Archive for January, 2008

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I hate to even think it

January 20, 2008

But are the Blue Jackets of the last five periods (I’m writing this during the second intermission of the Colorado game), looking kinda familiar?  I think we see “this” team about 75% of the time away from Nationwide Arena.  It’s not pretty.

The guys in the paper and on TV would have you know that the Jackets vastly outworked the Stars in the 3-1 loss.  And after the first period of tonight’s game, it was mentioned by Adam Foote in the intermission interview that “we’re playing exactly the way we wanted to.  Even the goal was a screened goal.” (paraphrased). 

Now I’m not saying this is incorrect, especially Foote’s assessment.  The Jackets seemed to be leading play both yesterday and in the first period of tonight’s game.  But where is the line between snakebit and toothless?  Did they play four strong periods and suffer the injustice of chance, or do they lack a bit of the killer instinct on the road against decent teams?

I’m hoping the team can pick things back up, both in the third tonight and through the rest of the trip.  It would be nice to get some points out of the next few games.  I’m not sure the playoff hopes can survive without them.

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

– Drew

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Yawn… how ’bout a few meaningless lists?

January 19, 2008

So, is winter hibernation over yet? 

Heh, yeah, I’ve been quiet for a while.  You don’t want excuses, but here are a few reasons I haven’t written since last year:

  • Work finally got smart and blocked WordPress from our servers.
  • That little California trip where there was no TV.  This was good for my sleep schedule, but bad for my hockey fix.
  • I had an extended vacation from work, which should have meant more EOB time, but it ended up meaning more hours sitting around on the couch.
  • I simply got lazy.

Whatever has happened to date, I’m pleased to see that Truth Serum has kept things going with a series of good posts.

So we’re nearing the end of January, and the Blue Jackets are still very much in the playoff picture.  A lot of the reason the team is still up there has to be the current 4-game winning streak.  After getting waxed in St. Louis 6-1, the team has reeled off three home wins and a rare road victory.  The team is in the middle of a five-game road trip, and the excursion outside Nationwide will give a good picture of what we can look forward to for the rest of the season: hope, or a long slow slide out of it. 

Why do I say this?  Well, for all the things this team “is”, one thing it’s not is a good road team.  15 of their next 21 games are away from the friendly confines.  Their 7-12-2 record on the road is not going to get them to the playoffs, and they will need more efforts like they produced against Phoenix if they expect to still be smelling so sweet in March.

(Yeah, you missed me, didn’t you?)

What have I “missed”?  How about personnel moves?

  • Andrew Murray gets called up from Syracuse and reportedly looks good (I haven’t really seen him play) before suffering from a concussion. 
  • Gilbert Brule gets sent down to Syracuse to find himself.  Let’s hope the kid does well, gains confidence, and is able to return when he’s ready.  All accounts are that the guy is full of talent, but it cannot be said that we’ve seen it in Columbus.
  • Derick Brassard is currently playing in his fifth NHL game, having been called up from Syracuse a few games after making his return from sitting out over a month with a facial injury.
  • Duvie Westcott is sent down to Syracuse (pending no waiver claim), when Ole-Kristian Tollefsen made an unexpected comeback (at least, if you’ve been reading the Dispatch or Puck-rakers).  Marc Methot took Tollefsen’s place, and it appears the OKT’s return may be the end of Westcott in Columbus.  Even Ron Hainsey’s (hopefully minor) back injury couldn’t save Duvie.  I’m sure Mrs. EOB will be crushed.  I’ll break it to her gently.

And lastly, here are a few things I’ll remember about the last three or so weeks since we’ve talked:

