Archive for November, 2006

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Sidebar update: more listings for your (my?) reading pleasure

November 30, 2006

I’m assuming that most people who run their own sites use their blogroll as their daily reading list (if they don’t use some sort of feed reader, which I don’t).  That said, maybe you don’t.  If not, I’ve added a new link on the sidebar to The Chief Canuck.  Another Canuck-centric blog has been chiseled into the EOB template.  Stop by and check it out if you like.

Also, in a mini-roundup… the CBJ are getting some attention from some Buckeye-heavy sites now that the football team is off for another five or six weeks.  Check out the following:

I’m guessing there will be much more from both of these sites in the coming weeks and months.  There’s the Heisman ceremony, OSU basketball ranked in the top 10, and a little football game coming up on January 8th as well.  Stop on over and say “hey” if those topics float your boat.

Thanks for stopping by the End of the Bench.  And for those of you who got here searching for “mennonite sleep bench“, I hope you found what you were looking for.

Have a great Thursday.

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Wasting sleeping hours

November 29, 2006

I’m not usually an early-to-bed kind of guy, but it’s not every day I stay up past midnight watching hockey.  It’s a ‘treat’ I indulge in no more than ten times per year.  Last night was the first of a five game road stretch for the Jackets, and their third game under new head coach Ken Hitchcock.

It wasn’t pretty.

Naslund scores

Canucks captain Markus Naslund lifts a backhand over Pascal Leclaire’s glove for the game winner.  (AP Photo/CP, Richard Lam)

Columbus only allowed one goal for a final score of 1-0 in favor of the Canucks, but if I were to say what score more accurately reflected how the game went I’d probably go with 4-1 Vancouver.  The Canucks had the momentum for much of the game.  They were pressuring the puck in all zones (great forecheck on the PK displayed a few times), creating decent scoring chances, and in general handling the Jacket team very well.  If not for a few specatular (and a few more lucky) saves from Pascal Leclaire, the lone Canuck goal would have grown to at least three or four.

The Jackets had a near goal disallowed in the second period.  In live action, the referee right behind the net waved it off, and then it was reviewed in the Toronto “war room” (as it was called many times by color man Danny Gare).  It was a call that really couldn’t be overturned because there was no camera angle (at least that I saw) that could accurately show the play.  If the ref had called it a goal to begin with, it probably would have stood, but he didn’t… so it wasn’t.  I have no problem with the decision, because there was no indisputable evidence available to reverse it.  The original call could have gone either way.  From where the ref was, right behind the net, there is no way he could have seen the puck fully cross the line.  Some Jackets fans and broadcasters *cough cough* will complain about the call, but I’m fine with it.  Do I think it was a goal?  Yes, but I’m slightly biased.  Do I think it was a good call?  Absolutely.  End of story.

In general, the Jackets looked a little jittery in the defensive zone last night, and had trouble making crisp passes to start the breakout.  Recently, Ken Hitchcock was quoted repeatedly in the paper saying he hates (yes, he used that word) rimming the puck out of the defensive zone as opposed to turning up ice, finding the open man, and leading the rush.  I’d have to imagine that the team will be working on this (not rimming the puck) quite a bit in the next few days.  The Canucks were able to create a great deal of confusion among the Jackets blueliners, and keep the puck behind Leclaire for ten to twenty seconds on a Blue Jackets power play.  The crowd cheered it’s approval, which likely would have been heard as booing if the venue had been Nationwide.  Just a hunch.

The Jackets did well on faceoffs (34/56 for 61%) and hits (18 hits given), but couldn’t find a way to put a complete shift together.  It seemed to me that each time the team broke out of the defensive zone cleanly at even strength, there was a turnover either before the blueline was gained or shortly after winning a puck battle in the corner.

