Monday, November 30, 2009

Four Lines Deep - 11/30/09

Blues at Blue Jackets - Nationwide Arena
7 p.m. (EST); Fox Sports Ohio (HD)

TJ Oshie, pictured above, is not on Rick Nash's Christmas card list.

The Jackets will find themselves in familiar company on Monday evening - not just in a division opponent, but with a team that just gave away a lead late in the game. St. Louis gave up the tying goal with less than a minute remaining to Detroit on Saturday night -- and then they lost in a shootout. Sound familiar?

In 24 games, St. Louis is 10-9-5 and sits in fifth place in the Central. Due to injuries, the Blues had a devastating start to the season last year, before becoming one of the hottest teams in the league and earning a playoff spot. The game they clinched a spot was against the Jackets, by the way. The Blues don't quit, no matter what the score or their record. Prior to the shootout loss to Detroit, St. Louis had won four of five, including a win over scorching hot Nashville. The game against the Jackets marks the first of a three game road swing.

St. Louis does not score a lot of goals -- they've only scored 60 on the year. As such, their powerplay isn't much of a threat and is only converting at a (league worst) rate of 12.6 percent. Winger David Perron leads the team in scoring with nine goals. However, they've only allowed 62 goals against, and that is 28 fewer than the Jackets. Netminder Chris Mason has been very solid this year - even without much goals support - and getting the lion's share of the starts.  As such, it shouldn't be a surprise to learn that the Blues' leading point scorer is blueliner Erik Johnson (3 g/14 a/+8). The Blues always show up ready to play the Jackets and they have dominated the series lately -- both on the scoreboard and on the body. Remember the sparring between Rick Nash and TJ Oshie? Check out the video link. Hopefully, Rick remembers and intends to exact some payback. The Jackets need Nash to set the tone in this game.

First Line: Get Nashty.  Nash's goal scoring had slowed to a more normal human being level over the last five games, but he tallied in the Calgary game and tends to score more at home. This has been discussed to death, but he needs to answer the bell. Howson said that the answers to the team's slump lie within the dressing room, and those answers have to start with the Captain. He has to come out with bad intentions, and not just make an impact on the scorers sheet -- he has to hit some people and get nasty in the defensive zone. He was a real threat on the PK to start the season, and a breakaway could make a great statement for the whole team tonight.  And it would be fine to see a big hit on Oshie.

Second Line: Win the special teams war. The Jackets have an excellent powerplay and have continued to find success even while the rest of the team's game is slumping. Stralman, Tyutin and Brassard have done a great job of distributing the puck and everyone is looking for opportunities to get shots through. The Blues have an excellent penalty kill (83%) and sit at third best in the Western Conference. The Jackets have to win that matchup, as goals have been fleeting during five on five. Further, the Jackets can afford to be aggressive with the body, as the Blues have the league's worst powerplay. The penalty kill has done a great job with blocking shots recently, now they just need to capitalize on their opportunities to clear the zone. That commitment starts with Jan Hejda.

Third Line: Get the lead. Don't give it back.  Hopefully, this has already become painfully obvious to the Jackets. They simply have to manage the flow of the game much, much better. On paper, the Jackets have a lot more firepower than the Blues and should be able to capitalize on that. Strangely enough, that hasn't been the challenge this year -- it's been playing with the lead. Once the Jackets can strike an effective balance between aggression and responsibility, they should start stacking up the wins. Let's start tonight, shall we?

Fourth Line: Put the passes on the tape. As a team, the passing efficiency has been really terrible lately. It has been a long time since I've seen the Jackets make so many "no look" passes, pushing the puck up the ice without a target in mind, and banging passes into the skates of teammates on the rush. It has created a lot of defensive and neutral zone turnovers, and a fair number of those turnovers have ended up in the Jackets' net. The Jackets practice seamless breakouts a great deal, so I'm not sure why they're having so many problems. There has been a lot of line shifting, but I have to believe it's just an overall lack of focus. Poor passing exacerbates an already suspect defense and neutralizes the great team speed and transition game of the Jackets. That has to be better against the Blues, or the game will be much more challenging than we already expect.

Afternoon Scrum 11/30/09

CBJ General Manager Scott Howson will leave it up to the players in the room to find their way out of their current funk.

Hockey headlines for the CBJ and from around the league. Mmmmm... hockey

Your Columbus Blue Jackets, they of 5 consecutive losses, play host to the St. Louis Blues this evening. Read above for a Four Lines Deep preview of the matchup. For now, here are the headlines.
  • When does "no news" constitute a hockey headline? When your GM says no trades are imminent as a means of shaking things up on a team that has lost 5 in a row and is sitting 3 spots out of the playoffs.
  • Nikita Filatov as trend setter? Another young Russian player has defected to Mother Russia.
  • I will agree that while exciting, shootouts are a bogus way to decide the outcome of a game. Would you condone a tie basketball game being decided by a game of HORSE? THN's Adam Proteau addresses the grumblings regarding the use of shootouts to decide games.
  • Some news from on the Bluenotes: STL has called up a defenseman from the AHL for tonight's game. D Jonas Junland (6g-12a-18p) leads the AHL's Peoria Rivermen in points so far this season.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Four Lines Deep - 11/28/09

Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Calgary Flames - Nationwide Arena
Fox Sports Ohio and CBC; 7 p.m. (EST)

Though this image is from last season, both Olli Jokinen and Jamie Lundmark played a significant role last night as the Flames did the Jackets a favor and shut out the Wings in Detroit 3-0. In fact, both Jokinen and recent call-up Lundmark dented the scoresheet as Mikka Kiprusoff stopped all 40 shots he faced to notch his second shutout of the season and 32nd of his stellar career. It was the first time the Red Wings were shutout in back-to-back games since 2001.

What's worse for the CBJ is that the Flames are hot going 3-0-1 in their past four while the Jackets are 0-3-1 in that stretch taking just one point, a shootout loss in Nashville, during this stretch of poor play.

Captain Canada, Jarome Iginla leads the Flames with 25 points in 24 games on 16 goals including 13 goals in his past 14 games. While he did not score a goal last night in Detroit, he did register two helpers and his chemistry with Olli Jokinen seems to be improving each night.

The Flames are +12 in goal differential having allowed just 61 tallies while the Jackets are a dismal -13 having already surrendered 86 goals. As we mentioned the other day, the CBJ are moving toward allowing an incomprehensible 300 goals this season and the Flames pose yet another test with a deep team that can throw physicality, scoring prowess, speed and team defense at the Jackets. Remember, the Flames have had little trouble scoring over the past few years. Their problem has been keeping the puck out of their net, even with Mikka Kiprusoff between the pipes most nights. But, with the offseason change at head coach that brought yet another Sutter brother to the Flames organization in former Devils head man Brent Sutter, and the addition of all-world defenseman Jay Bouwmeester from the Panthers, the Flames have improved their defensive play and have become much more responsible in their own end.

The attention to defensive detail has paid off for the Flames as they are 7th overall in team defense surrendering just 2.54 goals per game, yet they have not sacrificed scoring as they are 6th at 3.04 goals-for per game. Whereas the Jackets have been struggling to find that sort of consistency. We can score this year (9th, 2.96 goals-for per game) but we are awful defensively surrendering 3.46 goals per game which is 28th overall. Clearly the CBJ must find a way to keep the Flames off the scoreboard while capitalizing on any opportunities or powerplays that come their way.

