Archive for October, 2006

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Dose of Reality #2

October 31, 2006

Another dose from Truth Serum 

Dose of Reality

After reading The Dispatch this morning, I’m glad that President and General Manager Doug MacLean is not ready to give up. He has anther 73 games to go and he is still positive. As he must be. And I agree 100% that there are five or six players who can score 30 goals. But I am not prepared to give him a ringing endorsement at this time.

Doug can’t hit the panic button yet, but he doesn’t have that many alternatives to consider in the future. Who would he trade, the $6 million Fedorov or the $4.6 million Foote? Do you think anyone out there is seeking them, the two highest paid players on the roster? I have a hunch that teams are more interested in Nash, Zherdev, or Brule.So MacLean says that he may look internally first to add more scoring to the team. Do I plan on seeing Mark Hartigan, Geoff Platt, and Alexandre Picard re-join the team? Joe Motzko was leading the team with one goal after eight games, but we have yo-yo’ed him enough for the last three seasons. We need a bit more of a punch.

And Doug is giving Coach Gallant his vote of confidence, at least for now. So what is the team going to do? He has told us that they don’t need no stinking scoring lessons, so we have to work on team defense. Now you’re talking!

But wait, haven’t we been there before? I mean Adam Foote is certainly better than most defensmen in the NHL, and Klesla and Hainsey are no slouches. Vyborny, Federov, Malhotra, and Modin all have decent checking skills. A lot of the other guys aren’t that bad, either.

So what can we do? I guess maybe they should focus on winning by scoring more goals than the other team. Perhaps the team should take more shots, clear some of the rebounds that Leclaire deals, use some speed on the breakout, and stay out of the penalty box. Another great idea to try is to look deep inside of themselves and search for a way to win. When you are holding a lead over Vancouver at home, make it stand. Because it doesn’t seem that a trip to Syracuse is all that motivating to this group. A trade to Pittsburgh, Carolina, or Anaheim is actually something to look forward to these days.

The players all seem to get along with each other, which is great, and we know that Gallant, Gary Agnew, and Gord Murphy are all beholden to MacLean. But there seems to be a disconnect. I wouldn’t exactly call it a lack of respect for management, but I don’t see many of the players willing to take that bullet, to do anything except be humiliated by another loss. Maybe they are confused about which master they are to serve?

All I gathered out of The Dispatch report is that MacLean has faith in them and we fans should just continue to show up and they will eventually win. The players know that Syracuse is not going to save the mothership and they know that very few of them are going to be moved. They also see that in the past, a trip out of Columbus was usually beneficial most of the time. But they understand very well that above all else, Doug MacLean is here to stay and they have to live within his system. As one writer in Toronto put it, “GM Doug MacLean is on the verge of killing his play thing…” I hope the writer is wrong and that the players can find ways to win.

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Dose of Reality #1

October 30, 2006

I mentioned earlier today that I was hoping to get a new contributor to the site, and I’d like to present to you the first installment of a new series here at End of the Bench called Dose of Reality. This will be the column headers used by our new staff member (pen name as yet undetermined, though I’m hoping he goes for Truth Serum 🙂 ) So anytime you see the post title “Dose of Reality”, remember that it’s not me (Drew) you’re reading, but the other member of the EOB editorial team.

Without further ado, your first Dose:

Dose of Reality #1

Thanks for offering me this platform at EOB. I am honored to have this opportunity to express my hockey opinions to a larger audience than I usually get, which is normally my wife and kids and my one brother who doesn’t hang up on me. And I really appreciate the flattering picture that Drew is using for me; it takes twenty pounds off.

So for my first post, I want to talk about the two recent games, LA and New Jersey. In the first one, you can say the Jackets were lucky to have LA in the building that night and for the second game you can summarize it by saying they looked better than usual while losing. And here in lies a problem.

As a Blue Jackets fan, I don’t have unrealistic expectations. I understand and deal with the fact that the team is not flashy, nor is it tough, nor is it resourceful. All I ask is that when March 1 appears on my calendar, that they are in the hunt for a play-off spot. In the past, when this date comes around, the fans of the team are subject to the various “what ifs?” that team management puts out, such as “what if Federov had been with the team since October?” or “what if Francois Beauchemin had told us he was that good?” when he played here. But we are all accustomed to these talking points that the Jackets present to us and most of us tune them out and still re-up our season tickets for the next season.

