Archive for the ‘Pascal Leclaire’ Category

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Boll on IR, Filatov to make his NHL debut

October 16, 2008

As reported in the Dispatch this morning, Jared Boll has been placed on the IR with head/neck issues and 18-year old Nikita Filatov will make his NHL debut in the Jackets’ home opener.  Mrs. EOB and I will be in attendance for the home opener (one of two games we get to almost every year), and look forward to seeing the kid on the ice.

The Predators are a rough and tumble bunch, especially when it comes to #22, Mr. Tootoo.  The Dispatch writers are speculating how the Jackets will counter the nastiness in terms of personnel packaging.  With Boll out, there isn’t a time-tested fighter/enforcer.  Perhaps OKT will get the nod tonight, as he’s already with the club.  Derek Dorsett has a reckless streak to him, Alex Picard hits anything that moves, and Mike Commodore has dished out a bit of physical punishment in his limited time with the club.  With management saying no other moves are likely, I’d think that Filatov skates for Boll, and all the defensive pairings remain as is.  I like OKT’s spirit, but I’m not sure he brings more to the table than any of the current six d-men.

What I’ll be watching for:

  • What happens after the “hockey is back in Columbus” glow in the arena wears off, and how long does it take?  If the Preds score early, I see the crowd being out of this game.  If the Jackets are sound defensively, are hitting all the right people in the right places (read: don’t take themselves out of position in attempts at retribution), and can put together some offense, the high could last all game (remember last year when Anaheim came to town?)
  • How do the defensemen and goaltender work the puck out on dump-ins and manage the Predator forecheck?  This was a glaring problem in San Jose, and with enough new faces on the blueline, it could be a bit more time before they make me feel comfortable.
  • How does Leclaire, assuming he gets the start, rebound from the Tuesday night debacle?  He allowed five goals in less than sixty minutes of action, including two shorties.  One of which prompted Pascal to break his stick across the goal post.  A strong goalie can put sub-par outings behind him and move on.  The Predators are not a super-skilled team like some the team will face, and a buckled down netminder should be able to handle the load.  If…
  • The team can handle the physicality of the Predators in their own zone.  The Jackets have showed a slight inability to manage big, puck-possession lines in the d-zone, and need to be strong positionally and ready to break out and clear the puck when necessary.  Shifts of 2:00 or more for the blueliners are unacceptable, even on the PK.  Find the puck, fire it down the ice, and change up.  And to the crowd, when they do this properly: show your appreciation.  It may seem like such a small thing, but you saw in the last few games what happens when those small plays don’t happen.  Bad things.  Goals against.  Hockey is a simple game.  Put the puck in their net and stop it from going across your own end line.  If the other five are fresher than yours, you’re running uphill.

Okay, that’s enough for now.  How does two posts in two days strike you?  Look for more tomorrow with my game preview, and maybe I’ll have a few pictures up after the game from our trip to see the team on home ice.

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

– Drew

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OK, I’ve calmed down.

July 4, 2008

I’ve caught my breath and had time to think about the Jacket roster moves over the past few days.  It’s not easy to take them in single servings, not knowing what else is going on or negotiated without all the servings on the dinner plate.  And as I write this, the team is working on other trades, so things could change even more.

First off, the team replaced David Vyborny’s numbers with Raffi Torres.  Torres is a tougher player who will certainly hit harder than Vyborny and will play adequate defense.

With the signing of Kristian Huselius, the team has picked up the numbers that Zherdev had and a little more.  Huselius won’t make me forget Nick and I admit that I think Z will get better, but he won’t have the mental lapses like Zherdev did, and will pass the puck a bit sooner and shoot quicker.

RJ Umberger will get his 20 goals and maybe (negative comment coming) get Jason Chimera to improve his game.  If Fredrik Modin can play a full season and get his 25 goals, things look bright.

On defense, the team certainly improved.  The team is now bigger, even if Kris Russell stays on the roster.  Ron Hainsey is gone, but it would have been interesting to see what kind of numbers he would have put up on this new 2008 team.  Tyutin is now the guy, unless Klesla can find more goals or someone like Clay Wilson can fill that role.  The team definitely is stronger at the blue line.  Can they score a few more goals?

Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek have replaced Gilbert Brule and Dan Fritsche, even if they don’t make the team in October.   I liked Brule, but he needed a change of address and he too, will probably have better numbers in Edmonton.

Pascal Leclaire has to put up the same numbers and Fredrik Norrena has to improve his game.  Two or three more wins from Freddy would be great.

The team looks better now, but what about the other factors?  If the team can play as well as or better than last season, it needs to also play even against Nashville and win half those games.  It needs to continue to play well against Detroit.  It needs to win against Chicago and St. Louis and stay even with them in the standings.  Five more wins will go a long way, in the standings and at the bank.

The team is now different, but they are not out of the MacLean hole yet. They are on their way to fixing that with a few more roster subtractions and scouting changes. It will finally be Scott Howson’s team at that point, resembling a modern NHL franchise instead of a PEI social club.  That will be a nice way to show John McConnell our thanks and that we won’t forget him.

