Archive for the ‘St. Louis Blues’ Category

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Your 2008-2009 Columbus Blue Jackets

April 3, 2008

With the Blue Jacket season about to end, I start to think about next year. I did this a lot growing up a Red Wing fan. The Detroit team that I cheered on 25 years ago was pathetic, finding all sorts of ways to lose games, hiring bad coaches, playing to half-empty arenas, and working desperately to hold the fan base. Even after Mike Ilitch bought the team and hired Jim Devellano, there were some false starts that kept the team from becoming the juggernaut that it is today. But things worked out and you know the rest.

So when I think about next year, I examine this year’s roster and wonder who will be back. I hear all kinds of grumbling from disenchanted fans, but I haven’t heard much from the organization itself. I never heard Ken Hitchcock complain about the loss of Adam Foote or Sergei Fedorov. That tells me that Hitch is a coach who will work with what he has and not bug his GM to go out and get somebody else. Not everyone liked Hitch in Dallas, but he never played mind games with his players in the media. I can’t speak for what went on in private, but unlike Doug MacLean, he does not publicly ream his players.

It has been said frequently that we need a good center. Really? Who doesn’t need a good center? A Hitchcock team plays defense first, preferring to frustrate the opposition into turning over the puck. Detroit plays puck possession, believing that if you own the puck, the other team can’t score. It is easy do this when you have Nick Lidstrom playing defense for you. If a Detroit opponent gets the puck, they have to get by Lidstrom and the other capable defensemen before they can even get an offensive chance.

So with Columbus needing a certain type of center, can they either grow their own or obtain one? The first option is certainly the most cost-efficient, but who fits that description? A case can be made for Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek to become that type of center, but I don’t see a member of the current roster fitting that description. Michael Peca and David Vyborny were that style of player, but they are finishing their careers. So signing a free agent or trading for one will have to be considered. So which fast, strong, free agent defensive centerman will want to play in Columbus? Before you give me an answer, think about this: All NHLer’s want to win and play for the Cup, so what will attract them to Columbus? If they can get the same money from Vancouver, Chicago, the Islanders, Toronto, or one of the other second tier clubs, why would they come here? For the streetcar system? There is only one thing to offer them, a bigger paycheck. I don’t question Mr. McConnell’s willingness to pay a premium, but I do wonder how much of a premium he is willing to pay, even with Howson and Hitchcock running things. Fedorov will look like a bargain compared to what the available talent will command.

There are other things that I am thinking about for next year and I will get into them in the near future. Obviously, the team needs to re-evaluate and take action with the defense. Who will be in goal next year, the same pair or do we roll the dice? Will there be any turnover in the coaching department? The team only offers one-year coaching contracts that all expire on July 1. Meanwhile, all of the other teams in the Western Conference are going to make some changes that directly affect Columbus. You know Chicago will be better next season and there is always Detroit. Nashville is stabilized and St. Louis is right behind us.

-Truth Serum

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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

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Dose of Reality #81

November 16, 2007

Yes, I’m still alive and following the Blue Jackets and hockey.  I’ve been on the road lately and to my surprise, Marriott Hotels do not carry the Jacket broadcasts as part of their room package.  And I couldn’t talk the young woman at the front desk into signing my room up for Center Ice during my stay.

The team is showing that it is indeed going to be a year for growth, learning how to play Ken Hitchcock’s game, how to compete in every game, and discovering ways to win at the NHL level.  The loss to Chicago last week was painful and the loss at Nashville was discouraging.  But other than the commenters at Puck Rakers, most of the fans are showing patience.

In one of the games, some of the veteran leadership on the team reverted back to seasons past and lost their composure, taking stupid and costly penalties.  In another game, the Jackets looked like a Mite House team, carrying the puck without any thoughts of passing to a player wearing the same color jersey.

Things got back to normal against the Blackhawks on Wednesday, with the team playing calm and steady, cutting back on the penalties, and getting the goals when they were offered.  The only people who didn’t remain calm were the fans in section 102, a small group of Jacket and Blackhawk fans.  It was entertaining to watch and the girl with the blue-green hair should wear a tighter belt so those around her don’t get grossed out.