But as I said, I want to talk about the two recent games and the problem. To make the play-offs, a team needs about 92 points for the season. Actually, in the competitive Western Conference, 95 points is the magic number. Over the course of 82 games, a team will have to earn 1.12 points per game. This means that although the OT loss to Vancouver was a kick in the shorts, it was better than nothing. But after the first nine games, the Jackets are trending down (again) and as everyone in Columbus understands all too well, the play-off gap quickly widens.

So while the game against the Kings was fun to watch if you sat in the Jackets defensive end for two periods, remember it was against the Kings. They don’t have any shooters and we were supposed to beat them anyway! But hey, the team forgot to play any kind of offense that night. We even got to watch Sean Avery, a guy who normally chases Duvie Westcott all over the ice looking for a fight, hit the post twice and take on the role of playmaker. All that the Jackets could muster was 14 shots. Fourteen shots against a team with a slow, aging defense featuring Rob Blake, a guy Colorado didn’t want anymore. (Sorry BGSU alums.)

So the team flew into New Jersey high on the one in a row winning streak and played the same type of hockey and thought they would get away with it. But New Jersey is currently 1.18 points per game and they have a real French Canadian goalie and he shut the door. Sure, our friend Pascal LeClaire only gave up one goal, but that is all the Devils need to win their games. And yes, the Jackets took a whopping 22 shots on goal, but a number of them were from 60 feet away and do you really think Brodeur is going to give one up from there? I mean, he is over his divorce now and is once again focused, even against the Blue Jackets.

The Jackets historically take a low number of shots, which is OK against Phoenix and St. Louis, but suicide against the upper division teams. And if the team does not start taking more shots, they are not going to hit the 1.12 points per game trend, and that means you will hear new talking points in March, but Doug MacLean will still be purchasing a new BMW.

Every game in the NHL is a challenge, but if you don’t know how you are even going to play those games, you are not going to be successful. You must develop your style of play, exploit the weakness of your opposition, and then execute. Is this an indictment of Coach Gallant? Maybe, but he is not the one who put the team together.

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Changes at the End of the Bench?

October 30, 2006

I don’t usually like to talk about things before they’re finalized, but I’ll make an exception in this case.  I’m in talks to bring another writer on board here at the End of the Bench.  The potential blogger will remain nameless, as he wishes to (prospectively) produce anonymously. 

silhouette.jpg

One of my original goals was to provide a voice counter to that of the local media, which usually fawns over the team like a three-legged dog.  I don’t feel like I’ve kept as true as I’d like to that goal, and I think that the new writer will help this blog meet those goals.

As I’ve discussed with the prospect, although I think I have a healthy passion for both the game of hockey and the CBJ; often my basis for discontent ranges from anecdotal to slightly misguided perceptions.  Occasionally I’ll hit the mark and be pissed for the right reasons, but not as often as I’d like.  I attribute my depth of understanding (or lack thereof) to being relatively new to the game.  I’ve only been following hockey religiously for six years, and casually for eight to ten years.  Our prospective writer (PW) has been involved with hockey (playing/coaching/officiating/fan of the game) for considerably more years.  The depth of understanding possessed by PW is considerably different than my own, and his analysis on the status of professional hockey in Columbus (“Houston, we have a problem.”) would be much appreciated and valued at the End of the Bench.

To our potential new-hire:  If you’re reading this, I hope you’ll join the staff.  Your opinions, insight, and analysis would be a great addition to the EOB team.  I (we) look forward to hearing from you soon.

Thanks for stopping by the End of the Bench.

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Game #8 CBJ vs Los Angeles

October 27, 2006

The Kings roll into town tonight to give the Jackets the first of two games in consecutive nights.  I expect the game to be the typical high scoring affair we’ve come to see in past matches between these two clubs.  No less than three times have the Kings given Blue Jackets’ goaltenders some severe sunburn, winning 7-1, 7-1, and 8-2 over the course of the last five seasons.  I’ve had the misfortune to attend two of those games.  Mrs. EOB and I are thinking about going tonight, but I’m not sure yet.

Blue Jackets: With three days rest, will the Blue Jackets be able to muster enough effort to win tonight?  Or even enough to score a goal?  During the Monday night game against San Jose, the fans were letting the team have it as more boos graced the soundtrack than cheers.  If the team does not improve tonight, I would not be surprised to see attendance numbers slack considerably until the team gets moving in the right direction.