First Line
Control Calgary's first line - While the Flames have formidable secondary scoring from the likes of Daymond Langkow (15 points), Rene Bourque (21 points - who may miss tonight's game) and former Jacket Curtis Glencross (10 points), the Iginla-Jokinen-Lundmark line was difficult to control for the Red Wings last night with Iginla assisting on goals by each of his linemates. If the Jackets can recapture their defensive intensity, and keep this line in check, they will dramatically increase their chances to win by forcing the secondary scoring from other sources. However, both Bouwmeester and Dion Phaneuf can put the puck in the net and are dangerous on the powerplay.

Second Line
Squeeze the Juice - Kristian Huselius has been incredibly hot for the Jackets with five goals in his last seven games. One thing that seems to have helped is that he is now skating more aggressively and shooting the puck more. Calgary's defense is susceptible to allowing a good number of odd-man rushes. Huselius should look for an opportunity to gamble and take a shot at a breakaway. The key will be whether our defense can control the puck in the zone and make good, smart multi-line passes out of our end.

Third Line
Drive the net - Whether it's Mikka Kiprusoff playing again tonight, or more likely, his ward Curtis McElhinney, the Jackets should drive the net with vigor. The last time the Flames came to Nationwide, they did so as part of the second game in two nights and the Jackets simply outworked the clearly tired Flames. Now, that game was the infamous 6-5 OT loss to the Blackhawks when they led 5-0 and let it get away. I'm guessing they expended much more energy that night than last night in Detroit. However, Kipper and his defense do not like guys in his face. Phaneuf and Regehr, in particular, are prone to taking dumb penalties. If the Jackets can get in front and make trouble for either a perhaps-less-than-100% Kiprusoff (he made 40 stops last night), or his young back-up, we might have a chance to draw some penalties or score some goals that might not otherwise be there.

Fourth Line
Can anyone stop the puck? Steve Mason has been abysmal this season and Mathieu Garon has been inconsistent. Like baseball, good pitching beats good hitting and good goaltending can make the difference any night. Will one of these guys step up and take the #1 job? Whomever plays tonight, if they're bad, forget it - the Flames roll.

Friday Night Ice

At the Subway Holiday Classic in Grand Forks, N.D., the Ohio representatives left on the short end of both games as #6 Bemidji State defeated the #1 Miami RedHawks 3-2 and host #4 North Dakota knocked off Ohio State 4-1.

In the opener,
  • #6 Bemidji State scored a single goal in the first and second periods to take an early lead, but Miami came to life in the third evening the score before BSU senior captain Chris McKelvie sent home a rebound past Miami sophomore netminder Cody Reichard with just a little over three minutes to play to avenge last spring's loss to Miami in the Frozen Four.
  • Miami's two goals were scored by junior Carter Camper who has started to heat up after a lengthy goal drought.
  • It was Reichard's first loss this season (8-1-1), and by far his worst effort as he allowed two gigantic rebound (literally and figuratively) goals and made just 15 saves as Miami's defensive effort was superb despite the loss. It was Miami's first loss in regulation as the RedHawks fall to 9-2-4.
  • Miami must now work to avoid a weekend sweep as they face the #4 North Dakota Fighting Sioux at Ralph Engelstad Arena at 8:30pm. The game will be televised on Fox College Sports - Atlantic.
In the nightcap,
  • #4 North Dakota shook off a nice effort by the Buckeyes as they netted three third period goals to open some daylight. The Sioux led just 1-0 after two periods as junior netminder Dustin Carlson made 29 saves to keep OSU in the game.
  • OSU's lone goal was scored by sophomore Zac Dalpe who leads the Buckeyes with nine goals and 17 points.
  • With the loss, Ohio State falls to 5-9-1 and will face #6 Bemidji State at 4:30pm this evening at Ralph Engelstad Arena looking for a weekend split.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Subway Holiday Classic Preview

What: Subway Holiday Classic
Who: #1 Miami/Ohio State vs. #6 Bemidji State/#4 North Dakota
Where: Ralph Engelstad Arena, Grand Forks, N.D.
When: Friday November 27 and Saturday November 28 (5pm and 8:30pm each night)

TV: Both games featuring North Dakota will be televised at 8:30pm EST on FCS-Atlantic

Complete Weekend Schedule:

#1 Miami (9-1-4) v. #6 Bemidji State (10-1-1) - 5pm
Ohio State (5-8-1) v. #4 North Dakota (7-4-1) - 8:30pm

Ohio State v. #6 Bemidji State - 5pm
#1 Miami v. #4 North Dakota - 8:30pm

When the Subway Holiday Classic was announced last summer, several things stuck out immediately.

  • The Ohio Hockey Classic was to be no more. With Ohio State hosting, the event had been held annually since 2004 with Miami also participating in each one.
  • Therefore, both squads would need to find another tournament, or series, to fill out their non-conference schedules.
  • Though Miami and Ohio State both made the NCAA tournament as at-large teams last season, both had room to improve their strength of schedule to help improve their chances of getting into the dance. As a result, both teams drew #4 seeds (the lowest in the 16-team tournament) and Ohio State was the final at-large team selected.
Not only that, but the date of the new event was scheduled the same weekend as the long-running College Hockey Showcase featuring four of the five hockey-playing schools of the Big Ten. The College Hockey Showcase has always been a fly in the ointment for Ohio State because as the fifth hockey-playing member of the Big Ten, they have always been excluded from this opportunity. As a result, Ohio State faces Wisconsin and Minnesota (of the WCHA) much less frequently than their CCHA conference mates Michigan and Michigan State. As a result, the Buckeyes have been looking for an opportunity to stick it to the other Big Ten schools for some time. The Ohio Hockey Classic was developed by OSU to host their own holiday tournament that could rival the Showcase. But due to scheduling issues, it never worked out that the tournament featured highly regarded programs aside from Miami. In fact, last year's OHC featured Army and Clarkson, not exactly a packed field and past juggernauts included Holy Cross and RPI. As a result, attendance suffered and though they never said it publicly, it was clear Miami wanted out. Frankly, the also defunct Lefty McFadden Invitational had arguably better fields including North Dakota, BU, Wisconsin and Denver but it too failed due to flagging attendance despite the good draws. And, Miami had been rumored for the past few years to be working to schedule a series with North Dakota. In fact, the Sioux were the last team from the WCHA to defeat Miami when they beat them 3-0 at the 2005 Lefty McFadden in Dayton.

Simply put, the Subway Hockey Classic will help all four teams as the winners will have quality victories on their resumes come tournament selection time but the losers will gain strength-of-schedule points and valuable experience. Not only that, but this event has significantly more buzz than the College Hockey Showcase considering that both Michigan and Minnesota are currently under .500 and unranked and Wisconsin and Michigan State are both recovering from subpar seasons that saw both programs miss the NCAA tournament. In fact, only Michigan made the dance last season whereas all four participants in Grand Forks made the tournament including two who went all the way to the Frozen Four.

Friday's first game between #1 Miami and #6 Bemidji State is a rematch of April's national semifinal where the RedHawks outhit, outclassed and outscored the upstart Beavers winning 4-1 in a game that really wasn't as close as the score might suggest. The Beavers, who play in College Hockey America, will be moving to the WCHA next season at the conclusion of the CHA's run. The conference will fold after this year so while they do not get a chance to play their soon-to-be conference partner North Dakota this weekend, they are firmly securing their place at the table with larger, more established D-1 hockey schools with games against two upper-tier CCHA programs. While a relative newcomer to Division 1, BSU has experienced success at the Division 2 and 3 levels winning national championships on each stage. It should come as no surprise that a program with a tradition of winning would begin to establish themselves on the D-1 level as their trip to the 2009 Frozen Four would suggest.

