directory Light the Lamp - a Columbus Blue Jackets blog: Season preview: Part 3 of 5

Countdown to Rick Nash's contract expiration:

Friday, October 2, 2009

Season preview: Part 3 of 5

Part 1 - Management & Coaching
Part 2 - Offfense
Part 3 - Defense
Part 4 - Goaltending
Part 5 - Special Teams

Part 3

Collectively the Columbus Blue Jackets finished 9th overall in the league in "goals against" giving up 223 goals which is an average of 2.72 goals per game.

That of course is a very impressive stat. Here is another:

The Columbus Blue Jackets finished 3rd overall in total shots against only giving up on average 27.8 shots a game.

The bottom line is the Jackets were a very accountable defensive team last year. Yes Mason was good but so were the players in front him.. and that's just not the defenders... that's everyone.

Hitch has this team dug into this belief that everyone works for the goaltender out there and the Jackets have found success because of it.

Expectations for the 2009-2010 season: Don't deviate from the system.

The Jackets now know what it takes to win in this league. They have an identity as a disciplined tight checking team that works hard for everything they earn. Being responsible in their own zone is a key component of their success.

The Jackets can't expect Mason to toss 10 shutouts again this year so they are going to have to build off last year's success. Their defense is in large part a group of no-names and their sum is greater than their parts. That must continue.

Guys have to stay disciplined and pick their spots to jump up into the play. Limit the odd man rushes against. Make quick and accurate first passes out of the zone. Keep the shots against to the low percentages of the ice. Clear the crease so Mase can track the puck. No unforced turnovers. Win the battles on the boards. Good lateral movement to get shots through from the point. Manage puck possession so you are spending more time in their zone instead of your own.

All basic stuff but all areas that Hitch and his staff will expect to see improvement from this group.

Expectations for the 2009-2010 season: I can't start a post on Tyutin without saying first "How do you like me now!"...

Of course I'm referring to the trade last offseason that sent Nik Zherdev to the Rangers and Tyutin to the Jackets. Zherdev, as we know, is now out of the league.

Fedor Tyutin had a terrific season last year. His first as a Jacket. He had a career year in points notching 34 which was 9 points better than he previous career high. He led all Jackets defensemen in ice time with over 1,928 minutes played (23:30 per game avg). He played in all situations and he was healthy appearing in all 82 regular season game plus the playoffs.

This guy was horse.

As far as expectations he will be counted on to again be the Jackets best defensemen. The amount of minutes he played certainly took a toll last year so he will be expected to be in better shape and with the experience gained last season have a better understanding of how to treat his body over the long NHL grind.

I'd like to see Tyutin continue to improve his offensive game, especially on the PP,and I'm dying to see one of those devastating hip checks we've all heard about.

Prediction: 12-28-40 +5

Expectations for the 2009-2010 season: Commodore was another face on the Jackets blueline last season.

I've got to be honest, I wasn't expecting a lot from the double-deuce when he was signed but I was pleasantly surprised by his performance even though he admitted he was "out of gas" at the tail end of the season. Defensively he was solid and he was the most punishing Jackets d-man physically leading the blueline in hits with 201.

Similar to Tyutin I expect much of the same from Commie that we saw last year. The key for him is keeping enough in the tank to be as effective in the final 10 games as he was in the first 10. His offensive production really took a dip in the 2nd half so that is another area where he could use some improvement.

We also can't forget how valuable a personality like his is to a locker room and making sure the guys don't get too low during the rough stretches of the season.

Prediction: 5-24-29 +13

Expectations for the 2009-2010 season: The "Black Hole". He gets the name as any forward who tries to take on Hejda more often than not gets sucked into his black hole and is never seen from again.

Since signing on with the Jackets two season ago Hejda has gone on to become one of the best defending defensemen in the league - certainly the Jackets best. His +23 and +20 last year put him right near the top in +/- category. He is also a lot more physical than you think registering 168 hits which was 2nd onto to Commodore.

