Thursday, November 30, 2006

Where are they now: Lyle Odelein

In this new segment, we'll look at where Blue Jacket alumni are now.

Our first alumnus: Lyle Odelein (D)

Odelein was on the original Jackets roster and played through most of the 01-02 season. He was traded to the Blackhawks for Jaroslav Spacek. Odelein posted a career worst -28 rating with the jackets in 01-02, a far cry from his career best of +35 from his 92-93 season with Montreal. Odelein also served as one of the Jackets' first captains.

Odelein was active in the league through last season. He bounced from the hawks to the stars and panthers before finishing out last season with Pittsburgh. Best I can tell, he retired somewhere between mid last season and the beginning of 06-07.

Odelein is remembered a tough and scrappy defenseman, who stuck up for any of his teammates. I distinctly remember Lyle throwing punches several times. He always had a facefull of characteristic bruises or a black eye.

More Odelein stats are available at the hockey database.

Gallant got the message

An article in the dispatch tells how Gallant has taken much criticism from fans and players since his departure a little over two weeks ago. He said that he'd read quotes saying how much better things were now in Columbus since he left. At the moment, Gallant is on his way home to Prince Edward Island before returning to the Jackets' organization to serve in a yet to be determined capacity.

Gallant wasn't ready for an NHL coaching job, especially with a fledgling team. He took up the post when MacLean stepped aside in January of '03. As I've said before, MacLean should have sought a permanent new coach right away, instead of promoting Gallant.

All in all, I've got nothing against Gallant. He did all he could with what he had to work with. He coached from his personal experience and beliefs about the game. As a seasoned Jacket (he's been a part of the organization since the beginning) he has more to offer than most to the organization. I don't mind seeing Gallant stick around Columbus for a while, so long as its not behind the bench.

In other news, the Jackets made a trade with the Carolina Hurricanes. CBJ sent Marc Flood in return for D Derrick Walser. Long time jacket fans will remember Walser- he played in Columbus now and again from 2001-2004. He'll likely spend most of his days in Syracuse unless the Jackets face more defensive injuries.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Jackets get 'Luongo'ed

Despite a stellar performance by Leclaire, the Vancouver Canucks stopped the Jackets last night. With a final score of 1-0, and the top two stars being goalies, it was truly a defensive battle.

I watched the first two periods last night, and the Jackets were playing tough hockey. Valiant efforts by Carter and Fedorov in particular came up with naught. Leclaire was all over the net though- a herculean effort for a goalie still so young. He went post to post many times to stop the Sedins and Naslund from getting more than one goal.

The singular goal came from Markus Naslund, the NHL all-time leading scorer against the Jackets. In what can only be described as miscommunication by Tollefsen and Eriksson, Naslund stole the puck, slipped between the defenders and went one-on-one to beat Leclaire.

Besides another game under Hitch's CBJ belt, last nights' battle demonstrated the effectiveness of Leclaires' goaltending. Since the beginning of the season, I've been a skeptic. Leclaire is still young and is playing lead goalie without a veteran backup. If he can continue to play as he did last night, he'll do just fine.

Mid way through the second period, the Jackets did have a goal waved-off. The video replay, which was reviewed by the boys in Toronto, appeared to conclude that the puck just crossed the Vancouver goal line. Not so, ruled the hockey officials.

Jackets lose 1-0
Still in the basement.
Box Score

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Same Dump, Now With Less Chase

Shout out to Drew of End of the Bench for bringing this up. It needed clarification.

In my last post, I stated that Hitch was doing away with the dump and chase. This is only partly true.

The old style CBJ dump and chase worked like this: After a forward crossed the center line, he would dump the puck into the offensive zone. He, along with up to 2 other Jacket skaters would sprint down the ice to fight for the puck in the corners. This strategy is fairly mainstream in hockey, as it enables big strong forwards the ability to forecheck and dominate the defending team with physical play. If the puck was recovered, it could be brought back to the point or cycled into a normal offensive setup.

Hitch's strategy is a bit different. Instead of allowing all of our forwards to skate kamikaze style into the end boards, he wants the first forward on the scene to attack the puck, and have the second evaluate the play and either go in for assistance or move to make a play. The third player should stay up higher near the blue line, available for a pass or to make the transition to defense if the forecheck fails.

The Hitchcock method of dump and chase should help to prevent a swift counterattack by keeping players closer to the neutral zone and not tied up near the opponent's net. It will also promote faster scoring opportunities as the second and third man in will be ready to make a play rather than chasing the puck.