Bemidji State is coached by Tom Serratore (BSU '87) who has compiled a 150-119-30 record in nine seasons at his alma mater. Serratore prefers a fast-paced game where speed and puck pressure is a point of emphasis. In their NCAA tournament wins over Notre Dame and Cornell, the Beavers skated both squads out of the rink and made the most of their opportunities. However, when they faced Miami, they faced a team with NHL size who could skate and hit, the Beavers were clearly overmatched. Miami's puck possession style effectively negated the Beavers ability to isolate puck carriers and they were unable force poor decisions and turnovers. The point of Serratore's system is to create turnovers and enable the Beavers to use their speed in counter-attacks and odd-man rushes. In the national semifinal, current Miami captain Tommy Wingels (Wilmette, Ill.) scored twice and assisted on another goal helping Miami completely dominate Bemidji State. The RedHawks set the tone early with their physical size and strength by throwing crushing checks all over the ice. I suspect Miami coach Rico Blasi (Miami '94) will attempt to duplicate that effort tonight in Grand Forks.

In addition to the rematch angle, this game features the top two defensive teams in college hockey. The Beavers lead the nation by allowing just 1.67 goals per game while Miami is second at 1.71. Both likely starting netminders have been superb. BSU's sophomore Dan Bakala (Calgary, Alberta) is 7-1-1 with a 1.64 goal against average and 93.8 save percentage while Miami's Cody Reichard (Celina, Ohio) has been even better at 8-0-2, 1.44 and 93.6, respectively.

The Beavers are led by sophomore defenseman Brad Hunt (Ridge Meadows, B.C.) and junior forward Matt Read (Ilderton, Ont.). In last weekend's sweep of CHA foe Alabama-Huntsville, Hunt registered a hat trick and four points on Saturday night demonstrating his ability to create and score from the blue line. In the national semifinal, Read scored the Beavers' lone goal on the powerplay making a nifty move in front of Miami goaltender Cody Reichard to deke the defense and deposited the puck in the net. Miami will have their hands full with the two of them and will have to deal with the Beavers speed. The key will be if Miami can effectively control the flow and pace using their size advantage as they did in D.C. to punish the Beavers every time they have the chance. Miami leads the all-time series with BSU 3-0 with Rico Blasi at the helm for each game.

Last weekend, Miami won and tied at Western Michigan with Cody Reichard earning a 3-0 shutout in net on Friday and Connor Knapp (York, N.Y.) surrendering just one goal in earning a 2-1 shootout win which is viewed as a tie nationally.

In the nightcap, the Ohio State Buckeyes will take on tournament host and seven-time NCAA champion #4 North Dakota. The Sioux are the second WCHA team the Buckeyes have faced this season. Earlier, OSU split a home weekend series with Denver and are 0-2 all-time against the Fighting Sioux with both prior games coming in Grand Forks - in 1979. So, you can probably throw out any meaning to those games on tonight's match.

North Dakota is coached by Dave Hakstol (UND '92) who has compiled a 137-75-20 record in six seasons. While the overall record might not look that impressive, Hakstol has guided the Sioux to five Frozen Four appearances in his six seasons with last year's first round loss to New Hampshire the only blemish in the tournament's first weekend. Yet Hakstol is still searching for his first national title at North Dakota, something the school has not won since 2000. With a $135 million arena and a large, passionate fan base, Hakstol probably needs to win a title to cement his place at the school. It's not unreasonable to believe the school will move on should he be unable to get the program back on top within a year or two. Hockey is to North Dakota as football is to Ohio State, so you get the idea.

The Sioux are loaded with NHL draft picks including senior captain Chris VandeVelde (Moorhead, Minn.) who leads the team with 12 points on four goals. VandeVelde made the decision to return to school after last season's NCAA tournament loss which was quite a relief to Sioux fans who had to lament over the loss of former Hobey Baker Award winner Ryan Duncan and his skill and speed. However, senior defenseman Chay Genoway (Morden, Manitoba) who has 10 points in nine games was injured two weeks ago and missed North Dakota's series at Denver where the Sioux were swept 1-0 and 3-2 by the Pioneers. While he might be a small defenseman, Genoway does a lot to control the game by moving the puck out of the defensive zone, and obviously, he chips in on the scoresheet as well. Currently, Genoway is not expected to play this weekend which is a blow knowing the offensive talent the Buckeyes and RedHawks possess. However, sophomore goaltender Brad Eidsness (Chestermere, Alberta) has been solid stopping nearly 93% of shots on goal while allowing just 1.69 goals per game. Whatever the Sioux lose defensively by not having Genoway is more than made up for by the presence of Eidsness who is building on his stellar freshman campaign and showing no signs of a "sophomore slump."

The Buckeyes are coming off a rough weekend at Big Rapids, Mich. where they were swept in CCHA play by upstart Ferris State 8-1 and 6-5. On Friday, the Bulldogs simply overwhelmed the Buckeyes, and to add insult to injury, inserted their third goaltender who had never before played a game at the Division 1 level to play the entire third period. Ohio State was not so certain as they rotated both starter junior Dustin Carlson (Forest Lake, Minn.) and sophomore Cal Heeter (St. Louis, Mo.) to no avail. And, on Saturday, the Buckeyes blew leads of 3-0 and 5-2 eventually falling in overtime to the Bulldogs. As a result, Ohio State took no league points as overtime losses do not earn a point as in the NHL (and that's the way it should be).

Saturday's meeting between Ohio State and Bemidji State will be the first ever between the two schools. And, Miami and North Dakota will meet for just the third time overall and the first time since 2005 with the Sioux holding a 2-0 advantage.

Fearless predictions -

Regardless of who wins this weekend, goals will be earned, not given.

Friday -
Miami 3, Bemidji State 1

North Dakota 4, Ohio State 1

Saturday -
Bemidji State 4, Ohio State 3

Miami 3, North Dakota 2

Pucks and Giblets - 11/26/09

CBJ at Senators; Scotiabank Place
7:30 p.m. (EST); Fox Sports Ohio/TSN (HD)

Personally, I've always enjoyed leftovers more than the big meal. This is more of a leftover turkey sandwich version of the Four Lines Deep preview column -- still satisfying, just not as big and fancy. This is the only meeting of the season with Ottawa. Steve Mason earned a shutout when the two clubs last faced each other.

Ottawa has been playing well. They've earned 27 points (12-7-3) and sit in second place in the Northeast Division. The Blue Jackets have not been playing well. Ottawa lost in New Jersey last night, 3-1, but had won four consecutive games at home prior to that loss. Much like Montreal, the Jackets will skate in a barn tonight that has a very engaged crowd and a confident home team. The Sens haven't lost at home in regulation since Nov. 7.

Milan Michalek, who came to the club from the San Jose Sharks, is filling in admirably for Dany Heatley.  The Jackets will need to key in on him, especially since hot players tend to get blazing hot against the Jackets.  Daniel Alfredsson is also playing very well, although most of his points come from distributing the puck. The right wing leads the team with 15 assists and 23 total points.

Centers Mike Fisher and Jason Spezza have been both productive and are performing very well in the faceoff circle -- Vermette will have his hands full with his former mates.

