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Game #52: Blue Jackets at HALIBURTON'S BEST FRIEND! (Oilers)

Wednesday, January 31, 2007
Team: Columbus Blue Jackets
Record: 21-25-5
On the road: 15-10-2
Last 10: 5-4-1
Bloggers and local media:
Death Cab for Woody
End of the Bench
The Jacket Times
Goalie gone, not forgotten - Columbus Dispatch (Portzline)





Synopsis:
Man, good thing I held off on the game day pre-game post, huh? Today's Doug MacLean Show was very informative when it came to several things concerning the Blue Jackets. Let's start off with the biggest bit of news ... Bryan Berard is back!

It's unbelievable, isn't it? Actually, most people -- including myself -- had presumed that Berard would not be back until, at the earliest, Friday in Calgary. But here One-Eye is, back hopefully now fully mended and ready to get on the ice and help out a Blue Jackets team that is currently in an extremely tough dogfight with just 31 games left in the season.


Even though I'm excited, I expect little from Berard tonight. While I hope that he will have an impact on the CBJ right off the bat, I also know that after missing 82 consecutive games since last season he deserves some slack as he transitions back in to the NHL. Godspeed, Bryan ... all Blue Jackets' fans look forward to seeing you add some more bite to a power play that needs it.

In lieu of Berard's return, Aaron Johnson will be desk jockeying in the press booth tonight.

Meanwhile, other ongoing events with the Blue Jackets concern the fact that one game has been dropped by NBC that was originally going to be a Blue Jackets vs. Blues tilt, which is scheduled for March 25th. Apparently NBC was planning to drop two games that involved the Blue Jackets, but a rather miffed NHL put their foot down and made the station not drop the February 11th match-up against the Blackhawks.

The NHL? Helping the Blue Jackets? I don't believe it! Either way, it's a sad but sobering reality that if NBC wants to get better ratings, teams like the Blue Jackets and Blackhawks are not going to invite viewers on the national scale. At the very least, they'll be keeping two of their games instead of just one, which would be against the Red Wings.

Last and not least, let's all not forget that tonight is Ty Conklin's big return to Edmonton, after he was made the goat of the Stanley Cup Finals, due to what most every hockey fan remembers happening the very first game. Opposite of him is not going to be Dwayne Roloson in the Oilers' net, but instead Jussi Markkanen, who was Conklin's counterpart last season as they both battled for the starting role for Edmonton, prior to Roloson's arrival.

Don't expect any love whatsoever from Oilers' fans. As Conklin says in his interview in The Columbus Dispatch today, he doesn't expect a venomous response equal to Chris Pronger's, but he also knows not to expect warm hugs and "Welcome home, Conks!" flyers.



Team: Edmonton Oilers
Record: 24-22-4
At home: 15-10-2
Last 10: 5-4-1
Bloggers and local media:
The Battle of Alberta
Covered in Oil
Hot Oil
Oil might count on Jussi tonight - Edmonton Sun




Synopsis:
Loss, Loss, Win, Win, Loss, Loss, Win, Win, Loss, Loss, Win ... [tonight's results]?

I don't like the looks of this. Not one bit. Even though the Oil is struggling, is stuck in 10th place in the conference, and can't seem to string together any sort of winning streak that goes beyond two (not since early December at least), the Oilers can still be dominating. They can still kick the Blue Jackets' ass, to be quite frank.

Leading scorer Ryan Smyth has all of 8 points in the past 4 games, with 4 of them coming against the Kings just over the weekend. Speaking of which, the Oil has had a whole three to four days to get some rest, and while certainly one could spin that in a way to say that they may be rusty, also consider that the Blue Jackets are coming off a dramatic game less than 24 hours ago in Vancouver.

As mentioned before, Jussi will be in net. His record against the Blue Jackets all-time? 4-1-1-1, along with a staggering 1.60 GAA and .938 save percentage. With the exception of an implosion against Vancouver at the end of December, he's also put up good shows against Phoenix and Los Angeles in his past five games.

Season series is tied 1-1, with the away team slamming the home team each time. Let's hope that stays that way for this game, considering just how important it is.

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If I was (STILL) a hockey player ...




Memories ... memories ...

Well, while I wait for the Doug MacLean Show to start at 3 PM before I make a game day post, I figure I'll kill some time and follow the crowd when it comes to memes.

Team: New Columbus Red Jackets (hah!)

Uniform #: 26 ... because, well, I was 26 at Allegheny College the year I played there. Why? Memories of when I lived at the address 26 Garthwaite Terrace.