The old style of dump and chase was such a staple for the Jackets, and I'm happy to see it go. The team gave up so many odd-man rushes by not properly watching their backs when on the forecheck. A dump quickly turned into a play the other way with only one or two skaters ready to play defense.

We already saw the revised strategy on Saturday when the Jackets played the Wild. Watch for it tonight as the Jackets take on Vancouver. 10pm on Fox Sports Net Ohio.

Monday, November 27, 2006

Jackets' first win under Hitchcock

The Jackets got their first win with the new coach on Saturday on only their second try. The team was solid all around, making fewer mistakes and having better execution of fundamentals.

There was no magic to Saturday's win. Even though Fedorov had a 4 point night, it didn't seem like he had to carry the team to get the W. There was great contribution from all four lines, and the top line (Nash, Fedorov, Carter) was fantastic. Even Norrena, the 32 year old rookie played a good game and got his first NHL win.

The Wild had also been struggling, though not nearly as bad as the Jackets. They played hard but tired out faster than the home team, even as both teams were playing in the second of back-to-back games. Vyborny personally gave up the Wild's second goal. In a heartbreaking play, #9 turned the puck over just steps from Norrena's goal. The favor was returned in the third period however, as a Wild defenseman deflected the puck into his own net.

Jacket goals, which have been few and far between this season, flowed like water. An unprecedented five pucks hit the back of the net. That's 10% of all goals this season, believe it or not. Columbus has only 50 goals for this season, better than only Chicago. At the same time, the NHL leader is Buffalo at 105. The division leader, Nashville, has 78.

Hitchcock is already working on this team. Between what I've witnessed and read, his focus has been largely on fundamentals and basic strategy. The players have begun to function as a team- even Zherdev was making passes and playing aggressive defense. Hitchcock is doing away with the dump-and-chase strategy, which will be a first for the CBJ franchise.

Jackets are now on the biggest road trip of the season and won't be back at Nationwide until December 10 vs. Ottawa. In the mean time, Hitch should be able to spend some quality time with the team, reminding them how to play this crazy game on ice.

Anson Carter had this to say about the change since Hitch arrived- I think it sums up what we all think.

"I can’t tell you how many times I went home after a game and banged my head on the wall because we weren’t playing the game right (earlier in the season)," Carter said. "The important thing now is we’re all playing the same way. A funny thing happens when not everyone is doing their own thing..."
Jackets win 5-3
6-14-2, 14 pts
Last in the division, last in the NHL
Box Score

Photo by Adam Cairns via Dispatch online

(Update: Frederik Modin
will not be traveling with the team this week due to a foot injury)

Sunday, November 26, 2006

Snappin' the streak!

Ahhhh.... That's what it feels like to win. It had been so long that I'd nearly forgotten. It feels fantastic, by the way.

The Jackets played superbly well tonight. They played with the confidence, poise, and fluidity of an NHL team. They finally looked like they belong in this league.

I attended the game myself, and it was the first time I'd seen this team win in person since at least last season, maybe longer. This season I'm now 1-5 for games attended. Tonight I had good seats- C6, row C- and there's no game for which I would rather have those seats. Five goals, a four point night for Fedorov and a revitalized Jackets squad I haven't seen yet this season.

I'm ecstatic about tonights game. It could hardly have been more perfect. The win was exactly what this team needed- it ended a losing streak, in front of a home crowd, by a new coach, on a Saturday night, when national hockey media eyes were checking out our Hitched-up Blue Jackets.

I'm going to need some time to digest the game. I'm so elated with the win tonight that I can't possibly think critically about it. I'll see about being more analytical tomorrow.

Thursday, November 23, 2006

Something to be thankful for

The news came faster than I was expecting. It's a new era for the Blue Jackets, as Ken Hitchcock has been selected to lead the team. No details yet on the length of his contract or its salary terms.

This coaching change has been long awaited. I've been looking for this since MacLean got rid of King, back in the 2002-2003 season. Instead of turning King's firing into something proactive, he sat on his hands for 4 years, replacing the coaching staff with himself and his cronies.

But that's all done now. Hitch is in, and it's gonna turn the tide for this team. I don't expect an immediate full reversal of results, as good coaching takes time. I do know that Hitch has the sense of urgency as he wants to get things rolling immediately, "implementing new things at practice" today.

I like this guy already.

