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.