Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Ice Professionals, no doubt.

Attendees to Jackets home games this season will have witnessed a new feature on the ice. Not new players, not new intermission activities, but a new ice maintenance team. One that's a little... well... more exciting?

This season, the Pepsi Corp. has sponsored the Mountain Dew Ice Crew. (pictured) This crack team of highly qualified, expertly trained individuals has arrived to make sure the ice is in peak condition for NHL play. Also found in their job description: Eye Candy.

The Ice Crew is an addition to the now veteran Pepsi Power Patrol that is responisble for the distribution of t-shirts and fan excitement. I must say, being a member of the Power Patrol would be a dream job. Not simply for the obvious opportunity of attending all home games, nor for the co-workers. I just want to play with one of those T-shirt cannons. Just think of all the non-clothing items you could launch with that thing...
Here's a link to some more information including their individual profiles.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Jackets acquire D Ryan Caldwell

Yesterday the Jackets acquired Ryan Caldwell (pictured) from the New York Islanders in exchange for Eric Boguniecki. This prompts the question: "We had Eric Boguniecki?"

I only remember Bogunieki for playing on the lesser lines of the St. Louis Blues and for being a 58 overall rated player in one of my NHL playstation games. Nonetheless he played 38 games for Pittsburgh last season, scoring 11 points and a -2 rating. Not too bad for a 05-06 Penguin.

More importantly, Caldwell is a young guy who is only two seasons removed from the University of Denver. He played both at Bridgeport (AHL) and played two games this season for the Islanders with no points, no penalties, and a -2 rating.
Maybe Caldwell will breathe some new life into the Columbus defense.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Herbstreit is a Jackets Fan, Corso looking for Stinger's head

I was just watching the Virginia Tech - Clemson game on ESPN. Naturally, my favorite Buckeye quarterback-come-sportscaster is co-anchoring the event. At the halftime break the studio anchor announced some hockey news. The following conversation ensued (paraphrased, of course):

Other sportscaster in booth: "Do you still follow hockey Kirk?"
Herbstreit: "Yeah, I love hockey. But my team is terrible."
Other guy: "Who's your team? Columbus?"
Herbstreit: "The Blue Jackets. They're terrible though. They play with no emotion, no enthusiasm and no drive."

There you have it. Kirk Herbstreit is a Jackets fan. Not too surprising, I suppose- I know he lives somewhere in the Columbus area. Maybe if the jackets ever get a winning record we can get the Gameday crew to broadcast from Nationwide. Lee Corso could put Stinger's head on... and all those crazy fans in the back could hold up rediculous signs insulting the cast. "Puck Corso!"?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Jackets vs. Sharks 10/23/06

In all the Blue Jackets games I've been to, I've never left the arena in as bad of a mood as I did on Monday. The game against the Sharks was god-awful. The Jackets played like a high school hockey team that smoked too much pot before the game. Nearly every player appeared uncoordinated, unenthused and indifferent to what was taking place on the ice. It didn't look like the team even realized where they were til midway through the third period.

I want to believe in the Blue Jackets, I truly do. I want nothing more than for this team to succeed. Finally we have the personnel to make a statement in the league, and yet we can't even lose with dignity.

The biggest problem I noticed was neutral zone passing. Anytime the puck left the stick of a jacket near center ice, it was immediately headed back towards Leclaire. We couldn't coordinate our forwards to get the puck past the blue line more than once or twice per period.

To the San Jose Sharks credit, they played textbook hockey. Everything about the Sharks performance was by the book. Passes were well chosen, plays were carefully set up, and execution was at an acceptable level. The Sharks didn't need to play an exceptional game to beat Columbus. All they had to do was show up.

Penalties were a serious issue. The jackets took 10 total penalties and all but 3 were for Tripping or Hooking. On the flip side, the sharks also took a fair number of penalties and the jackets couldn't produce. Even playing 5 on 4 we could only generate a handful of shots.

Finally, we were once again outshot by nearly 10, including a 15-4 second period.

This is a new segment of my post for players who I shall scorn until I see some noted improvement. (Viewers of the Colbert Report should be familiar)

Rick Nash for outright missing a golden opportunity. While Nash was standing next to San Jose's goal, a shot was deflected by Toskala, flying right by Nash, who had a wide open net for what seemed like several seconds. Nash was clearly looking the other way.

Adam Foote for not doing more about Cheechoo's goal. Even though the jackets were down in a 4 on 3 situation, the play that put the puck in the net was textbook. A cross-slot pass to Cheechoo who was waiting at the back door. As a veteran defenseman, there is no excuse for not seeing this play the whole way in. Foote stood there and watched the entire play while hardly moving from in front of the net.