So take an extra scoop of mashed potatoes, jackets fans. 'Cuz now it's time to "get it on!"

Happy Thanksgiving!

Jackets will be on at 1:00PM friday at Philly, then 7:00PM Saturday at home against the Wild.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Hitch gets the nod

It was made official before the start of the game this evening vs. St. Louis, Ken Hitchcock is the new head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets. He is expected to be behind the bench Friday afternoon for a 1:00 game against his former team, the Philadelphia Flyers.

I will agree that this is a good move for the Jackets, bringing in a veteran coach with a proven winning record. Is 408-227-122 good enough?...carry the two...yup, that's 6 division titles and a stanley cup ring. Not a bad resume, but maybe not the best move the Jackets could have made.

I do agree with the process of hiring the coach, it was very simple, Mr. McConnell said to Mr. MacLean: "Doug, you need to get rid of Gallant. I want a list of 5 replacements on my desk by the end of the week" The list actually was 3 names, two were immediately eliminated:
1. Gary Agnew (c'mon, need I say more? the guy is 0-5)
2. Kevin Dineen (while he has been a great coach for the AHL affiliate of the Ducks, and probably will make a great NHL coach, he can't coach the team with MacLean at the helm)

Now, on to the three that made the cut, and the one I wish had made the cut:
1. Pat Quinn (my first choice) - Pat Quinn coached the Maple Leafs from 1998-2006. While he never won a cup, he won a gold medal for team Canada in the '02 Olympics, and while coaching, Quinn was the winningest active coach in the NHL. Great resume, but the Jackets never called, and he'll keep on picking who goes into the hockey hall of fame for a living

2. Mike Keenan - upset Quinn for a cup in 7 games in 1994, but didn't get an interview from the McConnells because he was the GM of the Florida Panthers, where Doug MacLean coached, and also where the TV play-by-play Jeff Rimer came from. I've tried to keep track of the crazy things that he says about the team, but he screws up so much I've lost count. Anyway, Mike Keenan is a no go, we've got to get rid of the Doug MacLean cronies

3. Andy Murray - former coach of the Kings. I don't know much about him, other than he had an interview, and it apparently didn't go well. I think it was for the show of the process, if you interview two people, it looks like you're actually screening for a position

4. Hitch - He's the guy. I don't necessarily agree with the authoritarianism that got him drove out of town in Dallas, and I don't necessarily like that there are veteran free agents that refuse to play for him. Unfortunately, I figured this would happen, and I have to look at the positive. The dude can win hockey games, he's outside of Doug MacLean cronie world, and he also cannot be controlled by the aforementioned Mr MacLean. He does know what he's doing, and even if he's not well liked by the players, I think he may be able to help out here in Columbus.

And if anyone actually cares about the team's performance on the ice...they lost St. Loius...the team that made the cup playoffs 25 years in a row, then became the last place team in the west. Until they beat the Blue Jackets in a shootout. The good news is that the Blue Jackets got that half game they needed to make it to 95 points. Now, instead of 42.5, it's only 42 wins. Too bad that's 2 out of 3 games that must end in a win. Happy Thanksgiving!

Coaching selection expected soon

Andy Murray was interviewed yesterday by the CBJ executive threesome- the McConnells and MacLean. No word yet on how things went.

Quoting The Dispatch: "A decision could be made as soon as today or Thursday, with only contract negotiations standing in the way of an announcement."

Good news. I'm hoping they make selection quick- I got club seats for Saturday vs. Minnesota, and I don't want to watch Agnew drag this team through the mud in person. Cash is becoming a factor for the coaching decision. According to the same article, Hitchcock made 1.2 mil last year to Murray's 800k. A fair sum either way, but worth every penny if it helps to turn the team around.

I'm not sure how much Gallant or King made, but I sure as hell hope it was less than that.

Jackets are home against St. Louie tonight, taking on the team that is only 2 pts ahead of them in the standings. We've beaten the Blues already this season, let's do it again. A regulation win tonight would tie us for a spot in the basement, which I suppose is better than being there all alone. Listen for chanting of "hitchcock" and a swarm of boos if the jackets play the way they have in recent weeks.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Head Coach interview #2

After another dismal performance by the Blue Jackets, a new coach can't get here soon enough. This team looks like garbage. We can't score, we can't defend, we can barely move the puck on the ice. Last night's game was as bad as I've seen, as it barely missed a shutout by 14 seconds. The Jackets hadn't scored in over 130 minutes of hockey.