Position: Center

Nickname: After going through NHL 07's nickname list, I decided on Moose, only because -- and this is rather insane -- an artist friend of mine who enjoys putting personality-specific "features" on her friends when drawing is obsessed with me having moose antlers. Seriously, don't ask.

Dream linemates: Jason Chimera and John Madden. Seriously, it'd be like watching two fighter jets zip around on the ice.

Rounding out the Power Play: Scott Niedermayer and Bryan Berard. Wonky eye or not, Berard's still got the power play instincts of a hawk.

Job: Net crashing in the offensive zone, and looking for breakout opportunities in the defensive zone.

Signature move: Twisted wristers.

Strengths: Highly intelligent analyzation of what's going on at all times around the ice.

Weakness: Overthinking and over committing when applying pressure.

Equipment: My Canadien 600 wooden stick. Been faithful to me since day one, and has yet to break!

Nemesis: Tough one. I guess Darius Kasparaitis is the only guy that comes to mind that I'd get a kick out of going at it with in a fight.

Scandal involvement: Falling asleep during team meetings and causing dramatic locker room issues, a la Terrell Owens.

Who I'd face in the Stanley Cup Finals: Carolina Hurricanes. Because I have an intense, irrational hatred for all things Dixon-y.

What I'd do with the Stanley Cup after our victory: Gloat. Gloat so much that I'd make even Muhammad Ali look sheepish and reserved.

Would the media love me or hate me: A little bit of both. I'd probably get a lot of love as someone who actually shows passion when on the record compared to most vanilla-flavored hockey players, but also annoying at times for being too honest.

Next up: Normally I avoid tagging, but I'm feeling particularly sadistic today! So I tag Drew and Sherry.

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What has Photoshop done!?

He's coming ...


Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting


... every Oilers' fan's nightmare returns!


Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting


DUN DUN DUUNNNNNNNNNNN!!

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Game #51: Blue Jack-- ... *Snore.*

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Too tired, too drained, and just plain too dead to do a pre-game. So instead, have a picture of a sleeping golden retriever to symbolize my lack of energy.

What little energy I have left is being conserved to stay up and watch the game tonight. Stupid 10 PM EST start time. I hate you just on the grounds that you're all the way in the Pacific Time Zone, Vancouver!

Top 15 cable program, or 76% ratings plummet?

Monday, January 29, 2007
Oh, ESPN; what won't you do when trying to knock the NHL down a peg (not that there are many pegs to knock out, anyway).

Readers of Kukla's Korner will recall last week when Paul put up some numbers concerning the All-Star Games ratings. The most positive point to be made? That VERSUS, and the ASG by association, was in the top 15 cable network for all ad-supported television. Not bad, right?

Don't tell that to ESPN, though. In this article released by the Associated Press (and then chosen as the pick of the litter for ESPN to post up on ESPN.com), no mention is made of that. In fact, the "fuzzy math" comparison of the All-Star Game to American Idol is made, despite the fact that as we all well know, Idol's home is FOX, which is not a cable channel and as such is in virtually every single household in the country that has a television.

Don't get me wrong, I'm not denying the ratings drop. But regardless, this is an almost dead-on example of trying to compare apples to oranges just to make something look bad. Though I guess in that case, it's more like comparing a fresh apple to a moldy apple.

Whatever. I got work to get ready for. Public transportation, hooooo!

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How to run the table in Week 18.

Sunday, January 28, 2007
Whether pundits want to agree with my position on this or not, the Blue Jackets still have a feasible outside chance of making the playoffs. Keep in mind that at the start of games just after the All-Star Break, there was enough writers out there saying that the St. Louis Blues have a fighting chance as well. After the first few games since returning from the break, the Jackets are now just a trio of points behind the Blues.

Either way, the scenario involving them making it to the big dance seems just about impossible when you look at it, no matter how rosy your glasses may be. There's a lot of things that need to go right, and for all intents and purposes, the CBJ need to run the table. Let's not start to meticulously go over each and every game left this season, though; it'd be more frustrating than anything, and most likely a lot more intimidating to Jackets' fans (and myself). Instead, let's start looking at the next 10 (and final) weeks of the season one at a time.

Currently we are on Week 18, or are just starting it. Here's how the current standings from the 8th seed to the 13th seed look:


11 points between #13 (Columbus) and #8 (Minnesota). Just as an aside, only 2 points are between Minnesota and the #3 seed Calgary, due to the Northwest's ... well, I'll be nice and say it has to do with the Northwest's "strong inner-divisional competition." Let's also remember that Colorado just lost to Detroit in regulation earlier today, so change their game count to 49.