Brian Elliott will be in net for Ottawa, as the oft-injured Pascal Leclaire is out with a fractured cheekbone. On a side note, I really like Pazzy and wish him the best. You can't find a better team guy and I hope he has a speedy recovery. Elliott has played pretty well (2.78 GAA/.901 SV) and the team knows he's going to be in net for the foreseeable future, so the Jackets should expect him to be pretty solid. Overall, Ottawa has been playing much better defensively than the Jackets -- they've given up nearly 20 less goals on the season, and their PK is in the top third of the league.

There shouldn't be too many lineup changes for the Jackets. Mason will be in net and either Methot (an Ottawa native) or Russell will switch up on the blueline. My personal vote is for Russell, but Methot may play well on home turf and with the memory of a recent healthy scratch. The forward lines should remain the same. Look for Vermette to continue his scoring streak, and I think that Voracek is due for a big game. Hopefully, Nash will respond in the right way to some of the criticism he's been taking for his inconsistent commitment to the defensive end of the rink. Personally, I think he will.

The formula for the Jackets is as simple as gravy -- keep it hot and take out the lumps. The first two periods they played in Montreal were pristine. And the third period was a high-speed train wreck. If they play as they did in the first two periods -- which involved winning board battles, high-energy checking and excellent breakouts -- the Jackets should get off the losing streak. If not, then they will probably give up another 4-5 goals in a losing effort and return to Columbus with an even greater sense of frustration.

State of the Union

Coach Hitchcock feels that the league's youngest team is still learning what style of hockey is needed to win consistently.

This is my favorite holiday because it is totally focused on eating. But wait...something is giving me indigestion. It's my hockey team. Who are these guys? It has been really difficult to put a label on this team, because they beat Dallas on the road one night, and give up a TOUCHDOWN in unanswered goals against a slumping Rangers team on another night. Key players (Nash, Vermette, Klesla, etc.) were given contract extensions in the off-season. So is there an element of complacency from these leaders? I don't think so. I know that too much has been made of this fact, but I have to take solace in the fact that this team is still quite young (avg. 26) and needs to find a balance between calm confidence and unbridled passion. It's not an excuse - it's a fact. And I'm willing to live with that for a (little) longer. What makes this perplexing is that the Jackets have retained much of the same leadership that took them to the playoffs -- notably Nash, Umberger, Commodore and Hejda. So these (increasingly regular) blowout losses and meltdowns are becoming pretty concerning.

The team is scoring goals at an unprecedented pace. And that's a new place for the Jackets to be, because offense has never been a strong point. Finally, we have a team that can score regularly, and our much-heralded defense has collapsed? Why? Ultimately, I think this is the question that we have to tackle, so I've given some of my thoughts below:

Essentially, the personnel are the same on the blueline. So you have to look at the variables that have changed. Anton Stralman, the only newcomer, is logging more NHL minutes than he's ever had the opportunity to do. Certainly, it takes some time to learn how to effectively compete as an NHL defenseman. Nobody can really dispute that. However, the pairing of he and Tyutin has not been very effective at five-on-five hockey. They are showing great success on the powerplay, and the Jackets really depend on the goal production from that powerplay right now. The fact that the Jackets now have the top-ranked powerplay in the league (26.1%) is worth a whole additional post at some later point, but reinforces some of the monumental shift that has happened on this team with essentially the same players. Back to Stralman -- I'm just not sold on that pairing. Combined, they are (-14). Tyutin has not been the responsible line of support that Hitch may have hoped for in that pairing. He has been guilty - way too often - of giveways and missed coverages. When the two are together, I see a lot of blown coverages, some "skate arounds" by opposing forwards and a general lack of communication in the defensive zone. I see little compelling reason to put two "offensive minded" defensemen on the same pairing in even situations-- especially when you've given up more than 80 goals at this point in the season. Let me say that again....more than 80 goals. The Jackets are on pace to give up more than 300 goals this year.

Kris Russell has seen a fair number of healthy scratches this year. Just last year, he was considered un-tradeable by Howson. However, his status this year seems less certain. He continues to show promise in his puck-moving ability, and he's rarely accused of not putting in a solid effort. I think he has great instincts for jumping into the offensive zone and he can certainly skate the puck out of trouble. However, he's just not that big and is moved off the puck by larger forwards. In some respects, that makes him a "role" player and could ultimately relegate him to more time on the powerplay unit. Obviously, that role is currently being filled by Stralman, who apparently has a much more effective slapshot from the point. All that said, Russell is a worker from Western Canada, and I think he brings more than Marc Methot right now. Methot hasn't shown me much this year.  In fact, the only plays I remember him making were bad penalties. He is a physical presence and provides some much-needed grit, but he's not providing even the modest offensive threat that he showed last year and hasn't dropped the gloves with anyone. He has to bring some more energy to his game or he'll start watching more games in the pressbox.  He's an Ottawa native, so if he cracks the lineup tonight, I would expect a solid showing. 

Rusty has been around long enough for the organization and the fans to know exactly what to expect. I believe that the positives outweigh the negatives in the long-term. He is physical. He has a great shot from the point. He brings energy and he won't hesitate to take the body or drop the gloves. He is a streaky scorer, and he has proven he can move Holmstrom from the crease. He also makes boneheaded turnovers and occasionally loses his way in the defensive zone. It's Rusty and he's a loyal Jacket. I think he has played pretty well this year, but I haven't seen him really flourish with any of his partners this year. If he plays like he did in the playoffs last year, he can stay around as long as he wants.

Why have we not re-united the "Death and Taxes" pairing of Hejda and Commodore? How about just once? I understand there have been concerns about conditioning and injury rehab - in fact Commodore looked pretty beat down and just plain ineffective in Montreal. He is not picking his spots well, and he can't get into the flow of the game. Playing independently of one another, neither player has shown the efficacy they did last year. Missed clearing attempts, blown coverages in front and miscommunications -- these are chemistry and conditioning issues, not skill issues.  But this was the top pairing for the Jackets last season -- and frankly, one of the most effective shut-down pairings in the league. Chemistry is so important in hockey, and these two players obviously have that asset when playing together. At this point, what is there to lose?

Speaking of losing, let's talk about goaltending. Mason is in a sophomore slump. Game. Set. Match. It has been proven beyond argument that he's not performing to his ability. The good news is that we all know what he is capable of. He can shut down a game and lead this team with confidence. He's still young, and he's not had near the level of defensive support that he enjoyed last year. That being said, he's just off in his technique right now. I still believe that this is a short-term problem and not something to lose to much sleep over.  Hitch has a delicate situation here, and I think he's handled it pretty well thus far. He's striking a good balance between disciplinarian and mentor. Jackets' fans should also be encouraged to know that Mason has overcome great adversity in the past, including injuries, death threats and splinters from the bench. He is mentally strong. For young pros that meet with early success, the game seems simple. Then they over-analyze and make it too complex. And then, hopefully, it becomes simple again. Apparently, he's in the middle stage right now.

Garon has been playing pretty well, with the notable exception of the Montreal game. He is consistently capable, solid in shootouts and brings a good veteran perspective to the room. I continue to believe that he was a smart acquisition and a good fit as a backup. If Mason doesn't get out of his slump soon, the Jackets are going to find out just how much starting duty he can handle.

