Archive for October, 2007

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So it’s hockey season, right?

October 30, 2007

Why not write about hockey, then?  I’m guessing you don’t come to the End of the Bench to hear about my personal life, so I’ll skip the reasons why I’ve been absent and get right to today’s topic.

Why it’s been a weird fall for this sports fan

I’ve spoken in the past about the pro and college teams I associate with, and as you may recall it’s mostly a collection of perennial doormats.  The Columbus Blue Jackets, Cleveland Browns, and Cincinnati Reds are the worst offenders.  Sadly, I’ve almost gotten accustomed to seeing my teams wind up on the short end of the final score.  It sure makes things easier to complain about.

As I’m writing this, the Browns are second in the AFC North with a (4-3) record, and the Blue Jackets are second in the Central with a (6-3-1) record.  Cleveland doesn’t have much of a defense, but they’re mostly beating the teams they should (it would be nice to have that Oakland game to do over).  The Blue Jackets have to be one of the biggest surprises in the NHL after 10 games, sporting the NHL’s top penalty kill (94.1%), the top goaltender in the NHL in terms of GAA and shutouts, and a surprisingly solid defense.

I love cheering for winners, but I have to be truthful and say it’s more than a little odd.  I’m used to railing on and on about how my teams could be better.  And while there is still room for much improvement, winning games is a great salve.

Ten games in

Mrs. EOB and I have attended two of the six home games thus far, and I have to say we’ve been very pleased with the effort we’ve seen on the ice.  We saw the opening night win against Anaheim, and the victory this past Saturday over San Jose.  In both contests we’ve seen a tenacious squad work hard for sixty minutes, remain reasonably disciplined, and succeed in keeping my blood pressure in a healthy range.  From the goal line out, the team is playing remarkably well, enough so that many hockey fans in and out of Columbus are wondering just how long they can keep it up.

In net: Pascal Leclaire is playing like everybody said he could.  If you had told me two months ago that he’d be the top netminder on the team, I would not have believed you.  His quick reflexes and a defense clearing away the second and third opportunities have given Leclaire an October to remember. 

On the blueline: There are plenty of people talking about Kris Russell, so I’ll choose another back liner to appreciate for now: Ron Hainsey.  Two goals, four assists, and a plus-three rating in ten games while averaging 20:32 TOI per game.  Ron is not the best defender on the club, but he plays solidly against the competition he faces and has a booming shot that creates a little space on the man advantage.

Up front: Rick Nash.  Oh, I need to say more?!?  13 points in 10 games, averaging 19:59 TOI per game, playing in all game situations, and the flashiest goal in CBJ history with his little between the legs roof-job against the Blues.  He’s using his size and strength to his advantage, checking solidly, playing sound defense, and just generally making defensemen look a little silly.

Pleasant surprise: Oft maligned winger Nikolai Zherdev.  He’s playing defense, skating hard, checking, and passing!  This is not the Zherdev we’d come to expect, and I think the fan base (and the team itself) is grateful.

Best change:  After ten games, this is an easy one for me.  The many things associated with a complete cultural overhaul in Columbus.  Doug MacLean is gone, and Scott Howson and Ken Hitchcock have taken the reins.  The players are in better shape, they’re competing nightly, and based on various quotes published in the Dispatch recently they seem to enjoy that they don’t get yelled at after every game.

I don’t expect the team to maintain it’s current pace of 106 points this season, but I’m sure going to enjoy watching them try.

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

– Drew

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Dose of Reality #79

October 24, 2007

If the Blue Jackets play a game that is not televised, does anyone see replays? Apparently not. Last nights game in Chicago was not televised in Chicago, of course, due to the soon to be changed Wirtz policy. So they have an excuse. The people who hold the rights to televise Blue Jacket games in Central Ohio, FSN Ohio, didn’t bother. Those of us who purchase the Centre Ice package were shut out. Can you believe this, in the year 2007, a major sports event was not covered? And it was one of the most exciting games for Blue Jacket fans in awhile, but with no television the team lost out on a great promotional opportunity.  Oh well …

So what do you think of all the hockey blogs here in Columbus? I enjoy just about all of them, but I find Puck-rakers from The Dispatch full of great insights. So why did it take The Dispatch so long to get up to speed? Did the unusual number of local blogs here give the local news monopoly a reason to enter the fray? Lets face it, they are professional journalists (and I say that with respect) but their past coverage has been a little dry, a little too much dependent upon Doug MacLean, and without any of the other aspects that we are now being presented. Malhotra’s wife informally interviewed, Hitch’s Civil War cap, where the writers dine on the road, the speculation on who will be scratched; all of that is good stuff. I applaud Aaron, Tom, and Michael for this and hope that it continues. It is nice to see them take full advantage of their official roles as journalists and add value to the local blog scene.