Tonight the team plays in St. Louis and the game will be tough.  The Blues can be physical and our team better be ready for the usual stuff that happens after the whistle and in front of the net.  It’s not time to send Rick Nash Jody Shelley out to send a message, but the Jackets need to show St. Louis that they are a different team than in the past and will play hard until the final whistle.

I am curious to see if the Blue Jackets get back on track and play the next two games (St. Louis and Detroit) with the same energy and style that they played the first ten games.  They may lose both games, but I want to see how they play.  Will they keep their heads, work hard, implement their game plan, and take advantage of what their opponents give them.  If I want to see fighting, I’ll watch the replay of Wisconsin-OSU post game, because I don’t think the Blackhawk girl will be back.

-Truth Serum

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A little digging

November 7, 2007

I’ve talked in the past about wanting to use statistics to back up my thoughts on the Blue Jackets.  It’s not likely that I’ll get as in-depth as some do, but I think there are interesting bits of information that can be found just beneath the surface.  I’ve just started looking around the vault, and here are some very generic things I noticed over the last two games.

11-1 at Anaheim

I stated in a previous post about how I thought Anaheim controlled the game and the Blue Jackets were lucky to be in the game.  A few things that seem to back this up:

  • This first one didn’t require a lot of brain power: the Jackets were outshot 34-20.  When you get outshot by that margin, you’re lucky to be around.  Yes, there are further studies of shot quality that could be done which may make this look not so bad, but even bad shots on goal can turn into something good.
  • With the numbers normalized to shots per 60 minutes, the Jackets offered 18.0/60 at even strength, 35.4/60 on the power play, and 5.3/60 while short-handed.  Meanwhile the Ducks put up 29.0/60 at ES, 52.6/60 on the PP, and 17.7/60 while SH.  With no comparitive data compiled at this point, I’m not sure what it means other than Columbus lost that battle badly.
  • Second chance shots (my definition reflects those shots taken within 5 seconds of the previous shot) favored the Ducks as well, 7-4.  No goals were scored on second chance shots, however.
  • With over 50% of the team’s faceoff’s being taken by two of the top 10 guys in the NHL as of today (Manny Malhotra at 63% and Michael Peca at 59%) the Blue Jackets are skilled at winning draws.  In this game, the team performed slightly below it’s average, winning 48% of the draws. 
  • At even strength, the Blue Jackets were poor, winning only 38%.  And in the neutral zone, the Jackets were a paltry 18% in 11 opportunities at ES.
  • Anecdotally (until I look further into this), it would seem that draw location would at least loosely correlate with where the pressure is found.  If your team is taking a lot of D-zone draws, you’re probably getting some pressure.  And if the opposition is taking a lot of draws in their own zone, your squad is probably the one on the offensive.  In this game, the Jackets only took 8 offensive zone draws (3 at ES) to 26 for the Ducks (15 at ES).  That seems indicative of the Ducks carrying the play, which was at least visually backed up for me while watching the game.
  • Lastly, Anaheim was the more physical team in this game, at least based on hits.  The Ducks were credited with 26 hits to 18 for the Jackets.  
  • What does it all mean?  I’m not sure, yet.  At first glance, it seems to back up my thoughts that despite being outplayed the Jackets were lucky to pick up a point.  And if their early-season woes in the shootout had not been there, they could have stolen another point on the road.  Some say they’d rather be lucky than good.  Me, I’d rather be both.

    11-4 vs St. Louis

    I didn’t have an opportunity to pay too much attention to this game.  We were at BW3’s watching this game while also watching the Patriots/Colts and Browns/Seahawks at the same time.  So these generalizations will be even more… ummm… general.