Rostislav Klesla - Rosti, you're killing me. You're a solid player, but you were the only skater to be on-ice for all 3 goals. What's up?

San Jose Sharks 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 0

Jackets are now 2-4-1 with 5pts. Last place in the division. *Sigh*

Box Score

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

How long is it between hockey games again?

Last week I sat patiently waiting for the game last week in Minnesota. I almost didn't believe what I was seeing during the game. The Jackets dominated the first period, then fell flat of their faces to an embarassing first regulation loss to a score of 5-0. With the first loss also comes the loss of bragging rights, as the Jackets fall to third in the division and ninth in the conference.

The good news about the loss is that it is an 82 game season, and with the long season also comes the hard facts. The Blue Jackets are going to lose 25 games. That's right, flat out lose 25 games. They are also going to win around 30 games. It is those other 27 games that are going to make all of the difference.
In other Blue Jackets news, Coach Gallant was quoted in the columbus dispatch today, saying that this week, the practices are going to be a lot harder than the past. He doesn't know how else to keep the players in game shape with the two longest stretches without a game being back to back. Sergei Fedorov has also been skating with the team in a no contact jersey, but is hopeful to make his 2006-2007 debut on Friday vs. the Maple Leafs, in Toronto's second appearance in Nationwide Arena. The Jackets then travel to Pittsburgh on Saturday to take on Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. Look for Fredrick Norrena to make his first NHL start on saturday.

Columbus Blue Jackets, 0 Minnesota Wild, 5
Box Score

Columbus Record: 2-1-1, 5 pts

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Jody Shelley: The Enforcer ...but for how long?

Brian's post about Monday's game vs the Coyotes brought up an interesting topic: Jody Shelley. Good ole #45 has been with the Blue Jackets organization from the very beginning. As early as the inaugural 2000-2001 season, Shelley played 69 games for the Syracuse crunch and once for the Jackets. Since then he has been a staple on the Columbus roster, playing 50-80 games per season.

Jody Shelley is a role player, his title: the enforcer. Shelley is known for one thing and for one thing only- to establish a physical presence on the ice and defend his team from the roughest players on opposing teams. When an opponent tries to rough up one of Columbus' younger or more defenseless players, Shelley is the man who steps out on the ice like a bodyguard. A few checks into the boards usually fixes the problem, though a few more deliberate punches to the face are also in the repertoire.

It is well known that the NHL is attempting to "crack down" on fights by enforcing stricter penalties for instigators, and at the very least making quicker efforts to stop the punches before they're thrown. Without getting into the merits of on-ice fights in the NHL (we can do that another time), the crackdown on this scenario takes away the need for a physical player like Shelley.

As Brian said, Shelley's days are numbered. Beyond fighting, Shelley is not an incredibly useful player on the ice. In 280 NHL games, Shelley has amounted to only 27 points- 10 goals, 17 assists. In the same amount of time he racked up 856 penalty minutes. Granted, that number is slightly skewed by the fact that a fighting penalty is a 5 minute major and cedes no power play, but it still amounts to over 14 hours in the box. But how many of those minutes are forcing the Jackets into a penalty kill situation? The one stat that I don't have available is how many minutes he actually spends on ice. I think the penalty box to ice time ratio would be ridiculous. What I do know is that he averages over 3 minutes in the box per game and in the first three games of this season has not found himself there yet.

Outside of games, Shelley has a different role with the team. As one of only a handful of Jacket players who have a strong grip on the English language and a likeable public personality, he has spent more time than any other player doing promotions and advertising. Local car dealerships utilize many commercials with his likeness projecting toughness. The mobile Blue Jackets promo team also frequently have him making public appearances (formerly in tandem with Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre). Video highlights and ads inside Nationwide Arena often include him advising the safety habits of fans and demonstrating the strength and physical play of Blue Jackets hockey. In essence, he has become the quintessential face of the Blue Jackets. It's hard to imagine Columbus hockey without him. As this site would reflect, he's certainly a fan favorite.

The reason for which I have the most respect for Shelley is not his physical play, not his defense of his team, and certainly not his advertising spots. I admire Shelley for his tremendous work ethic and never-give-up attitude. Having attended a Blue Jackets practice, I can attest that #45 was the first one on the ice and the last one off. To be frank, the guy works his ass off to be the best player he can be. You can't blame a guy with that much effort. To his dismay, his hard work on his slapshot and stick handling hasn't yielded him any more than 10 points in a season, even while taking the ice in 80 games. However, I must imagine that this attitude and commitment to the team carries over inside the locker room. It's near impossible for any outsider to speculate what impact he may have on the other players.

