Wednesday, October 31, 2007
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
THN.com - Columbus at #7
Hitchcock early leader for top coach award
CBSSports.com - Up from 26 to 15
Coach Ken Hitchcock's magic or at least his method is sinking in with the Blue Jackets. Helping matters is the league's best penalty killing unit and four shutouts from Pascal Leclaire.
FoxSports.com - Up from 18 to 8
(.650) After losing four of their first seven games to start the season, the Blue Jackets rattled off three straight wins in Week 4 to get things going in the right direction. Rick Nash led the way in the hat trick of victories, scoring four points off three goals and one assist for Columbus.
ColumbusDispatch.com - Up from 24 to 7
Three game winning streak, gritty style is opening eyes.
TSN.ca - Up from 19 to 7
While the Ken Hitchcock effect has dropped the shots on goal down to 26.8 (from 28.6 last season) this season, the Blue Jackets are notably getting superior goaltending from Pascal Leclaire, who has four shutouts in seven starts.
CBC.ca - No update
CNNSI.com - Up from 23 to 13
Thanks to their first consecutive wins this season, the Jackets are three games over .500 for the first time ever and off to the best start in franchise history. "There's not one person, magazine, publisher, anything that has us making the playoffs this year," said Dan Fritsche. "We have a lot of people to prove wrong and a lot of respect to gain."
ESPN.com - Up from 26 to 16
It's our Blue-Light Special Mover of the Week. Pascal Leclaire has a 5-2 record, a 1.29 GAA, .949 save percentage and four shutouts in seven starts this season for the Blue Jackets, who sit second in the Central heading into Wednesday's action.
Average Power Rankings Score: 10.4 (20.6 last week)
Well that's a pretty impressive jump and that's what a 3-0 win streak early on on the season will get ya. Still a lot of work to do but its certainly obvious the NHL is taking notice of this team's early start. The best thing about it is I don't think this team is even playing its best hockey yet and there is no reason what-so-ever to think they way this team is playing is a fluke.
Labels: Power rankings
Monday, October 29, 2007
The thought of the "anonymous" scout who basically panned the entire CBJ scouting department during an article in the Dispatch really got me thinking - have our #1 draft picks really been that bad - especially now that we have competent coaching and management at helm of this ship?
Lets take a look.
1. Rusty Klesla - #4 pick 2000 draft - this guy will never win a Norris trophy but at worst he will be a top 4 defensemen in this league for a very long time in the mold of a Chris Phillips. At best he'll be a top 2 guy who may find a more consistant scoring touch. Not a spectacular franchise player type pick but anytime you can get a solid quality 10 years out of any draft pick in the NHL then its a good pick - Klesla will play in this league a minimum of that barring injuries.
2. Pascal Leclaire - #8 pick 2001 draft - you know what they say, goaltenders take the longest to develop. Leclaire has made big waves early on this season recording 4 shutouts and 5 wins in 7 starts. The knock on him has always been his durability. Well, he is training hard for the first time this past offseason and so far so good. The kid has always had the talent to be a franchise goaltender but he just needed to prove he was durable. If he continues this pace this pick will no longer look like a potential bust but instead as an oustanding pick. He has really benefited from a Hitchcock coached team as the quality of chances has dropped dramatically and he's making the saves he should and then some.
3. Rick Nash - #1 2002 draft - the face of the franchise and the team's most important pick to date. Nash started out as a 1-way player winning the Rocket Richard trophy in his 2nd year with 41 goals. After an injury riddeled 3rd year that still saw him score at a point per game pace Nash had an off year last year -- enter coach Ken Hitchcock -- ever since the coaches arrival last year Hitch has turned Nash in to a two way force on the ice one in which he has flat out dominated early on this season. He's conditioning is now at an elite level as well as his understanding of what he means to this team and his ability to lead -- as Nash goes so does this team. For those that may have questioned this pick this past year - those critics have been silenced and this pick will continue to be the most important one in the franchise's history.
4. Nikolai Zherdev - #4 2003 draft - in the most stacked draft in recent memory Zherdev was chosen 4th overall ahead of the likes of Phaneuf, Vanek, Getlzaf, Parise, etc as a highly skilled game breaking talent. After two productive seasons Z saw his game really take a tumble after he held out in a contract dispute two summers ago. This was the pick I was agreeing that was looking like it could be a disaster for the franchise. The kid that had all the talent in the world but only a 2 cent head to go with it. As in Nash's case -- enter coach Hitchcock and I think maybe just as important GM Scott Howson -- Hitch has taken the same steps with Zherdev as he did with Nash and has used him on the PK and in important game situations to gain the players trust and turn him into more of a complete player. GM Scott Howson took it upon himself to personally pay a visit to Zherdev in the offseason to let him know the slate is clean and to get to know the player. Its no secret that former GM Doug MacLean had a very rocky relationship with the young Russian and I think the dismissel of MacLean and the hiring of the steadfast even keeled Howson, more than any other factor, has been the biggest key towards turning Z around -- and with 7 points in 10 games thus far early in this season Z is getting it done on the ice. This pick is suddenly back to looking very good which is really astonishing to me as I had all but written off this kid.
5. Alexandre Picard - #7 2004 draft- Picard has been given his fair shot at the NHL in terms of playing time but has only managed to register a point in that span. He has been mostly told to go out and bang and create energy - I suspsect that may change now under the new regime. His career high point total in the AHL is 30 points in 45g. Picard is out for the next few weeks after suffering a brutal ACL tear in his leg late last year in the AHL. He is ahead of schedule but looks to project to no more than a 3rd to 4th line player. Still time for Picard to make some noise in the professional level but its been a rough start to his pro career over his first 3 games. This pick has the biggest bust potential at this point but it will be interesting to watch how he responds coming off the injury.
