directory Light the Lamp - a Columbus Blue Jackets blog: Who's smokin, Who's chokin - halfway point

Countdown to Rick Nash's contract expiration:

Friday, January 4, 2008

Who's smokin, Who's chokin - halfway point

We are at the halfway point ladies and gentlemen and believe it or not -- the Jackets have not yet been eliminated from the playoffs!! That in itself is a huge step.

Better yet, they are currently just 1 single point out of the final spot in the West through 41 games played.

That my friends is progress. So with all that said, lets take a look at "Who's smokin & Who's chokin" at the mid-way point:


Jackets defense. At this point they have given up 26 less goals than a year ago. They currently sit 4th best in the league in goals against with 2.29.

Goaltending. Pascal Leclaire is second in the league in GAA with a 1.94, Norrena is 13th with a 2.37. Leclaire is 4th in the league in Save% .929 while Norrena is 14th with a .915. Leclaire leads the league in shutouts with 7. When both of your goaltenders are in the top half of the league in major goaltending statistics then you know its smokin hot. Now if only the team could help them put more W's in the win column. Look for them to continue their hot play with Hitch at the helm.

Nikolai Zherdev. Has already scored more points than he had all of last season. He's right on the heals of Rick Nash with 33 points in 41 games for the team lead and is a +1. He's gotten even hotter lately and should blow by his career season high totals of 54 points (27g, 27a). I see him only getting hotter this season.

Team standings. 44 points through 41 games. Its not exactly smokin but compared to Jackets teams of old this team and its point totals have come a long way in a short period of time. 18 of next 27 on the road will determin if this is indeed a playoff worthy team or not.

Coaching. This is basically the same core from last year but they have improved dramatically everywhere outside of scoring. Who do you think is primarily responsible for that? Yes the players have to execute but finally they have a elite coach behind the bench who understands everything it takes to put wins on the board in the NHL.

Jan Hejda. Nothing flashy but this guy has been solid all year long. He leads the team in +/- and along with Foote, has been our key shutdown defender.

Penalty Kill. Ranked 3rd in the league killing at 86.6%. 'nuff said.

Prospects. Blue chip prospects Stefan Legein, Jakub Voracek, Derick Brassard and Steve Mason are having great years. Call ups like Joakim Lindstom have also played well. Markets the size of Columbus need to constantly keep their pipleline stocked with quality talent and I think we are now finally achieving that and developing it right.

Face offs. Ranked 3rd in the league winning 52.9%. 'nuff said.

1st NHL goals. Congrats to Andrew Murray and Jared Boll on their first ever NHL goals. Kris Russell is next!

Jiri Novotny. Has played in 33 games (suffered that concussion injury which kept him out some) and has scored 17 points which is just 2 points shy of his career high which was 19 points in 68 games between the Sabres and Caps. This guy has been a key acquisition and his game has blossomed under Hitchcock to the point where he is leading all forwards recently in ice time. Be fun to watch what he does in the 2nd half.

New unis. Still one of the nicest looking diggs in the NHL. I never tire of seeing pics of our players in the them -- so sharp!

The Rookies Boll and Russell. Boll leads the league in fights and is in 2nd place in overall PIMS. He also has 6 points (4g, 2a) and has really won the hearts and minds of his teammates and fans. Russell has gotten better every game and will notch his first NHL goal soon -- these kids have really contributed all season long and just get better every game. I think they'll both have strong 2nd halfs.

Cannon. Still sweet 41 games into this season!

Jackets top 4 draft picks. Klelsa, Leclaire, Nash & Zherdev. Looking pretty good right now. Just remember Jacket fans picks don't develop overnight and these four our proof. The next four picks - Picard, Brule, Brassard & Voracek also need time.

Scott Howson. Lets see, he only had a few million to spend this offseason and got Jan Hejda, Jiri Novotny, Kris Beech and Michael Peca for bargain basement pricing. All four guys, especially Hejda and Novonty, have played keyed rolls on this team at points throughout this season. I also credit Hitch for getting the most out of this group.

RBar Arena. The hands-down best hockey bar in town has not let down this season. From the draft party in June, the opening night bash, the "Wings Suck" night, the 3 on 3 Rbar adult league tournament, the New Years Even post game party, to affordable prices this place is doing its job to promote itself and this great franchise and game.


David Vyborny. "Oh where oh where has my little Vybes gone". He's 10th on the team in scoring with 11 points (3g, 10a). He's a team worst -8 and he is going through his worst stretch of injuries since he's been a Blue Jackets. For a UFA to be, he's picked a terrible time to have a bad season. I personally think a lot of it has to do with his game versus the kind of game Hitch demands everyone plays -- those games don't mix. I don't think its a question of "if" but a question of "when" does this guy get traded. Sadly the Jackets leader in points and games played days of being a Blue Jacket are coming to an end.

Fredrik Modin. Modin had averaged over 70 games through his 10 year pro career but has only played 6 thus far notching 2 points due to a number of injuries. This team could really use him back in the lineup and I for one have not forgotten his excellent play the 2nd half of last season which propelled him to 22 goals. Lets hope he can get back in the lineup soon for this 2nd half as thus team can desperately use this guy!

Offense. While the defense has allowed 26 less goals the offense has unfortunately scored less at this point than they did last year. What's interesting though is so far they've only been shut out 2 times where as last year they broke the modern day single season record for being shutout at 14. They don't generate more offense in the 2nd half they can kiss the playoffs good-bye.

PowerPlay. Unlike the stellar 3rd ranked PK the Jackets PP has been abysmal. Its ranks 24th in the league and has only been clicking on average at 14.7 percent. The good news is that it has looked better lately but and will need to sustain that if this team hopes to land a playoff spot.

Sergei Fedorov. For 6 million the Jackets have gotten an above average skater, decent defense, no physical play, the occasional PK time, 21 points (7g, 14a) and a -3. I'm not sure about any of your but I'd call that a "choke". Like Vyborny its only a matter of "when" Feds will get dealt.

Gilbert Brule. Has there been a bigger disappointment through 41 games than Brule? His 4 points (1g, 3a) has earned him a much needed lengthy trip to Syracuse regain his offensive touch and confidence.

Borderline chokers. I'd put both Dan Fritsche and Jason Chimera in this category. I expected both guys to have better number up to this point. Fritsche's hands have been disappointing while Chimera cant' stay on side and fails to use his big 6' 2" frame enough. Both need to have much better 2nd halfs. Duvie Westcott is also in this mix with his inabilty to stay healthy and mix-baged play.

OK Tollefsen. Has been scratched a number of times. Coaching staff not happy with his ability to move the puck. Will need to improve that area quickly to make an big impact on the 2nd half of the year.

HD. Not enough games televised in HD on FSN Ohio.

Transition. Defense just not going a good enough job transitioning the puck to the forwards. Along w/ the PP this has been a huge reason why we don't have more wins.

Attendance. 27th in the NHL in attendance drawing only 14,113. A big second half will certainly improve on that number and we've seen signs of that the past couple of home games as attendances have risen.


I think its safe to say that this team has exceeded most pundits and fans' expecations thus far. As Howson would say, they have definitely underpromised but overdelivered. For me personally its been great just to watch a team that is competitive on most nights regardless of if its at home or away.

The challenge now is to raise their competitive level even higher as the games are not going to get any easier. I'm certainly looking forward to what the 2nd half of the season brings and it should be a fun one to see if the Jackets can stay in the playoff hunt and what kind of moves will be made around the trade deadline at the end of February.


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