There were a few Jackets who played a decent game, at least on my television (again, it was late).  Rusty Klesla is playing bigger every day.  He’s using his size and speed to manufacture some separation between the opposition and the puck (yeah, that’s me being wordy trying to say Klesla is becoming a big hitter).  He was officially credited with four hits, and a big one on Markus Naslund that had some of the Canucks going out of their way to find Rusty on the ice.  Nikolai Zherdev also had stretches last night where he played complete hockey.  Seeing a Jacket crunch an opponent into the boards, and then turn around with a number thirteen on his back is a very welcome sight in the EOB household.  Of course, he also had his lazy moments on defense in the second and third periods as well.  Rick Nash saw some PK time (okay, only 0:41 but it still counts), which is something you’d almost never see under Gallant.  I’d like to see more of this.  When he was out there, he was skating harder and managing his area of responsibility better than I’ve seen him do at even strength in quite a while (maybe ever?). 

It was nice to see Jaroslav Balastik back in the lineup last night, as well.  I’m guessing that this move (and getting Gilbert Brule more ice time) were made to please Jes Golbez over at Hockey Rants.  Golbez has railed at the CBJ management many times (often rightfully so) for not playing two of his favorites any more than they do.  I’ve had a tough time making up my mind on Balastik this year (though he did play well last night in 6:37 of action, 1:26 of that shorthanded!), but he can be fun to watch.  There is no doubt in my mind that Brule is a talent, and with the right mix of opportunity and instruction will become a major part of the team.  Hopefully Jes was watching last night to see these guys in action.

The team travels northeast to Calgary to face the Flames on Friday night.  After facing Roberto Luongo last night, the road doesn’t get any easier in the next few days as Miikka Kiprusoff and Dwayne Roloson are next up in the parade. 

Thanks for stopping by the End of the Bench.  Come back soon.

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The Monday Hit List

November 27, 2006

Well I picked a fine time for a blog vacation, huh?  Not that a ton happened, but I actually have a CBJ win to talk about (among other things) and I’m busy stuffing my face with turkey and such.

In what is becoming a post-weekend ritual, here is the Monday EOB hit list:

  • Mrs. EOB and I attended the November 22 game against St. Louis.  While roaming the concourse prior to the puck drop, we saw the news on the arena televisions that Ken Hitchcock had been named the new head coach (more on this later).  We assumed (incorrectly) that the players were aware of the change, and were out on the ice playing to impress their new coach.  The Jackets played with spirit, with Nikolai Zherdev in particular playing a well-rounded game (a little more on this later, as well).  The Jackets couldn’t hold on to a late lead, and survived overtime only to lose in the shootout while not scoring a goal.  Not having Rick Nash in the game or Sergei Fedorov seemed to hurt a bit in that department.  It was the first point for the Jackets in six games.
  • Ken Hitchcock is named the new coach for the Blue Jackets.  Reactions are mixed throughout the blogosphere and media.  Because I’m six days behind the curve, I won’t list them out now, but rather paraphrase.  On the plus side, some say that this is a positive move for the organization.  Hitchcock will demand accountability from everyone on the roster, and some think that’s exactly the prescription needed to get the team to perform better.  On the minus side, some are questioning the move wondering if “Old NHL” Hitchcock is the answer for any team in the “New NHL”.  Since he was fired by the Flyers exactly a month prior to signing up with the Jackets, what makes the management think that he’s that good of a coach to begin with?  You’ve seen the welcome letter to Ken from Truth Serum, and here’s my opinion: it’s a plus for now.  The organization is losing fan support faster than they probably anticipated thanks to a combination of many things (losing, CGMDM, losing, etc.), they needed to make a change that showed the fan base they were seriously committed to improvement.  At this point in the franchise, the fans don’t need Stanley Cup’s every year to feel good about their team.  We just need our team to be competitive.  Hitchcock has been a proven winner in the NHL.  He has been taken to task by some for two recent issues.  First, how hapless the Flyers looked in losing to the Sabres in last year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs.  Second, the pitiful start the Flyers team had to this season.  Hitchcock is being labeled as the coach who can’t hack it in the “New” NHL.  Basing that opinion on less than 20 games is a little unfair.  He didn’t sign the players that everyone is saying don’t fit, he works with what he is given.  He was fired by a team with suspect defense, poor goaltending, underperforming forwards, and a loony GM.  Sound familiar?  He’s coming from an atmosphere that is accustomed to winning, and going to one where winning is an unknown.  Ken Hitchcock has his work cut out for him with the Blue Jackets, but armed with a three-year contract I’m anxious to see what he can do.
  • I didn’t see the Flyers/Jackets contest on Friday, but from all accounts it was a good effort despite losing 3-2.  The Jackets are running out of credit at the National Bank of Moral Victories, but based on the complete lack of effort I saw in person against Nashville on November 20 it’s a good start.
  • I caught the third period of the Wild/Jackets game on Saturday night, and the boys looked pretty good in general.  For the second game in a row, the CBJ outshot the opposition, and it finally paid off with a five-goal night.  The Fedorov/Zherdev/Carter line was tremendous, netting nine points collectively.  It remains to be seen if Hitch will keep this line together, but on Saturday (for one period, at least) it was fun to watch.  If Zherdev continues to play defense (hard to believe, but true) and check hard, he will quickly be recognized as a top talent in the NHL (rather than landing on the All-Potential team again).
  • I’m cautiously optimistic given the play of the team the last three games.  The upcoming road stretch (seven of next eight are away from Nationwide) will tell a lot about how this team will be the rest of the season.  A .500 record in these games would be a welcome step in the right direction.

