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.



  1. Drew, I’m glad you could afford to stay up to watch the game. I recorded it and went through it quickly this morning before work.

    I would say that Hitchcock is using this trip to evaluate the players and see just what it is that he is coaching. It must be fun having MacLean tagging along, “suggesting” lines and tactics. I bet that come February the two of them are not going to be best of pals.

  2. Afford might be a questionable assessment at this point in time, I’m dragging today. 🙂

    Unfriendly in February? Sounds like most of the world. Seasonal Affective Disorder is a pain!

    Seriously, I didn’t know that CGMDM was playing the part of the unwanted houseguest. Yes, perhaps Hitch was recently fired by the Flyers. But it’s certainly not his first trip to the candy store (bad pun intended). I think he can handle it.

  3. Nice review, Drew. I stayed up too, thinking that if I went to bed we’d have an exciting OT/shootout game. It wasn’t to be.

    I also noticed the lack of crisp passes. Lots of painful turnovers, too, including the one that led to Naslund’s goal.

    Still, I see a definite improvement in effort compared to about a month ago. I wish it would come faster, but I guess patience is a virtue well known to CBJ fans.

  4. I too sat up late last night and waited for the Jackets to score. I asked my wife if it was me or had the Jackets not improved since I last saw them play. I watched the sportsnet west feed and John Garrett made a telling comment when he said that the players on Columbus would revert to their old ways after about two weeks meaning that the guys that never hit before will stop in that time. I’ll stick with my mantra : that MacLean has over rated his talent and the lack of scoring is the result or lack thereof. I wish Hitch a lot of luck because he had a lot more talent in Phillie than he sees here in Columbus.

  5. No worries, as bad as it was for Columbus, Vancouver already went through a coaching change at the beginning of the year and this is the best we got. Two goals in three games. At least Columbus still has some hope with Hitch coming in!!

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