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Aaaannnnnd… we’re back

January 16, 2007

As I thought last week, this weekend would be a good one to take off.  I was relatively busy on Saturday, and Sunday turned into a rainy day in front of the television, except for the soaked afternoon run.

Truth Serum held down the fort with some good columns this weekend, and he and I exchanged a few frustrated emails on Sunday afternoon.  But I promised myself I’d take the weekend off from writing, so I did.  Not that I usually need help not writing on the weekends, but that’s not the point.

In recap, it’s been a difficult week to be a Blue Jackets fan.  Going to bed on January 5th after the miraculous comeback over Anaheim had many Jacket fans dreaming of another strong month and climbing closer to that final playoff spot.  Then Columbus lost their next four games by a combined score of 15-6, playing most of those games without a combination of their best players.  The team looked lost, and the fans (those that actually showed up (and stayed) on Saturday) expressed their displeasure.

For much of this season, the Blue Jackets have been free from the injury bug that plagued them last season.  Starting with Pascal Leclaire’s leg issues in late December, the tides have turned a bit for Columbus.  Not only have injuries hit, but they’ve hit where it counts.

If any team were to lose two of it’s top three forwards, top two defensemen, and it’s top goaltender (nominally) they are going to be affected.  When it happens to a lesser team like Columbus (let’s be realistic for a moment here, CBJ fans), it’s potentially disastrous.

On Saturday night, the Jackets had Danny Fritsche centering the top line.  I think Fritsche will be a good third or second line center for many years to come in the NHL.  Forcing him to play first line minutes against a top team like Nashville at this stage in his career is probably asking too much.  The fourth line consisted entirely of players who under normal circumstances would be playing in Syracuse.  It was nice to have that element of familiarity for those guys [Picard/Platt/Motzko], and at times they showed the speed, hustle, and skill that makes them the top line in Syracuse.  But the reality remains that this is an AHL line, and the scoreboard in the two games against Nashville (2-0 and 4-1) reflected the team’s inability to gel without their talent on the ice.

Fredrik Norrena is a decent goaltender, and after almost two months of solid play it’s evident that he is prone to hot and cold spells.  He can make a very acrobatic save and then two seconds later give up a soft unscreened goal.  What scares me is the lack of confidence the organization seems to have in backup goaltender Ty Conklin.  His career stats (27-20-4, 2.49 GAA) suggest a decent player, and yet it seems that the Jackets brass can’t get past one of two things.  The first would be pictured here, and the second would be his (2-10-1, 3.33 GAA) stats in Syracuse this season.  If only for the rest it would give Norrena, I’d like to see Conklin playing one of every four or five games.  I mean, heck Doug, you paid a million bucks for the guy… let’s see him on the ice.

Aaron Portzline reports in today’s Dispatch that several of the Jackets’ walking wounded participated in practice yesterday.  Sergei Fedorov, Rick Nash, Alexander Svitov, and Adam Foote all hit the ice yesterday.  Svitov and Foote appear ready and while Fedorov and Nash will both make the trip to Chicago, it’s not yet decided if they will play against the Blackhawks tonight.  It would likely be a nice boost for the club if all mentioned could get back in action.  With three games left before the pending All-Star break, it would be good to see the Jackets make an effort to climb out of the Western Conference basement.

When asked about the team’s performance of late, head coach Ken Hitchcock delivered this assessment:

“I told the guys today before practice: ‘Nobody in the NHL can question our work ethic. It’s been tremendous. But what we need to see is better execution.’

“It’s frustrating because we’re pouring a lot in and not getting a lot out. If you’re not working hard or battling out there, that’s a whole different ball of wax. But that’s not the case with us.

“Now it’s time for us to get rewarded. If we keep working hard and we execute a little better, we’ll get rewarded.”

We’re just about to that point in the season where although the team is not mathematically eliminated from playoff contention, they are mostly playing for pride.  It would be nice to see the Blue Jackets make the most out of their remaining 37 games and prove everyone wrong.

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

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