If team defense is a glaring problem, you can't just limit the criticism to the defensemen and goalies. The Jackets forwards have been occassionally committed to backchecking, but not nearly at the level at which they need to compete. Rick Nash "leads" this team with the worst (-11) rating. It is simply unacceptable. It's become clear that the leaders on this team -- and he is at the top of that list -- have a tremendous impact on the energy and play of the rest of this young team. As such, Nash has to set the tone and expectations for defensive zone coverage and neutral zone play. That is not happening, and people around the league are noticing.  I think the team misses Andrew "Weighty" Murray, who wasn't a tremendous offensive threat, but very solid on defense and wins a lot of battles in the corners. MacKenzie has filled in admirably, but I haven't seen too much from Blunden recently. Speaking of recently invisible, Chimera has got to step up his game as well. Like...right now. He made a gutsy "soccer" clear on the PK when he was without his stick in Montreal, and maybe that's a sign of things to come.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Four Lines Deep - 11/24/09

Columbus Blue Jackets at Montreal Canadiens; Bell Centre
7:30 p.m. (EST); Fox Sports Ohio/TSN (HD)

Former CBJ blueliner Jaroslav Spacek, pictured above, is logging more than 20 minutes per game and is (+6).

That game in New York was so painful to watch that I find myself unable to write down coherent thoughts. So I shall projectile hurl them across the keyboard, as the Jackets have just done in Madison Square Garden.

The Habs currently sit in fourth in the Northeast. Monteal had a two-game winning streak going before losing to Detroit in an overtime shootout on Saturday night. Montreal is starting to find some consistency to its game, and is playing .500 hockey thus far. However, it's important to note that five consecutive losses happened in October. Since that time, the Habs haven't lost more than two in a row.

From a stats perspective, this Montreal team is fairly unspectacular. The PK is in the middle of the pack, and the powerplay is in the lower third of the league. They don't have an abundance of firepower and also rank in the bottom third for goals scored.

There has been some drama in Montreal, with the five game suspension of Georges Laraque for his hit on Niklas Kronwall on Saturday.  Kronwall will be out of the lineup at least a month.

Montreal only has four players with five or more goals. Cammalleri leads the team with 11. Again, the Jackets are facing a team with only one bona fide scoring threat, but that doesn't seem to matter too much. Only the slumping Carolina Hurricanes have given up more goals than the Jackets (79). Clearly, they can't take anyone lightly as a scoring threat.

The Jackets folded the house pretty early in the game last night, so it will be interesting to see how they respond. Neither Mason nor Garon looked especially sharp in net in New York, although the majority of the players simply didn't give any energy to the game. Boll was certainly the exception. Garon will be playing in front of friends and family, so he should bring some extra energy to the game.

However, that point will be null and void if the first line doesn't show up. Nash and Juice didn't contribute a whole lot the game last night, nor did they in Nashville. They are both playing very well overall, and I'm sure they'll bounce back tonight. Vermette has been brutalized in the last two games -- it seemed as if he was completely unprepared for the competitive pace of the game. He needs to get focused and bring a more physical game to bear. He needs to be every bit as good of a defensemen as a forward when he's on the ice, and he needs to check the body to fill that role.

Simply put, the Jackets have to find out how to get motivated. It doesn't appear as though the team has an answer when the "leaders" don't show up for a game. Only one-quarter through the season, this team has given up some hideous blowout losses. As a fan, it's perplexing because there wasn't a huge shift in personnel during the off-season, and these kind of losses just didn't happen last year. Regardless, the team responded well after the Detroit massacre, so hopefully the same will happen again this evening. It can't be too hard to play in front of an energetic crowd in Montreal. If you love hockey, it's one of the world's premier stages -- regardless of the standings.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Four Lines Deep - 11/23/09

Columbus Blue Jackets at New York Rangers;MSG
7:00 p.m. (EST); Fox Sports Ohio (HD)

Marian Gaborik has had plenty of reasons to celebrate his arrival in New York, as he currently leads the Rangers in scoring.

In this special holiday week edition of Four Lines Deep, the column has been condensed to a bunch of random thoughts. I'm sure that our readers are as busy with multi-tasking as we are during the holiday rush, so don't be shocked to see this format in the near future.

The Rangers have certainly cooled since their blazing start. They now sit at fourth in the Atlantic. The Rangers have lost four of their last five, and when they faced top-tier teams, they weren't up for the challenge. "Torts" as he's known, is not exactly a lilting flower on the bench. He is less than pleased with the recent stretch of games, and his doghouse is getting a little more crowded with Blueshirts. The Rangers have felt some pain from injuries, but eventually every team always does, and they are not dealing well with the adversity.

Tonight's game should feature an intriguing special teams matchup. The Rangers' PK is the fourth best in the league -- which is even more surprising given their poor performance in the faceoff circle (47%).  The Jackets have the second best powerplay in the league. Yes, I just wrote that. They are clicking at better than a 25% conversion rate, and Stralman, Tyutin and Brassard are doing an excellent job of generating effective puck movement and shots from the point. The Rangers take approximately 20 minutes of penalties per game, so if the Jackets can manage to be a little more prudent in staying out of the box, the powerplay should get at least 3-4 good chances to convert.

Unfortunately, the Jackets' penalty kill is equally noteworthy -- for all the wrong reasons.  The Jackets keep missing opportunities to clear pucks, and it's killing them. Pun intended. Their have been recent flashes of brilliance, but it just simply lacks the consistent, competitive drive it once had. Key people are losing their composure. It has to get better, and soon. They clearly have the talent to be killing at least 80 percent of the penalties -- they just need to re-dedicate themselves. As a side note, would you have ever expected that at any point in the season, the Jackets would have a power play or a penalty kill ranked in the top three in the league? 

The primary key to this game will be shuting down the Ranger's first line. Drury is still out due to a concussion delivered by former Jacket Curtis Glencross. The only two forwards that are scoring threats are Prospal and Gaborik -- and they're on the same line. There's been a lot of transition on the off winger, but it doesn't matter. They are lethal together. Gaborik has had an amazing first quarter of the season and stands as an elite player right now. He has nearly one-quarter of the team's goals. Rest assured, Hitch and Murph have already given the blueliners a sense of urgency about keeping track of Gaborik. Shutting down that line is no small task, but if the Jackets can do that, their chances for two points go way up. Having both Commodore and Hejda back in the lineup --even if they're not paired together-- should continue to strengthen the overall efficacy of the Jackets' defense.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Four Lines Deep -- 11/21/09

Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Nashville Predators - Sommet Center
Fox Sports Ohio; 8 p.m. (EST)

Predators forward Jordin Tootoo, pictured left, is usually close to the action when they meet the Jackets.

If you live in Ohio - or have ever lived in the state north of Ohio - then you are well aware that this day is all about rivalries. R.J. Umberger knows all about it. Enough said. Regardless, this is an important game for the Jackets for a wide range of reasons. After a slow start, Nashville is 8-2 in the last 10 games. They have been competing well and recently beat the conference-leading San Jose Sharks and the New Jersey Devils. Clearly, they can compete with the league's best teams right now, and have won four in a row.

Saturday's tilt marks the second Central Division matchup thus far for the Jackets -- surely, they are hoping for a better result than the 9-1 drubbing they suffered at the hands (and feet, and elbows) of Detroit on November 11. It won't take much to get the Jackets motivated to win this game, but one has to wonder if they can bounce back with an appropriate level of energy after losing Dorsett to injury in Dallas and having an extremely physical game only two nights previous.