6. Gilbert Brule - #6 2005 draft - Brule had a prolific junior career scoring 87 points in 70 games in the rough and tumble OHL. I think in Brule's case the way the Blue Jackets handeled this kid's development was a crime. After his first year which saw him suffer two bad injuries at the pro level Brule returned the following year penciled in as the #2 center to not only get demoted to the 4th line wing but only score 19 points in 78 games. In short, this kid was not even close to ready for this kind of role in the NHL and should have been sent back to junior. This year has saw Brule come in much more mentally and physically prepared for the NHL grind and although he's only registered 1 point in 10 games he has been creating opportunities and playing a physical brand of hockey under Hitchcock and the points will come for this kid. I would definitely like to see more point production from Brule but you can see the skill level and you can see the maturity - I think this kid in the next year or two will be a success at this level although the verdict as of today is still out.
7. Derrick Brassard - #6 2006 draft - another prolific scorer at the junior level which saw Brassard score 116 points in 58 games. He suffered an injury last year but on his return he nearly averaged two points per game (25p in 14g) and was a force in the playoffs. He made a strong case to make this team in training camp but management felt it best for Brassard to play in the AHL to get acclimated to the pro game. The good news is that Brassard is 2nd right now in AHL scoring with 12 points in 10 games. Management would like to see this kid go to more of the dirty areas to score instead of being a perimeter player. He's off to a pretty good pro career and the challenges he's facing now are common for scorers taking their game to the next level. So far this pick is looking solid.
8. Jakub Voracek - #7 2007 draft - the Jackets got very lucky that Voracek slid to them in this draft. LA pulled a stunner when they drafted Tomas Hickey #4 overall and that shook things up just enough for the Jackets to land a player with huge upside. Voracek had a great preseason and was one of the final cuts of camp. He really does have a pro build and pro vision on the ice. Like any young player he needs time for his body and mind to continue to develop. Voracek is off to a blazing start this year in the minors racking up a mind blowing 3g, 22a in just 10 games played. He is already 4th in that league in scoring while playing a total of 9 less games than the leader. The biggest knock I've heard on Jakub is that he doesn't shoot enough and I'm sure he's working on that aspect of his game. In short, this pick is looking fabulous right now. I don't see anyway this kid isn't at least playing in the AHL next season and stands a very good chance to make the team next year.
So there you have it - a quick snapshot at this team's top draft choices over their 8 year draft history. The rule of thumb is to give picks at least 5 years before judging them so I think in our case its pretty fair to judge Klesla, Leclaire and Nash.
I would say at this point Nash and Klesla can be declared successes even if Klesla isnt' going to be that #1 defensemen he was projected to be. Nash is still just scratching the surface of his potential and with Leclaire, he's got the talent but needs to put in a couple of injury free seasons before declaring him the franchise goaltender and a successfull pick.
Zherdev is back to looking like the impact pick we'd hoped he'd become. Picard is the biggest question mark of the group. Brule/Brassard/Voracek all still need time to really judge one way or the other but all have shown the skill to be players at the NHL level early on.
The Jackets were horrendous early on in their later round drafting - there is no denying that. Really no one to speak of in the first two draft past the 1st round picks - although Andrew Murray is still playing with the Crunch.
They have gotten better lately starting in 2002 with 3rd round pick OK Tollefsen playing full time in the NHL and picks Joakim Lindstrom and Steven Goertzen having seen NHL time and are still playing well in the AHL.
The 2003 draft saw Dan Fritsche draft in the 2nd round and has been a full time NHLer the past two season. Marc Methot has been a steal as a 6th rounder and if it weren't for the depth at defense, in the words of Ken Hitchcock, Methot is ready to be a full time NHLer now.
2004 has 2nd round pick power winger Adam Pineault playing strong for the Crunch and according to GM Scott Howson was a man among boys in the game he saw him play in. Defensemen and 4th round pick Andrei Plekhanov is off to a pretty good start in his first year in North America. 9th round pick Grant Clitsome looked very good in prospect camp and has a an outside shot at making some noise as a pro down the road.
Then there is 2005 draft which has seen a real gem plucked in 3rd round pick Kris Russell. This kid made the team right out of camp. Jared Boll was also pucked in the 4th round of this draft and leapfrogged some 6 players to make the NHL team and has had a huge impact. Tomas Popperle is a 5th rounder who is currently starting for Syracuse in the AHL. Needless to say this is the draft when the CBJ scouting staff really started to find their way.
2006 looks like it could even top 2005 with the staff committing highway robbery when the stole 6' 3" goaltender Chris Mason in the 3rd round - he broke the record for most wins last year ever in the OHL and quite frankly almost made this team in camp as a 19 year old. He has since been sent back to junior to continue his development and has won his first 7 starts. He's got franchise goaltender written all over him. Fellow 3rd round pick Tom Sestito who is 6'4" is another kid who nearly made this team out of camp and will probably see some time with the big team this season. Late rounders Derek Dorsett and Matt Marquardt are two other kids playing well and have chances.
2007 saw second round pick Stefan Legein get off to a great start and he has 19 points in 11 games. Defensemen and fellow 2nd round pick Will Weber is playing well in the USHL and has collected 5 points in 7 games along with 20 PIMs.
So as you can see, the team has done a much better job at drafting of late and we absolutely cannot underestimate the impact of having an elite coach like Ken Hitchcock and a GM like Scott Howson have had on understanding young players and how to properly play and develop these guys at the pro level - even in the short amount of time that they've been here.