    • The Jackets outshot the Blues by a little, 25-21.  Normalizing the data, the Jackets put up 21.4/60 at ES, 61.8/60 on the PP, and 11/60 while SH.  The Blues: 15.1/60 at ES, 99.4/60 on the PP, and had no SH shots.
    • Second chance shots (shots within 5 seconds of the previous shot) favored the Blue Jackets by an 8-2 margin.  No goals were scored on second chance shots, though Malhotra’s goal to open the scoring was 8 seconds after a Zherdev shot.
    • The Jackets were again at 48% on draws in this game.  Defensive zone draws get the spotlight this time, with the Jackets only winning 36% of 22 opportunities.  This may be typical to see, I’m not sure (again, yet).  Perhaps someone who is more versed in hockey stats can weigh in here.  My gut says it doesn’t make sense that a team would be any worse in any particular zone, but I’m not willing to believe that this is the case just yet.
    • Lastly, both the Jackets and the Blues played a physical game.  St. Louis edged Columbus in credited hits 26-22.

    Again, I’m not sure what all this means just yet, but these are some thing that stuck out to me at first glance. 

    The one item I’ve bolded above is the number of Power Play shots per 60 minutes by the opposition.  As I’ve noted, I don’t have much (okay, any really) comparitive data, but this seems to indicate that the goaltenders are coming up big on the penalty kill.  You always hear it said that the teams most important penalty killer is the goalie, and Leclaire and Norrena seem to have shown up to play in the last two games.

    I’m guessing that some of this format (statistical analysis on a basic level) will stick around unless you, the reader, tell me otherwise.  So speak up, leave a comment, and tell me what you think.

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

    – Drew

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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.

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    Central Division Preview

    September 4, 2007

    National Hockey League: Central Division Preview

    Eleven bloggers who cover each team in the Central Division have gotten together to present our readers and NHL fans in general with a preview of the division.  The preview kicks off today with an overview of how the preview will work.  So today we are presenting you with an overview of each blog that will participate in the preview and the dates you can expect to read our coverage on each team in the division.

    Without further ado here is the overview of each blogger:

    Chicago Blackhawks

    Chris – The Third Man In [thethirdmanin.com]

    Chris will preview the Hawks in their second year under head coach Denis Savard.  The Third Man In has covered the Hawks since March 2007.

    Columbus Blue Jackets

    Bethany – Bethany’s Hockey Rants [bethanym85.blogspot.com]

    Bethany will preview the Jackets as second year coach Ken Hitchcock will attempt to lead Columbus to their first playoff berth in team history.  Bethany will also provide a preview for the St. Louis Blues.  Her hockey rants has been up and running since January 2007.

    Drew – End of the Bench [endofbench.wordpress.com]

    Drew is part of the triumverate of Blue Jacket bloggers who will preview Columbus.  He’s covered the Blue Jackets as well as the larger sports scene at End of the Bench since February 2006.

    Sarah – Neutral Zone Trap [neutralzonetrap.wordpress.com]

    Sarah’s coverage of the Blue Jackets, soccer, and…library book sales has been up and running since February 2007.

    Detroit Red Wings

    Bill – Abel to Yzerman [kuklaskorner.com/index.php/a2y]

    Bill has provided his unique sarcastic takes Mike Babcock’s squad over at the emperor’s website since November 2006.

    Christy – Behind the Jersey [behindthejersey.com]

    A Red Wings intern and #1 Steve Yzerman fan, Christy has covered the Red Wings since November 2003.

    John & Steve – Gloveside [gloveside.net]

    The crazy band of northern Michigan bloggers provide coverage on – and write haikus about – Detroit’s hockey team.  They will also provide coverage of the Red Wings’ training camp in Traverse City.

    Dave – Gorilla Crouch [gorillacrouch.com]

    Dave provides coverage of the Red Wings as well as the general Detroit Sports scene.  He’s been blogging since September 2006.

    George – Kuklas Korner [kuklaskorner.com]

    George, who blogs for MLIVE.com, also provides hockey coverage and commentary for Kuklas Korner.

    Matt – On the Wings [onthewingsblog.com]

    Canonical blogger Matt Saler has covered the Red Wings over at On the Wings since March 2003. 

    Nashville Predators

    Dirk (aka The Forechecker) – On the Forecheck [forechecker.blogspot.com]

    Dirk provides in-depth statistical analysis as well as wall to wall coverage of the Predators.  He’s been blogging since July 2005, but back in the 1990’s he wrote for the online hockey magazine “In the Crease,” mostly covering the Detroit Red Wings.