  • I hate to complalin because it’s one of my favorite sports, but there are too many bowl games.  I simply lack the desire to watch BGSU get annihilated by Tulsa, or Purdue outlast Central Michigan.  Not fun.
  • While we’re at it, the BCS needs a reform.  No, the Buckeyes probably shouldn’t have been in the title game if we were to pick the two best teams at the time, but neither should LSU have been there.  I would have picked USC and Georgia.
  • Okay, one last college football note.  Kudos to Kansas for sticking up to the big boys when nobody (including myself) gave them a chance.
  • OSU basketball is being shown mostly on the Big Ten network, and I don’t care.  Moving on…
  • Nikolai Zherdev is a slick, sick SOB.  Whatever Scott Howson and Ken Hitchcock said to him and his agent over the summer, they should bottle that stuff and administer it regularly for as long as #13 is a member of the organization.  Zherdev is, as coach Hitchcock recently opined, one of the top players in the league.  He had the opportunity for a hat-trick before the end of 2007, and passed off to a teammate for the empty netter.  Some in the public panned the pass, saying that Nationwide needs a hat-trick.  I applauded Z for his unselfish play (yes, I physically applauded in my living room, you should expect this from me) and think that team play (especially in a win) is more important than a hat-trick.  He’s doing what’s necessary to help his team win: passing, scoring (that end-to-ender a week or two ago), and defending (the blocked shot last week in the final minute).
  • Rick Nash.  Earlier this year he had the between the legs madness, and two nights ago he pulled the dipsy-dangle-dip-deke-kick-score move to win the game that caused me to involuntarily yell, scaring my cat and waking my wife.  He’s produced two of the slickest goals in the NHL this year, and I’m sure he’s enjoying the attention that Zherdev is drawing as it takes a bit off of him.
  • The NHL Winter Classic.  This was a fun game to watch, as much for the falling snow and slow ice as the roar of the 70,000+ crowd and the child-like joy on so many of the player’s faces.  I wouldn’t mind seeing more of these.
  • A win streak.  Not just two games, it currently stands at four.  These are fun, and let you enjoy being a fan.  I really like it when the non-hockey fans come in to the office in the morning and feel the need to talk to me about how the team is doing.  You non-believers are welcome on the wagon whenever you please.

I’ll try to be a little more “present” as the days wear on.  I hope we all have something good to talk about.

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

– Drew

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Another One

January 16, 2008

The Blue Jackets got a win last night and I am sure that at this point in the season, Ken Hitchcock is taking them one at a time.  The NHL and the Western Conference is so log-jammed that, with the exception of Detroit, the whole playoff standings may not be decided until the final week of the season.  The Jackets stormed out of the gate last night, but Vancouver caught up to them by the second period and then it was a fencing match until Jason Chimera skated hard to the net with his stick on the ice.

Everybody was happy after the game, with the Jackets winning and Kris Beech getting a goal.  I heard some criticism of Rick Nash after the game, but the team has Nikolai Zherdev picking up the slack to compensate.  If Fedrik Modin can play, it will be interesting to see how the other teams try to match.  As everyone saw last night, it was extremely difficult for Columbus to match up against the Sedins, but imagine if Vancouver had another line that was effective during the game.  It would not have been pretty.  So if the CBJ can throw Rick Nash out on one line and Zherdev on another, and then mix in the refreshed David Vyborny, Modin, and Sergei Fedorov and maybe get some numbers from the Fritsche-Chimera-Malhotra line, look out.  What if Gilbert Brule comes back from Syracuse with his confidence back?  What if Ron Hainsey and Rusty Klesla keep playing their recent games?

Five tough road games await the Jackets.  I’ll take five points, but seven is not unrealistic.

-Truth Serum

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Reality

January 14, 2008

The Blue Jackets’ victory over Nashville on Saturday was remarkable for what was missing; fighting, roughing, sourness, or what have you.  The teams focused on hockey and the third period was fun to watch.  I think the first two periods were cautious, because both teams were tired and were holding back and waiting for the other to make a mistake.  Nikolai Zherdev played a terrific game, working hard until he created an opportunity which led to Rusty Klesla’s goal.

Perhaps now The Dispatch writers will put aside their grumbling about the team not being tough enough and focus on the realities of the NHL.  The salary cap has created parity for about 25 teams.  Detroit and Ottawa are in a class by themselves, as is Toronto, Tampa Bay, and Los Angeles.  The majority of the NHL teams have one line that can score and the rest of the roster is a crapshoot where anything can happen.  Columbus is no different than most teams and is struggling to find its way, desperately searching for more goals out of its lineup.  At this time, Ken Hitchcock has split Rick Nash and Zherdev apart, forcing opponents to send their checkers out against only one of them and take their chances.