Some will say I did not give Doug MacLean enough credit in this post but the fact of the matter is that although guys like Nash, Zherdev and Tollefsen had some decent seasons under hit watch none of these guys really played as well as they have until Hitch got here so you can say he drafted them, but without the proper coaching, development and structure which MacLean was directly responsible for providing -- this group could still be declining instead of building.
So to that anonymous scout it would be interesting to hear his take now on this team. Currently this team is dressing 9 draft picks (Nash, Klelsa, Zherdev, Brule, Tollefsen, Fritsche, Boll, Russell & Leclaire - 5 first rounders, 1 second, 2 thirds, 1 fourth) and currently this team sits with a 6-3-1 record - not bad.-LTL
The past two home CBJ games the Dispatch has reported that there has been as many as 14 scouts from around the NHL in attendance.....so is somebody on the block? Its certainly possible but I think its much more likely to be one of the following:
1. The secret is out. The word has spread faster than a Pascal Leclaire right pad save off a wicked one timer from the point - the Jackets are good this year. Part of a pro scout's job is to keep tabs on all NHL players - especially ones that may be on the block. Part of their job as well is to find out what all the fuss is about and just how good is the Columbus team and what are they and their players doing to turn this ship around so quickly? Remember, the NHL is a copycat league - if one team is finding success playing a certain way you can bet the rest of the league will follow - or at least will learn all they can about it to stop you.
2. I think the entire league is re-evaluating the CBJ roster now that they have an elite coach that knows how to mold talent. Remember that article in the Dispatch last year from that "anonymous" scout that basically panned the entire CBJ roster and its draft picks -- well I wonder what he's saying now?
3. Of course the one everybody likes to jump right on is the possibility that a trade is in the works - me included as who doesn't like a good trade! Of course any good GM will tell you that they listen to any and all offers and they are always exploring ways to improve their teams but I think even GM Scott Howson would tell you that it would take quite a bit to make a move right now to shake up this team the way their are playing and gelling. I bet a lot of teams are kicking themselves right now because any chance of landing a guy like Nikolai Zherdev for relatively low value has gone straight out the window with the way this guy is playing early on this season.
Oh and this whole Forsberg bit was basically shot down today by Aaron Portzline of the Dispatch. I read that rumor and quite frankly didn't give it much thought since as even as great of a player Forsberg is and even with the history he has with coach Ken Hitchcock -- speaking of, wasn't Forsberg one of the lead voices in saying the team needed a change once Hitch got canned in Philly? -- I just don't see this team as a fit for him or Jackets.
Thinking about that scouts comments and others "experts" throughout the league panning the Jackets draft picks got me thinking and I'll have a complete run down on where the top draft picks of the CBJ stand thus far in their development a little later today.
Sunday, October 28, 2007
That was basically the image I took away from the Jackets hard fought 2-1 victory over the San Jose Sharks on Saturday night.
There were only 35 shots total between the two teams with the Jackets edging the Sharks in that department 18 to 17. It was a defensive physical battle from the first drop of the puck and whomever created the least amount of errors was going to win.
Lit em up
Hats off to the entire Jackets team for coming out and competing from the first whistle. The Sharks were an angry bunch out to prove that their performance the night before against the Wings was a fluke. The Jackets countered their energy with a nice energy of their own and matched them hit for hit, shot for shot and save by save to ultimately pull this one out by a goal.
Leclaire continues to shine. Really he was a deflected puck off his own defensemen away from his 5th shutout of the year. The Sharks tried to get up in his face and has some very questionable run-ins with him but Pascal held his ground and made some very good saves.
The Chimera-Malhotra-Fritsche line finally gets one on the board. In fact it was Dan Fritsche, whose game has really picked up since his scratch, who scored his first goal of the year. Chimera got an assist while Malhotra picked up two and was very good again in the face of circle.
PK.....killed of all chances to remain the #1 PK in the league.
Novotny continues to stay hot...he collected another assist and now has 8 points in 10 games and is second on the team in scoring. Its early...but damn is that signing looking solid. This guy has really beena utility player and has played in every situations for us. Not sure if he can keep up this kind of point pace but just think -- his career high is 22 points in one season -- barring injury he's just about a lock to suprase that.
Physical play. The Jackets outhit San Jose 28 to 23 and in a game where the Sharks lookin for blood the Jackets didn't back down and played their own brand of physical hockey within their system. Chimere, Brule, Hejda and Boll really stood out to me in the hitting/physical play department.
Mad props to the RBar -- another great event for both the CBJ and OSU games with the outside project and grill. ....and wow could you not like the Rbar girls getting into the Halloween spirit and dressing up as the village people and then entertaining the crowd with some YMCA! If you've never been to the RBar it should be a mandatory stop on and game day night - home or away!
Dim the light
While the powerplay did manage to get a goal off a deceptive wrist shot from Sergei Fedorov it looked absolutely horrendous during a glorious 5-3 opportunity with the game locked at 1 a piece in the 2nd period. That could have been a big momentum changer for the Sharks but the Jackets kept their composure and kept on digging. The guys have to do a better job of creating chances (and hitting the net Peca and Z!) during those opportunities.
Alot of people are on Adam Foote for mistakes he made in this game. To his credit that was a fluke goal that went off his skate into the net and during a Sharks powerplay he lost his stick and ended up playing with Vyborny's. The problem here is that these two players use opposite curves thus Foote found himself not only playing with a short stick but also the wrong curve. So when it came time for him to clear pucks its obviously an issue. That said, if he's gonna shovel it, shovel it up the boards not in the middle of the ice - doh!