Let's take a look at each team's schedule between now and February 3rd now, starting with Minnesota.

---------------------------------
Minnesota Wild (51 games)
January 30th: @ St. Louis Blues
February 1st: @ Colorado Avalanche
February 3rd: @ Phoenix Coyotes

Colorado Avalanche (49 games)
January 30th: vs. Nashville Predators
February 1st: vs. Minnesota Wild
February 3rd: vs. Edmonton Oilers

Edmonton Oilers (50 games)
January 31st: vs. Columbus Blue Jackets
February 1st: @ Vancouver Canucks
February 3rd: @ Colorado Avalanche

Phoenix Coyotes (50 games)
January 31st: @ Anaheim Ducks
February 1st: vs. Nashville Predators
February 3rd: vs. Minnesota Wild

St. Louis Blues (50 games)
January 30th: vs. Minnesota Wild
February 2nd: @ Detroit Red Wings
February 3rd: vs. Dallas Stars

Columbus Blue Jackets (50 games)
January 30th: @ Vancouver Canucks
January 31st: @ Edmonton Oilers
February 2nd: @ Calgary Flames
---------------------------------

Extremely complex, huh? No intra-conference games, and a whole lot of inner-divisional games between teams.

There's really only one certain thing that you can hope for right off the bat, which is that Minnesota's losing ways continue on the road, now that their four game road win streak has been snapped by the Blue Jackets.

After that, things take a slightly complex turn, when you need to consider that if either Edmonton or Colorado win all their games this week, that the minimal points required for the 8th spot will be higher by next week (barring any Minnesota wins, of course). Edmonton and Colorado face each other this week as well. Here is exactly what needs to happen between these teams for the best point gain this week while other teams don't budge:

Columbus has to beat Edmonton, while Colorado has to beat Minnesota. After that, Edmonton or Nashville has to beat Colorado. This will, at the least, mean only one of those teams gets up to 56 points alongside Minnesota.

The probability of all of this happening? Oh, probably 0.000000009% ... give or take a millionth of a percent.

But now you know what needs to happen for the Blue Jackets to get as close as possible to the #8 seed by the end of the week. And the closest they can get if everything goes right? Out 5 points.

Really puts things in to perspective, doesn't it?

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Just hang in there, baby.


That definitely has to be the current mantra for the Blue Jackets, who have now lost backup goaltender Fredrik Norrena for at least a week, adding a sobering touch to the 3-2 victory over Minnesota last night amidst a third straight sell-out crowd (this time selling out without the help of Sabres' or Red Wings' fans coming down!).

Unfortunately for me, I was not able to catch Norrena's injury live, but I've watched the replays and recaps on NHL.com and TSN, and I'm still sort of dumbfounded as to how he may have gotten this "lower body injury" amidst being scored upon during the 5-on-3 penalty kill. No matter how many times I watch the replay, it seems just like a routine play: Norrena drops down to shut the five hole, puck still gets in, yet Norrena isn't able to get up. Maybe he bent the wrong way?

I wish I had the medical experience and expertise that Christy did right about now.

Ty Conklin then had to come in and hold down the fort, which he did quite admirably. One great pad save on an odd-man rush, followed by a dinger off the mask later on, Conklin managed to make 15 saves on 16 shots in just over a period's worth of play time. The one goal he let in was more the fault of the defense, who lagged behind as Pascal Dupuis bolted in and tipped a pass from Mikko Koivu in the third period.

The ramifications that this can have on the team are pretty dire, as the backup to the backup to the backup is highly untested, 2005 draft pick Tomas Popperle. Popperle, some might remember, did have a respectably strong outing during the pre-season, where he shut down the Nashville Predators and made 23 saves on 23 shots. However later on both he and Norrena, who were sharing duty in a later Predators' game, got manhandled for four goals apiece in an 8-1 whitewashing. Originally, I had projected that Popperle had an outside chance to play backup to Pascal Leclaire, since Conklin had the NHL experience while Norrena was the international veteran.

Fortunately the team has the next two days off before they begin a three game swing through Canada, starting with the Canucks on Tuesday. The Jackets' road woes are well-documented, especially when it comes to the fact that 9 of the 11 shutouts they've been handed to them have come on the road, with 5 of those coming in the last 10 road games.