I have nothing but the biggest dreams for the Jackets, and as such I wonder what role Jody Shelley will have on a playoff contending team. Is his slot on the roster and his salary best spent on an enforcer that can no longer legally enforce? Should he be sent back to Syracuse so that a younger player with stronger potential can take his seat on the bench? These questions will be answered in due time. In my opinion, Shelley needs to evolve. He either must find a more legitimate and effective way to fill the enforcer role, or develop his skills to better deserve his seat on the bench.

And now without further ado, a video of Jody Shelley's "Greatest Hits":

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

A Full 60 Minutes

Time for home game number two, a thriller for fans of fast paced offense. This time around, the Jackets had a couple of regulars back in the lineup, and they sparkled against the Phoenix Coyotes. Nikolai Zherdev was the story of the night, finally making it back from Russia. The Coyotes learned quickly that Zerdev was back in Columbus, as he put up a two goal night. Rick Nash continues to be the story however, with 3 goals and 3 assists in 3 games. Leclaire once again proved strong for Columbus putting up a remarkable 24 saves on 25 shots. The shots looked great from the other end as the Jackets' offense got off 34 shots on Mike Morrison.

It seems as though all of the things that we've been talking about are all coming around. Not only did the Columbus dominate on offense, but there was the full 60 minute effort from the entire team, something that definitely was missing in Chicago a few days ago. Anson Carter also scored his first of the season, a beautiful bank shot off of newly acquired Phoenix defensman Ed Jovanovski.

One problem that I do see developing, especially later in the season is the lack of minutes Coach Gallant is giving to Jody Shelley. Not that Shelley deserves them, but the days of the hockey goon are numbered. The Coyotes landed quite a few cheap shots in the game, notably on Dan Fritsche, who was injured, but also on Alexander Svitov, who so recently was on the IR list with a shoulder injury, which came dangerously close to being reaggravated. Point being, Shelley got his minutes after these two potential game breakers, but only managed to get one good hip check in toward the end of the second. Where is the team goon when the kids are getting pushed around? Why is Jody Shelley still on the team? I know the fans in Columbus adore Mr. Shelley, but if Coach Gallant doesn't give him ice time, why is he sitting on the bench at all? It seems to me like that spot on the roster could be filled by a useful player to give the top lines a chance to rest for a few minutes. Shelley had 5:02 of ice time, while David Vyborny on the other end topped the list with an unheard of 24 minutes on the ice. Sooner or later our stars are going to need a break.

I hate bursting the bubble of this great win by the Blue Jackets with negativity, but I also see a problem in the officiating. I counted two specific instances where a Columbus player was TACKLED, only to be called for interference. Yes, I said it right, but I'll say it again. A Columbus player was tackled and then went off for interference...HUH? too bad they don't show the penalty replays on the jumbotron.

I will now leave you this fine evening with my new favorite Gretzky quote (Sorry Tyler, I actually found a better one): "First of all, they played a nice game. They're a much better team than last year. I tried to explain that to our guys." Guess they didn't hear your words of wisdom, o' Great One. Better luck next time!

Phoenix Coyotes 1, Columbus Blue Jackets 5

Columbus Record: 2-0-1 5 pts.
(First place in the central division)

Trailing Columbus in the division:
Chicago, 2 pts.
Detriot, 2 pts.
St. Louis, 1 pt.
Nashville, 0 pts.

Box Score

Monday, October 9, 2006

Is that the guy from Cool Runnings? The one with the lucky egg?

Like every professional sports team, the Jackets' off season is spent signing new players and evaluating prospects already in the Columbus system. Perhaps the most notable signing for the 06-07 season was right winger, #77, Anson Carter.

The 6'1" 210 lbs Carter has spent his ten year career bouncing between clubs all around the league, following four years of play at Michigan State. Last season was spent in Vancouver where he scored a career high 33 goals. Blue Jackets management hopes he can repeat that success and anticipate a 50-60 point season for Carter, which would match seasons earlier in his career.

Carter will make a solid addition to our current forwards, bringing more of the much needed veteran leadership that the club has lacked. Like Foote, Berard, and Fedorov before him, Carter brings not only a physical ice presence, but also an NHL noteworthy presence to the Columbus team.

Carter is currently battling a case of plantar fasciitis, which is an inflammation of the ligaments under the arch of ones' foot. One of the causes of this condition is wearing shoes (or skates) that have too little arch support. Sounds like he should have called Dr. Scholls.

(UPDATE: Carter's alter-ego who appears in Cool Runnings is Doug E. Doug)

Sunday, October 8, 2006

10/7/06 vs. Blackhawks

Ah, the first away game of the season. Usually, it is one of those games that us Jackets faithful dread, not only is it an away game, but it's also in October. The best record ever posted by a Blue Jackets squad in october is 3-5-1, coming in 2002. Nevertheless, the team definitely ended strong, with the sting of the OT loss still fresh in the teams's mind from the previous night.