I hope everyone south of the border had a good holiday weekend.  Thanks for stopping by the End of the Bench.  Come back soon.

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Dose of Reality #11

November 27, 2006

Dose of Reality

So we have a new coach who brings an impressive record of accomplishment to the organization. Welcome, Ken Hitchcock, and I and all the other Columbus Blue Jackets fans wish you the best of luck.

As you begin your three-year tenure in Columbus, you will probably shop for a house. You might want to look at properties in an area not too far from Nationwide Arena, but away from the many golf courses that seem to attract employees from the organization. I understand that you are somewhat of a history buff, so perhaps something close to The Ohio State University, where you can share your love of history with others who have the same interests. By the way Ken, the library is under construction, just like the Blue Jackets, and is not user-friendly at this time, also just like the Blue Jackets.

You will love the fact that the team has its practice ice in the same building as Nationwide Arena, so the players can keep everything in their lockers and you can walk back to your office after one of your anticipated ball-buster practices. Maybe you should schedule an early morning skate at Easton once in awhile so the players have to get up early and drive to the rink without the comforts of their own locker facilities like other NHL teams have to do. Get them a little uncomfortable and not so content, eh?

Your boss has his own radio show, the only GM in the NHL who has one. I think you should insist on being a regular guest on every show when it fits your schedule. You might be able to neutralize him a little and let the players know that you are in charge of on-ice operations.

Don’t be afraid to speak up if you have an issue with the performance of one of the players. Bench them even if they once played in Detroit, Colorado or PEI. It’s your job now and you have been given the authority to win. So win.

I hope you focus on the Blue Jackets and get the players to believe that they can compete and win in the NHL. All in all, they are a good group of guys who are usually nice and courteous to the fans. Maybe some of them are not a good fit for the Blue Jackets and should be given the opportunity to find another place to play. I think they all understand that your strategy and tactics will different from previous coaches and they might have to reconsider their place in Columbus. But they have open minds and realize that things must change.

Respect the fans here in Columbus. We are not all bumpkins who thought ice was something that you put in your glass. Not many of us have NHL experience, but we do know bullshit when we hear it, and we have heard a lot over the past few seasons. Many of the Blue Jacket fans grew up somewhere else and played some hockey. We went to games in other cities before we settled in this area. A few people even accepted a relocation to Columbus because of the Blue Jackets; we love the sport so much we were thrilled to come here and attend NHL games. A lot of your fan base gets up at 5:00 AM on weekends for youth hockey and know the sacrifices the players and their families made to get here.

Welcome to Columbus, Mr. Hitchcock. I look forward to your success.

– Truth Serum

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I’m sorry…

November 21, 2006

To the reader who found End of the Bench by entering the following internet search terms:

doug maclean fired

I wish I had better news for you today.  As it stands, we’re still stuck.  Thanks for stopping by though. 

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Weekend thoughts

November 20, 2006

Another weekend, another A) Jackets loss; B) Buckeye win; C) Browns loss; D) All of the above.