This team is going to have to really pull through, when you consider that they're facing All-Stars Roberto Luongo and Miika Kiprusoff, as well as Dwayne Roloson at the opposing end of the ice this week. It isn't going to be pretty, and if the Jackets want to mount any sort of second half pressure on the other teams scratching and clawing for points in the standings, they need to come out of this trip with, at the least, one win. If they can do that, then they'll have some reprieve to look forward to when they return for a six-game homestead starting next week.

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Game #50: Blue Jackets vs. EVIL EXPANSION TWIN! (Wild)

Saturday, January 27, 2007
Team: Columbus Blue Jackets
Record: 19-25-5
At home: 11-10-3
Last 10: 4-5-1
Bloggers and local media:
Death Cab for Woody
End of the Bench
The Jacket Times
Jackets make noise - Columbus Dispatch (Arace)





Synopsis:
Before I get in to the nitty gritty of today's game, I just want to make sure everything is clear concerning my post from this morning.

Although I made sure to emphasize the fact that the only Sabres' fans that I was talking about were the majority of ones that came in droves to Nationwide and were particularly stationed in the upper bowl, I want everyone to understand that I don't think this way of Sabres' fans as a whole. Not before, not now, and I never will.


A lot of Sabres' fans have been very quick to apologize for the action of their co-fans, and I totally understand what they have to deal with, and extremely appreciate every last one, even though they don't have to take any responsibility, nor is it their obligation. When you're a Devils' fan (secondary, that is!), you know all too well just how often you deal with bandwagoners whenever they win a Stanley Cup. Another member and Blue Jackets' fan of the HFBoards was quick to point out that sooner or later, when the Blue Jackets do become a competitive and playoff-bound team, that we will also start to bring in bandwagoners who are on board just to make asses of themselves and have a good time, but at the obnoxious expense of o
ther people around them, be it at home or at other arenas they invade. So I know that I am also going to do everything I can to do damage control when that happens as well, and ensure that everyone knows Blue Jackets' fans are also not like that.

Now! With that out of the way, let's get to the game, alright?

Going in to tonight's fourth and final match with the Wild for the season, the Jackets are playing strongly, and they are playing soundly. Rick Nash has been able to bring some of that All-Star Game mojo back with him, and was the very first Blue Jacket to score in last night's 3-2 win during an early power play opportunity in the first period.


But Nasher isn't the only story of last night. As Aaron Portzline reported this morning in The Columbus Dispatch, a lot of last night's energy later in the game had to do with Hitchcock's matching up of the CBJ's checking line with the Sabres' second line. Parma (Dan Fritsche) has become an extremely clutch player in his own right as the season has gone on, playing as though he was a bat out of Hell whenever he's on the ice. It's almost unreal that at the start of the season, Fritsche almost wasn't even signed. Now he's only got 4 less goals than Nasher, and has already eclipsed his season point high from last season of 13 in 59 games with 21 points in 45 games. He's also one of a few Blue Jackets' players who can proclaim that they don't have a negative +/- after last night, now at an even 0 on the season.

I worry about how much gas is left in the tank tonight, though. Last night was exhausting just for the fans to watch, so who knows if the CBJ themselves have even an ounce of gas left, or if they'll be running on fumes. Remember that after they beat a dominant Anaheim Ducks team in dramatic fashion earlier this month, they went on a downward spiral afterwards.




Team: Minnesota Wild
Record: 26-20-4
On the road: 8-15-1
Last 10: 5-3-2
Bloggers and local media:
Wild Puck Banter
Wild forces its nemesis to fold - Star Tribune





Synopsis:
Last meeting of the season against the expansion brothers, and it's a good thing that it's at home against the Wild, who suffer from a bad case of homesickness whenever they're on the road!

... or do they? Minnesota's road record is a little misleading at the moment, as the Wild have managed to notch a four game winning streak when away from the confines of the XCel Energy Center, and are looking to make it five tonight at Nationwide. They also played last night, playing host to the Flames, and squeaking by their division foes with a 2-1 shootout win. Niklas Backstrom, who started the game for Minnesota, faced a below average 24 shots and made every save but one.

Minnesota is currently clutching to the eighth and final playoff spot in the West, and is definitely not going to be releasing it without a fight. Of course the funny thing about them being in eighth place is that with just one win, they'd suddenly be in 3rd place due to just how few points every team in the Northwest Division has compared to the rest of the West, and the other division leaders. Talk about crazy.