Offensively Hejda doesn't give you much although he did find the back of the net 3 times last year and rang up 18 assists to go with it. Any improvement on those numbers next season would be a significant bonus.

Still we all know where Hedja's bread is buttered and he will be expected to once again, log big minutes at even strength and on the PK and to shut down the other team's best players.

Prediction: 5-17-22 +25

Expectations for the 2009-2010 season: Rusty had a forgettable regular season only appearing in 34 games as he battled a season's worth of nagging injuries. However all was not lost as Klesla was arguably the Jackets best defensemen over the 4 game sweep at the hands of the Wings. Klesla punished anyone in his path and was the most engaged and motivated Jacket on the ice. It's a side of Klesla's game many fans had not seen and want to see more of.

So that is the challenge for Klesla this season -- can he sustain the level of play he showed in the playoffs during the regular season? If he can he'll not only take his game to a new level but will also pull the Jackets defense to a new level with him.

I'd also like to see Rusty unleash his cannon more often and actually hit the next with it.

It's a contract year for Rusty so there is quite a bit at stake for him this year. To start, he'll need to stay healthy. From there he'll need to bring that edge and punishing style of play more consistently.

Prediction: 7-10-17 +4

Expectations for the 2009-2010 season: Unlike his size this is a HUGE year for Kris Russell.

It's his 3rd year in the league and it's time to take the next step.

Last year wasn't a bad year for Russ. He upped his point total from 10 points two years ago to 21 last season.

I'm not typing anything he doesn't already know but a player like Russ must put up points to keep his job in the NHL. His size will always be a limitation which is always going to hurt him on the defensive side of things.

This season Russell will be expected to take the next step. He's got to use that speed and ability to transport the puck more often. Too often he'll rush the puck up only to end up dumping it in at the blueline. Sometimes that is a good play when nothing is there but a lot times he could back of the defenders more and make a play at the net or retain possession and hit a late man.

It's not a make or break year for him in terms of his NHL career but I think it's a huge year that will determine his long term future as a Blue Jacket. I'm a big fan of Russ and I think he'll be up to the challenge and we'll see a more confident and determined player - especially offensively.

Projection: 6-23-29 -3

Expectations for the 2009-2010 season: Methot finally broke through to a permanent NHL job last season. The 24 year old made it count as well playing 66 games and notching 4g, 13a for 17 points.

Methot will continue to be seen as a 6/7 d-man but he showed last year he can handle top 4 minutes if injuries pile up.

Methot can be a little timid at times with the puck but I've also seen flashes where he can rush the puck up the ice and make something happen offensively.

With his 2nd full season in front of him Methot will be expected to use that big body and punish the opposition physically. He will be expected to improve his puck skills and his first pass out of the zone. 17 points was a pretty good total considering his role and the hope will that he can build off it.

Prediction: 7-13-20 +10

Expectations for the 2009-2010 season: Ahhh... the new kid on the block... but will he hang tough? Yeah.. bad joke.

I can only type what I've read and have seen in youtube clips. Stralman is a 23 year old right handed puck moving dman with a heavy shot from the point. He's a smooth skating puck-mover. He's got upside and obviously that skill set is something the Jackets could desperately use.

He's going to get a tremendous opportunity here, especially on the PP. He'll push both Methot and Russell for playing time.

Stralman to me isn't much different than guys like Umberger, Tyutin or Vermette when they were acquired. Howson is gambling that Stralman, who was buried down the depth charts in Calgary and Toronto, can step into the lineup here with a larger role and excel.

Prediction: 8-13-21 Even

As I mentioned above the key to the Jackets defense is playing as a unit. Wll that and staying healthy. The coaching staff also plays a huge role here in managing the minutes and matchups for different players.

Sacrifice will again be the name of the game. That and the little things like laying out to block shots.. filling lanes... busting your ass to get back into the d-zone to help out the defense...etc.

At the end of the season Tyutin should still be the horse of the group and will hopefully take another step, especially offensively. The Jackets will also need more offensive production out of guys like Russell and now Stralman. Improving puck possession and playing more in the o-zone should also help relieve some of the load on this group.


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