I'm ready for anything that might make this team act like its playing in the NHL.

Andy Murray, former coach of the LA Kings, is in town today to meet with the McConnells and MacLean. While the CBJ officials have a few more interviews yet to conduct, sources reporting to the Dispatch say that Hitchcock is looking like the strongest candidate:

A source with knowledge of the Blue Jackets’ hiring process said Hitchcock was "very, very good" — with great stress on "very, very" — during his interview.

The fans want him too. Reportedly, they chanted for Hitchcocks hiring at last night's game in between boos. As Aaron Portzline put it:

A chorus of boos could be heard as the final horn sounded. It would have been louder, but most of the fans had already left.
If this team can't turn around soon, MacLean and McConnell are going to have a lot more to worry about than what happens on the ice. The team is losing its fan base quickly. With the fans go the money, with the money goes hope. I can't blame the missing fans. As much as I love this team, I can't bring myself to shell out $20 to go to a game. I can make myself depressed for free.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Yoder for Ice Maintenance Manager

I'd like to officially nominate Yoder for the Ice Maintenance Manager position that is clearly needed at Nationwide Arena.

As this article suggests, the ice at Nationwide is rough, inconsistent and poorly maintained. I've personally played hockey on Yoder's ice and know it to be smooth, solid, and cold. As such, I would like to formally acknowledge my support for his application for the position.

And he can sharpen skates like you wouldn't believe. It's like having a Ginsu knife on the bottom of your skate. I actually used one once to cut through a shoe.

Hitchcock Interviews with Jackets

Ken Hitchcock was spotted in Columbus on Sunday, no doubt interviewing with CBJ officials. He is alleged to be the first of several interviews for the head coach position, which should be solved "in the next week or two".

Several Dispatch articles take guesses at who also may be on the list of candidates, but Hitchcock is routinely seen on top. The other top contenders include Andy Murray, most recently from the L.A. Kings, and Pat Quinn, who coached Toronto to six straight playoff appearances.

According to some, GM MacLean is heavily considering giving the position to Agnew permanently. I couldn't disagree with this idea more. Agnew may be a great coach in the AHL, and I would be delighted to leave him on the coaching staff. However, a strong willed big-time coach is exactly what this team needs to turn it around in the long-run. We've played <.500 hockey for five seasons, and a major shakeup is the only thing that is going to work. Columbus is emerging as a major hockey market- we have the fans, the players, the arena, and the money to make this team work. All we need is a solid coach to put some W's up on the board.

If I were on the decision making body (and I should be), I would lean towards Pat Quinn. His record of recent success in another major market would make him a solid addition to the team. Hitchcock would also be an improvement, but has a history of having a questionably frank personality that is hit & miss with players. The last thing we need to do is lock in another coach who is buddies with MacLean. We've done this with MacLean himself, then Gallant, and now Agnew, who is now 0-3 behind the CBJ bench. (Photo from Dispatch online)

Friday, November 17, 2006

Jackets vs. Avs 11/17/06

The Jacket's faced the Avs once again alright. To start with, kudos goes out to Fredrick Norrena, who in my book has proven himself worthy to be in the NHL. He got his first opportunity to start in Nationwide Arena tonight, but as well as he played, he still gets another tally in the 'L' column. It was sad to see the team clear the bench after the game to have their chance to apologize to their backup goaltender for losing once again, make that 11 of the last 14, and two in a row vs. backup goalies. For the fifth time in 17 games, the shutout goes to the opponents.

What is the deal with this team? I'm not going through the list again, everyone here reading knows the talent level of the players. They're good, but it halts at the individual level. I've been sitting night after night, seeing Fedorov and Vyborny make the best centering passes I've no one. It seems as though Jason Chimera's hands have turned to cement. He's fast, he can get to the puck, he had several multi-point preseason games, but he can't do anything after he sprints the length of the ice to get the puck. David Vyborny had the puck stolen every other time he touched it. Fedorov looked flat, except it's probably just exhaustion from playing every position on the ice every night. Gilbert Brule couldn't stay on his skates. Finally, I think every player in the NHL has figured out Nik Zherdev's toe drag.