Try as I may, but I just can’t say goodbye to Doug MacLean. Our good friend Patrick reminded us all about what a douchebag he is with his latest comment. Funny thing is, Doug probably did the radio show from his home in Columbus, where he still lives until he can get someone to pay for his move to Tampa Bay. When I was at the game on Sunday, I looked at all the empty seats and thought that Doug must be proud of how he left the franchise. Perhaps the people of Tampa Bay can grow to appreciate him as much as we do.

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Dose of Reality #78

October 18, 2007

Sarah over at The Neutral Zone Trap did some live blogging of the game last night. I was there and if I wanted to blog it, I would have used the word “dead”. It was not a good or entertaining game to watch. Sure, the Blue Jackets played hard, but they didn’t play smart. They had so many chances to put the game away, but simply failed to do so. And if that’s the way they are going to play at Nationwide this year, the announced crowd of 11,800 will be a high-water mark.

I agree with Patrick and blame Doug MacLean for the current mess of the franchise. If this keeps up though, blaming MacLean will be a waste of time because the team can’t survive with these attendance numbers. This has been my biggest fear since I made the PSL investment years ago, that I would be throwing money into a risky venture that did not have a good chance of surviving. The organization has done well and got such high marks for hosting the NHL Draft, for its solid attendance numbers in the early days, and for offering a great “arena experience” to those who come to the games. Last night I sat there for the second game in a row where I felt like I was in the wrong place, that NHL hockey is not for the cool kids anymore.

Dallas is a good team and in years past the management of the Blue Jackets would have been happy to come out with a point against them. But the team has to do better now, it has to win both more points and more fans. Without winning both points and fans, you will find yourself reading another Canadian media story about what a waste of time it was to put a franchise here, equating Columbus with Nashville. Lets hope the team can start winning and the fans have a good reason to make the trip to Nationwide again.

UPDATE

Daryl Reaugh, former NHL goaltender and current Dallas Stars broadcaster, was at Nationwide last night working the game.  He didn’t like the cannon too much:

Columbus has introduced a Civil War era cannon that is fired off whenever the Bluejackets score a goal. Its really friggin’ loud, maybe too loud. Thank goodness Hitchcock’s BJs offense has the sting of a moth and the lethality of squirt gun so it’ll probably only be heard once or twice a night and then promptly followed by the announcement – “Columbus goal scored by number 61 Rick Nash”…

Daryl has a terrific blog and you should make it a regular stop on your daily hockey fix.

-Truth Serum

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I really do have some thoughts

October 17, 2007

But I’m a little preoccupied for the next four days.  You see, there’s this little thing coming up soon that’s stealing my energy.  I’ll be back regularly next week so Truth isn’t shouting in the echo chamber.

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

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Dose of Reality #77

October 16, 2007

The name of this series has not changed yet. Due to the huge number of suggestions and ideas from our readers, we here at EOB will need more time to properly evaluate them all.

So The Dispatch, some bloggers, and fans are worried about things like who will be the top center, the lack of goal scoring, Duvie Westcott, and the future of Jody Shelley. So lets take a look at these issues.

The team has never had a top center in its history. We traded away a good one, Todd Marchant, and have never replaced him. I’m not saying that Marchant was a Grade A centerman, but he was at least restaurant quality. I don’t really think having a Joe Thorton or Mats Sundin is realistic at this time and the team is competitive without one. Is Scott Howson out there shaking the trees looking to make a trade for one? I don’t think so, unless he can find a Thorton-type player out there that he can steal. I just don’t see the issue that important at this time because the season is young and the team is not scoring that much, a historic Columbus problem. Which leads to the next issue, scoring.

The undefeated Minnesota Wild have scored eleven goals in five games or 2.2 per game. The twice-beaten Jackets have scored ten goals in four games for a 2.5 clip. San Jose and Chicago are two teams in the West that have a better record than Columbus and above .500, are also scoring less than the Jackets. Obviously these three teams have winning records because they play better defense. So if we are going to be a low-scoring team, we better shore up the defense and goaltending or it will be a short season. In fact, Scott Burnside of ESPN has something to say about this:

So, when does “it’s early” become “it’s too late”? Well, if history is any indication, many teams will have crossed that all-important line by Halloween.

A quick look at the standings on Nov. 1, 2006 shows that teams that endured a rough start to the season found it very difficult to get back into a playoff spot, especially in the Western Conference. Of the top eight teams in the West, only one team didn’t maintain its standing within the top eight — the Edmonton Oilers, who held down the eighth and final playoff spot last Nov. 1 but tumbled all the way to 12th by the end of the season. The Calgary Flames (3-7-1 a month in) were the only team that managed to shake off a wobbly start and qualify for the postseason.

