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Santa Mike and his bag of rants comes to town.

Sunday, December 24, 2006
Settling in after a roast dinner with my parents and my sister while we visit the relatives in Cleveland (four aunts, three uncles, 10 cousins, and a scotty puppy), I've now got a moment to get to the computer here and write up a little diatribe concerning the holiday season. It won't be anything too melodramatic or wordy, but it will nonetheless have nothing to do with hockey or the Columbus Blue Jackets. So for those of you checking out Army of the Ohio in search of my inane rantings and recaps? Sorry, but I'm sticking to my little break from those until the new year.

In any event, the holiday season is upon us, and with that brings the hustle and bustle of shopping for friends, family, loved ones, your pet, and even that person you've been in the same office with for years whose name you just so happen to have forgotten. Whether you're celebrating Christmas, Hannukah, Kwanza, Samhein (I think that's what it is), Festivus (because we need a festivus for the rest of us!), or even absolutely nothing, it's hard not to get swept up in the cheer of the season as people come together to enjoy one another's company.

As cliche as it is and always will be, remember that getting that Nintendo Wii, or that Sergei Fedorov game worn jersey (on sale now for $2,300 USD at The Blueline!), or even that multi-million dollar hockey stick that just sold, is not what the best part of this time of the season is. It's about finding the people who you are closest to, and savoring the company that they give as well as the positive feelings that they help to make you feel.

Conversely, it's also a great time of year to seek out someone who you may have fallen out of touch with, or even had a bad falling out with, and wishing them the best, with no strings attached. One of the most important aspects of the holiday season, to me, is to look back on my life and see if, perhaps, there is someone out there I'd like to talk to for the first time in forever, or at least bury the hatchet with.

Whether you are doing it for them, for yourself, or for others, in the end all that matters is that this is as good a time as any to take advantage of this 'most wonderful time of the year', and try to share it with others, friend or (to avoid using the typical cliche 'foe') non-friend alike. Trust me, so long as you make the effort to do something like this with no preconcieved expectations, it'll hopefully make you feel good. And it should, because it means you're being a good person, especially considering how crazy and mixed up this world can be nowadays.

Enjoy the holiday season, and prepare to start a new year, folks. Who knows what might be in store for yourself, let alone the world?


Game #35: Blue Jackets at Islanders

Saturday, December 23, 2006
Team: Columbus Blue Jackets
Record: 13-18-1-2
On the road: 6-10-0-1
Last 10: 7-2-0-1
Bloggers and local media:
Death Cab for Woody
End of the Bench
The Jacket Times
Injury taints victory - Columbus Dispatch (Portzline)


Just a moment ago, my friend Molly informed me that the 'hammy' joke I made might not be all that understandable. Looks like I won't be making it into any late-night comedy acts anytime soon. Ah well ... for those who didn't get it, it was a reference to the movie Over the Hedge, where one of the characters is a squirrel named Hammy.

Anyway, for anyone who hasn't read the news yet, Pascal Leclaire is out once again. This time the prognosis looks even worse, with words such as 'indefinitely' being bandied about to describe the duration of this injury. Unlike the injury against Ottawa which was just a knee strain, this one looks to be a problem with the hamstring muscle in his left leg. Problem is now it's both his left knee and his left hamstring, both injuries most likely compounding on top of one another.

With Leclaire out, it will once again be time for Fredrik Norrena to take the team on to his broad, Finnish shoulders and heft them towards victory. I still have serious concerns about Norrena's endurance, and I only hope that he'll be ready to play tonight, less than 24 hours after an emotional, heart-stopping win over a Vancouver team that was all but beating the Blue Jackets to a pulp in the final minute and a half.

On the bright side, Rick Nash looks like he's picking up where he left off when it comes to his point production, picking up a point in last night's game, bringing him to 12 points in the last 8 games (producing points in 6 of the 8 games). Nikolai Zherdev finally snapped a 7-game pointless streak with an assist on the opening tally by Aaron Johnson last night, as well. Hopefully that's actually a sign of a possible turnaround from Z. Either way, he showed more vigor and more effort in last night's game than I've seen in any other game he's had under Hitchcock so far, which is great.

Team: New York Islanders
Record: 17-13-1-2
At home: 8-7-1-0
Last 10: 5-5-0-0
Bloggers and local media:
Islanders' Army

Let me preface talk about the Isles with this bit of information, as gleaned from the AP pre-game for tonight: the all-time series between the Blue Jackets and the Islanders is 6-0-1 (tie) in favor of the Blue Jackets. In lay man's terms, they're undefeated against them. Yes, believe it or not the CBJ are undefeated against a team!

But as they say, "records are meant to be broken", or something. That winless streak in Colorado for the CBJ? Dead. In Dallas? Also dead. And these sorts of things work both ways ... an undefeated record in favor of the Jackets is not infallible. It's especially not infallible when the Islanders have a winning record and currently sit 7th in the Eastern Conference. That's actually kind of misleading, however, as they're just 4 points behind Atlantic Division-leading New Jersey for the automatic 3rd seed in the conference.

It's extremely hard to say what the Blue Jackets should expect from the Isles tonight, considering how topsy-turvy their record has been all season. One moment they're winning a couple, then losing a trio, winning a trio, losing one ... it makes it all the more understandable as to why this team is 5-5-0-0 in their last 10 games.

Who will be in net for the Isles tonight? Well, from the looks of it, 15-year, multi-million dollar man Rick DiPietro won't, which leaves backup Mike Dunham as the candidate. Dunham wields a sporty .916 save percentage, and a 3-3-2 record so far this season, meaning he's held the mantle of backup quite admirably. About as admirably as Norrena has for the Blue Jackets at times, too.

Who to watch out for? Jeez, it's obviously Jason Blake, who has been the physical manifestation of consistent. He hasn't gone more than two games without at least one point, which makes it all the more understandable as to why he's the team's leading point getter at 36, which is 6 more than CBJ points leader David Vyborny.

The Isles' weakness? Penalty kill and shots against (26th and 27th respectively). In other words? Pour it on and pour it on hard!!

