When will I learn?

January 4, 2007

The Columbus Blue Jackets are in the middle of their sixth season in the National Hockey League.  Without checking to get the exact number, I’d say that the Blue Jackets have played somewhere between 50 and 60 games in the Pacific Time Zone and almost all of those with a 10:00 or 10:30 PM local start time. 

Despite the team being only marginally competitive (at best) in any given season, I’ve stayed up late to watch more often than not.  If they’re not on television (these are the games most often left out of the TV lineup), I’ll listen on the radio or internet.  I’m not sure exactly what my compulsion is (since I don’t like watching the boys lose, which they usually do out west), but I’ve done this for years.  And not just with the Blue Jackets.

I’ll watch any game that’s on late.  It must be my mythical inner-child that is gleefully staying up past it’s bedtime.  Since I’ve been in high school, I’ve stayed up to watch West Coast baseball, hockey, college basketball, anything!  I don’t even have to (and usually don’t) care about the teams involved.  When it gets to around 10:00 or so, I often flip to the sports channels I get and see who’s playing.  As long as it’s not the NBA, I’ll usually camp out and watch for a while.  And Lord help me if it actually is the Blue Jackets, because then I’m stuck.

Like last night.  Stuck watching a team that is obviously out of the game from the first minute.  Los Angeles didn’t look great last night, mind you.  But Columbus looked absolutely pitiful. 

The passing and flow of the offense was awfully pre-Hitchcockian.  There was the painful inability of the D-men to hit the sticks of the forwards leaving the zone.  Receiving a pass in the skates is not an impossible thing to do, but after a while it disrupts the breakout and the visibly affects the confidence of one’s teammates.  Taking a pass on the skates requires a look down for a fraction of a second longer than is needed for a pass on the tape, and in the NHL that extra fraction can result in some huge hits or at least the threat of a bell-ringer.

The offense was incapable of generating much flow in the scoring zones.  A bunch of time was spent with the puck either behind the net or along the boards.  It seemed like a lot of shots were taken from afar and the Jackets never generated much pressure on Garon, the LA goaltender.

The defense looked stuck in mud while skating backwards into their defensive zone.  I think this stems from a few things:

  • First, it’s obvious to anyone who’s strapped on a pair of blades that you can skate faster going forwards than backwards.  But things don’t always look so bad as they did last night, so what else?
  • As long as you’re in good position going backwards, you can use angles and natural obstacles (side boards) to slow your opponents legally.  Hmm… this didn’t happen last night on quite a few occassions.  Could it be that…
  • Turnovers caused in their offensive zone were quickly turned up-ice by the Kings and caught the CBJ blueliners either off-guard, out-manned, or both.  The defensemen got caught pinching in too far a few times, and a few of the forwards were less than helpful on the backcheck.  Nikolai Zherdev, we’re thinking of you.

As noted in yesterday’s Columbus Dispatch, coach Ken Hitchcock says about Zherdev, “It’s all connected with competitiveness.”  It was painfully obvious last night that Nik was interested in something other than hockey.  More often than not, #13 doesn’t play defense with passion (or at all).  Last night, he wasn’t even pulling his toe drag move with gusto.  He has been a bit cold as of late, regarding points; and Nikolai has been known to look a little ‘depressed’ out on the ice when things aren’t going his way. 

If I’m Hitch, I’d scratch Zherdev at my first opportunity and let him think about things.  Tough love is what this kid needs right now.  He’s shown that he can play a defensive game (Mrs. EOB and I went to the game right before Thanksgiving where he was an absolute beast!), but he needs to bring it on a consistent basis.  Like coach says, “We need Nikolai to compete better, and when he does that, the scoring will take care of itself.”

On a final note, for much of the second period the FSN guys had actor Chad Lowe in the booth with them.  I usually detest celebrity cameo’s in the booth, because they’re often used to promote whatever that person is currently working on (movie, TV show, book, etc.).  Jeff Rimer gave Lowe the obligatory lead-in to talk about his projects, and Chad gave a quick one or two sentence answer and brushed off the topic like a case of dandruff.  Chad Lowe wanted to talk hockey.  He was discussing the similarities between the Jackets and Kings, how they are both teams with a mix of young talent and veteran leadership that are playing with pride (except the CBJ last night, but I digress) and looking to improve.  After some key saves by both Freddy Norrena and Mathieu Garon, Lowe jumped in with some pointed commentary on the game.

Jeff Rimer:  You sound like you’ve done this before

Chad Lowe:  Are you kidding, this is my dream job!

The way he was going, I would have traded him for Danny Gare right then.  He was making some valid points (especially for a non-hockey insider), and asking good questions of the FSN team.  You could tell that Danny got a little jealous because he started talking a little bit more than usual until he felt that he had reestablished who the “real” color-guy was.  All in all, it was probably the most entertaining bit of the game.

Oooh!  I almost forgot how Jeff Rimer couldn’t stop mentioning how Chad was from Ohio (Dayton).  “If you’re just joining us we’re here with Ohio native, Chad Lowe.  So Chad, what’s it like being from Ohio and working in LA?  Do you get back to Ohio much?  Ohio ohio ohio ohio ohio…”  It’s extremely comical to me how every time Jeff Rimer brings up something Ohio, he gets that tone in his voice that he knows that everybody listening just fell in love with whatever he’s talking about just because it has to do with Ohio.

Remember, of course:

  • The greatest Blue Jacket of all-time is a tie between Danny Fritsche and Michael Rupp, both from the Cleveland area.  Honorable mention, Kevyn Adams (Miami University).
  • Our favorite opponents to play against are Philly’s RJ Umberger and Vancouver’s Ryan Kesler, former Buckeyes.
  • The Buckeyes are from Ohio.
  • Did I mention that the Buckeyes will be playing on FOX next Monday?!?!?!?!?
  • Mario Lemieux played his home games 35 miles from the state of Ohio!!!
  • Wayne Gretzky once ate a chicken sandwich, and the chicken was from Ohio!!!!
  • So was the mayonnaise!!!!!!

Okay, I’m done.  Did I mention the Jackets lost 3-0?  Did I mention Ohio?  Seriously, I’m done.


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


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