I guess here's as good of time as ever to take a minute to vent about Zherdev. Here's the problem: he doesn't back check. And no, it's not that he doesn't know how, or can't, he just doesn't. Norrena even tried to exploit this weakness in Zherdev's game (the laziness in the defensive zone, that is) but the great pass from Norrena up to the offensive blue line didn't even work. Play went from goal line to goal line, Zherdev barely made it on side to accept the pass from Norrena. It came, but Zherdev didn't skate hard enough, and what could have been a one on one (which he's really good at by the way) turned into nothing, because Zherdev didn't get back in time. There was plenty of time, seeing as though there were 9 other skaters on the ice who made it back. Zherdev just didn't do it.

Here we are again, the turning point of the season. Yeah, I said it right. Yeah it's November. Yeah, it's the turning point. Actually, we missed it already. In order to get to 90 points, the Jackets must finish the season 40-25, .615 almost the exact opposite of what they have now. The bad news is that last season, 90 points wasn't good enough. Edmonton, the 8th seed, had 95, which boosts the winning percentage to around .650.

Side note: there's a great article in the Columbus Dispatch about the ice quality. Apparently it sucks. Rookie ice crew. I learned the original ice techician left to pursue other interests, and the new engineer was hired two weeks before the season started. Hey MacLean! looking for an ice technician? I know a guy!

Final Score:
Colorado Avalanche 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 0

Box Score

Record: 5-11-1

The race to 90 pts: 40 wins (.615)

Jackets try again vs. Colorado

Preview coverage of the Ohio State v Michigan game tomorrow is far more important than the Jackets game tonight, or so the world would lead us to believe.

Jackets home vs. Colorado- Agnew's second chance with the team, just as it is the Jackets' second chance this season against the Avalanche. Hopefully we can keep up the offense while tightening down the blue line too.

See my post about the OSU game on my other blog, The Soap Box.

Ohio University Clinches MAC East

The most important sports news of the day is right here:

My alma mater finally did something right on the football field.


Thursday, November 16, 2006

Tough loss for Ags, Nash nearly hats it

In his behind-the-bench debut, Agnew's Jackets fall to the Predators 5-4.

On the bright side, Nash scored two and also managed an assist. According to reports, Nash was likely the scorer on that third but the credit went to Modin. The goals finally put to rest Nash's scoring slump that has undoubtedly contributed to the lack of offense this season.

All CBJ goals came during 5 on 5 play, which says a lot for our offense. Since the inauguration we've struggled at even strength. The special teams was weak however, going 0-5 on the power play, giving up a goal on the penalty kill and worst of all, giving up a short handed goal to Nashville's Fiddler.

Off the ice, Agnew met with each player this week to discuss the coaching changes and his expectations of the team. His effort reasserts personal accountability on the team and should put some pressure on our most skilled players to get the job done.

Ken Hitchcock will also be interviewed early next week, he is likely to be the first of several candidates. Time may become a factor however- according to the Dispatch, Ottawa may also be considering a coaching change.

The Jackets loss at home to Nashville takes them to 5-10-1, still 11 pts. We'll get another shot at Nashville next week though.

Box Score

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

MacLean must be reading this blog.

Holy crap. My post yesterday must have got a lot more attention than I thought. I put Gallant on the notice board and 5 hours later he's fired. I don't know my own influence.

I kid, of course. A coaching change has been long coming, and the CBJ execs finally recognized this.

Gerard Gallant was removed from his coaching duties today and replaced on the interim by assistant coach Gary Agnew. This specific step is only somewhat promising. While Agnew may already be experienced in the Jackets system, having spent the last 6 seasons with the Syracuse Crunch, he lacks much NHL experience. While I'm open to any change for this dismal jackets season, I expect MacLean to seriously pursue a long term replacement, and not leave Agnew in as a tiny scab on a festering wound.

This Dispatch article discusses a few potential coaching solutions. First and foremost is Ken Hitchcock. He was fired by the Flyers this season, though he is still under contract with that franchise filling in on some administrative positions. Hitchcock holds a 408-284-100 record in the NHL, which supports a nearly 60% winning percentage- almost 20 points higher than any coach of the Jackets.

Andy Murray recently left the Kings, has a winning record, and would be available quickly. He is also the only Canadian coach to win two world championships.

The final coach discussed in the Dispatch article is a name that Jacket fans should recognize. Kevin Dineen, who was on the roster for the Jackets' first three seasons, is now on the coaching hot list. He has already been getting attention from other NHL teams because of his success guiding the Portland AHL team to the playoffs.