-Truth Serum

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Turnover coming?

April 9, 2008

So who will be gone from the defense corps?

Hainsey, Klesla, Tarnstrom, Hejda, Russell, Tollefsen, Rome, Wilson, or Methot? I’ll go with the mob here and agree that Tarnstrom will be playing somewhere else next season, maybe in Europe. That gets the number down to eight of the current defensemen, not including any acquisitions. One or two or them will have to go, either to Syracuse or another team.

The Blue Jackets gave up 218 goals last season, the lowest total in franchise history. Pascal Leclaire had nine shutouts, second in the NHL, and some credit should go to the defense. The team dumped its foundation, Adam Foote, at the trade deadline and then stopped winning. Foote actually scored his only goal of the season while playing for Columbus, but the team missed his punch and stopped scoring when he left. The mob out there (see Puck-rakers and other bloggers) think the defense had a lot to do with the fall of the team. For some reason, although their reasoning is not rational, these pucktards maybe right.

Their biggest villain is the #1, Ron Hainsey. Hainsey led the team in scoring, although none of his goals came at even strength. He was not the primary in shutdown situations, with that role given to Jan Hejda and then to Rusty Klesla when Foote took his act to Colorado. Hainsey had a 5.0% SOG number (percentage of shots on goal that scored) which put him in the middle of NHL defensemen, but he exceeded only Klesla and Kris Russell on his own team. These numbers aren’t really a cause for alarm; it is his market position that troubles a lot of fans.

You see, Hainsey is suddenly very marketable with these numbers, along with his size, his UFA status, all while doing this on a bad Blue Jacket team. Suddenly, Carolina and others find him very attractive and might be willing to pay him $3.5 million next season. Good for Ron, but it gags a large portion of the fan base here. For the good of both parties, it might be better to let him go.

But that leads to building your defense around Klesla and Hejda, which is not inspiring. Klesla, as you know, is the team’s first ever draft pick and he has turned out to be capable, but nothing more. Jan Hejda was a great find last year with a +20 number and a salary of only $1 million. He is also a UFA, so how much do you want to pay for very little goal production? Klesla makes around $1.5 million and he is only good for seven goals and 20 points a season, even though he earns less than Duvie Westcott. The market puts a value of about $1.5 million on Hejda, so do you want to tie up nearly $3 million on two players who will put up the same numbers as a single Ron Hainsey? Before you say yes, two players take up two roster slots. Maybe you should keep one of them and get better numbers from one of the younger players or make a trade to fill the other roster spot.

Kris Russell had a tough season as a rookie, but Ken Hitchcock did not throw him to the wolves the way Doug MacLean did to Klesla in his rookie year. The team probably thought that they could use Russell in situations where they had a lead or were tied and his offensive skills would contribute. Instead, the team could not score goals and Russell was placed in games where opponents were confidently pounding away at the Jackets because our scoring was just not there. If the team comes out of camp with more offensive strength, look for Russell to stay and contribute more. If not, look for Russell to play somewhere else.

Aaron Rome came out of nowhere and shined. If he can do it again and put up a 20 point season, the numbers he has put up in the minors, he will be more than adequate.

Filling out the prospects, you have Clay Wilson and Ole-Kristian Tollefsen. I think only one of them is going to play here next season. Clay Wilson showed some flash and certainly has the confidence to be a puck carrying NHL defenseman. If he can get stronger in his own end, he stays. If NHL forwards can park in front of our net and have their way on him, he heads back to Syracuse.

OKT is a Hejda-type defenseman, focusing on defense and content to head man the puck. He seemed to play that way until he started being a tough guy, when his play suffered. If he becomes the tough guy and the team doesn’t sign someone else to fill that roll, he stays with the team, but his minutes go down. This is up to Howson and Hitchcock. And they still have to see if Marc Methot can play here.

Of the eight guys left on the team, two of them will probably move on to other organizations through free agency and one or two of them will probably be traded or sent to the minors. I have a feeling that the team will make a trade or sign a UFA to fill out the defense corps.

-Truth Serum

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A Few Things Come to an End

March 20, 2008

The modest but entertaining two-game win streak ended last night late in the third period at Joe Louis.  The Blue Jackets were depleted with the loss of Boll and Fritsche and had to hope that Freddy Norrena could hold the fort, but it was too much for him.  Detroit had to be gunning for the Jackets because they didn’t enjoy the loss last Sunday after outplaying Columbus.  Saturday is crucial for the Jackets; a win over Detroit would give them the season series with four victories.  This is nothing major, just for pride.

David Vyborny’s season may be over and I hope that he gets another chance to wear a Blue Jacket sweater.  Although he is not having a good season this year, the man has give us his all since he arrived here in 2000.  He is an honest, hard-working guy, a player who keeps his mouth shut and does his job.  I hope that we get to see him again.