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Pazzy pulls a hammy, Jackets pull off a win, and Norrena SMASH TEAMMATES!

No, Leclaire didn't pull that 'Hammy' to your left, but I bet that horrified, wide-eyed look is the one his hamstring would give if it was sentient.

Poor Pascal; I'm sure the pundits will be talking about how he's become more and more injury prone as time has gone on, and to an extent they are right. Leclaire has been dealing with injuries for longer than I can even recollect since last season, and it's a serious cause for concern. But at the same time, he deserves all the credit in the world for hanging tough as best as he could last night, despite tweaking things during the warm-up. It was obvious from my little alcove in section 219 (also known as the 'Dead Zone' when it comes to kiosk and selling activity) that he was suffering badly. The final half of the first period was exceptionally unkind to Leclaire, as he lay on the ice for several moments after a puck clear, and then had his goalie mask knocked clean off his head after a Canuck was shoved down atop him moments later. He can't catch a break.

This game had almost the same sort of scenario play out that the Detroit game did on Monday: Jackets come roaring out of the gates early with goals by Aaron Johnson and former Canuck Anson Carter, the team doubles back in the second period (but a lot of that has to do with the numerous penalties they received during that time as well), and then a physical, grueling third period with punishing hits, a goal for each team (Luongo must be ready to listen to some Linkin Park after Nash fired off that shot through his five hole to ensure the victory), and then a nail biter win.

By the way, watching Alexander Svitov totally pummel Ryan Kesler in the third was a thing of absolute beauty. He just tossed Kesler around like a rag doll!

Anyway, with Leclaire out, that means Conks returns to the team as the backup. All things considered, Conklin has done an admirable job in the time that he has played, even though he's only faced a total of 11 shots. At the moment, I'm cautiously comfortable with him as the backup to Norrena, who will be getting the start against the Islanders tonight.

Speaking of Freddy, did anyone see the way he all but stormed off the ice once the horn blew to signal the end of the game? Opinions on the HFBoards seem to range from "He was pissed off at the team for failing so hard to help him out", to "He was pissed off that there was no whistle to stop play during that insane moment before the end of the game", if he thought he had had the puck at one point during the player pile on top of the crease. Maybe Portzline or Arace from The Columbus Dispatch can glean a little bit of intel on that, or if it was much ado about nothing? It'd be nice to know why he looked ready to take down a bull elephant with his bare hands.

Lastly, Nikolai Zherdev looks to be showing some signs of life finally. While all he tallied tonight was one assist, beggars can't be choosers. Hopefully he can build on that. Baby steps, and all.

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Friday randomness ...

Friday, December 22, 2006
There's really a metric ton of stuff going on outside of the small world of the CBJ at the moment: the Penguins and their ongoing soap opera concerning a new arena; the news today from the NHL that the league may be considering a total schedule and division/conference alignment overhaul; Rory Fitzpatrick's continued march towards the NHL All-Star game due to rabid fans and a silly voting system that even my sister could hack. If I had more time, I'd touch on it all! And I might even do so by sometime tomorrow, before I make the trek to Cleveland on Sunday for Christmas with the relatives.

Alas, at the moment I have to get ready to work tonight's Vancouver/Columbus game at the arena, and so I have to skedaddle. However! I leave everyone with a little insanity that I stumbled across while browsing today, after I saw that Petr Sykora was one of the three stars from last night's games. This one goes out to the ladies at Hot Oil, who with their keen eye for the Oilers guy, can tell me if I am on to something:

Separated at birth? YOU DECIDE! ::Dramatic music!::

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Amateur goal analyzations, by Dr. Turner (CBJ vs. DET).

Thursday, December 21, 2006
Goal 1 - In this situation, we have three of four Blue Jackets (4 on 4 situation) all converging on Robert Lang, leaving two Red Wings open and waiting for the biscuit at the point. Pressure can be a good thing, no doubt, but in more open ice situations such as 4 on 4, this can lead to some serious opportunities for the players who don't have a man on them. That being the reason that Schneider was able to get off such a good shot from the blue line. Cleary's deflection made it nigh impossible for Norrena to save it.

Goal 2 - Norrena makes the original save on a one-timer by Lang from the top of the circle on Freddy's right. An ensuing pile at the net of Jackets and Wings players has Norrena flopping and falling all over, however it seems like he is able to at least partially recover. The problem wasn't Norrena or his ability to reset, though; it was Jason Chimera's blind backhand attempt to clear the puck from the zone. It could have worked, had he not tried to clear where he did; normally if you're going to clear the puck, you're going to either aim for the boards, or go for a pinpoint puck toss right down the middle, in the hopes that both point men on the power play cross their signals about who is going to get the puck and that you get enough air on it to avoid ice level sticks (but even doing that is a desperation move unless you're flawlessly accurate). Instead, Chimmer tried clearing it to the middle right, sending the puck right back to Niklas Lidstrom. Lidstrom shoots, deflection by Cleary, 2-0 Red Wings.

Breakaway by Nash - I'm sure I'll get some guff from Red Wings' fans, but it seems to me that lost in the craziness of Hasek making a great, diving save way outside of the crease by a rushing, breakaway attempt by Rick Nash, he lost his stick in a rather intentional, "whoops-my-grip-on-the-stick-was-limp!" manner. Not that it would have made a difference in the end, sadly ... but I'm calling shenanigans on the fact that was never called, or even reviewed.

Goal 3 - Not much to say here, really; Aaron Johnson catches a floating dump, and before he even has an opportunity to toss it down and clear it, Kirt Maltby is in his face, stripping him faster than a stripper doing a rush job, and five-holes Norrena.

Goal 4 - Bomb by Lidstrom from the point, and Norrena is screened beyond belief during a Wings' power play opportunity. While there's only one Jacket and one Wing in front of Norrena directly, the whole offensive zone is clogged up in general. This goal is more to the Wings' credit than anything else, since there wasn't really much of a problem with the penalty kill coverage.