Whomever MacLean chooses, I have the best of hopes. A major coaching change may be able to turn the tide for this team. The fans are tired, the players are tired, and the season isn't far from being totally shot. Picking up a big time coach could reassert our position in this league.

MacLean: Just don't do anything stupid, like start coaching the team yourself.

(Update: Check out this article, also in today's Dispatch. Hunter makes some really good points about the status of our team. The problem may very well be far larger than one man, or possibly it is one man -MacLean. Either way, the crony system is going to do us any more favors than it already has.)

Monday, November 13, 2006

Link additions

On the right side of this page, you'll see a few new links. These direct to other hockey blogs, including 2 by other Jacket fans, and one to "Covered in Oil", an Edmonton Oilers page. Fortunately, they haven't given me too hard of a time for Friday's game.

Oil Slick

Following last Thursday's victory in St. Louis, I thought I'd spend a few bucks and head down to Nationwide to see the Oilers game.

The joke is on me. CBJ is now 0-4 on games I've attended.

The jackets gave one away on Friday night. Despite beginning the first period on a long offensive streak with a very long possession, many shots and good cycling, the jackets couldn't get one in the back of the net.

The Oilers, being a solid all-around team, weren't about to let us keep that up. They quickly shut down any offense we would get the rest of the game, exempting only one power play goal by Anson Carter, which happened to be the 1000th goal in franchise history. Oh, and Fedorov went 80% on faceoffs.

About the only thing a Jackets fan could salvage from Friday night's game was the fighting, which yeilded 20 minutes in penalties, and another 20 in misconducts.

I'd love to put some of the team on notice right here, but the notice area isn't big enough. Instead:


Gerard Gallant - Coach Gallant, you gotta get it together. You have the players, you have the fans, you have everything you need. Get these guys motivated and turn this season around or it will be your head!

Oilers win 4-1
Jackets 5-9-1, 11 pts. Last in Central Division

Box Score

Friday, November 10, 2006

And Klesla said, "Let there be light!"

How 'bout last night's big win in St. Louis? What an excellent response to the slump the team has been in. From the opening puck drop, the team played hard. Defense was consistent and puck possessions were long and involved many shots and set-ups in the Blues' zone.

Leading the Jackets tonight was none other than Rostislav Kleslsa, who managed not one, but two goals. The first of which came on a breakaway, after what can only be described as an amazing chance play. Fritsche was down in the Jackets' corner and attempting to clear the puck just as Klesla stepped out of the penalty box. The clearing effort went straight to Rosti's stick. Hardly a deke later, Klesla beat Legace and lit the lamp.

Klesla made it two, five minutes later on a drop pass from Fritsche.

Nash also cracked his scoreless streak with a power play goal in the second. Hopefully Nash will pick it up from here on out. As the team's perennial top scorer, we're going to need his offensive talent to make a dent in the standings.

Gallant's line changes appear to have worked for now, as we still pulled off a rare win with many of our offensive players in new spots on the lines. The most controversial would certainly by Vyborny's move to second line center. He managed an assist and a 47% face-off rating, more than acceptable for someone new to the position.

Hot List
Klesla - Way to turn it around, keep it up!
Fritsche - Excellent performance last night- a goal and two assists.

It's showing that if the Jackets' slump is going to reverse directions, it's going to have to start with the young guys.

Let's get on a roll Jackets, starting tonight at home vs. Edmonton.

Box Score

Jackets are 5-7-1 for 11pts, 3rd in the central division

Wednesday, November 8, 2006

Gallant Selects Brave New Lines for Jackets

According to a Dispatch article, Coach Gallant has made some serious changes to the Blue Jackets lines. The fans will get to see his experiment for the first time on Thursday when the Jackets take on the St. 'Most Dangerous City' Louis Blues.

The forwards are as follows:

Nikolai Zherdev-Sergei Fedorov-Anson Carter;

Fredrik Modin-David Vyborny-Rick Nash;

Jason Chimera-Manny Malhotra-Dan Fritsche.

Jody Shelley-Alexander Svitov/Gilbert Brule-Steven Goertzen.

The majority of these positions are unsurprising- Fedorov leading the top line, young guys at the tail end with Shelley. But there are some noteworthy exceptions:

Nash has been bumped to the second line and replaced by Anson Carter, who is more of an NHL veteran. This move may be in hopes of preventing the first line from having too many inexperienced youngsters. A veteran may be more able to adapt to Fedorov's mature play style. Also, Fedorov's bilingual abilities may quickly bring Zherdev into the game.