Pascal Leclaire himself has been stopped by a puck.  It is nice to see Pascal play a whole season and not get stopped by injury or a physical breakdown.  A puck to the head is nothing.  He’ll be able count to ten in English in no time.

Is Manny Malhotra just lucky or has he been misplaced all season?  Five goals in three games is nothing to sneeze at and it makes me wonder if Ken Hitchcock should have taken a different route with him.  Everybody who plays the Jackets focuses on Rick Nash and Nikolai Zherdev, so it is nice to see another player step up and put some biscuits in the net.  Way to go, Manny.

A highlight for me in the Sunday game with Detroit was the Tim Horton’s in-game promotion for the “Roll up the Rim to Win” contest.  Mike Todd was telling about 20 fans that one of them would win a Garmin GPS unit by rolling up the rim of their Tim Horton’s coffee cup.  We all waited to see which fan would get the prize, but something went wrong and nobody won.  Maybe they hid the Garmin in a Donato’s pizza box?

-Truth Serum

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Well, well …

February 28, 2008

Well, well, the Jackets did have a game last night after all. I was under the impression that they were going to fold the team after failing to land Brad Richards. How could they possibly think of playing hockey without Richards or Adam Foote? I’m going to put my “Loser” hat away for the time being and follow the team, but I am willing to turn on them if necessary.

So let me get this straight; Tampa Bay was willing to trade Brad Richards to Columbus, but they wanted a goalie in the deal. It’s safe to conclude that they did not mean Freddy Norrena even though our local media did not report that item. So the Jackets put together a deal that included Gilbert Brule, Dan Fritsche, and Ole-Kristian Tollefsen. Unless I’m mistaken, none of them has seen time between the pipes this season and that imbecile Scott Howson did not throw in Pascal Leclaire or Steve Mason. Howson probably has some notion that he doesn’t want to mortgage the future to appease the local media, but I could be wrong. So no goalie, no trade. Pretty simple, and I think most people would agree that Leclaire and Mason are worth holding on to.

By not making this deal, Scott Howson gets castigated. Who’d have figured that?

Then, he dumps the aging mercenary Adam Foote for a #1 draft pick, also cutting payroll at the same time. The only people who are probably unhappy with this are the Realtors in Tartan Fields who now have another over-priced property to peddle. I never thought we could get a #1 for Adam Foote, but what do I know? I try to keep up with hockey and read Puck Rakers every day, but that may not be enough.  I will miss the untimely penalties that Foote used to take, however.

Sergei Fedorov is now gone and in return we got some kid who is confused about his first name. All season, people have talked about dumping Fedorov and the team has finally complied, even getting something for him. But they didn’t move Peca or Vyborny, so I shouldn’t be happy with the millions that the team has saved. Maybe nobody wanted Peca or Vyborny, so that is why they are still here.

I’m going to keep attending Blue Jacket games and support them. Even if Rick Nash picks a useless fight, I’m going to support them, but ask Rick if he would not follow the Adam Foote leadership model.

-Truth Serum

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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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82-0, indeed

October 6, 2007

As noted in the Dispatch’s Puck-rakers blog, the above record “prediction” was overheard in an Arena District parking garage after last night’s 4-0 victory over the Anaheim Ducks.  Surely uttered in jest, but last night was worthy of a little excitement.

What have we heard all summer?  “We want to be a team that’s difficult to play against.”  One game does not a true believer make, but last night, the Columbus Blue Jackets were more than the reigning Cup champs bargained for.

“They came at us right from the start of the game,” forward Ryan Getzlaf said of the Blue Jackets. “We weren’t prepared for it. We did a lot of things tonight and none of them were the right ones.”

I’m not foolish enough to think that this is how it is going to be (victory) every night, but I am willing to place a little trust in the Jackets’ style of play to believe that effort should not be an issue.  It’s so hard to say anything about what to expect in the long-term after 60 minutes of hockey.

What do we really know?  That last night was fun to watch.

Rick Nash had a fantastic game in the offensive zone.  Nik Zherdev pulled the joystick on a couple of moves that left my jaw on the ground.  Kris Russell had a very fine NHL debut, scoring his first NHL point with an assist on Nash’s second goal.  I even found myself praising Adam Foote’s play quite a few times.  It’s been a while since we’ve seen him so mentally and physically involved in a game.  I would like very much to see this continue.  Lastly, Pascal Leclaire made the saves he needed to make.  And with a little help from Rick Nash in the third, he gets his second career shutout.

The thing that was most satisfying to me was the growing frustration of the Ducks as the game wore on.  The Jackets carried the play, and as it became apparent to the Anaheim skaters that this dog would not roll over and beg for a treat as they probably imagined, they took stupid penalties.  The worst offense (of dumb, frustrated penalties) I saw from Anaheim was Andy McDonald hunched over Jackets winger Gilbert Brule, holding his head down in what seemed like an effort to get Brule’s opinion on how the Nationwide ice tasted.

I don’t know about the ice, but the victory probably tasted pretty good.  The Jackets play tonight in Minnesota, with both squads looking to remain unbeaten in their second game.

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