As everyone probably already knows, Minnesota is known for their defense. Backstrom is most likely going to get the start tonight, with Manny Fernandez currently out due to a knee injury. This can certainly work in the Jackets' favor, as the last time they faced Backstrom was during backup duty, where he was beat for 2 goals on 10 shots in a 5-3 win at home. On the other hand, Backstrom is playing quite well right now, touting a better GAA and save percentage than Fernandez, who was supposed to be their #1 goalie coming in to this season.

Weaknesses? Well, looking at their rank when it comes to goals, goals against, etc. ... the only real chink they have is the fact that they're also in the bottom 10 for goals for in the league (however they've scored 5, 3, and 4 goals against the Jackets in their three games ... so, eh). Their power play and penalty kill is statistically better, and they hover about average in shots for and against. In essence, the Wild are middle of the pack, which pretty much fits well with their current rank in the Western Conference.

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You don't have to go home, but you DEFINITELY can't stay here.

The AotO Seal of Get The F[rig] Out


This post isn't going to be about last night's game itself. This post is going to be about the behavior of the Buffalo Sabres' fans who came to Nationwide Arena.

On top of that, my own words will not be the only ones I use. I'm going to take several excerpts from Blue Jackets' posters on the HFBoards, which more or less describe in accurate, agitating detail what it seems that a lot of us felt after last night's game.

------------------

From Bender11:
"And while I have to give props to a lot of the folks there, there was a contingent of Sabres fans around me that were the rudest bunch of ****ing ***holes I've ever had to sit by in any game, home or away.

There's supporting your team, and there's being a ****ing ******* ****ing *******. You would think because they were there en masse they could do or say whatever they damn well felt like. I know it's not everyone who was down here tonight, but some of these guys made the Wings fans look like Gerald Ford.

And what a sorry bunch of sore losers. They make the "troll" posts I read look polite. Suffice to say, it was damn rewarding to be a Jackets' fan among a section of *** whooped Sabre rattlers.

Still, **** 'em all."

From Matt Foley:
"When I was hanging out in the Arena District before the game, I heard a lot of Sabres fans trashing not only our team, but also our arena and our town. Arrogant does not even begin to describe how some of these people behaved. As much as I despise the Wings fans who show up to our games, they had NOTHING on the majority of Sabres fans I witnessed tonight."

From Skraut:
"I always had a soft spot for the Sabres. I have a lot of relatives that live near Buffalo and I've seen 7 games in Buffalo, including my first ever NHL game.

But boy did my attitude change tonight.

Killing time walking through the Blue Line, I got to hear how F-ing horribly biased the F-ing store was because all it carried was "Looser Merchandise." and that the store should show more respect and carry more Sabres gear Sorry the BlueLine still has a ton of Denis gear, why should it stock more items that won't sell.

I got to hear how crappy the city was, the usual junk about us not deserving a franchise, and too many other fun comments.

Then I went out front and into the gauntlet coming from the Frog Bear's padio. I saw 4 year olds booed because they had a Jackets jersey on. I heard a father asked why he was abusing his daughter by having her wear Jackets clothing. Every single CBJ fan that walked past was singled out and booed, including "That F--er on a cell phone" <--- Me [...] Sorry if I sound so bitter, but I always had a good experience with fans in Buffalo thought they were some of the best fans in the league, and was looking forward to them coming to Columbus. Boy was I wrong."

From
Hossua34:
"Congratulations. The conduct of your travelling fans, as a whole, embarassed your team and the city of Buffalo. I know this does not go for all of you (there were AT LEAST five of you who acted like your moms had let you out of the basement before), but chances are if you were wearing a Sabres jersey last night I'm talking right at YOU. That display last night was truly pathetic. Well over half of you arrived to the arena already plastered, and I'm not talking about having-a-good time drunk, but stumbling, slurring and trying to start fights drunk. Most of you *****ed and moaned all night to anyone you could about how pathetic our team and arena is, when you seem to forget that just a few years ago when you were still a better team than us YOU were on the verge of damn bankruptcy. The mental high of a good season has really gone to all of your heads, and I'm confident that when your team comes back to earth there won't even be that many of you in your OWN arena on home games.... Christ, I saw it all last night: Sabres fans booing and jeering at little kids wearing Blue Jackets stuff, Sabres fans flinging full beers into the air, Sabres fans cussing and insulting just about every CBJ fan they saw... Pathetic. By and large, you guys acted like a bunch of drunk high-school kids at homecoming, and NOTHING could have made me happier than seeing the pissed off looks on your face after you lost the the lowly "BJs"."