The Predators' powerplay has been fairly atrocious in the first quarter of the season -- not a tremendous surprise given their lack of goal scoring in even play. They are dead last in the league, averaging only 2.2 goals per game. However, the Jackets' defense and PK has been so inconsistent this year, that they can hardly afford to discount any team's powerplay efficacy. As proof, the Jackets are allowing 3.3 goals per game and currently rank 26th in the league in that category.  The Predators penalty kill is right in the middle (15th in league) at 80.6%.

First Line: Beat them at their own game.  Nashville has a great sense of continuity - due in no small part to the consistent presence of Barry Trotz on the bench. Much like the Jackets, Nashville puts a great deal of focus on the neutral zone trap and aggressive forechecking. No matter who takes the ice for the Predators, they stay true to their system, and for long stretches of time, have been more effective in that system than Columbus. That has to change - and the time is now. Columbus has size and grit in the lineup to counter Nashville's game plan -- and now has more firepower on the forward lines than its ever had, and that makes an opportunistic forecheck all the more deadly.   Nashville simply doesn't have the scoring in its lineup and that should allow the Jackets to pinch in from the points and take some chances. If the Jackets can rule the neutral zone, they should get two points on the road.

Second Line: Turn the Juice Loose.  Since his return from a brief injury rest, Huselius has been on fire. He's playing with passion, controlling the puck and looking to score. Jackets fans haven't seen this Huselius for awhile and he is managing the ice very effectively. Perhaps most impressively, he's been doing so in two very physical hockey games. He needs the puck on his stick - plain and simple.

Third Line: Hit everybody.  As Hitch mentioned in the post-game presser on Thursday evening, the Jackets are being mindful of their checking game again -- and it's paying big dividends. They have size and speed, and when those assets are combined with a commitment to punishing the other team, a lot of good things happen. The Jackets have to stay true to that commitment -- especially on the road. There is no doubt that Nashville will bring a physical presence to the game and the Jackets have to exceed it. The Predators powerplay isn't a tremendous threat (14.7%) and that should allow the Jackets to take some more liberties with physical play.

Fourth Line:  Support Mase. Sophomore slumps can still go away during the sophomore year. Mase has been playing really solid - with the notable exception of the Detroit massacre - and with Hejda and Commie now healthy and back in the lineup, he should be feeling much more confident. The Predators shouldn't generate more than 25-30 shots, and as long as the Jackets keep the shooting lanes free of screens and traffic, Mase should have another solid game. Building momentum and confidence for Mason is crucial for success on this road trip -- and certainly for the balance of the season.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Afternoon Scrum 11/20/09

Hockey headlines for the CBJ and from around the league. Mmmmm... hockey

Great win last night by the Fightin' CBJs. Read Pepper's game summary (below) for the details. For my part, I'll just say that I thought it was the best game the Jackets have played so far this season. 60 minutes of weighty performances by every player. Here's hoping Dorsett is alright. Let's get to the news!
  • Dallas Stars F James Neal has been suspended two games for his hit on CBJ F Derek Dorsett last night. It was a dirty play and the suspension is warranted. The league, however, needs to reassess how many games they are suspending these players. Two games (or 2.4% of the regular season) should not be deemed adequate for the kind of disregard for player safety that Neal displayed last night. Maybe I am biased. Puck Daddy seems to think that Neal's defenders in Dallas are right in arguing that intent to injure was not part of the equation. You be the judge.

  • Kristian Huselius has been named one of the 3 Stars of last night by the NHL. Juice put up 2 goals against the Stars. One goal was of the shorthanded variety, the other was a PP tally. Huselius has 15 points in 16 games.

  • John Kreiser over at has some interesting league numbers at the quarter-season mark. Mathieu Garon is mentioned.

  • I've tried on more than one occasion in this space to express my thoughts about the NHLPA and the whole firing of Paul Kelly issue. John Buccigross over at the World Wide Leader has an excellent piece that succinctly (as much as possible) portrays how/why the situation happened, and what impact it will have on the union, the league and we fans in the future. I cannot recommend it enough.

  • Finally, we would like to take this opportunity to express condolences to Chris Speilman, his 4 children, and their entire family as they morn the loss of Chris' wife Stefanie to cancer. Stefanie Spielman was a remarkable woman whose public fight with cancer inspired others to fight harder in their own battles, and raised awareness for Breast Cancer Research around the world. She will be missed. Please visit The Stefanie Spielman Fund to learn more about her courage and how you can help the fight.

Now THAT was Fun!

For those in Jacketland, there haven’t seemed to be many games where the CBJ have grabbed their opponent by the neck and squeezed for 60 straight minutes. That changed last night as the Blue Jackets dismantled the Dallas Stars on the score sheet and matched every bit of nastiness the Stars threw their way.

The CBJ started the season-long, five game road trip with two first period goals. Rick Nash (who else?) got his team on the board by chipping a loose puck over Marty Turco’s shoulder. The second goal of the game was a killer for the Stars as red-hot Kristian Huselius beat Turco five hole on a two-on-one with Antoine Vermette after a giveaway at the Dallas blueline. Not only was the goal short-handed, but it dented the twine with .3 seconds left in the period. Huge goal for a guy who has come to life in the last couple of games.

The first period featured three fights and a couple of additional scrums to make things interesting. During one scrum that happened in the Dallas end, Turco got involved with Nash and Stephane Robidas. CBJ netminder Steve Mason skated a couple hundred feet from his crease to see he was needed before being sent back to his net by the zebras. Jason Chimera fought Steve Ott after an Ott shift where he tried hitting, kneeing, biting, kicking and/or scratching anyone in a white sweater. Derek Dorsett gave up 20 pounds to Trevor Daley and still gave the Dallas defenseman all he wanted and Jared Boll tried his best to feed Krys Barch some knuckles in their tilt. It was family friendly entertainment at its’ finest!

In the second, more nastiness ensued. James Neal, who reportedly turned down a fight offer from Dorsett earlier in the game (Daley stepped up in Neal’s stead), drilled Dorsett’s head into the glass with his shoulder, knocking Dorsett into next week. It was a gutless hit on a defenseless player. Neal was given the gate and the CBJ a five minute major. The CBJ made the penalty really hurt when Huselius potted his second of the game and Torres roofed his 9th of the season from a beautiful pass from Jake Voracek. Both goals came on the major power play. Mike Modano capped the scoring in the second with a goal off a nice back door pass from Brendan Morrow.

Unlike games earlier in the season, there was no loose or panicked play in the third. The Jackets kept rolling four lines and hitting everything in sight. Mason has an answer for all six shots directed his way in the third. Jackets win, Jackets win 4-1.

The CBJ run their record to 12-6-2 through 20 games and remain two points behind the Chicago Blackhawks in the Central Division. They sit 6th in the Western Conference standings and look to a tough matchup with nemesis Nashville on Saturday night.

Carry the Flag!

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Four Lines Deep 11/19/09

The Dallas Stars are the proud owners of one of the ugliest logos/sweaters in all of hockey.

Columbus (11-6-2) @ Dallas (9-5-6)
American Airlines Center, 8:30 pm EST
TV: FS-O (HD) / FS-SW (HD)
Last 5 games: CBJ (4-1) / DAL (3-2)

These two teams are about as even as they come. Both teams have earned a total of 24 points so far this season, and Dallas (7th) sits just one spot behind the Jackets (6th) in the standings. Phoenix is also tied with 24 points and sits in the 8th spot. Dallas is just returning home from a 4 game road trip. Columbus is beginning a season long 5 game road trip in Big D.