Goal 5 - Well, now we can see why Foote doesn't like to shoot; Foote gets a pass back to the point from Chimera, and goes for what looks like a half slap-shot. Jason Williams, however, gets right in the line of fire. The blocked shot deflects back and past Foote, who is busy wheeling around as Williams streaks for the puck. Williams gets in all alone on Norrena on the opposite end of the rink, and floats the puck under a haggard looking Norrena, who has stretched out his leg to one side to try and cover the side of the net he hadn't committed to. Easy goal, final goal, 5-0 win.

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>:( <--- This is my angry face.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Me: That loss was so bad ...
Crowd: How bad was it!?
Me: It was so bad, that even though I had resigned myself to a loss a full day ago, I'm still pissed off at how bad it was!

I'm dead serious here. What the [expletive], Columbus? What the Hell was that? So you win a nail biter at home against Detroit, and then you just decide, "Hey, we beat them once! We've already tied our record against them last year, so now we can just coast along and get bitchsmacked like a hooker withholding payment to their pimp! Yeah!"

Because that's what it looked like to me. Stupid and reckless passes, weak-ass body checks and getting outhit by a team that is supposed to be "soft" when it comes to that sort of thing, numerous penalties that helped to dig an early momentum hole (I'm looking at you, Svitov), and horribly soft goaltending.

Funny that I made the premonition I did a couple of days ago when it came to my serious concerns about Norrena and his endurance after so many games. This was his ninth consecutive game when you factor in the 1 1/4th period he also played in the Senators game after Leclaire went down with his knee sprain. I've been worried about Norrena's ability to hang in there for so long ever since that game, when he let in two third period goals ... but that 6-2 win feels like it was ages ago, so let's not get too into that.

I'm sure a lot of my rage at Freddy is misplaced. The five game winning streak? All him. Keeping the CBJ in the game against Detroit on Monday (even though a couple of the goals he allowed were softies)? All him, as well. But he's shown some severe chinks in the goalie pads as he's had to continue playing. As scary a thought as it might be to the CBJ faithful out there (and sadistically funny to the Oilers fan or two that comes across this blog every now and then), would this team be better off giving him a much needed rest (the one he should have gotten starting against Ottawa) and, dare I say it, giving Ty Conklin a start if Leclaire isn't ready by Friday?

Right now, the team sits six games under .500 (still four games away from that dangerous 10 games below I said was the point of no salvation), and in the coming three games will face the Vancouver Canucks (29th in goals), the New York Islanders (15th), and the Boston Bruins (19th), with the Isles and Bruins also both ranking in the lower end of the league in shots for, as well. After that, the team has to deal with the bothersome Red Wings yet again next Thursday, and the only good part about it is that it'll be back at Nationwide, which will hopefully allow for friendlier confines.

If Hitchcock is looking to get Freddy some rest time in the event that Pazzy continues to have to stay out with his injury, he should do it now, because this is as good as an opportunity as he is going to get.

There's really little I can say about the rest of the team that wouldn't be about as vile or as poisonous as my breath is after a week of not brushing (not that I've ever done that, rest assured). To be completely honest? After the end of the second period, I rolled my eyes, and began to just play video games to pass the time, only giving a glance back to the game every so often to see if, perhaps, the team would at least not get shut out. My mind was in a totally other zip code, and it'll take a refresher via some (painful) video recaps on YouTube or to remind me who to rip in to for each goal.

I do have to ask one question, though: where the Hell is Nikolai Zherdev? While Nash has been on a tear the likes that no one has seen from him in forever under Hitchcock, Zherdev has become nothing more than this anonymous skater on the ice whenever he's on there. Save for the goal and assist against Minnesota back on 25th of November, he's done nothing for the team on the scoresheet in nine games.

Sure, sure, playing sounder defense is an amazing feat, especially when it comes to Z ... and I still give him credit for that diving blocked shot against Dallas several games back, as well. But he isn't doing what he's getting paid for (handsomely paid for, as we all know from his new, three-year contract). When a 1st round, overall 4th pick in the NHL Draft is not even averaging half a point a game and they're a forward, there are serious problems that need remedies, and they need remedies now.

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That's certainly one way to bounce back from a bad loss, isn't it?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006
One of the best games of the season for dramatics and I'm stuck behind Blueline Express in section 209!

Actually, even though I was working, I was able to catch a good bit of the game. I want to say just a little less than half of the game in all. One of the good things about working an upper level store is that things are nowhere near as busy. That ten minute break becomes ten minutes of actual game time, since if you're really needed with your co-worker they can just call you back over, and you split the period between one another. The door in to my store was a mere ten feet from my watching spot, as well.

It also helped that everyone there was too busy filling their stomachs with dollar dogs (the whole "Sugardale $1 hot dog" thing that happened last night), meaning people were too busy carrying dogs by the arm full to take a look at stuff in the store. Either way, the place was definitely rocking, and to some extent you can thank all the migratory Red Wings' fans who helped make the overall attendance come to be 17,000+. Not that many of the fans were from Detroit, it seems, let alone Michigan; talking with several people in Wings' jerseys who were at the game, a majority of them seemed to be from areas such as Cleveland, or even people from Columbus! Talk about annoying ... but alas, Detroit is an Original Six with a pedigreed history of winning, so what can you do?

Because I was only able to watch in several minute increments, I'm going to toss out my observations in a more succinct, bulleted manner.

-Sergei Fedorov was on a mission the likes that I've not seen from him when facing the Red Wings before! Blue Jackets' fans know all too well the heckling and jeering that Fedorov receives when he goes to Joe Louis (and if you don't, just watch Wednesday's game on FSN Ohio), so maybe this was his way of getting out all that pent up frustration he'll most likely have tomorrow. Well, probably not, but it makes sense.

-There's still some injury issues going on, and Adam Foote and Pascal Leclaire were not in the line-up tonight. Pazzy was expected to be out, but Foote had an outside chance of sneaking in for tonight's game (but he also was supposed to have maybe been in the line-up during one of last week's games, as well). To me, I get more concerned about an injury the longer that someone's "questionable" status is drawn out. It could mean a lot of things, such as if a player is pushing themselves too hard, or the diagnosis was not as dire as it should have been.