From mossylog:
"i was in section 204 and they were aholes bad. i was with the big brother/big sisters group and those slug fans were yelling at the kids in our section. complete crap from them."

And lastly, from me:
"I had to be teeth grindingly polite to these drunken, brash, uncouth, disorderly, rude, arrogant [expletives] all night long.

I was up in Section 209 along with a friend. The top two questions we overheard while in the concourse, looking at Blue Jackets' gear in the team kiosks, were ...

1) "Why the hell don't you have any Sabres gear!?"
2) "Do you have any more shot glasses!?"

That's right, shot glasses. And it wasn't just that kiosk, either. Other kiosks we passed by were all out of shot glasses as well, as these lushes apparently went through the supply of them like they were ready to just binge and purge themselves with absinthe or some other insanely hard liquor after the game like it was candy, win or lose.

Even Red Wings' fans are more respectful than this! Sure, they're haughty and they come in with a sense of entitlement, but at least they have the history to back it up! They come in, and despite the mutual detesting, there's at least a healthy respect. And the brash ones are far outnumbered by the rest of the Wings fans.

These Sabres' fans that invaded the upper bowl were beyond repulsive in their behavior. I watched as this one guy spent about 10 minutes just screaming and hollaring at his girlfriend just to the left of that kiosk, all because "She didn't get him his [expletive] food when he asked for it!" And that's just scratching the surface of some of the things I was able to watch happen in front of me. I'll have horror stories from now until the end of the season to wade through.

The only, only thing I'll give them credit for is bringing out the best in the other 70% of fans who were at the arena that actually were Blue Jackets' fans, who did everything humanly possible with their voices to counter as many of the Sabres' cheers and jeers whenever they erupted throughout Nationwide. While the Sabres' fans and bloggers I've gotten to know online have been nothing but class acts, the vast majority of them that came to Columbus should have been beaten with pipes to knock the "sober" back in to them."

------------------

I'm beside myself. I've never been so happy to see the Blue Jackets win, if only because of the [expletive] that these traveling Sabres fans brought to Nationwide, let alone to Columbus as a whole. As Blue Jackets' fans, we all have grown quite accustomed to considering the Red Wings' fans our most hated counterparts. With their smug attitudes and "ho hum another win" look on their faces when they come to Nationwide, it gets under our skin.

But, you know what? After last night, I have a newfound appreciation for them. While the ones that come to our arena may be smug and carry themselves with an air of superiority, they at least deserve credit for having a storied franchise which has actually won Stanley Cups. There might be a dislike, but there's still respect. There's still showings of classiness from them.

These people who came by the busloads from Buffalo, and probably many other areas around there, didn't show the slightest bit of respect. Hitchcock talked about how the place had a playoff atmosphere, right? It was that, and more. Many Blue Jackets fans don't have a real appreciation of a "playoff atmosphere", seeing as this team has yet to even make it to the playoffs ... so I'll sum things up in a way better understood by Ohio brethren:

This was OSU-Michigan right here. I don't need to be in to football or basketball to fully understand the magnitude of the Scarlet and Blue rivalry, and the passion and insanity that it brings. And while this was far from a rivalry, it had every bit as much energy as one.

I have no qualms with the Sabres fans and bloggers who I have communicated with online, or read of their commentary on their team. Like I even said in my own quoted post, they have been nothing but class acts of the highest caliber, capable of speaking with wit, intellect, and a deep understanding of the game.

But the majority of people who came to Nationwide to represent Sabres' fans? No, they were nothing like that. And if it weren't for the fact that their presence caused the Blue Jackets' fans at the game to respond with energy and noise the likes that I've never seen in the past one and a half seasons since after the lockout, I would wish them to never return.

Bear in mind before I came to Columbus, I was New Jersey born and raised, and Devils loyal to the bitter end. I've been around Rangers fans, I've been around Isles fans, and I've been around Flyers fans. But not even Flyers fans -- the most feared in the league -- have anything on the people I saw last night.

I'm spent. I'm out for a couple hours, then back for a pre-game. I'm sure looking forward to tonight's game against the Wild, though!