Attendance approached the 14k mark this Saturday which is obviously still not good but its getting better. The team is making some noise on the ice and now its time for the marketing department to really dig in and get creative to get the word out about this team this year.
I'm not sure how the refs could have missed the high stick that Vyborny took at center ice. Out of the two refs and two line judges someone had to have seen it. The fact that went unnoticed and un-penalized is completely unnacceptable. Luckily though Vybes only missed a few shifts and like just about all hockey players, he returned after taking some stitches in the mouth.
I tell ya what Jacket fans.....sit back and enjoy this....we are now 6-3-1. This is the first time in franchise history that we are 3 wins above .500. Sure there are some things to improve on but lets not over scrutinize......Hitch, Howson and their staff have this thing finally pointed in the right direction and believe me Hitch knows better than anyone what needs to be worked on....he'll keep this team focused and improving.
So enjoy this....the fans here from the beginning deserve it!
Next up -- the LA Kings on Wednesday!
Saturday, October 27, 2007
Due next for a building upgrade are the Pittsburgh Penguins which I believe will be in 2010.
Since the NHL began scheduling October games 65 years ago, at the start the 1942-43 season, no team had blanked its opponents more than three times for the month. The much-improved Blue Jackets, who are 5-3-1 on the season, had become the 26th team since 1942-43 to record three October shutouts before Thursday night’s 3-0 win over St. Louis.
(I thought the picture of the goose egg was appropriate)
Labels: Pascal Leclaire
So when a team that's been on average the worst in the league since entering it in 2000 starts to actually so some progress and put up some win what happens? Well in the Jackets' case they start to get more national media attention.
Aaron Portzline mentioned in the Dispatch this morning that ESPN The Magazine is doing a feature on them....then I cruise on over to CBSSports.com to get caught up on some NHL scores this morning (the Wings won again...beat our opponent tonight in the Sharks no less-- uugghhh!)I see that Wes Goldstein also has a feature on them:
Even so, they remain under the radar unlike a few of the other former also-ran teams around the league such as Boston, Chicago and St. Louis, who have already gotten some positive early reviews because of their surprisingly good starts.
"I think we are a long ways away from getting that respect around the league because right now people think what we do is a fluke," said coach Ken Hitchcock. "We have to prove that we can win against good teams, that we can on the road and that we're capable of putting streaks together, and it's not going to happen overnight. I really think its going to take the whole year."
Maybe, but it's apparent the Jackets have made some big strides since Hitchcock was named coach last November, about a month after he was fired by the Flyers. He took over a 5-13-2 team that couldn't score goals and didn't do a very good job of preventing them and was generally considered by opponents to be good for two points with minimal effort. It required a culture change, one the players needed some time to adapt to, but the initial results of Hitchcock's more disciplined system began to show as the season wound down. "If you want to win games, you have to have a structure," said goalie Pascal Leclaire. "I don't want to talk about who was here before, but Ken came in here with a plan, and you could see that every week, especially after February, we started getting better. By the end of the year, we were a pretty good hockey team."
Well, better anyway. The Jackets played .500 hockey for the last six weeks of the season and, with largely the same roster, have gotten off to their best start ever. Peca has been an important addition who has given Columbus a good two-way center on the first line between Nash and Nikolai Zherdev, and the two young wingers have matured to the point where Hitchcock uses them to kill penalties and in the last minute of games they lead.
Read more here.
Central notes from NHL.com:
Around the Central Division -- Is Columbus Blue Jackets goaltender Pascal Leclaire quickly gaining the reputation that so many great pitchers get, that if you don’t score early you won’t have a chance later? Well, Leclaire isn’t Josh Beckett just yet, but he has won all four games -- all by shutouts -- when opponents weren’t able to get to him early. Leclaire stopped 36 shots in blanking St. Louis, 3-0, Oct. 25. In his other two starts, Leclaire was scored on 6:17 into a game by Colorado’s Joe Sakic and 5:39 into a game against Vancouver by Ryan Kesler, and he lost both of those games. For the record, Marc Denis holds the club record of five shutouts in one season -- he did it twice (in 2002-03 and again the next season). ... Columbus’ 5-3-1 record represents the best start in franchise history. ... Jackets coach Ken Hitchcock would love nothing more than to beat Detroit, but he says he’ll take his chances against the rest of the Central Division in an attempt to get Columbus into the playoffs for the first time in the seven-season history of the franchise. Mark Hitchcock’s team down as 2-0 in that quest, following back-to-back victories against Chicago and St. Louis, Oct. 23 and 25. ...
Rick NashRick Nash didn’t score his eighth goal last season until Dec. 10. This season, he did it in just nine games and quickly is re-establishing himself as perhaps the most dangerous young power forward in the game. Nash had an impressive nine shots on goal in Columbus’ 3-0 victory against St. Louis on Oct. 25. ... Young free-agent center Jiri Novotny, a former No. 1 pick by Buffalo in 2001, is starting to show the skills we predicted in the off-season as he scored two goals against Chicago and one more against St. Louis, giving him four goals in his last five games. ... More impressive about the Jackets is the play of their defense -- Adam Foote and Rusty Klesla playing more than 21 minutes a game and Ron Hainsey and newcomer Jan Hejda turning in 18-minute-per-game nights. Having that solid defense every night has pushed the Blue Jackets to first in the NHL in penalty killing. ...
As the Jackets win the more the press will come and the more the team will start earning the trust of the fans back.