-Chris Osgood was supposed to start last night's game, apparently. Makes you wonder if maybe Hasek getting the nod within the final 24 hours might have kept him off of his game in the one period he played in? Great goalies like Hasek probably don't let sudden starts get under their skin much, but you never know.

-This doesn't have anything to do with the game on the ice, but it was something I observed as I watched the "too many men" penalty that Detroit got during the game. The jumbotron was going through a wide variety of Red Wing' player pictures as a way to show the minor penalty was for the team as a whole, and just so happened to use Jiri Fischer's picture and name as well. Most people already know what happened to Fischer last season, and that his outlook on an NHL return is slim at best, even if he hasn't officially retired or anything. So it was sort of stunning to see the graphics folks overlook that.

-Fredrik Norrena continues to pull rabbits out of his goalie's helmet, making two stunning saves in the third period to keep the team in this game when the Wings began to come on stronger than a drunk at a bar. However I am concerned about Norrena's fortitude, to be honest. This was an amazing win for him, and he bounced back strongly after being chased from the net in Saturday's game against Chicago ... but at the same time, does he have the endurance to keep going like this? Pazzy continues to improve, but there hasn't really been a date set for him to come back to the line-up.

-Will the Blue Jackets as a whole have any gas left after clinging to last night's win by the skin of their teeth? Wednesday's game, I am predicting, will not be pretty in any way. The Wings are most likely disgusted, embarrassed, and angry at themselves for coming out flat, then barely missing out on stealing a win from a Blue Jackets team they probably feel is too weak to lose to. The Joe is not friendly confines, and an agitated Wings team will only make things even harder.

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Game #32: Blue Jackets vs. Red Wings

Monday, December 18, 2006
Team: Columbus Blue Jackets
Record: 11-17-1-2
At home: 5-8-1-1
Last 10: 6-3-0-1
Bloggers and local media:
Death Cab for Woody
End of the Bench
The Jacket Times
Jackets must protect puck in own zone - Columbus Dispatch (Portzline)

Well, I guess my prediction for the last game was kind of right. There was a total blow-out ... except both teams blew each other out, in two separate periods. Either way, the Blue Jackets lost, the defense crumbled like a badly stacked card pyramid, and Norrena was yanked after just one full period.

Like I mentioned previously, I was unable to watch much of the game. The two parts I was around for on my break? The power play tally which brought the team to within two goals (5-3), and then the odd man rush that sealed the deal in the third period by the Blackhawks (6-4). It's pretty sad, too ... this was the largest crowd I had seen since opening night, and I'm sure at least a small handful probably left after just the first period alone.

Either way, I look at things this way for the Jackets right now: if this team falls to 10 games under .500 again any time before the end of January? It's over. Stick a fork in them, prepare for some team dismantling and draft pick haggling, and enjoy a spirited NHL Draft 2007 at Nationwide Arena.

(Edit: Just as an aside, when I say "10 games under .500", I'm omitting OTLs and SOLs.)

This isn't me being pessimistic or anything. Honestly, I still see the team having an outside chance of being in the playoff hunt at this point in the season (it isn't even halfway through). You just need to know when to be realistic.

Team: Detroit Red Wings
Record: 19-8-3-1
On the road: 10-5-0-1
Last 10: 7-3-0-0
Bloggers and local media:
Abel to Yzerman
Behind the Jersey
On the Wings
Jackets' Nash thrives under Hitchcock - Detroit News
Wings' defense lightens Hasek's workload - Detroit News

Of course that "realism" can also stem from the fact that the Blue Jackets are playing their neighbors from Michigan tonight ... then Wednesday ... and then once again just eight days later! Three games against the Red Wings in 10 days; a team as fragile as the Blue Jackets are right now has the deck stacked against them with a schedule like that. Just because the Wings aren't blowing the league away like they did last year doesn't mean they're not still threatening, let alone deadly to lower tier teams.

Although he isn't challenged often, Dominik Hasek has more or less proven that he isn't over the hill just yet, despite the fact he's about as old as my grandpa. Another note of interest is the, in my opinion, amazing +/- tally of Captain Nicklas Lindstrom, who has a league leading +23. It's probably more impressive when you consider he is also the team's leading point getter at 27, which is the same amount that David Vyborny has right now (and he's currently a -1!).

There are some chinks in the Wings' armor, believe it or not. The Blue Jackets have a better special teams overall compared to them, for one; the Wings are 23rd on the power play and 14th on the penalty kill, while the Jackets currently sit at 18th and 11th respectively. The Red Wings only have a +7 goal advantage over the Jackets in the "goals for" department as well, which means they also place heavy emphasis on defense right now.

Of course that's the problem; their defense has been like a steel curtain. First in the league in both goals against and shots against. That's a very bad thing when your team is in the bottom five in the league for shots for.

Whenever the Red Wings come to town, I always gets this sinking feeling. Part of it could be that the Blue Jackets never beat the Wings once at home last season, and only had one win in all (though that win will always be remembered as quite the doozy) in the series. Another part is the migrating Wings fans that just flood Nationwide. I'm itching to make a smarmy comment or two if any drunken Wings fans come by whatever kiosk I am assigned to tonight, but for the sake of not getting a pink slip, I won't.

Of course since I'll be working somewhere in the arena, that most likely means minimal viewing of the game, unless I get lucky. For those not going to the game, this is actually going to be the CBJ's first game on VERSUS this season! So out-of-towners, other bloggers across the country? Be sure to give this game a glance!

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Can't focus; feet are killing me.

Sunday, December 17, 2006
I'm tired. I'm cranky. I only got back from Nationwide an hour ago, and I only caught bits and pieces of the game due to a lack of readily visible televisions within eyesight of The Blueline Express that is right across from the main entrance.

All I know is that my feet ache, and I need to go to sleep since I work tomorrow's Ohio Junior Blue Jackets' game in the evening, then the Red Wings game on Monday, which should make tonight's "Nationwide Nights" game look like nothing in terms of how busy it was.

If I can squeak in some time before work tomorrow and while I do classwork before then, I may have some thoughts to throw out. If not, see the usual suspects for your Blue Jackets' blogging experience.

Oh, and the Blackhawks are still Losers with a capital "L". Blow it out your windpipe, Savard.