In typical Monday fashion, here is the EOB weekend review bullet list:

  • Only listened to a few minutes of the Friday Colorado game due to the attendance of Mrs. EOB and I at the OSU basketball game.  With yet another final score of zero, the Jackets have already matched the number of times they were shutout all of last season (five).  Also, the loss keeps me at a strong 0% on predictions so far.
  • The basketball Bucks looked pretty good in beating EKU Friday night, but it bears remembering that they have two minor upcoming games at North Carolina and at Florida.  Nothing like testing that #4 ranking out early in the season against the top two teams in the country.
  • The Game on Saturday lived up to the hype.  Though the defenses didn’t show up, the game stayed close to the final gun.  The Buckeyes scraped by the Wolverines 42-39, and Troy Smith did all but engrave his name on the Heisman Trophy.  The Bucks play next on January 8th in the National Championship game.
  • CBJ game Saturday night at Nashville, final 4-2 in favor of the Preds.  I didn’t watch much of this game either.  The EOB household was filled with college football fans, and we were watching games until late Saturday night.  Unfortunately, I don’t have much to say about this one.
  • Mrs. EOB and I will be in attendance at the next two home games thanks to the goodwill and thoughtfulness of our friends.  Hopefully the boys can put on a show for us, since this is the first time we’ve seen them live since the final home game of last season.  I’m tempering my expectations, and don’t really expect to win tonight against Nashville, but I think we should compete on Wednesday against the Blues.  Either way, it should be fun.
  • Thanksgiving week is here, and updates are not likely to be as timely as the last two weeks.  I’ll do my best, but there is a lot of traveling in my future.  The Jackets have the following games upcoming: tonight vs. Predators; Wednesday vs. Blues; Friday at Philadelphia; Saturday vs. Wild.

Thanks for stopping by the End of the Bench.  On a random programming note, we are approaching our 5,000th page view here at WordPress.  If you happen to score the visit that puts us on five grand, take a screen shot and send it to me at endofbench@gmail.com.  You’ll receive a special holiday thank you from the EOB desk.

Have a great Monday!

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Dose of Reality #10

November 20, 2006

Dose of Reality

Well, it looks like the Jackets are going to offer the coaching job to Ken Hitchcock. Captain Kangaroo was in town on Sunday to talk about the position. He might have been remembering that time in 2002 when he was coaching the Dallas Stars but not having much success at that time. The Jackets beat his team on a Monday night in February if I recall, and the next day Hitchcock was out of a job. He went on to Philadelphia the next season and enjoyed some good seasons there. But the hockey world is small and there aren’t a lot of openings in it, so the citizens of that world move around every few years. Will Hitchcock be moving here, doing a radio show, car commercials, and appearing at golf events?

But somebody has to take over this team and it might as well be Ken Hitchcock. The team is absolutely terrible at the moment, so all that a new coach needs to do is win a few, something we fans haven’t enjoyed in a while. If Hitchcock is wise, he will delay his start until after the current ass kicking from Nashville is over. He might want to hold off until St. Louis or Phoenix is on the schedule.

How much authority and responsibility Hitchcock will be given is a topic of debate for those few people not consumed by the BCS game. Can Doug MacLean let go and admit that his plan wasn’t the right one and things will have to be done differently and not his way. In fact, the way this season is going, the team might be looking to draft in the top five when that event is held here in Columbus next June. Will Doug MacLean be here to host it? A good case could be made that he is responsible not only for the event itself but also the draft order itself, so he might be standing at a podium once again, letting an audience know that next year will be better.

Whatever happens, happens. This season is turning into yet another disaster for the Blue Jackets. Playoffs are something we will once again watch on television, yearning to be there ourselves. We will probably be eliminated in January, a short season without any promise. Has Doug MacLean killed the franchise? Perhaps not, but the team is needlessly left behind once again, the hopes of the fans taken away before they knew what hit them. Nationwide Arena is going to be a quiet place in the next few months. I just hope that the next coach can bring the fans back.

– Truth Serum

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Dose of Reality #9

November 17, 2006

Dose of Reality

I have to watch tonight’s game against Colorado on television, so forgive me for being a little depressed.  I mean, how many times do have to hear Jeff Rimer (MacLean crony) miss a penalty or apologize for the team.  But, to be honest, I think the Blue Jackets will give a better effort tonight and may walk out with a victory.  The players are unhappy with the way things are going and want a stable atmosphere so that they can go out and play hockey.  Most of them do respect Gary Agnew and will do as he asks, giving him 100%. 