They have a huge challenge tonight against a Sharks team, that as mentioned above, just got beat by the Wings last night. They'll be looking at the Jackets as a must win. I'll have more pre-game thoughts later today.
Friday, October 26, 2007
Lets just get right into it:
Lit em up
In case you missed it... Rick Nash scored a high-light-real, sick, nasty, spectacular, unreal, awe-inspiring between the legs goal last night as the Jackets pitched (another) shut out against the St. Louis Blues in a 3-0 victory. The picture on this post is this goal in action.
So in case you missed it...just go to http://tsn.ca/nhl/ --> scroll down to the "TSN Broadband" section and click on page 2 and you can watch it (I'll post the youtube of it once it becomes available).
ESPN ranked this goal #1 on its top 10 plays last night and we all know how much time ESPNquirer dedicates to hockey so you know this one was special.
As far as all time CBJ great goals, I would rank it right behind Z's coast to coast goal against the Blackhawks as the most spectacular Blue Jackets goal to date. I'd put Manny Malhotra's "diving goal" against the Blues a few years ago at #3.
..and lost in all the goal hoopla of course was Pascal Leclaire pitching his 4th shutout in 6 games. Just to put that in perspective, the Jackets had 4 shutouts the entire year last year. Leclaire only had 1 in his career coming into this season. He has four already in just 8 starts - that just crazy talk! He leads the league in shutouts with 4, he's second in GAA with a 1.34 and is 2nd in save % with a .950. This guy is so hot right now that he could jump into a fire and burn it. The best part about it to me is that he really earned this one stopping 36 shots and this performance came off a loss his previous start when he gave up two soft goals. A lot of credit goes to the team in front of him and coaching, but Pascal is making the stops he should and coming up with the big saves when needed. He also looks to be in great health (knock on wood!).
The PK...still #1 in the league!
Jiri Novotny. Well how good is this signing looking early on? Guy has 7 points in 9 games thus far and its basically playing everywhere up and down the lineup... To the PP, to the PK to a line consisting of Jared Boll and Jody Shelley... and he's still raking up the points. Hitch has given Novotny of a bigger bite on this team and he's responding.
How bout this team limiting the penalties overall against. I'm not sure on average how many penalties we took last year but that stat has got to be much lower this season. I guess when your not constantly hemmed in running around in your own zone like a headless chicken and playing within an organized system your going to have fewer penalties. The team only took two penalties last night.
How can anyone not love Jared Boll? Kid collected his 2nd goal of the season last night and really cracked this nugget of a game open in the CBJ's favor. He only played 6:40 second but he makes an impact every time he's out there. He also drew one the few penalties for the Jackets last night.
Dim the light
Loved the way the Chimera-Manny-Fritsche line competed last night. Now all they have to do is actually convert on their chances. That line should have potted a couple last night. The good news though is that they are generating chances and Fritsche seems to be regaining some confidence and playing the way that was effective last season. Oh and Chimera - need to work on a new move brah!
Gilbert Brule played hands down his best game of the year after being moved up to a line with Vyborny and Fedorov. Really its a crime this kid didn't get a goal. He was hitting, skating very well, carrying the puck and generating scoring chances. He keeps up that kind of game and the points will come for this kid.
Jan Hejda and Adam Foote did a pretty good job last night of shutting down the Kariya-Tkachuk-Boyes line. These two are counted on to be out shutdown defensive pair and have been delivering. They were a combined +2 on the night and both played over 21 minutes.
Nice to see Vyborny get on a little bit of a modest streak. He collected his 3rd assist and 2nd in as many games last night. I'm still not overly excited about his game as I think he's been invisible a lot this season but perhaps this is a sign that he's breaking out of his slump.
Attendance was still bad but their was noticeable increase as the team almost broke 13,000 on a Thursday night. Keep winning boys, and they will come back....and take this to the bank, these numbers being reported now are as accurate as your gonna get - no more MacLean fluff to save his own skin.
I'm proud to report that all the bulbs stayed relatively lit last night on the ice anyways.
Off the ice a couple of issues. First what was up with the in-arena video replay crew cutting off the Nash goal replay before he even scored - wake up folks - those types of goals don't come around very often. Second - big thumbs down to 1460thefan's putrid coverage of the Jackets this afternoon the Spielman Show - not even one mention of the game in the show's introduction. What a "flagship - home of the Blue Jackets" station we've got.
So now the Jackets have won two in a row - that is a big step. They have held the lead now twice going into the 3rd period and seemed to have learned from the breakdown against Dallas a few games ago. The challenges don't go away Saturday when the Jackets take on Western Conference power San Jose who has an identical record to ours at 5-3-1. Here again is another great opportunity for the Jackets to add another win and really build some momentum.
Its a Saturday start at 5:30 -- so come on out and watch and support a team that we can really be proud to call our own the season.....and not to worry Ohio State fans, plenty of time to catch the football game after -- heck, they will even be showing it in the arena after the hockey game concludes!
Thursday, October 25, 2007
Its the battle of the "Blues"....
Tonight the 4-3-1 Jackets square off against Central division rival the 5-2 St. Louis Blues. It will be the first time the Jackets have faced the Blues this season and will no doubt be a tough game.
The Blues are off to a heckofa start to this season. They went through a similar coaching change last season as ours when they brought in coaching veteran Andy Murray -- and he's had a huge impact.
The Blues, so far this year, have shown that they are a very difficult team to score against. They have only allowed a league low of 14 goals but have also played the fewest games in the league at 7. The Jackets aren't too shabby themselves only giving up 19 goals over 8 games which is tied for 5th best in the league.