Game #31: Blue Jackets vs. Blackhawks

Saturday, December 16, 2006
Team: Columbus Blue Jackets
Record: 11-16-1-2
At home: 5-7-1-1
Last 10: 6-3-0-1
Bloggers and local media:
Death Cab for Woody
End of the Bench
The Jacket Times
Absence drove Westcott crazy - The Columbus Dispatch (Portzline)

So yesterday while I was at work, just as I was winding down my 10-6 shift, Rusty Klesla came in to do some holiday shopping. From the things he bought, I can only guess he likes -- or has family or friends that like -- goalies, since he bought about five of the mini wooden goalie sticks, and no regular sticks. Then again, those sticks are just plain cooler.

Anyway, while me and the assistant manager were chatting with him, he mentioned how Duvie Westcott will be back in the line-up for tonight (which is now confirmed by The Columbus Dispatch article done by Portzline this morning). After this week, with players dropping like flies left and right, this is some of the best news to hear about, especially with such an important game tonight.

I also saw Pascal Leclaire make his way through the store and into the arena on Thursday, and while Portzline talks about how he has a noticeable limp in his gait, I had a hard time really catching it. He looked like he was walking along pretty steady. But then again, I'm no doctor, nor did I see him for any more than several seconds.

It's sobering to lose to the Phoenix Coyotes like the team did the other night, but at the same time it's possible to take away some positive things from the game. As I mentioned the other day, the top players such as Nash, Fedorov, and Vyborny are really starting to come in to their own under Hitchcock. Then there's the fact that this team was all of two goals down, and still managed to storm right back to tie it before the second period was even finished.

Concerns abound over several issues, though: will Steady Freddie be able to bounce back after a sloppy game against Phoenix? He deserves the benefit of the doubt, as it was Norrena who carried this team for the five game winning streak, and has been working overtime with Leclaire down and out with his injury. Adam Foote is questionable, and O.K. Tollefsen is going to be sitting this game out due to the gloved fist to the face that he got during that scrum in Phoenix.

There's either two ways that I see this game ending: either the Blue Jackets feast on the Blackhawks due to Chicago reeling from a close loss to top tier Detroit, or the Blue Jackets are blown away because of motivation and drive issues after losing a nailbiter to Phoenix. I doubt either prediction will be right, but I hope the former is. Frankly, I tend to be wary of games after OT or SO losses, for one reason or another.

Team: Chicago Blackhawks (also known as the Losers)
Record: 12-13-1-4
At home: 7-6-1-0
Last 10: 5-2-1-2
Bloggers and local media:
None! Because they're Losers!
Hawks compete for ice time - The Chicago Sun-Times


Losers! Losers Losers Losers! With a Loser in net, Losers on defense, Losers scoring their goals, and a big fat Loser as their new coach!

Venomous and scathing dislike for the team right above the Blue Jackets in the Central Division aside, the Blackhawks are not a pushover team anymore. A couple weeks ago I would have told you that this is the kind of game the Blue Jackets can win, and should win if they want to make it anywhere in the standings. Now, however, I feel a sense of trepidation concerning this game.

The teams have not had an amicable relationship (not that they ever have) ever since Klesla 'clipped' Tuomo Ruutu in a pre-season match-up between the teams. Both games they've played so far this season have also been extremely painful to watch, with one ending in a 5-4 barn burner after the Blue Jackets were all of two goals down, then tied things up just before the end of the first period.

The next game, however, ended in a 1-0 loss for the Jackets, as backup netminder Brian Boucher stopped 28 shots against a CBJ team that was down on its luck at the time. Jackets' fans should remember that game well ... it was Gerard Gallant's last game as head coach before he was given his walking papers and shown the back door of Nationwide Arena.

Martin Havlat has not had the scoring touch he had at the start of the season, but that doesn't mean he isn't someone to watch out for. Meanwhile, the new acquisition of old-timer Peter Bondra, who still has plenty of gas left in the tank, is threatening. And Nikolai Khabibulin, after a swath of injuries last season and at the start of this season, is starting to really get in his comfort zone, sporting a .917 save percentage, despite an average 2.57 GAA.

Win this one for "Turk", Jackets! Win it for two more points! Win it to gain more respect! But most importantly ...


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Phoenix Coyotes: Super Geniuses.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Oh, yeah? Well, Jeremy Roenick's mother sucks eggs! Yeah! How about that, Phoenix!?

Here's what we learned tonight:

-The Blue Jackets are having some pretty disgusting struggles with penalty issues. I chalk part of that up to having Don frickin' Koharsky for four consecutive games as the referee, but the other part is that the Jackets have been extremely undisciplined at times. It's hard to really tell how things will go on a game by game basis in the penalty department, as the team has sort of flip flopped from responsible to brash at times. Remember that even though they drubbed Ottawa 6-2 on Sunday, they also gave up seven power play opportunities. So this has actually been a nagging issue, only hidden by amazing penalty kill. Tonight, with a vulnerable penalty kill, this became very apparent.

-Fredrik Norrena, no matter how awesome he has been and how much we owe the amazing Finn, is still mortal. While two goals did indeed come on the power play, two other goals showed that Freddy was out of his comfort zone for much of this game. He seemed to start picking it up in the tail end of the third period, but soon after that it was too late, and the game became nothing but a crap shoot in the shootout.

-Rimer and Gare were absolutely right about one thing during the FSN Ohio telecast: the Phoenix Coyotes' "run and gun" game plan is what the team had to worry about, and as a result they got burned; and badly. Throughout overtime and the tail end of the second period, the CBJ did manage to pump up the volume and fire right back, but you can't always beat fire with fire.


-Tellqvist might be nothing more than Maple Leafs' droppings, but he became big money from the end of the third period all the way through overtime, and into the shootout. I'm going to have nightmares about that save on Svitov(?) he made in overtime, despite the slick spin-o-rama.

Either way, a loss was invevitable sooner or later. I refuse to be some "THE SKY IS FALLING!" doomsayer over one loss, but this will bring up some good questions: how will the team handle a loss after such a strong winning streak? What will Ken Hitchcock do in response to this? Can the power play, which was on fire at the start of the weekend against a distraught Ottawa team, be salvaged?