First Line: Take it to 'Em. As mentioned above, the Stars are playing their first home game after a 4-game/12-day roadie (although they did have 5 days between games 1 and 2). That includes a game last night where they managed to outlast the Red Wings in Joe Louis Arena. That game included the now infamous (it's not just famous, it's IN-famous) Brad May non-goal. Final score 3-1. They will be a tired bunch, and they Jackets will want to jump on them early. The Jackets have had a couple of days off and should be well rested. We've given up the first goal way too many times this season. Scoring on Dallas first could go a long way to taking the proverbial air out of their sails.

Second Line: Battle of the Rested Goalies. The skaters for the Stars may be tired from last night, but G Marty Turco is well rested having taken the night off. Likewise, Columbus G Steve Mason has had the past two games to get rested. Turco has a .920 SV% and 2.24 GAA in 13 games. Mason is sporting an .879 SV% and an atrocious 3.67 GAA in 14 games. This will be Mason's first outing since the debacle against Detroit on 11/11 when he gave up 8 goals. That, combined with the strong performance of backup goaltender Mathieu Garon in Mason's place should be plenty of juice to get Mason focused on playing well tonight.

Third Line: Skeletons in the Closet. Much has been made over the perceived drop in Jared Boll's level of play since taking a butt kicking from Stars F Krys Barch at the start of last season. Boll missed significant time and did not have the same fire in his belly when he did return last year. If both players are willing and able, will Boller try to redeem himself? Barch had a go with Brad May last night and both players landed some solid shots. I'm sure Barch's knuckles are tender. But the street runs both ways. Last season the Jackets sent Stars C Brad Richards out with a broken wrist that kept him out for a significant stretch late in the regular season. The Stars missed the playoffs by 8 points.

Fourth Line: Put the Past Behind You. So there was some turmoil in the Jackets clubhouse this week. Don't know if you heard, but F Nikita Filatov has been loaned by the Jackets to CSKA Moscow of the KHL. Filatov only played sparingly, at best, so to lose him from the lineup isn't a big deal. But how the situation both arose and how it was handled may be something that sticks in the backs of some players' minds. Personally, I think the players still on this team realized that Filatov wasn't ready for the NHL and are a better team for having cut some dead weight.

Bonus Line: An informed fan is a happy fan. Here are some links to some more game previews to give you even more insight into tonight's matchup: Columbus Dispatch, Dallas Morning News,, and TSN.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Afternoon Scrum 11/18/09

Hockey headlines for the CBJ and from around the league. Mmmmm... hockey

  • At the quarter-season mark, Pierre LeBrun over at ESPN has Rick Nash as the Hart Trophy winner. With 13g, 11a, 24p, -7 in 19 games, Captain Columbus certainly deserves to be in the mix.
  • Sticking with the ESPN theme, LeBrun, Scott Burnside & John Buccigross have their North American Olympic teams posted. No R.J. Umberger on either list for Team America. At least Burnside/LeBrun explain the snub.
  • Shanahan is hanging them up. The Hall of Fame awaits, and possibly a role in the NHLPA. At least according to the Canadian Press.
  • Next up for the CBJ is the start of a 5 game road trip against Dallas tomorrow night. Get some scouting done this evening when the Red Wings host the Stars on the NHL Network. Game time is 7:30 EST. Don't have the NHL Network? Too bad... NHL On The Fly is the cat's ass! Wanna find out what cable provider in your area has it? Click here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009


Nikita Filatov, the 1st round draft choice of the Columbus Blue Jackets, has been "loaned" to the Continental Hockey League (KHL). The Columbus Dispatch has the story. No word on whether or not the CBJ received anything (read: cash) in return.
Here is an interview with Filatov that has been just posted on Yahoo.

Afternoon Scrum 11/17/09

Hockey headlines for the CBJ and from around the league. Mmmmm... hockey

  • It appears that F Nikita Fiilatov's days as a Blue Jacket are over, at least for this season. While nothing is confirmed by either side, the Dispatch is reporting that in addition to the rumors that an agreement is in the works to send the Russian born winger to the KHL, his lockeroom stall has been cleared out and his name plate removed. Oh, and mom is in town. Being the good journalists that they are, the boys at the Dispatch didn't do much speculating, but I will. I am a fan of the kid and want him to succeed in this league, and specifically for this team. That being said, if he is incapable at this point of his career of not being a defensive liability to his teammates than he shouldn't be playing. This goes for any player, not just young Europeans. Some will say Hitchcock hasn't given the kid the chance he needs to prove himself. Horse puckies! Between last season, training camp, practices and games this season, he has had more than enough time to show that he can be a reliable teammate. Apparently he hasn't done that. We will know shortly if Filatov is headed back to Russia, as the rumors say, or if there is something here on this continent that will appease both sides. My question is did the Jackets just let a 1st round pick walk out the door without any kind of compensation? I doubt it will be that lopsided, and there will certainly be caveats that will determine the final outcome of this. For the foreseeable future it looks like we just helped relieve our "glut of forwards" problem. TSN has an article about kids in the NHL which features Filatov prominently. Porty even gets mentioned!
  • Jackets take 2 against the Oilers. For the second game in a row, the CBJ have won in a shootout. This time it was against Edmonton. G Mathieu Garon was in net for both wins. Read all about it here... here... and here.
  • Is Ovie back? Speculation is that Washington F Alex Ovechkin will make his return to the lineup tonight against the Rangers.
  • POWER RANKINGS: Even my fellow bloggers here at JR were surprised to hear about the fan feedback for this item. Let's not waste time. ESPN, TSN, Dispatch, The Hockey News.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Afternoon Scrum 11/16/09

Hockey headlines for the CBJ and from around the league. Mmmmm... hockey

CBJ vs. Edmonton tonight. See our Four Lines Deep post (below) for our look at the matchup. A few additional tidbits:

  • F Tom Sestito makes his season debut for the CBJ. Filatov will sit tonight to make room. Sestito has 5g, 3a, 8p and 64pim in 16 games for Syracuse thus far. He will likely fit into the fourth line along side Mike Blunden and Jared Boll. Also, D Mike Commodore will sit this game out. This will be the second consecutive game Commie has missed due to conditioning issues.
  • Oilers D Sheldon Souray returned to the lineup last night against Atlanta. Souray had missed 5 weeks recovering from a concussion. Dude came back and played 27 minutes (led the team). The Edmonton Journal will get you up to speed.
  • Last week I mentioned that fans should in no way expect much to be done by the GM's regarding hits to the head. During last weeks GMs meeting in Toronto, the issue was obviously the elephant in the room, yet they GM's managed to ignore it for the most part. They decided to have a panel formed to look at the issue and make recommendations at a later date. THN's Colin Campbell has the story. While they are "looking at the issue" let's hope nobody else gets seriously injured.
  • Finally, here is a great opportunity to help out a very worthwhile cause and to meet some of your favorite Jackets players in the process. Tomorrow night at the Lakes Golf and Country Club you can attend a fund raiser benefiting the Luke Billings Foundation. This organization raises funds to help local children with Cerebral Palsy. Nash, Commodore and Mason are scheduled to attend, so take this opportunity to meet some of the local heroes and help out some disadvantaged kids, you'll be glad you did.

Four Lines Deep - 11/16/09

Columbus Blue Jackets vs. Edmonton Oilers - Nationwide Arena
7 p.m. (EST); Fox Sports Ohio (HD)

Former Jackets first-round pick, Gilbert Brule, has 10 points for the Oilers and is averaging 13 minutes per game.