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Game #49: Blue Jackets vs. UNSTOPPABLE BEASTS! (Sabres)

Friday, January 26, 2007
Team: Columbus Blue Jackets
Record: 18-25-5
At home: 10-10-3
Last 10: 4-5-1
Bloggers and local media:
Death Cab for Woody
End of the Bench
The Jacket Times
Jackets brace for lethal Sabres - Columbus Dispatch (Portzline)





Synopsis:
Do I really need to start writing about the Blue Jackets again? Sigh ... I guess so, huh? After all, this is a Blue Jackets' blog, not a "Lambaste the NHL/Constructively critique the All-Star Game" blog, isn't it?

In a sense, the season almost feels like it's starting over for the Blue Jackets right now, with the one week break that the team has had since a 3-1 win over the hated Red Wings. The Jackets showed a good bit of moxy in that game, especially when they bent yet didn't break against a Wings team looking to crush the CBJ in that third period. Were it not for Fredrik Norrena standing immensely strong, and the defense doing everything it could to cut down on more dangerous shot angles and the like, the game could have turned real bad, real quick.

Rick Nash, who had a strong presentation of his skills at the All-Star Game, should be watched closely tonight. See if he is able to take some of that offensive touch he found at the ASG, and bring it back to games that really do matter this season. It will also be interesting to see how the rest of the team will respond after a week's rest.

Other players of note are Ron Hainsey, who will be returning to the line-up tonight after getting some ample time to rest an injured shoulder. Suspiciously absent from Portzline's coverage of team injuries, however, is anything on Duvie Westcott, who has now been out since 20 days ago with a concussion. Michael Arace mentioned in an article on Monday that Westcott will "eventually" be back, and I took note of the fact that his name came after Pascal Leclaire's, who isn't expected back until at least the start of February.



Team: Buffalo Sabres
Record: 33-12-4
On the road: 17-5-2
Last 10: 4-5-1
Bloggers and local media:
BfloBlog
Sabre Rattling
Sabres vote down balancing act - Buffalo News






Synopsis:

Although Buffalo sort of staggered in to the All-Star Break with 4 losses in their last 6 games, they're still the team to beat in the Eastern Conference, leading the #2 seed -- New Jersey -- by 7 points in the standings. Buffalo has always been touted as one of the teams that has plenty of players that buy in to the team mentality, something which Blue Jackets fans are probably alien to understanding when they see the CBJ aimlessly play their games more often than not. With a tactician like Lindy Ruff, it's no surprise that they're so damn good.

The Sabres also had the largest contingency of All-Stars representing the Eastern Conference at three players, or at the least the most players voted on to the starting roster prior to the complete roster filling by coaches of each conference. Daniel Briere, who won the ASG MVP Award (over runner-up Rick Nash), is always a constant threat, having gotten at least one point in 8 of his last 10 games. Ryan Miller is most likely tonight's goaltender for the Sabres, and he also made the ASG starting roster due to his strong play this season. While he hasn't been the most dominant starting goalie in the league, he's still been money for the Sabres, with a strong .915 save percentage.

So what is the Sabres' weakness? Believe it or not, the Blue Jackets actually out rank the high-powered Sabres in both power play and penalty kill ranking, which are 24th and 20th in the league, respectively (compared to 23rd and 13th). The fact that their power play ranks so low is absolutely shocking, when you consider that they rank #1 in goals this season, a whole 13 more goals than #2 Nashville.

In other words ... don't do stupid stuff with the puck on the power play (which the Jackets are notorious for by simply not shooting the puck), and just stay strong on the penalty kill.

As always, if you're at the game, look for me probably at Sections 209, 211, or 219. My co-worker I am usually with has left for the school semester, however, so I may or may not be relocated. Here's hoping I'm not!

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The All-Star festivities: The good, the bad, and the--Zzzz ...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

And so ended the 55th Annual NHL All-Star Game last night, the first one since before the lockout stoppage, due to a combination of that and the 2006 Winter Olympics ensuring that it would not happen until this year.

The good:
-Hey, hey, what do you say!? Rick Nash, who didn't even deserve an All-Star invitation in lieu of his sluggish play throughout the season so far and low point total for a franchise player, helped lead the charge against the Eastern Conference with a 2 goal and 2 assist night, one of those goals a nice, hard rush towards the net to beat Marty Brodeur (though honestly, the defense gave minimal resistance). If we were to go off of NHL.com and their three stars on the night, then it stands to reason that Nasher was also the runner-up MVP of the game to Buffalo Sabres forward Daniel Briere. I wouldn't read too much in to this, though ... but, you never know, maybe this'll give Nasher some additional confidence when he returns to the team and is ready to play alongside his fellow CBJ on Friday night against Buffalo.