Kings: Losers of seven of their last eight, the Kings are probably a bit excited to have a contest with another struggling club.  Talented rookie Anze Kopitar will look to add to his point total against a CBJ defense that’s had trouble stopping much lately.

Kings rookie C Anze Kopitar

Kings center Anze Kopitar (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Getty Images)

Hometown press

Out of town press

  • I won’t link to the LA Times article since it will require registration after today, but in their Kings tonight feature previewing the game you can find the following comments from writer Chris Foster:
  • “Just in time, the patsy-esque Blue Jackets come up on the schedule”
  • “The Blue Jackets, too, are off to a terrible start but who in Columbus notices with Ohio State ranked No. 1…?”

Fearless EOB Prediction:  The fun thing about me making predictions is that they’re almost guaranteed to be wrong.  So I’ll pick the Kings to win big.  5-1 LA.

In reality, it sounds like the Jackets are changing up their strategy (see the simpler approach article above from the Dispatch) and will rely more on the dump-in and hard forecheck.  Danny Fritsche will be back in action, and he should be able to bang around a bit in this style of play. 

I still think that while this style of offensive zone entry suits the Malhotra and Svitov lines very well, that the more skilled lines will be initially hurt by this.  Nash and Zherdev are not known for their excellent positional play, and it will take them some time to properly execute the forecheck.  That might be a good thing.  They’ve been able to slide by with questionable offensive positioning because of their ability to make great things happen from disadvantageous places.  Perhaps by creating more accountability, once the team gets the monkey off it’s back the creativity will be complimented by good fundamentals.

I think it will probably be a close game, decided by one goal.  I’ll still go with LA.

If we decide to head down, I hope to see a competitive game.

Good luck to the Tigers, tonight.

Go Jackets!

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Rage against the poorly functioning machine

October 25, 2006

Soon after the final buzzer had sounded, I spewed my Sharks/Jackets post-game rant onto the computer and pressed it.  Sometimes I worry that I unintentionally censor my thoughts, not in a take out the curse words way but more of a time and distance make things not seem so bad kind of way.  Did that make any sense?

By being quick on the draw, I made sure I was including the emotions I felt while watching the game.  Soon after I hit “Publish”, Mrs. EOB got home and heard the whole rant out loud (uncensored in every way).  It must be love, because most people (not just women) would think I’m crazy for being so passionate about a dumb sports team. 

I’ve often wondered if I’m alone in my joys and sorrows related to the CBJ.  Here in Columbus, everybody knows (or is) a Buckeye fan.  On fall Saturday’s, you feel like part of a large Buckeye community even if you’re watching the game alone on a ten-inch black and white in your apartment.  It’s prevalent.

Watching the CBJ is a different story.  Not everybody knows hockey fans (CBJ or otherwise) in Columbus.  All too often, after a big win or crushing defeat it seems like my passion is meaningless because I can’t share it with someone who understands the ups and downs of “my” team.  Of course, Mrs. EOB is always there, but I’m used to a larger community (OSU) where I can make a comment about the game to just about anyone and they’ll understand.

As I found out after the 3-0 loss to the Sharks, my wait is over.  The Blue Jackets online community, small though it may be, has expressed it’s collective discontent.  I have to take something out of a loss, and this is it.  The underground voice of CBJ fans has risen.

Who’s saying what?

  • Army of the Ohio – The best CBJ blog out there.  Michael goes off on the coaches, players, passing, CGMDM, the power play, everybody!  This isn’t Mike’s first rant on the Jackets, and I doubt it will be his last.
  • Death Cab for Woody – Herringbone runs a blog that focuses more on OSU sports, but sprinkles his CBJ thoughts out there every once in a while.  In this post, he discusses how he’s not feeling sad he can’t watch the CBJ in person this year (transplanted to Seattle this summer).  Judging by his thoughts, the last four games have had a lot to do with his lack of regret.
  • Men of the Scarlet and Gray – Again, primarily a Buckeye/football centric site with an occassional look to the rink, sportsMonkey has issued his displeasure with the team.  He makes some “polite requests” to a few Jackets, hoping to prod them to new heights (off the ground would be a good start).

