interesting to note that Nikolai Zherdev is not in the lineup tonight. Just pointing that out :)

Hope to see a good crowd at the game tonight. I'll have a full report tonight or early tomorrow morning.

Go Jackets!

-LTL

ESPN's Uni Watch takes a comprehensive look at the Reebok Edge Jersey roll out

Uni-watch of ESPN has an interesting read today regarding the new Reebok Edge jerseys the NHL has rolled out. Of course, like any new change, there are complaints and criticisms sprinkled throughout the article.


There was an interesting nugget thrown in here regarding the referee's uniforms. It was said last year that the head referees would replace the orange stripes (example pictured left) around their arms with silver stripes which builds of the NHL's logo change to its shield which saw the orange outlines and lettering replaced with silver. Of course the silver color represents the ultimate prize in organized hockey which is the Stanley Cup.

Now we learn that the sliver armbands have been scrapped for now and the entire referee uniform system will receive an overhaul or next season:

• Back in January, at last season's All-Star Game, the refs wore silver armbands, instead of their usual orange. At the time, a league spokesperson told Uni Watch that this change would be made permanent this season. That plan has now been scrapped, and refs' arms have been orange-banded as usual during preseason games. But a league exec now tells Uni Watch that a broader overhaul of the officials' uniforms is in the works for next season. No details on that yet, but Uni Watch's hunch is that the league will trade in its standard zebra stripes for a proprietary stripe pattern, like the NFL did last year.

The good news in this article is that unlike the terrible predictions and criticism the actual Jackets team has received this year in the pre-season review articles throughout the print and electronic meda - the Jackets new uniforms have managed to avoid just about any negative comments which tells me, for the most part, people like em.

In fact this particular writer has glowing things to say about the Jackets new digs:

"OK," you're saying, "but those are all pretty old-school looks. Don't you like anything new?" Actually, yes. One team has come up with a new design that feels at once classic and contemporary: the Blue Jackets. Check it out: sleeve piping instead of Bettman stripes, hemline piping instead of waistline stripes -- looks good, right? Even from the back. This, friends, is the future of hockey uniforms. Or at least it should be.

He's right. They did a helluva job on em.

Read more here.

-LTL

Blue Biscuits

A mixed bag of Blue Jackets news and nuggets for you this morning:

Brian Compton of NHL.com takes a look at players to watch out for this season in the Western Conference - here is his CBJ pick:

Columbus Blue Jackets: Michael Peca — Columbus will be Peca’s (pictured right) fourth home in the last four seasons after stays in Long Island, Edmonton and Toronto, but his leadership skills cannot and should not be underestimated. While coach Ken Hitchcock certainly won’t be relying on Peca to fill the net — he had just four goals in 35 games last season for the Leafs — the Blue Jackets bench boss will definitely lean on the two-time Selke Trophy winner to guide a franchise that has yet to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Aaron Portzline of the Dispatch weighed in late night on his blog regarding the Eklund rumors that we are interested in a Vancouver center and that Edmonton is interested in Zherdev - some of this thoughts:

On Vancouver:
Let's break this down: Which Canucks center? Brendan Morrison? Doubt it. He centers Markus Naslund on the Canucks' No. 1A line. If they trade him, who's the No. 1 center? That creates a huge hole in the lineup of a club that already struggles to score goals.

I'm told the Blue Jackets have not had talks with the Vancouver Canucks. I'd be a fool to believe they haven't kicked a couple of tires in an attempt to acquire a No. 1 center, but it would be tough to swing. I mean, really, who has too many No. 1 centers?

On Edmonton:
The Blue Jackets and Oilers makes sense ... sort of. Edmonton has already turned a fancy, frilly player into a NHL stud (Ales Hemsky), so maybe they could pull off the magic trick with Zherdev, too. There were rumors this summer that the Oilers turned down a Zherdev for Joffrey Lupul trade. Maybe Howson was behind that decision. Funny, now that he's in charge of the Blue Jackets and Zherdev, eh?

Some good points and notice he never denies the Jackets talking with Edmonton. Both Vancouver and Edmonton need offense more than they can give it but both have a suprlus of defensemen -- we can certainly use either. If a deal were to come out of either of these teams I'd look for a defensemen to come back the other way.

Portzline also takes a look at the powerplay this morning and Hitch, as always, has some intelligent comments regarding it:

"We kept trying to make plays to get the puck to the net," coach Ken Hitchcock said, "rather than getting the puck to the net and then making plays."

The Blue Jackets plan to keep the two point men moving along the blue line, with the forward perched along the half-wall rolling to the point to allow one of the point men to creep down low.
"It seems like we're getting more shots through," defenseman Ron Hainsey said, "or at least we're opening up a lane to get the puck down to the forwards and, hopefully, to the net."


"You can't have an effective power play and be static," Hitchcock said. "The penalty kills are too good. We have to play with more risk to be effective."

I love that last quote that we have to play with more risk to be effective.

So the key to improving our 26th ranked PP last year is movement and getting shots in from the point on net - something of which we were terrible at last year. I also suspect having a guy like Kris Russell QB the PP is also going to significantly improve out chances as he's shown an incredible knack at finding the open player on the rush and delivering hard pinpoint passes to sticks. He also has shown the ability to know when to pinch and when not to. I think its safe to say he will, if he hasn't already, supplant Ron Hainsey as our primary PP defensemen. He will make his share of mistakes, that all rookies do, but the plusses will by far outweight the minuses assuming he stays healthy.

I'll have a game preview against the Carolina Hurricanes later on today.

-LTL