Take solace in the fact that this was an overtime loss, Blue Jackets fans, meaning we still get a point. Also take solace in the fact that the team a step above us in the Central division standings, the Blackhawks, lost tonight to the Red Wings.

Lastly? Take solace in the fact that Rick Nash really does look like he's coming around, along with David Vyborny and Sergei Fedorov. We can all appreciate the energy that Nash put out tonight, as he practically gave this team a win they really should have had no right to have.

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Image post at second intermission.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

That pretty much sums up things when they were down 4-2.

Silly images and D&D references over. Third period now.

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Marching through the South, and doing it with a swagger.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Well, hot diggity damn! We got ourselves even more firsts after tonight!

-First win ever against the Dallas Stars at the American Airlines Center.

-First ever four game road winning streak.

How about them apples, huh? Suddenly, after being at death's door just a couple of weeks ago, the team is just a quintuple (that's five for you laymen and laywomen) of games under .500. But they can't go sitting back on their heels or anything; they have another game on Thursday against the 'Yotes (who they've now passed in the conference standings as of tonight), and then a game at home against the equally surging Chicago Blackhawks, who just keep winning or getting OTL/SOL points to keep the Jackets at bay in the division (tonight's win over St. Louis gives the Blackhawks a staggering 8-game point streak).

But let's not get ahead of ourselves here. The focus of this entry should be on tonight's game. This game was a nail biter from start to finish, and there was a lot of reasons that it was as such. First, and probably the most obvious issue ... the penalties. Blue Jackets fans are no strangers to this team's penalty box march whenever they're not on their game, and tonight was one of the worst for the team. A total of nine penalties, with eight of them giving the Stars power play opportunities. What's more, the Stars had at least three two 5-on-3 opportunities, with each of them lasting a good while. Somehow through a combination of pure luck, amazing skill, and an inhuman goaltender, the team managed to only give up one goal when on the penalty kill. Fredrik Norrena once again deserves all the praise he could possibly be given for tonight's performance, turning away just about everything that was thrown at him.

The defense on both the penalty kill and even strength was stunning. Amazing, even! And who was one of the better surprises? Rick Nash, who as of late has been thrown in to defensive situations all thanks to Hitchcock's desire to see every last player taking the body and ensuring shots don't happen. Nikolai Zherdev also got in on the act, making a fine dive to the ice and blocking a shot with his skate during the penalty kill as well. Regardless of the lack of points, the young guns are playing extremely well-rounded hockey.

Speaking of young guns, how about Dan Fritsche? Once again he was all over the ice, zipping and zagging and pretty much being everywhere at the same time. And it was that persistent play that got him the game winning goal after a Marty Turco flub in the third period.

Actually, Turco deserves practically all the credit for this CBJ win, as he also completed botched his puck handling when he strayed extremely far from the net in the early part of the second period, coughing it up for a pressuring David Vyborny, who in turn tossed the biscuit into a gaping wide open net for his first goal in 17 games. But who cares if it was gift wrapped by Turco, right? In the end, Vyborny snaps a goalless drought that must have really been driving him batty.

Back on Fritsche, it must be total justice that it was the Ohio State University forward fan and Ohio native (thanks, jacko!) who got the game winner against the goalie from the University of Michigan.

Not to be outdone by either "Parma" or Vibes, Jason Chimera sealed the deal in the tail end of the third period with a speedy breakaway opportunity. He might not have a lot of moves, but if you were lucky enough to see that "shuck and jive" move that Chimmer pulled to totally fake out Turco, you got to give credit to him. Seriously, it was like watching a boxer feign from side to side before going in for the punch.

This was the statement game that the Jackets had desperately been needing. With the only legitimate injury to their opponents being one player in Mike Modano while a handful of Jackets are down and out (even with Zherdev's return tonight), this team stuck it to the third best team in the west, despite penalty gaffes that haunted them all night along and forced them to play some iron clad defense most of the game more than anything else.

Get ready for the game on Thursday in Phoenix, folks. One more win and this team can tie their franchise record six-game winning streak only achieved last season.

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Game #29: Blue Jackets at Stars

Tuesday, December 12, 2006
Team: Columbus Blue Jackets
Record: 10-16-1-1
On the road: 5-9-0-0
Last 10: 5-4-0-1
Bloggers and local media:
Death Cab for Woody
End of the Bench
The Jacket Times
Back from oblivion - The Columbus Dispatch (Portzline)

Admittedly, Portzline's article titled "Back from oblivion" pretty nicely sums up how things are going. Just a week and a couple of days ago, the CBJ were a whopping 10 games under .500. I swore to myself that if they dropped below the -10 game mark, that it was over. Game over. No matter what, it was time to take a deep breath and just enjoy the season.

And of course, I still am enjoying the season! However instead of resigning myself to it, I find myself eager and accepting of what is to come, even if the team stumbles somewhere down the line.

Tonight is definitely going to be a game to use as a measuring stick. The Jackets have never won against the Dallas Stars when playing at American Airlines Center, and the Stars are, for all intents and purposes, the third best team in the Western Conference, despite seeding due to divisional leaders.

The games on Saturday and Sunday were hopefully not a flash in the pan for Rick Nash. Four points in two games (two assists the first, then a couple of goals the next day) is a good way to show that you're starting to get comfortable with a new system. Dan Fritsche is still blowing people out of the water left and right, and has all of 7 points in the last 4 games. What's more, one more point and he'll tie his 13 point tally from last season, in which he played a total of 59 games.

Of concern, as mentioned in the previous post, is injuries to both Adam Foote and Pascal Leclaire. The bad news? Neither Foote or Leclaire is going to play tonight, and Pazzy is most likely out for the full week. The good news? While Foote is a definite scratch for tonight, there's hope that he'll be ready by Thursday's game in Phoenix. Pazzy, meanwhile, is kicking it back in Columbus with a sprained knee, and should be ready in about a week if things go well. In his own words, he'll be busy "spend(ing) a few days watching movies and playing video games". Godspeed, Pazzy's knee!