If Fredrik Modin is able to come back and produce at his expected level, and David Vyborny can play like he used to, the team will be a headache to defend against.  Even if only one of them, Modin or Vyborny, can produce, they will make the Jackets stronger.  Maybe the team can make a run.

Last week, I read the comments and blogs of The Dispatch writers and the readers and wanted to ask them why now?  You had three or four years to question things and you start now?  Were you so intimidated by Doug MacLean that you didn’t see the deceit?  I’m not saying that Scott Howson and Hitchcock should get a free pass, but they do deserve more than 44 games.  The team has improved from last year and are headed in the right direction.  There is no buying time or stalling from Howson, but an honest effort to do the best with what he has.  Ken Hitchcock has installed a new team style, but has simply taken what was there and made it work.

In the 6-1 loss to St. Louis, the team had plenty of chances to go out and avenge themselves.  The coach himself had the opportunity and the motive to call the players out during the game, but did not do so.  A one-sided loss is never fun, but this season the team has not suffered that many of them.  The team should be called out because there have been too many games where they failed to play all three periods and they have never denied that.  When the Jackets can play hard all three periods of a game and do this on consecutive nights, look out.

Lets beat Vancouver on Tuesday while they are tired and under-manned.  For those of you who liked Kris Beech, get there early and say hello to him during the pre-game warm-up.  You won’t see the Jackets at Nationwide until the 29th.

-Truth Serum

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A Whole New Attitude

January 12, 2008

I don’t know if it was Dickie Dunn’s Aaron Portzline’s blog about being chicken-sh*ts or word that Ogie Ogilthorpe Jordan Tootoo would not be playing tonight, but the Blue Jackets definitely have a whole new attitude!  They stood up to the Blues last night in their own building and let them know who is boss.

Sorry, I couldn’t resist.  After Puck-rakers pandered, I wanted to capture “the spirit” and write my piece.  It’s not like the pure poetry that Dickie Dunn writes, but I have been to a Canadian rink.

Despite three penalties by Adam Foote, the last one utterly mindless, the team won.  Nikolai Zherdev was Ned Braden-like with two goals, although had he scored on his chance in the second period, he would have been on every sports show in North America.  That was when he stole the puck at the St. Louis blue line, fought off a defender, and went in and nearly put it past Hannu Toivonen, the Blues’ goaltender.  That truly was a thing of beauty.

With Hyannis Port Nashville coming to town tonight, can the Jackets win two in a row?  Will the anti-Jody Shelley fan club come back?  Will the team send Kris Russell to Syracuse as some have called for?  Can a fan from Westerville truly understand hockey?  I don’t know the answers to any of these questions, but I hope that Tampa Bay gets a brain cramp and trades us Vinnie Lecavalier for Vyborny, Glencross, and Malhotra.

-Truth Serum

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Calling Reggie Dunlop

January 10, 2008

One of the “professional” sports writers in town, Aaron Portzline, posted a piece this morning, “Gentlemanly and disturbing”, calling out the team for being soft and overall pussies. Either AP has been locked out of the CBJ dressing room and therefore doesn’t care about lack of access, or he ghosted an article for Ken Hitchcock. Whatever, I have a few problems with it.

First off, if you want to see that kind of hockey, you’re too late, because the Chill left town. There are only a few teams in the West that play with an edge, Nashville and Anaheim being the prime examples. Calgary has a few guys, Minnesota has two goons, and Edmonton has to put a show on for their fans. As for St. Louis, did he forget the last two games with them? The shutout in Columbus and the loss in St. Louis? I believe that one of the pussies that he called out, Jason Chimera, spent some time in the box for a cheap-shot on Barret Jackman.

But Portzline wants the team to use Jody Shelley more to stop other teams from taking advantage of them. I hate to go negative here, but when is the last time you saw Jody beat somebody in a fight? Jody is tough, but he is a bleeder and at best can only hold his own. And then there is the “code”, which dictates that Jody has to hang around with his own kind. That would be D.J. King on the Blues, maybe Jackman, and Jamal Mayers. After that, the pickings are slim.

Rusty Klesla was called out in the piece, but since he clipped Tuomo Ruutu last year, he has limited his toughness to holding and hooking.

Manny Malhotra? I thought we needed him to win face-offs and play his defensive game. Dan Fritsche? Aren’t we still trying to develop him, take advantage of his speed and defensive skills?