    St. Louis Blues

    Bethany – Bethany’s Hockey Rants [bethanym85.blogspot.com]

    Bethany takes a break from her Hockey Ranting just long enough to preview the Blues.

    So be sure to check out each preview to get the latest information, statistics, and completely biased opinions on each team in the Central Division.  One team will be featured on each of the following Mondays.  Here is the schedule for each team preview:

    Sept 10 – Chicago
    Sept 17 – Columbus
    Sept 24 – Detroit
    Oct 1 – Nashville
    Oct 8 – St. Louis

    We hope you enjoy the preview as we get closer to the drop of the puck and the start of the 2007-08 season!

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    Can we get a little perspective, here?

    March 29, 2007

    The Blue Jackets won their fourth game in a row on Tuesday, shortly after being officially eliminated from playoff contention.  I should have been able to see the next part coming, but I’ll confess that I was looking the other way when it hit me.  And when it did, I had to smile a little.

    Here is a paraphrased sample of the comments I’ve heard on the radio call-in shows the last few days:

    • “Here go the Blue Jackets on one of their patented ‘the season doesn’t matter anymore so we’re going to start winning’ streaks.”  Or…
    • “Finally, the team is playing very well.  Where was this team in October?  Why can’t the play like this every night?”

    There are a few things that this line of thinking compels me to address.  I’ll do so in the super-unfashionable bullet point style.

    • First things first.  Let’s take a look at the opponents in the last four games.  Chicago, Detroit, and St. Louis (x2).  Counting overtime losses and shootout losses as pure losing efforts, this give the three opposing teams a combined win percentage of 45.6%.  And that’s with the Red Wings in at 60.5%.  I’d argue that it shouldn’t be that big of a surprise that they won at least three of the four games.  Chicago and St. Louis are teams (at this point in the season) that any team in the NHL should have a reasonable chance of defeating.
    • Next item: we played the Blues twice in that stretch.  This is a team that had two of their top players (Bill Guerin and Keith Tkachuck) shipped at the trade deadline.  And the TV announcers couldn’t stop telling us how their power play has been so ineffective lately (currently 4 goals in 62 opportunities in March for a stellar 6.5% conversion rate).  Also, they were putting Jason Bacashihua and Curtis Sanford in net (both relatively inexperienced even compared to Norrena).  Let’s not get too excited beating up on these guys, it’s what you should expect.
    • Is anybody really comparing the March Blue Jackets to those that were playing in October and November?  As I see it, the cast is mostly unchanged save for one minor detail: the coach.  Simply put, this is a different team with Hitchcock behind the bench than it was when Gallant was there.  There are days where I don’t believe a coach should make that much of a difference with professional athletes, but I won’t say it doesn’t.  Hitch is a proven winner over the course of his career (minor blips this season notwithstanding), and it’s evident to many that the team Columbus is icing at this moment is very different from that which started the season.

    My point in all this?  I’m not sure, but maybe something like “as fans it’s best to remain even keeled.”  Don’t get too high or low.  Relish the opportunity to see professional hockey in your town.  Or maybe it’s “think about what you’re complaining about or praising before you find yourself on the radio sounding like a doofus.”  Take your pick.

    And to all those who think that the Jackets would be better off losing to better their draft position, I personally think that this is a terrible thing to consider under almost any circumstance.  Winning is why you play.  Whether you’re in the playoff race or not, you should play to win.  I’m not a world-class anything, but I was raised to know that any time you have an opportunity to win (fairly) in sports, you do so.  Anyone who gives up once their team is “out of it”, should be forced to forfeit any salary they are paid for those “lost” games.  Of course I realize this would never happen, I’m (mostly) joking.  But I will stand strong to the day I keel over on this issue.  Winning is all that matters.  Not draft picks, Rocket Richard Trophies, save percentages, or anything else.  Just win, baby.

    Just ask the season ticket holders who are having trouble deciding what to do next season.  I’d guess that this little winning streak has helped one or two people make up their mind.  Does anyone think that if the Jackets lost most of their games after being eliminated that this would endear the team to their fans?

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