With Foote and Pazzy out, Filip Novak and Ty Conklin have been brought up from the 'Cuse. For the love of all that is right in the world, Steady Freddie, do not get injured! Please!!

Team: Dallas Stars
Record: 20-10-0-0
At home: 11-3-0-0
Last 10: 6-4-0-0
Bloggers and local media:
Razor With an Edge
Andrew's Dallas Stars Page
Columbus at Dallas preview - Dallas Morning News

A couple of shutouts here, a shutout against the Oilers there, and then an overtime win against the 'Yotes. That's pretty much the Stars' month in a nutshell so far. After a three game losing streak to wrap up the month of November, Dallas has come back strong save for a hiccup at home against Edmonton.

It seems only like yesterday that I was in high school, cheering against the Hitchcock-led Stars in the Stanley Cup Finals as my childhood love Devils beat this team 4-2 in the series. But that's so long ago now that it's not worth getting in to that any more!

In a weird sense, the Stars are what the Blue Jackets are trying to become over this month. They rank in the lower tier in goals for (17th), yet are 3rd for goals against thanks to Marty Turco's stellar play so far (.922 save percentage). A shots for that ranks a mediocre 23rd, yet a shots against that ranks 2nd. An below average power play (19th), but 4th place in the league when it comes to the penalty kill.

With the exception of the power play (the CBJ are actually now 16th thanks to the other night's PP smorgasbord), the Stars really are like a souped up version of the Jackets on paper.

On their sides of the injuries department, their top scorer and point getter -- Mike Modano -- is out with a hip flexor, and will not be back for this game. Eric Lindros, the King of Koncussions (that was painful to misspell on purpose ... my inner spelling nazi weeps), is making his return tonight after a bit of a foot injury about a week or so ago.

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Ohhhh nooooo~!

Monday, December 11, 2006
Guess who's back!? Back again!?

Conklin's back! Tell a friend!

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Maybe if I was a little better at Photoshop, I could put Hitchcock's head atop Joshua Chamberlain's in that picture. But, hey, it still works! Now I feel like watching Gettysburg sometime today, though, thanks to the image.

But, what a game! I could prattle on forever about the awesome things that happened as I watched from dead center in the upper bowl! Five power play goals (making the Blue Jackets jump from 21st in the league to 15th on the power play) on 11 chances, two goals by Nash, two goals by Fritsche, the first Shelley fight in an eternity, an amazing triple save in the first period by Pascal Leclaire that should be on TSN's top plays, and so on and so forth.

This game was chippy; and I mean extremely chippy. Even disregarding the disgusting checking from behind major penalty (and game misconduct) by the Senator's Andrej Meszaros, both teams went at each other's throats from start to finish. One person that I definitely want to thank from the Sen's is Antoin Vermette, who had a whopping 4 of the 12 penalties that the Senators picked up.

There was scrums throughout the game at many points, as the teams banged and beat each other up, tossing one another into the boards and down on to their asses like rag dolls.

It almost makes me sad that the Blue Jackets would only ever see the Senators again this season if both teams made it to the Finals (hah! Wishful thinking). This is the kind of wild and high-energy game you just love to see, and you can tell that if these two teams met any more this season, it'd be downright venomous. Oh, and winning by a 6-2 margin helps that hatred out as well.

There's a few things of concern that need to be mentioned, however, all pertaining to the injury department: first one is Adam Foote, who left early in the game with a "lower body injury". At the moment the prognosis isn't bad, from what I gathered at last night's post-game radio show at the Bud Light Arena Pub, but there's still nothing concrete concerning whether he'll be ready by Tuesday for the game against the Dallas Stars.

Other injuries included Anson Carter and Alexandre Picard. Carter left after a collision on the ice later in the game, but feels fine and was only kept out since it was, well, 5-0 at that time in the third period. Picard, meanwhile, left the game after the vicious hit by Meszaros, but also looks to be fine and ready to play.

The biggest concern, sadly, comes from the injury Pascal Leclaire suffered with just several minutes left in the second period. Even before he hunched over on the ice after stretching from post to post for his last save, Pazzy was really hurting, and looked to be really trying to keep up with the game for at least a little while longer before he just couldn't take it. An MRI looks to be scheduled for today, and all you can do is hope for the best.

Steady Freddie came in to take over, and gave up two goals in the third period. Even though it was only on 16 shots in all, you got to give him a pass on the below .900 save percentage. The man, who has been a workhorse the previous three games, was called in to duty in a game he truly didn't expect to be playing. Even disregarding the save percentage, he still did a great job keeping things stable in net.

While at the post-game, I have to admit I laughed at what Bill Davidge and George Matthews relayed what Hitchcock said in response to this question: "If Norrena had gone down, what would you have done next?"

While not verbatim, he said: "I'd put myself in net. I'd definitely have the advantage in covering it up post to post."

Ahh, self-deprecation. Hithcock, you're the epitome of awesome.

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Game #28: Blue Jackets vs. Senators

Sunday, December 10, 2006
Only have an hour to try and finish my PowerPoint assignment on international markets and economies before I take the bus downtown to go to the game, so I'll keep this short:

-Blue Jackets win third in a row.

-Nash finally gets a couple points, Feddy gets a trio, Vyborny gets a couple, and the third line is still clicking well.

-Norrena lost his shutout streak, but still played great.

-Ottawa in town for first time since in forever.

-Leclaire in net tonight. Pray for offense, since he hasn't gotten any in his starts (hasn't won in over a month at that).

And I'm out!

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Game #27: Blue Jackets at Blues

Saturday, December 09, 2006
Team: Columbus Blue Jackets
Record: 8-16-1-1
On the road: 4-9-0-0
Last 10: 3-6-0-1
Bloggers and local media:
Death Cab for Woody
End of the Bench
The Jacket Times
Eriksson a valuable blue-liner - The Columbus Dispatch


Okay, so I was extremely overenthusiastic in that last post. I really have no idea what came over me. You know it's bad when a two-game winning streak makes you act like a spaz!