Keys to lighting em up
The Jackets must keep the pedal to the metal. So far over the 8 games they've played they gone W - L - W - L - O - W - L - W -- obviously there is a patter there. The Jackets tend to let down after big wins and come out strong off of disappointing losses. This is another opportunity for them to string wins together and gain some important division points.
Offense needs to stay hot. The Jackets put up a 7 spot in Chicago and while I don't think they need to score that many to win (although who doesn't want to hear the cannon 7 times!) they need to continue to get contributions from everyone and keep burying the biscuit. So whatever worked on Tuesday - do it again tonight.
To continue on the scoring theme....Manny Legace is playing very well for St. Louis as is their whole defense. To me they are a similar team to us in terms of the tight defensive game they play, their reliance on goaltending on their focus on special teams play for goals. Legace is 4 wins, 2 losses and is carrying a .201 GAA and a .925 save % - some nice numbers.
The Jackets have got to limit Paul Kariya and Jacket killer Keith Tkachuk. Kariya is off to a flying start with the Blues collecting 11 points in 7 games While Tkachuk 9 points in 7. Brad Boyes, whom the Blues got back in a trade with the Bruins last year, is also off to a hot start leading the team in goals scored with 6. Limit those three and chances are the Jackets win this game.
Batten down the hatches. The Chicago game became a little bit of a shoot out in the Wild Wild West but there are nights when its gonna be whomever scores last turn off the lights. The Jackets need to get back to their defensive system and with Pascal Leclaire getting the start tonight, make the saves your supposed to make.
Look for the Jackets to shake up the lineup a bit tonight. The Chimera-Manny-Boll line has stalled offensively and coach Hitchcock has said he'd like to get Zherdev playing with Novotny again. I think we'll see Chimera with Nash and Peca while Manny will probably slot in with Brule and Fritsche.
Edit: Just saw the updated lines from the Dispatch blog. Looks like the Nash-Peca-Z line will stay together. Brule moves up with Fedorov and Vyborny. Fritsche moved to the Chimera-Manny line. Shelley-Novotny-Boll should round out the lineup. I'm a little surprised to see Novotny on the line w/ Shelley and Boll but he should be shuffeled around on the 2nd PP unit and PK thus he'll see his share of minutes.
Look for a very physical one tonight. Jody Shelley is also scheduled to play so there may be some extra fisticuffs as well. This is an important early game for both squads as they look to solidify their good early starts to the season. The Jackets have failed to win their past two home games and *should* come out with some fire. Both teams won their last games.
So lets see if the Jackets can get out of this Win-Loss-Win-Loss funk and string some wins together. A win leaps frogs us over Chicago (assuming they lose) and St. Louis in the standings to 2nd in the division with 11 points!
Wednesday, October 24, 2007
So anybody else out there wonder where all the NHL trades have gone? They almost seem extinct at this point so much so that I went and took a look at last year's player movement just to see if its really as quiet as I think it is. To my surprise, there actually wasn't a lot of movement at this time last year either.
In fact, there were only two deals to even speak of in October last year and believe it or not, the Jackets were involved in one of them when we sent Eric Boguniecki (what ever happened to him?) to the New York Islanders for Ryan Caldwell - who actually is still with the organization with their AHL affiliate Syracuse Crunch.
The other deal was a cap clearing move by Devils GM Lou Lamerillo that sent Vladimir Malakov and a conditional first rounder to the Sharks for Alexander Korolyuk and Jim Fahey.
Looking at last year most of the action started up in November. There were 8 total deals in November but really they were only minor deals -- when George Parros is the biggest name to switch teams then you know its minor.
Really the first in-season significant deal didn't occur until December 15th when the Islanders traded Alexie Zhitnick to the Flyers for Feddy Meyer and a conditional 3rd rounder.
There were a total of 4 deals in December; 10 in January and whopping 49 in February which of course is the trade deadline.
So what does this tell us? Don't expect much action on the trade front until at least November and even then don't look for many blockbusters. We've had a couple of big ones in November - with Joe Thornton and the Sergei Fedorov deals immediately coming to mind - but those are more of the exception rather than the rule. The action really doesn't heat up until late January and then February.
To me that's a little surprising considering that you'd figure teams who get off to slow starts would be looking to shake things up early before the really lose their grip on the season. In the salary cap era though trading dollars is just about as important as trading players as a lot of teams just don't have the room or budget space to take on high priced talent without moving some money of their own which makes completing deals that much more complicated.
So for those of you like me who love trades....especially when they involve Jackets.....don't look for anything from GM Scott Howson soon. In fact I woudn't be shocked to see him stand pat with this lineup until the deadline in February. That could quickly change though if this team gets into major injury trouble.You can see all the trades made last season here.
Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Well it sure wasn't a pretty defensive game....but the good news is that the Jackets found their scoring touch tonight vs. the Chicago Blackhawks as they beat them by the score of 7-4.
Five Jackets had multiple points games with Rick "The Monster" Nash leading the way with 2 goals, 1 assists for a total 12 points on the season. Nash didn't score his 12th point until his 16th game last year -- he's done it in 8 this one.
Lit it up
The offense finally came alive. This isn't your typical coach Ken Hitchcock win or ideal game but I'm sure he'll take it. The Jackets scored 5 even strength goals, 1 power play and 1 shorthanded goal for a total of 7. The Jackets came into this game with the lowest even strength goals scored in the league at 6. They had only scored 16 in 7 games overall....that total just took a giant leap to 23 goals scored....and now they are at 19 against.