The wheels have come off in Nashville where, after two wins to open the season, Chris Mason has collapsed and the Preds have lost three straight. Phoenix and Columbus, both of whom have played surprisingly well out of the gate (2-3 and 2-2, respectively), simply don’t have the horses. Throw them all together and you’ve got five of seven teams likely to be sitting in about the same place when the season closes out next spring — outside the playoff dance hall.

The Blue Jackets are currently at .500 and their tenth game will be against the Sharks on October 27.

So lets jump to Duvie Westcott next. I get comments all the time saying that I am too hard on Duvie, I put too much value into Kris Russell, and that I should lose 30 pounds. Well, I do get upset with Westcott at time because of two things; his penchant for taking a penalty because he gets beat and the high number of turnovers that he creates. Both of these are fixable if he will play his position better (more conservatively) so that he does not get beat and if will come back to reality and play at the appropriate level of his skill set. I look at Kris Russell who is quite a bit younger than Westcott and he matches up to him in a number of ways. The two areas where Russell draws praise are A, his knack for being in the right position all the time and B, his puck carrying skills that create offensive opportunities. Before you all jump on me and point out the times when he has coughed up the puck, please note that Russell is even with two points and Westcott is minus two with no points. Russell has 2:00 and Westcott has 16:00 in penalties. And as I have said, it won’t take much for Westcott to change, just stay in position and pass the puck more.

And I’ve lost 15 pounds.

We all have known that Jody Shelley has a limited shelf life. He is a role player who took over an unfilled position on the team a few years ago to keep other teams honest. He has always worked hard and given us 100%. He is one of the nicest guys you will ever meet and much more intelligent than you expect. Role players have short careers and Jody’s eyes are open, fully understanding this. I have been surprised by the fact that he has yet to make an appearance this season, but I understand what Ken Hitchcock is thinking by keeping him out of the lineup. But I am not worried about Jody because if his days here in the Columbus lineup are coming to an end, I will see and/or hear him on broadcasts, see him doing commercials, and see the kids all filled with joy as they attend his hockey schools. He will do well.

-Truth Serum

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Dose of Reality #76

October 11, 2007

Last night was pretty cool. Jared Boll got his first NHL goal, Pascal Leclaire got another shutout, and the team won a game it was supposed to win. I was there with the other 9,000 who showed up and saw a decent game. Not real dramatic or high-energy, but a win over a team, Phoenix, that the Jackets should beat most of the time. The team passed the Phoenix test and now they will be given the Colorado test. All players, including Adam Foote, must pass this next test to move on.

This series of posts is going to change, by the way. It was named Dose of Reality by my boss, Drew, and I went along with his choice because he is my boss. The objective was to present a viewpoint of the team that was more reality-based than the one that the former President, GM, Coach, and Alternate Governor gave. I always tried to keep positive and think that most of the time I was, regardless of how much crap was foisted upon us. I am content with the direction of the organization and believe that things are getting better. I don’t think we are going to suddenly advance to the second round of the playoffs, but I don’t see the players mailing it in anymore. Ken Hitchcock, Mike Priest, and Scott Howson all seem to have a good grasp of reality and don’t see the need to just make noise.

So if anyone has any ideas for a new name for this series, send them in. I’ll consider any idea that does not use big or primitive words. Keep it clean because this is a family blog. No prizes or awards will be given out, but if your idea is chosen, your self-esteem will rise and you can be smug for 24 hours. Not Red Sox smug, just Midwest smug.

Speaking of self-esteem, Bryan Berard put the winner in for the Islanders last night. The game was against the hated Rangers, so at this time Bryan can be smug for awhile. Congratulations, Bryan. The fear of God (or Ken Hitchcock) will do wonders for a player who suddenly found himself battling for a job.

And speaking of fear, the cannon sounded a little softer last night, but I still saw the look of terror on the faces of many small children each time it went off. Maybe the team can have an Earplug Giveaway at a future game, perhaps one of the early evening games that families go to. Or when you take your kid to Stinger’s House before the game to register, the team can hand out complimentary earplugs.

-Truth Serum

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Previewing the Blues

October 9, 2007

In a continuation of the Central Division Preview Series headed up by Dave at Gorilla Crouch, this week it’s Bethany pulling double duty and singing about the Blues.

Bethany’s Hockey Rants – Though she’s a CBJ fan at heart, Bethany takes one for the Central Division team and dishes the scoop on the St. Louis Blues. 

This wraps up the Central Division Preview Series.  Thanks to Dave at Gorilla Crouch for organizing everything and putting up with my lazy posting schedule.

Thanks for stopping by.