The rest of the non-Columbus hockey media is now starting to report some of the things that we have all suspected if not known all along:  Doug MacLean is a micro-manager, a screamer, and possesses many other qualities that are detrimental to the on-ice success of the team.  (Read this, this, and this.)  There is a crescendo building to have MacLean removed as GM or from the team altogether and hiring a new GM to right the ship and rebuild the organization.  So I want to nominate someone right now: Neil Smith.

When the New York Islanders hired Smith to be their GM for this season, the team was highly praised as making the right move towards getting back on track.  As you know, Neil lasted only 40 days before a dispute with owner Charles Wang (never indicted at Computer Associates) forced him out.  But Neil won a cup with the Rangers in 1994 and before that he was part of the Detroit Red Wings organization, winning two Calder Cups as GM of the Adirondack Red Wings.  Smith is intelligent, a media darling, and not from PEI.  And he is seeking a general manager’s position.

Smith would have no dreams of coaching the team himself, preferring to do only the job of a general manager.  He is young and hardworking and has actually accomplished something on his own.  So why not interview Neil Smith?

– Truth Serum

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Game #17 CBJ vs. Avalanche

November 17, 2006

In between three games against the Predators, the schedule makers plopped the Avalanche in Columbus for a Friday night tilt.  Since bettering Columbus on November 1st, the Avalanche have a (1-5-0) record.  Even the Jackets haven’t been that bad in their last six, going (2-4-0).  Yeah, call me Jeff Rimer looking for the silver lining in the depths of hell.

Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets netted four even-strength goals in their last game.  The hot streak will have to continue tonight.  It would also be nice for the Jackets to net a power-play goal, and to not give up a short-handed marker as well.  Maybe Fedorov and Foote on the blueline isn’t such a good idea on the man-advantage?  Just saying.

Agnew

Interim head coach Gary Agnew points out the opposing goal so the Blue Jackets know where to shoot.  (AP Photo/Jay LaPrete)

Colorado: A team that some are considering already out of the playoffs (I’m not counting, yet), the Avalanche still have the tools to take it to the Jackets.  Did Peter Forsberg really mean that much to this team?  I expect a good effort from the Avs tonight, as they usually give against the CBJ. 

Hometown press

Out of town press

Neutral previews

Fearless EOB Prediction: The Jackets accomplish two firsts this evening.  They will beat Colorado in regulation for the first time in their history, and they will earn interim coach Gary Agnew his first NHL victory.  Columbus wins 3-2.

Thanks for stopping by the End of the Bench.

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Management woes garner international attention

November 17, 2006

Hat tip to James Mirtle on this one.

While it’s no surprise to folks outside of Franklin County that Doug MacLean hasn’t run the Blue Jackets franchise very well, our hockey team doesn’t usually make the news out of town.  Except as part of the ever familiar headline of “Hometown team takes an easy one against the hapless Blue Jackets.”

James Mirtle highlights a discussion going on over at the Globe and Mail in their Globe on Hockey section regarding Doug MacLean and what he has(n’t) done in his tenure with Columbus.  James himself contributes to the discussion with his post titled How has MacLean kept his job?

Other writers chime regarding the Blue Jackets as well.  You can read posts from David Shoalts both here and here.  David makes the sound argument that hiring Ken Hitchcock would be a move calculated by MacLean to try and save his job.  I discussed this yesterday, and couldn’t decide if I could put aside my selfish desire to win in order to have CGMDM ousted. 

Ken Campbell makes the point that hiring Hitchcock would be one of the best moves the organization could make at this point.  In the short term, I think he’s right.  But I still side with Truth Serum and say that for the organization to truly turn the corner towards respectability, MacLean will have to be looking at Columbus in the rearview mirror.

It’s nice to have a little attention from abroad, I’ll admit it.  It’s also been nice recently to see the Dispatch writers not giving Doug MacLean a free pass.  And if you’ve watched a game on television, it’s not hard to hear the fans who are disgruntled as well. 

I’d like the fans to consider that perhaps it’s not only the players that are inept right now, maybe it goes higher.

Thanks for stopping by the End of the Bench.  Have a great Friday.