Edmonton has been forced to deal with a steady stream of notable injuries throughout the season -- to players such as Sheldon Souray--and they need greater leadership from those still standing. They certainly have talent on the roster -- they've just struggled to gain some consistency and momentum over the last month. As such, The Oil is not a strong road team (2-7-1). They've lost 6 of their last 7 heading into tonight's game against the Jackets.

However, a rash of injuries didn't stop them from making a big comeback against the Jackets and winning 6-4 when they last met in Rexall. One of the architects of that comeback win was Dustin Penner, and he is having a strong start. He is the top scorer on the team (12 g/11 a) and he roasted Columbus with 2 goals and 3 assists when they faced each other in October.  He is "hot" right now, scoring 20 points in his last 16 games. This represents a big shift from a year ago, when then-GM MacTavish publicly called out Penner for his lack of effort and consistency in the Edmonton Journal

First Line: Make a statement.  The Jackets blew a big lead against the Oilers the last time they played. They squandered points and it set the tone for the disastrous road slide.  The Oilers are playing a back-to-back after playing Atlanta on Sunday afternoon and this is the last game on a five-game road trip. Even with the benefit of three days fo rest, they blew a lead against a tired Atlanta team and lost in the southern library known as Phillips Arena. This team will be ready and primed to give the Jackets two points - they are 0-2 for the second game of back-to-backs this year. The Jackets have to come checking hard out of the gate and do their best to sustain an aggressive style of play for 60 minutes.

Second Line: Stay out of the box. Sheldon Souray came back into the lineup last night and logged 6 minutes on the power play. He also logged 25 minutes in total ice time-- wow. He must be back in shape. Obviously, he's a weapon on a power play that was already quite good -- 22.4% and fourth best in the conference --without him in the lineup. And despite some recent bright spots, the Jackets are only a dim shadow of their former selves on the penalty kill. Hopefully, this will improve as Commie rounds back into game shape, but the Jackets can ill afford to spend too much time in the sin bin against Edmonton.

Third Line:  Continue to tighten up the D. This means you Tyutin and Stralman. "Toots" has - by his own admission - had an inconsistent start to the season. There was a timely article by the Dispatch about this, and it made a lot of pertinent points. The Jackets have had to lean on Tyutin with injuries to Commie and Hejda, and he really hasn't delivered with enough consistency. With a -7, he  and his partner Stralman have been featured on plenty of opponent goal replays after blown coverages or defensive zone turnovers. They played great on Friday against Anaheim, and hopefully can build upon that momentum. One would think that they've been playing long enough now to start having some chemistry and optimizing their communication -- we should see another strong game from them tonight.

Fourth Line: Contain Penner.  The Oilers really depend upon Penner to initiate goal scoring right now, and are fairly one-dimensional in that regard. Penner is the only Oiler in the lineup with more than 5 goals. He scored against Atlanta yesterday to continue his torrid scoring pace. With the return of Horcoff and Souray from the injury report, the offensive capabilities of the team should improve and the Jackets need to be mindful of that. As mentioned above, Penner blasted the Jackets with 5 points in the last meeting and he needs to be shutdown. He's big and great off the half-wall, so it will really fall to the forwards to slow him down through the neutral zone and for the Jacket's d-men to put a body on him at all times.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Friday Round-up

The Jackets bounced back from Wednesday's 9-1 drubbing with a shootout victory over the Anaheim Ducks on Friday winning by a 3-2 final. The Captain iced the game in the shootout scoring an "interesting" goal after nearly falling down during his approach toward Jean-Sebastian Giguere. As Nash made his approach from his right to left, it appeared that he nearly lost his footing, and with all of his weight on his right foot, and his left in the air like this he surprised Giguere with a roof shot above the right shoulder of the Ducks netminder.

Kristian Huselius was huge in his return to the lineup with a goal, an assist and the shootout winner, and though Raffi Torres was placed on IR freeing a roster spot for Juice, it's clear we trade grit for skill in that exchange. In addition, Ken Hitchcock gave a start to Mathieu Garon, and he did not disappoint making 32 saves and improving to 17-4 all-time in shootouts. Garon made several nice stops but a glove save on Ryan Getzlaf when the game was tied at 2 was probably his best of the evening. And, in playing so well, does this set up a goaltending controversy? Will Garon get another opportunity Monday night or does Hitchcock return Steve Mason to the lineup with an ultimatum?

Next up for the Jackets? Monday night at Nationwide as the homestand concludes against the Edmonton Oilers at 7pm. Assuming an empty building on a Friday night is a predictor of Monday's attendance, I think it's fair to suggest there are still good seats available. The lower bowl looked to be pretty sparse which is not a good indication for a franchise that purportedly is struggling with financial issues.

Around the college game, Ohio State defeated Western Michigan 4-2 on the strength of three
goals in 49 seconds as the Buckeyes rallied from a 1-0 third period deficit. Junior netminder Dustin Carlson (Forest Lake, Minn.) made 19 stops to earn his first victory of the season. And, it was the first time this season Ohio State has won on Friday night. With the win, Ohio State improves to 4-6-1 and 3-3-1-1 in the CCHA. The two teams will meet again this evening at Value City Arena at 8:05pm.

In Bowling Green, Ohio, the Bowling Green Falcons earned their first win of the 2009-10 season by upsetting #9 Alaska 3-1. Many in college hockey circles have questioned the legitimacy of the Nanooks as they had not yet played a game outside the state of Alaska. With the win, the Falcons improve to 1-7-1 and 1-3-1-1 in the CCHA. Despite being outshot 25-17, the Falcons potted a goal in each period with highly regarded freshman, and Jordan Samuels-Thomas (Windsor, Conn.) scoring his fourth goal of the season. Samuels-Thomas was selected by the Atlanta Thrashers in the 7th round of this year's entry draft and stands 6'2" making him an interesting prospect if he continues his rapid development. With the loss, the Nanooks fall to 6-2-1 (3-2 CCHA) and have had a little of their early season luster removed. The teams conclude their weekend series this evening at the BGSU Ice Arena at 7:35pm.

In Oxford, Ohio, #1 Miami and Ferris State played to a 2-2 tie with the Bulldogs earning an extra point in the CCHA standings by winning a shootout. The game is viewed nationally and for the purposes of RPI and NCAA tournament selection as a tie because the CCHA is the only college hockey conference that has decided to settle ties with a shootout. So, Miami moves to 8-1-2 overall and 5-1-1 in the CCHA while Ferris moves to 7-3-1 and 2-2-1-1. Ferris got on the board first in the second period on a goal from senior forward Blair Riley at 1:50, but Miami would tie it on a shorthanded goal from freshman defenseman Joe Hartman (St. Cloud, Minn.) at 19:59 of the second period. Miami led 2-1 with less than a minute left in regulation, but as has become this team's most concerning problem, the RedHawks were again unable to hold down the fort after Ferris State pulled their goaltender with around a minute to play. In fact, of their last eight games where an opponent has pulled their goaltender for an extra skater, Miami has surrendered goals in six games. And, in two of those games, Miami allowed more than one extra attacker goal, no larger than the two they gave Boston University in last spring's national title game. What's worse is that Miami has only scored empty netters in two of those eight games. Extra attacker defense must be a point of emphasis going forward. It's getting to the point where you wonder if a team isn't better off playing without a goaltender for longer stretches of time just to test it.

Ferris State and #1 Miami conclude their weekend series tonight at 7:35pm from Steve Cady Arena. The game can be seen around the great state of Ohio on ONN.