As mentioned Rick Nash was huge again tonight collecting 3 points. Novotny came up with 2 goals... Dan Fritsche and Gilbert Brule finally got the first points of the season with Dan collecting 2 assists and Gilbert with 1. Zherdev, Fedorov and Tollefsen got the other goals. Lets also not forget Michael Peca's 3 assists or Klesla's two on the night as well. Hell, even Norrena got in on the offensive action collecting an assist on Tollefsen's empty netter. Hopefully this game jumpstarts a number of players -- I was really happy to hear the Brule - Novotny - Frtische line playing well tonight - that line desperately needed a good game to gain some confidence.
Speaking of Peca....he's really making a strong case for that #1 center position isn't he? Seems to be meshing with Nash quite well and keeping it simple - get the puck to Nash near the net or with some open ice to work with - then let him score. Peca's has 5 points (1g, 3a) all of which have come over the past 3 games centering Nasher.
Penalty kill came into the game as the #1 PK in the league...they left this game as the #1 PK in the league. They killed off 6 of 6. They've only given up 3 PP goals so far this season. Talk about lighting it up.
I've got to give a shout out to the Blackhawks rookies who put on quite a show tonight. 1st overall pick in the 2007 draft Patrick Kane put up 2g and 2a for total 13 points thus far (that's just sick numbers) while Jonathan Toews scored a goal to move to 8 points on the season. These kids are for real and are really going to be thorns in the side of the Jackets for years to come. Don't forget though Jacket fans that we have our own group of rookies in Russell and Boll this year....and highly skilled guys like Brassard, Voracek, Mason and Legein all in the pipeline to complement Nash/Zherdev/Leclaire/Klesla/Brule.
Dim the light
Well where the offense shined the defense was certainly not as solid as its been in the past. Now b/c I could not watch the game (it wasn't televised) I have to go by the radio but there were some bad turnovers, some weak goaltending and some odd man rushes. Now what I'm not sure about is if the offense was pressing more tonight and got caught out of position or were the 'hawks offense really that explosive? Regardless I'm sure Hitch will have some "teaching points" for this team defensively.
The powerplay went 1 for 5 on the night. The good news is that they got a goal but the bad news is that I would have liked to have seen the PP covert even more and really put this game out of reach.
As alluded to above I think Norrena just had an average game. He let in 4 off of 28 shots and from the sounds of it, should have had at least two of those. Now in contrast to Khabibulin who let in 6 off of 25 shots (the 7th goal was an empty netter so it doesn't count IMO) Norrena's numbers don't look so bad. I read this on HF but thought it was good point -- who would you rather have for 6 million - Fedorov or Khabibulin? They've both been busts with their newest teams. I'd go with Feds b/c this is the last year of his deal!
Even though rookie defensemen Kris Russell didn't score tonight...he blocked a team leading 4 shots tonight and played 15 minutes. Kid keeps getting better every game.
Michael Peca, Nik Zherdev and OK Tollefsen all finished +3 on the night.
Really the defensive play, outside of the PK, could go here but I'll cut em a little slack tonight. The worst news of the night, and I read this off of the Dispatch blog, is that Duvie Westcott left the game with a head injury. As we all know Duvie has a recent history of concussions so we can only hope its not serious but I have a bad feeling about this one. Stay strong Duvie!
Penalties. This team took some dumb penalties at the end of the game that could have really hurt this team. Luckily the PK bailed them out.
The only line that didn't get in on the scoring was the Chimera-Manny-Boll line. Not that they played bad but on night like this you'd figure one of em would register a point. The good news here is that with four lines that can actually play now this team can afford for an off night for one of the lines as long as the others pick up the slack.
Lack of television coverage. It figures right, the game we actually put up some good number offensively and the damn thing isn't televised...
Next up is St. Louis on Thursday at home. The Blues are hot winning again tonight to improve their record to 5-2. The Jackets will need to overcome this win one, lose one pattern they find themselves in and try to get on a bit of a roll and string a couple of wins together.
Oh and one more kind of important note -- the Jackets are now officially off to the best start in their 7 year on ice history with a record of 4-3-1.
TSN.ca - Jackets fall from 15 to 19.
We've heard this story before: the Blue Jackets need more than Rick Nash and Nikolai Zherdev scoring. Right now, though, they are the only two Jackets with more than four points. Youngsters like Gilbert Brule and Dan Fritsche should be part of the solution, but neither one has even registered a point.
CBC.ca - Stays the same at 18.
Hitchcock has them pointed in the right direction.
CBSSports.com - Move up a notch to 26.
The Jackets are playing some tight team defense, which is the biggest reason they are .500 so far. Michael Peca has been dominant in the faceoff circle too, winning 20 of his past 29 draws.
Dispatch.com - Up to 18 from 24.
Strong `D' and penalty kill are the backbone.
FoxSports.com - Drop 3 spots to #18.
(.500) The Blue Jackets failure to connect on the power play was one of the main reasons the club dropped two of three in Week 3 and fell three places in the rankings. Columbus was only 2-for-15 with the man advantage in its two losses last week.
CNNSI.com - Move up 1 to 25.
In five starts, Pascal Leclaire has three shutouts; he had just one in his first 56 career starts. I won't go out on an early limb and say the Jackets will make the playoffs, but Leclaire's play is reason for optimism. "We're not going to settle for complacency," said Michael Peca. "We're no longer the expansion Jackets. We want to be a force in our conference."
Average Power Rankings Score: 21.6
I'll be keeping that meta score on a weekly basis to see how the Jackets fare from week to week in this area.