But it can't be denied that the Blue Jackets have played inspired hockey in both their two wins, and then in two hard losses prior to that. The defense has tightened up, every player is using the body and landing some strong hits, the goalies are in a league of their own right now, and the checking line has shown the same sort of point production that it did during the second half of last season. Things are looking good, and the Blue Jackets have a chance to get Ken Hitchcock in to the winning record column as the CBJ head coach tonight.

Again, the problem is the lack of offense from the big name players. Ever since his four point eruption a few weeks ago against the Minnesota Wild, Sergei Fedorov has gone scoreless in four games. Rick Nash, meanwhile, has all of one goal in the six games under Hitchcock, and has looked largely befuddled and sort of out of place on the ice. He's putting the body on players and is hustling, but something seems to just be slightly off. It's hopefully just a matter of time before he is able to turn on the juice again. Nikolai Zherdev, meanwhile, will not be playing either game scheduled for this weekend due to injury.

In net tonight will be every CBJ fan's current mancrush, Fredrik Norrena. Can he go for three shutouts? Hell, I'd be excited if he can even get an extra period notched on to that streak he has going! Of course, now that I've said that, I've probably jinxed him and the team to a 10-2 whitewash. Be sure to send superstitious-inspired hate mail to the proper e-mail address!

Team: St. Louis Blues
Record: 7-16-4-0
At home: 4-8-1-1
Last 10: 2-7-1-0
Bloggers and local media:
Blue Note Blog
Ingmar Bergman

Injuries open chance in net for Bacashihua - St. Louis Post-Dispatch

And then there's the other team sitting alongside the Blue Jackets in the basement of not only the Central Division, and not only the Western Conference, but also the league. The Blues have had a rough time recently, with four of their recent six games being against some tough teams, including a home-and-home against the Red Wings where they pulled off getting a point in an OTL in the back end. Not so impressive, though, when you realize that was after they gave up a three goal lead in that game. Regardless, the team is on a season-high five game losing streak, and is looking to avoid making it last any longer.

Dallas Drake, one of the Blues more recognized names, is out this game and the next after being suspended for a pretty vicious hit on the Red Wings' Brett Lebda. Didn't get a penalty or anything, but it looks like the league decided to give it another look since it appears that Lebda has been injured as a result.

But suspended players aren't the only woes that the Blues have to deal with when it comes to players who are out. Much has been made of the fact that both of the team's main goalies, Curtis Sanford and Manny Legace, are out with injuries. You know it's bad when one of those goalies is out (Legace) as a result of being knocked unconscious by a puck to the helmet. You really got to feel bad for Legace, considering where he was in the team food chain just last season.

In their place, backups from the minors are with the team, and Jason Bacashihua will be in net. Don't let the fact that Bacashihua is the backup's backup fool you, though; even considering the team's meltdown against Detroit on Thursday, the guy made 39 saves on 43 shots, and has been mentioned several times as the statistically superior goalie for the Blues during the pre-season.

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God Mode on: Norrena = hax user.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Well, then! What few things happened last night that have never before happened in Blue Jackets' history? Let's review:

-First win against the Colorado Avalanche in regulation.
-First win against the Colorado Avalanche at the Pepsi Center.
-First back-to-back shutout wins for a Blue Jackets' goalie.

Why does it feel like we're not 8-16-2? Why does it feel like we're something like 16-8-2? I'm serious here ... I don't know what it is, but the energy that the Blue Jackets seem to be exuding game after game since Ken Hitchcock's arrival is just so completely contagious, win or lose.

Part of it could be how I heard all about the team being exuberant and celebratory after the win. Not only did Jim Day talk about how he could heard the hooting and hollering from the locker room as he interviewed Fredrik Norrena after the game last night, but even the Denver Post was able to point out "a Blue Jackets dressing room filled with the aroma of numerous boxes of pizza". I sure hope they got some extra cheese and pepperoni pizzas. But let's move on from my own favorite toppings and back to the team.

You want hits? This team has dished out so many recent top hits that the Top 50 countdown can't keep up, and Alexandre Picard is one of the orchestrators behind said hits. Down and dirty goals? Throw Chimera or Malhotra in to the game, or even Anson Carter. Wicked wristers? Of all people, give Ron Hainsey the puck, and something will happen when he goes flicking it hard from the point. Precision shots? Give Modin the biscuit.

Defense? I can't believe it, but Anders Eriksson is your man. Besides his top +/- rating on the team, there isn't a soul alive who can deny that ol' Bubba has saved two goals thanks to perfect placement of body and stick, one in Edmonton and one in Colorado.

Goaltending? Does anything even need to be said? Well, if I must ... freakin' "Steady Freddie"! Yes, Jeff Rimer deserves all the credit for that nickname, which is about as good a one as I've heard out of the guy so far this season. And don't forget Pascal Leclaire. Despite the two losses prior to Norrena's dominance in net, Leclaire has been just as impressive in losses to Vancouver and Calgary, his losses coming at the hands of a team that will still drop the ball when it comes to offensive support, as well as some controversial issues involving replays, "inconclusive evidence", and goal celebrations so bloody insane that several people took it to task during yesterday's governors' meetings, if Doug MacLean is believable during his show on the radio today.

There's really just so much pent up energy coming from both fans and players alike, it seems. This is the first back to back wins for the Jackets since just the second and third games of the season. Early October seems so very long ago, and it's like a breath of fresh air. The fact that this now helps the Jackets claw upwards from dead last in the league to 29th (4th division and 14th conference respectively) also makes me feel good. I don't really care if it is still second to last, either.

Right now, I want to ride this high and just take things as they go. Forget about agonizing over how many points out of the playoff hunt the team is, or the total dry spell that some of the other top players have had to deal with recently (such as Nash, of course). Two wins mean a lot to this team, and there's three days before us fans can once again gear up and get excited about a game, when the Jackets head on down to St. Louis.

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About Me

Name: Michael
Home: San Tan Valley, Arizona, United States
About Me: A mid-20s male who feels much too old even before he's 30. Has a degree in Sport Management and after branching out and trying a few other things in the job market, has finally decided to go back to his first love of hockey and hope he can break in with a team, big or small, somehow.
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