It’s great to see the fans take a look at what’s going on and speaking out.  I’m not talking about the one or two morons who make the Dispatch letters to the editor every Sunday, wondering “why do we even have hockey in Columbus if we can’t win the Stanley Cup” or stating “Columbus is a college town only and the Crew/Blue Jackets should get used to it or leave.”  I’m talking about fans, who can look at what’s going on and offer some reasonably constructed thoughts.  We (the represented CBJ bloggers and myself) might not agree on the way to a solution, but everybody is pissed… and it’s great.

Yelling man

I’ve found my home, and I’m glad there’s somebody to share the food at the dinner party.  Even if we all will be yelling across the table that the blueline sucks.

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U-G-L-Y

October 23, 2006

3-0 Sharks, and it wasn’t even that close.  Incredibly difficult to watch.  To the point where I was having a hard time deciding whether to be disgusted, sad, or angry.

Yes, I’m the guy who picked Columbus to finish tenth in the West this year.  And you’ll remember I said my predictions were unfounded and most likely wrong.  Still, even if I admit we have a relatively young and inexperienced team, I should be able to expect effort, right?

Plus (this should be short)

  • Gilbert Brule puts forth another strong effort.  Jes Golbez (at Hockey Rants) need not worry, I don’t think this kid is going anywhere.  He got his first goal of the season the other night, and he’s looking better every shift.
  • OK Tollefson.  Yeah, he’s only making the plus list because he laid some good shots on Mark Smith in their fight midway through the third.  I’m stretching, here.

Minus

  • Blueliners and centers failing to close down passing lanes in the neutral zone.  How many times did I see a cross ice pass go from the Sharks defensive zone to the forward waiting to go into the Jackets’ zone?  Too freakin’ many!  Wouldn’t you eventually try and get a stick out to stop that pass?  I would think.  But I’m just an incredibly frustrated blog writer.
  • Adam Foote.  Adam, I stuck up for you in my friendly disagreement with Bob.  And you’re letting me down.  I don’t like being wrong, Adam!  The entire third period, you were making passes with one hand on your stick, either taking stupid penalties or trying, and in general not keeping in position so you could “deliver a hit and a message” in one nice package.  Well, Adam… I think both the hit and the message came across to your fans the same way: “I wish I had signed with [pick any other team in the NHL except Phoenix] instead of Columbus.”  You took the dollars, and for that I cannot fault you.  If I’m in my late 30’s in the NHL, I’d probably look for the most money I can get.  But I’d like to think I’d give a 100% effort for those tens of millions of pennies.  Maybe my skills would be eroding from five or ten years ago, but I’d go out every night to give my team the best chance to win.

Adam Foote, one hand on the stick… again!

Adam Foote, with one hand on his stick.  See, it is real!  AP Photo/Jay LaPrete

  • Jackets fans crying for Jody Shelley after winger Alexandre Picard was hip checked into the glass (it was clean, just ugly).  Hits are a part of hockey, and that was a particularly good one.  If we had done that to an opposing player, you can bet you’d be slapping your buddies on the back, putting your hand over your mouth because you don’t want to look like you’re enjoying the violence too much, while in the back of your mind hoping that the guy doesn’t stay out of the game(s) too long.  Four years ago, that’s what this team would have done.  Kudos to the coaching staff for instilling a bit of pride in the players, and to Shelley for not aggravating an already desparate/frustrating situation when he did get out on the ice.
  • Jackets head coach Gerard Gallant.  As you walked off the ice at the end of the game, the FSN cameras caught you jawing with a fan.  The camera didn’t show the fan, so we don’t know if it was a San Jose or Columbus fan asking you, “how do you like coaching in the AHL?” (I’m guessing it was something like that.)  What the camera did catch was you saying, “Why don’t you shut the f(amily blog censorship) up!”  I was going to post something on this in a few days, but I’ll ask the question now.  How much longer does Gallant continue to coach the Jackets?  I think he can do it, but after seeing his outburst at a fan and letting that frustration out to the public instead of directing it properly within the locker room walls, I have to wonder.

Overall, I have to come back to the word pathetic.  I watched the second and third periods, and the Jackets did not look in the game for one second.  Quite similar to how they’ve looked for much of their last four games.

Game recap

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Last of the day, I swear

October 20, 2006

One final update before I shut down.  I’ve added Hockey Recap to the sidebar.  This looks to be a pretty good stats site that recaps the previous day’s action.

If you’re into stats, there’s a lot of good information here.  Or if you just want to see how your players did in the End of the Bench Fantasy Hockey League, drop on over.

Good night, everyone.  May tomorrow bring better returns for the Jackets.