I will admit to being discouraged by the play of Chimera. If he’s not off-sides, he’s missing the net if he can hold onto the puck. But I can’t see him dropping the gloves or finishing more of his checks as a way for the team to become more competitive.

The Jackets are soft along the boards and in front of the nets. If there is a battle for the puck along the boards, only a few guys will consistently come away with the puck; Zherdev, Peca, Vyborny, and Russell. Adam Foote can win some of the battles, but that’s because the NHL lets him get away with a lot.

In front of the net? That has been a problem all season. If you want to see someone fight and slash, keep your eyes on Fredrik Norrena. Again, Foote will throw the forearm and Hejda works hard, but the rest of the defense hasn’t shown much.

How about in front of the other net? Jared Boll will fight for position, but he has a tendency to get too close to the goalie and has been called too much for interference. Nash is good down there, and Zherdev will take a beating, but when Glencross goes for position, he has trouble matching up.

Notice the name Fedorov missing?

The team needs to learn how to win hockey games and go from there.  You win games, the toughness is an add-on.  You skate faster, be strong on the stick, battle,  hold your composure, and you win.

I guess I’m surprised that Portzline felt the need to write this piece. The Jackets need to work on a lot of things, but I would not place being a hard-ass at the top of the list. Holding onto and controlling the puck better would be a good place to start. If Portzline feels that way, I know where Lyle Odelein can be reached. We got rid of him along with Oliwa

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Doom and Gloom

January 9, 2008

Things aren’t looking too good for local sports fans. The Blue Jackets seem to be in a funk (or perhaps merely playing to the best of their ability), the OSU Buckeyes received another pounding in the BCS Championship, and there is some squabbling that might delay building the new Huntington Park where the Clippers (hint; a baseball team) will play. I will limit this post to hockey, except to state that Jody Shelley had nothing to do with the loss in New Orleans, despite what some people think.

OK, the Jackets got beat pretty good last night by St. Louis, 6-1. The Blues are now three points ahead of Columbus in the standings, 47 to 44, and the Jackets’ record in the last ten games is 5-5-0, the same as first place Dallas. People are up in arms about Steve Mason being called up, but the reality is that Mason will not play a minute for the team and will be back in Junior. So now the fans can go back to worrying about Shelley getting too much ice time or Scott Howson not trading away one of our players for someone of greater value.

The Dispatch ran a story earlier this week and they mentioned the “P” word, or playoffs. I will admit that the playoffs have been in the back of my mind, but it is one of the things you keep quiet about until the right moment, like the latter part of the season when it matters. Nevertheless, it is out and some fans are demanding their playoff tickets now. By the way, for those of you who pay retail for your seats, do you have any idea what a playoff ticket costs? Standard pricing is double face value, and PSL holders will be required to buy the series, not just a single game. You’re welcome.

I have said in the past that I would like the Blue Jackets to be in the hunt after Christmas, preferably at the end of February. Since it is not February, the team is meeting my expectations. The Jackets have been lumped together with Chicago and St. Louis by a lot of (non Dispatch) hockey writers and if you look at the standings, they are still in that “lump”. As much as we anguish over the Jackets, the Blackhawks have been even more inconsistent, and they possess two of the most exciting rookies out there. Like Fredrik Modin, the Hawks have been missing one of their superstars, injury-plagued Martin Havlat, for most of the season. They have a dependable roster that some might argue is stronger than Columbus. The Blue Jackets have a better coach, but as we all know coaches do not lace them up.

St. Louis finally has stabilized, but it took most of the season. They did make a deal for Andy McDonald, but the deal itself was for the benefit of Anaheim. It was one-sided, with the Blues getting am immediate fix. Could Columbus have dealt away a low-cost aging forward for McDonald? Be honest! So a one-sided deal may help St. Louis get out of the lump and into the post season. Too bad we couldn’t have picked up the injured Petr Prucha for Vyborny.

I am counseling patience here and asking for you to wait another 45 days before you give up on the season. You could even say that I am waiting until next year, when the team is fully under the control of Scott Howson and Ken Hitchcock. For now, I just hope that the Blue Jackets break out of the lump in the midst of the franchise do-over.

-Truth Serum