The game started ugly with Adrian Aucoin and Jeff Hamilton putting in two goals on two shots for Chicago. Fortunately, Fredrick Modin woke up the team with two consecutive shots, opening the floodgates and outshooting the Hawks 13-3 in the first period. The game was also knotted up at 2, with Rick Nash and Jaroslav Balastik picking up goals for the CBJ.

The second period brought on another flurry of goal scoring from the Jackets. Manny Malhotra got one by Khabibulin at 11:44 of the period, with Rick Nash tallying his second of the night only a minute later. Duvie Westcott closed out the scoring in the period with a snap shot from close range.

For some reason, it seems as though the Blue Jackets always have issues in the third period. I feel like they always seems to run out of gas. The period was big for the Blackhawks. They went on to outshoot the Jackets 12-2, and score two goals in 25 secongs to bring the game back into Chicago's grasp. Fortunately for Columbus, time was on their side and they managed to pull out a "W" and for now, after 2 games, they sit on top of the central division.

For the Blue Jackets to have a shot at the postseason, they are going to have to start showing up for an entire game. As we saw at home on Friday, they got on the board quick, and then almost as quickly surrendered the lead. Pascal Leclaire was brilliant in net, preventing what could have easily been a 5-2 or 6-2 blowout. The team has the talent to get to the top, it's just a matter of showing it for an entire contest. Leclaire should be able to handle the number 1 job easily, but he needs help from the defensemen. Rick Nash can't carry the offense, and the newly acquired forwards in Frederick Modin and Anson Carter are going to have to get on the board.

Nikolai Zherdev has supposedly made it into town, be on the lookout for him in the lineup on monday, as Geoff Platt has been sent down to Syracuse to make room for Z. Also look for Rusty Klesla who will be back after a two game suspension for a low hit on Tuomo Ruttu during the preseason.

Honorable mentions for the weekend go out to the Washington Capitals for beating the Hurricanes, who are still winless after 3 games. And I also give mention to the Ohio Junior Blue Jackets, who won the franchise opener in OT 3-2. Unfortunately they dropped the second game of the series with the Waterloo Blackhawks 2-1.

Columbus Blue Jackets 5, Chicago Blackhawks 4

Columbus Record: 1-0-1, 3 pts

Box Score

Saturday, October 7, 2006

Opening Night 2006

Amid much pomp and fanfare, the 2006-2007 Columbus Blue Jackets debuted in their home opener against the Vancouver Canucks. The pregame ceremonies were as filled with flair as any fan could expect. The Blue Jackets have never been an organization to pass on an opportunity to dazzle attendees with lights, music, and overproduced highlight and pregame videos. After introducing the entire Jackets team (minus a few stars who are injured or without a proper U.S. work visa), the game began.

The first period started strong. The Jackets appeared sharp and focused out of the gate, demonstrating less than two minutes into the game that this year's team was able to take some of our greener players to the next level. Hartigan scored on Luongo from Westcott and Hainsey on the jackets' first power play opportunity of the season.

The rest of the period went by uneventfully, and another real scoring chance would not come until late in the 2nd period. In a series of successive penalties, the Canucks ended up in a 3 on 5 situation with Fitzpatrick, Ohlund and Krajicek in the penalty box. Vyborny took advantage with help from Hartigan and Nash. The Jackets were able to manage a goal from the extended power play.

After the exciting 5 on 3 power play in the 2nd, the Jackets speed, energy, and focus died off. The third period was gloomy at best for the Jackets, who gave up 1 goal in the middle of the 3rd, and another with only 3 minutes to go. The precious second half of the third period demonstrated Vancouver's ability to exploit their own stamina and determination. Offensively, the Canucks dominated the Blue Jackets, out shooting them 15-4.

Overtime seemed to last hardly more than a blink of an eye as a Sedin brothers combo landed the puck in Leclaire's net.

All in all, the loss turned out to be very disappointing for this frustrated fan. This Jackets squad is ready for the next level, meaning that they need to be on the ice to play the whole game and not succumb to fatigue 45 minutes in. After such a strong demonstration of defensive skills and an outstanding performance by the young goaltender (41 saves), to give up three successive goals to lose in overtime was a heartbreaker.

The most frustrating point of all is over the same concern I've had for years about the Jackets. At the end of the game, we were out shot 44-20. Being outshot grossly has been a reoccuring issue with the Jackets. Even though we had 6 minutes of power play in the second period, we still only mustered 6 total shots. The Blue Jackets forwards needs to remember my favorite Wayne Gretzky quote: "You miss 100% of the shots you don't take."

Vancouver Canucks 3, Columbus Blue Jackets 2
Jackets record: 0-0-0-1

Box score