Labels: Power rankings
Monday, October 22, 2007
NHL.com has some interesting notes regarding the CBJ and the week ahead that I thought I'd call out here:
Could career checker Michael Peca be the No. 1 center the Columbus Blue Jackets have been looking for? The biggest free-agent acquisition for the Jackets in the offseason ostensibly was signed away from Toronto for his leadership skills and to strengthen Columbus up the middle. On Oct. 17, Peca became the seventh center since training camp to step alongside Rick Nash on the team’s No. 1 line. Result: Nash responded with a goal and assist against Dallas, and new linemate Nikolai Zherdev added two assists -- even if the Blue Jackets lost 3-2 in a shootout to the Stars. Peca did have a 56-point season (27 goals, 29 assists) with Buffalo in 1998-99 and a 60-point season in his first year with the New York Islanders (25, 35) in 2001-02, so the stats could follow steering Nash and Zherdev in Peca’s direction. ... The bigger stories in Columbus are how hard Zherdev has worked to earn a spot on the No. 1 line with five points in his first four games before the two-assist effort against Dallas. That, plus the fall from the No. 1 line of David Vyborny -- one point in the team’s first five games after leading the team in scoring the last two seasons
The week ahead -- Columbus faces off against two division rivals this week, playing at Chicago on Oct. 23 and hosting St. Louis two nights later. Those teams were each 4-4 in their eight-game series last season. The Jackets are hoping that David Vyborny can get on track again against the Blackhawks and Blues -- he had two goals and eight assists against Chicago last season and one goal and 10 assists against St. Louis. Chicago’s Martin Havlat had four goals and eight assists against Columbus, but he’s out for another month after the Hawks learned their leading point man from a year ago would not need surgery on his injured shoulder. Against St. Louis, Fredrik Modin was Columbus’ leading sniper with five goals, while Stempniak led the Blues in scoring with one goal and six assists. This could be Fredrik Norrena’s game since the veteran netminder was 3-0-2 with a 1.95 goals-against average against the Blues last season.
This is a pretty big week for the Jackets with division matchups with Chicago and St. Louis. We did fare pretty well againts both teams last year but that was last year. Both teams have improved over the offseason and those improvements are actually showing up on the ice early on. The Jackets have also improved though so these should be a some good matchup and the Jackests are very capable of beating both of these teams.
Tell ya what, the Jackets are certainly missing Fredrik's Modin scoring touch around the net......right now Nash is the only guy willing to go to the "dirty" areas to score. This team can't get Modin back soon enough.
The Jackets lost 4-1 last night to the Vancouver Canucks even though they out shot them 36-19. Their achilles heel - the powerplay - which went 1-10 on the night and only mustered one goal during a 5 v 3.
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Biggest news of this game is that Vancouver's goaltender Roberto Luongo will not be playing tonight. Instead backup Curtis Sanford will be given the start apparently because Vancouver wants to rest him for the Carolina Hurricanes tomorrow night. Not that the Jackets really care one way or the other but this is just another sign of NHL teams still taking the Jackets lightly. Hopefully the Jackets make them pay hard for that decision and take full advantage of a goaltender whose only action has been in relief of a struggling Luongo.
Dan Fritsche will be back in the lineup tonight as Jody Shelley will again sit. It appears that Duvie Westcott will also be scratched again as reading between the lines a bit, the coaching staff obviously hasn't been happy with his performance to date.
This is another huge game for the Jackets (they are all huge right?) as they look to continue their winning ways early this season. Vancouver is no slouch but they are off to slow start going 3-4. Their offense is similar to ours in that it doesn't lack alot of punch only scoring 20 goals in 7 games but their usually strong defense and goaltending has been suspect giving up 25 goals.
Keys to lighting em up:
They must continue to do the things that have worked thus far - team defense, strong PK, checking, outstanding goaltending and timely goals.
They must shut down the Sedin twins and take advantage of a cold goaltender in Sanford and get plenty of pucks and traffic in front.
Clearly the Canucks already have their eyes on the Hurricanes tomorrow so it would be in the Jackets best interests to use that to their advantage and dictate the game and play a full 60 minutes.
It would really help if players like Vybonry/Fritsche/Brule were able to contribute offensively but at a minimum Nash/Z/Peca/Chimera need to keep contributing offensively.
Its really to bad Luongo is sitting out today because I don't know about you, but I haven't forgotten his comments the last time we beat Vancouver when he said "we can't lose to a team like Columbus". I hope the Jackets' players haven't forgotten those comments either....and "a team like Columbus" makes this team from Vancouver (which thanks to the large VANCOUVER word mark on the front of their unis - nobody can mistake) makes em eat those words.
LETS GO JACKETS!
Rick Nash. Although Nash hasn't cracked the top 30 in NHL scoring, yet (mainly b/c the team has only played 6 games thus far) he has 8 points (4g, 4a) in 6 games played. He has 4 points over his last two games and is just playing like a monster out there dominating in every facet of the game from even strength, to power play, to penalty kill, to strong 2-way hockey. He is carrying the flag for this team offensively right now.
Nikolai Zherdev. It does appear the Rick and Nik show has returned, at least for now. Zherdev has 6 points (1g, 5a) in his first 6 games and 3 in the past two. The best news about Z is that he finally appears to have "gotten it" and has totally bought into Hitch's system. He is making smart plays, using his teammates, back checking very effectively and only trying that cute little moves (i.e. toe drag) in the offensive zone where if they don't work it doesn't sting the team nearly as bad. Alot of Jacket fans, including myself, have our fingers and toes crossed that this play isn't a blip on the radar and is here to stay.