The second, and much more noteworthy, change is Vyborny playing Center on the second line. In my eye, Vyborny has never been seen as a center. But this fan is willing to recognize that Vyborny is a complete player (and one of my favorites) who can handle both sides of the puck adequately. Initially I would have expected #9 to play wing on the first line instead of taking center. But there's no way he's better at face-offs than Fedorov, so he moves down a line. Vyborny at center also moves Malhotra down, which is an acceptable option. Malhotra has a phyiscal play style that doesn't always gel well with the skilled finesse players on the first two lines. He is best suited to skate with Chimera, and Fritsche will have some guidance as a young player.

I look forward to seeing if these lines make a difference to our scoring woes. Our most skilled players are now spread evenly through two lines, so we're more likely to have solid offense at any given point during the game. Even though I consider these changes to be brave by Gallant, I think its a "so crazy it just might work" situation for the Jackets.

Tuesday, November 7, 2006

Roster News - Nov. 7

Jackets GM Doug MacLean and Coach Gerard Gallant have made a few small roster moves.

-Shelley was scratched for Saturday's loss to Detroit, though Gallant says that it is only a temporary move.

-Duvie Westcott has elected to have surgery now to repair is broken finger. His spot on the blue line will be filled by Aaron Johnson, though his special teams time will likely go to Anders Erikson. Westcott will be on IR for 6-8 weeks, which is to the serious detriment of the Columbus offense. The defenseman is tied with Rick Nash for 2nd in team scoring.

-Brian Berard is still out of commission following back surgery. The defenseman will likely return to the ice in late January.

MacLean has stated that he is looking to make a trade for another defenseman to alleviate the injury situation. Unfortunately, the trade market is too slow to get any good options. Hopefully it will heat up in coming weeks.

While the jackets injury situation will weaken an already struggling team, I can't help but feel sorry for the Blackhawks. Khabibulin, Lalime, and Havlat are all out for injuries, and Handzus will be gone for the rest of the regular season, minimum.

Other significant injuries from around the league:
Phoenix: Comrie, Reinprecht, and Ricci all out indefinitely
Buffalo: Afinogenov out indefinitely
Carolina: Kaberle, Letowski, Stillman
Florida: Bertuzzi, Nieuwendyk

Saturday, November 4, 2006

Are they still in the race?

Its a shame when we get to a point where every game turns into a must win for the Blue Jackets, but here we are again at the beginning of November with 9 points in 11 games. Trouble is, last year, the 8th place team in the conference, Edmonton, finished the season with 95 points. With 11 games down so far this season, the Blue Jackets must get 1.02 points per game to get to 90 points, that's 73 points in 71 games. Keep in mind, however, that the acutal number of points needed may vary, so I've added a tracker to the bottom of my posts that will approximate the number of points the Jackets need to get to 90 pts. As we see how the other teams are doing, I may adjust the 90 point goal higher or lower.

The good news is that there is still a chance, the Jackets need to win 37 games, which is just over the .500 mark, at .521. It's still a decent mark to shoot for. With the shootout win against Calgary last night taking 3 hours and 22 shooters to decide, maybe the team is starting the turnaround. We'll see what happens at the Joe tonight when the Jackets play the Wings. Go Jackets!

Last game:

Calgary Flames 4, Columbus Blue Jackets 5 (SO)
Box Score

Columbus Record:
4-6-1, 9 pts

The (hopeful) Race to the playoffs (90 pts):
71 games to go, 73 points needed (1.02 pts/gm)

Thursday, November 2, 2006

11/1/06 CBJ vs. Colorado

My, my, Jackets. We're getting somewhere. Despite this loss, I saw some very noteworthy improvement. I went into this game expecting the worst, mostly because my last in-arena experience was so disappointing.

Our team took relatively few penalties, spent a substantial amount of time on offense and get this:

Out-shot the Colorado Avalanche.

They really did it. By a lot, too. Total shots were 44-22. It looks like the Jackets figured out how to play a little offense, and for that, I couldn't be happier.

Passing improved dramatically and I actually witnessed the first line doing some things with the puck that I hadn't seen since the Red Wings or Flames last season. Drop passes, tape-to-tape across the ice, and good play in the neutral zone were marks of solid improvement. Even though we were only 1-9 on the Power Play, each advantage brought a barrage of shots to Jose Theodore. He was simply able to stop so many of them. Two of our goals did come during five a side hockey, which is another area the jackets have struggled in every season.

Fedorov got his first goal of the season finally, and was working hard all game long. He managed two near-breakaways, one of which put the Jackets on a power play late in the third. Modin also had an exciting power play goal, shooting it back-hand, behind his back into the net. It was a fun one to watch.

The goals against the Jackets were fair, but at least two of them came as a result of a defensive breakdown. The team may be learning how to play offense, but cannot forget to get back on D and help cover the net. On those two goals, there was no one in between Leclaire and two Avalanche players. The Columbus defense totally left him hanging. A young, inexperienced goaltender such as Leclaire cannot be expected to stop everything by himself.

This is a game that the Jackets could have won. A little bit tighter defense and some more face-off wins on special teams could have turned the tables on the Avalanche. That aside, I'm quite pleased by the effort, focus, and skill demonstrated on the ice by the home team. The entire team played a balanced game, and all players walked away with an E or -1 rating, meaning that no one was on the ice for many of Colorado's goals. Keep it up guys, and we might win a few!

For the Notice Board
The worst offender of skipping out on defensive responsibilities is Rick Nash. The young star needs to remember that there's two sides of the puck. Most of the time that we spent on defense, Nash stayed up at the opponents' blue line, cherry picking and waiting for a pass. If Nash wants to be a big time player, he needs to mature a little and get back to help his team. Nash, you're still On Notice.

Foote is off notice for two reasons. For one, he swept in behind Leclaire to knock a puck out of the crease that was bound for the net. Nice moves, Foote. Secondly, Foote contributed greatly to the offensive effort, taking a few shots and more than once leading the charge across the blue line. A veteran defenseman who can recognize his whole-ice responsibility is an asset to this team.

Klesla, you're still on notice. No additions from this game.

On a side note, I had the best $16 seats I've ever had at Nationwide. I'll request Section 210 Row A next time I attend a game. Great value.

Jackets are now 3-6-1 for 7 pts, tied for 2nd to last in the Western Conference.

Box Score

Wednesday, November 1, 2006

What needs to get better?

Ok, so I've been slacking a bit in the game review section as of late, but hey, the team appears to be slacking a bit too. It's come down to three things the Jackets can do better to improve those stats and standings. In no particular order, here they are:

Win Faceoffs

Yes, even though you can hit someone real hard and steal the puck, posession is still a huge part of the game. Even though all faceoffs are important, there are a couple that are REALLY important, like the ones on specialty teams. It's the difference on a power play between getting that one-timer goal from the point, or 20 seconds of wasted time as the defense plays the puck back to the other end of the ice. The Blue Jacket's centers are definitely not rising to the occasion. Of the seven centers that have taken a faceoff this season, 3 are above 50% and the highest scorer, 66.7% put up by Geoff Platt, doesn't even play on the big club anymore. Manny Malhotra's numbers aren't horrible at 54% (at least he wins more than half), but his special teams are right at 50%. Fedorov sits third on the list with 51.4%. The other centers playing are Alexander Svitov and Gilbert Brule, 37.9% and 41.1%, respectively.

To break down the numbers a bit I will go to the game on 10/28 in New Jersey. Looking at the faceoff following a penalty, the Blue Jackets were 2 for 10, a 20% faceoff win percentage. The total percentage for the game, an appaling 22%. The faceoffs MUST get better to have a shot at winning a game. Where's Mike Sillinger when you need him?

No stupid penalties

That's right, I'm talking about the favorites of the "new" NHL. Hooking and Holding are the big ones, and they're being called on our top penalty kill lines, with the likes of David Vyborny and Sergei Fedorov being near the top...which brings me to the best thing to yell at the ref's when penalties are called on the guys that shouldn't be taking these stupid penalties: "[Insert player's name] doesn't cheat! he's a fair player!"

Score some goals

This goes without saying...good news is, it isn't as bad as the Blackhawks, who went almost 3 games without a goal. I feel like John Madden saying this but in order to win a hockey game, you have to score a goal, usually more than one or two. The Blue Jackets have the offensive fire power, the scorers and playmakers need to make something happen.

A little prayer on the ice might not be so bad.

The topic of this post has been conveniently been perfectly timed with my All Saints Day post on my other blog, The Soap Box.

Apparently a Christian clothing store is now marketing these religious sports jerseys. You can thank Deadspin for the heads-up.

The way this season is starting, a little help from above might not be the worst idea.