-The All-Star Game was, actually, pretty darn good! Could anyone have asked for a more fun second and third period with guys like Brodeur and Marty Turco keeping the Versus commentators chatting the whole time? The game also had a nice pace to it, and a respectable feel of competitive edge, even without the body checks and hard hits. There was enough jockeying for position around nets and board scrums for pucks that I finished watching with a sense of satisfaction.

-The new jerseys were, to steal a page from Borat, "very nice [insert thumbs up here]". Regardless of the fact that Fatty McBlobbicus won't be able to buy an authentic (or possibly even replica) jersey anymore and wear it to games unless they buy double their normal size when it comes to them, I've come to the realization that this is the best thing for the players when it comes to what they wear on the ice. So far, responses from players seem to be generally positive when it comes to the new jerseys and other parts of the ensemble, though remember to take some comments with a grain of salt (such as Sidney Crosby's), as they might just be shilling for RBK.

Remember to keep a sense of tentative acceptance with the jerseys though, folks. Right now, there isn't a fan out there who knows what the jerseys are going to look like when they're redone accordingly for all 30 teams in the NHL. What looks great as an All-Star jersey might turn out to be the coming of the hockey apocalypse if it doesn't work well with certain logos or colors.

The not-so-good:
-The rail cam was ... well, "cute", to say the least. But it just didn't work for me after the first or second time of the coverage dropping down to it. Keep in mind that the NHL's version of the rail cam, unlike the cameras you'll see when watching speed skating, had a limited degree of freedom when it came to moving around and catching the action. Speed skating rail cams get a lot of track to move around on, giving viewers the opportunity to watch a skater do full laps around the rink without having to stop. The NHL's rail cam, meanwhile, stopped at the blue line, and would have to zoom in (and with a grainy camera) on action in an offensive zone.

There's really two solutions to this. One, start working on an efficient way to get the rail cam to be authentic, in the sense that it has as much freedom as the speed skater cameras, or scrap it and start moving towards the Skycam, that many people know from the NFL.

-The Skills Competition was like eating a bowl of lukewarm chicken soup. It wasn't anything horrible to swallow, but it also wasn't exactly the most tasty meal. Like it'd just been sitting out for about an hour before even being served to the customer.

Food analogies aside, the fact that they held a shootout event three times was just plain boring. The big problem is that the shootout is no longer a novelty, or unique. We see it on a daily basis, and while it's definitely exciting, it also means that if it is going to happen in the Skills Competition, that it has to have the ante upped, to give the fans something interesting to watch.

Someone suggested at Kukla's Korner in a post's comments, I believe, the idea of integrating judging for creativity and trick shots in to the shootout. And that's really not a bad idea, either. Everyone wants to see more shots like Marek Malik's through-the-legs stunner last year, especially if this is going to be a staple of the All-Star festivities.

The league should also consider trying to add in some different events for a bit of variety. Why not try 2-on-1 drills, where two players start at their own blue line, and need to score on an odd-man rush while one defenseman tries to stop them. Or how about cooking up some sort of event for the goalies, who spend the whole time pretty much just eating pucks throughout the two day event? It certainly wouldn't hurt to give them something to do that might be fun for them, and interesting to watch as a fan.

The "It burns us, precious!! Burns usssss!!":
-The Young Stars game was atrocious. Oh my God, there's just no other way to sum it up. It was like watching crap with a side of crap, with additional crap for seconds.

I completely understand that the NHL is trying to shine a bit of a spotlight on the younger generation of players, and with good reason! The league needs to show fans the up and coming rookies of the league, introduce them to us, and show us that we're going to continue to have an influx of young quality forwards, defensemen, and goalies for as long as possible. But this isn't how you do it. This was a total farce, and it either needs to be scrapped altogether, or they need to overhaul the Young Stars game.

It probably didn't help that they treated the kids like second rate players. There was an article I read yesterday about how the players were pretty much thrown in to the workout rooms and meeting rooms to get ready for their game. Talk about disrespectful. If someone out there happens to find the article, please link me to it and I'll slide a link up here for it, too.

-The Canadian Anthem singer made my ears bleed with that twilling voice in the final verse of "O' Canada". The end.

-Rock/Country Singers between periods. DAMN YOU, DALLAS!

And that's it from me for today. I filled my weekly post quota just by posting three entries yesterday!

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My kingdom for a full press area.

Wednesday, January 24, 2007
Three posts in one day? I must be bored.

I'm watching the post-game for the All-Star Game right now, as NHL.com is streaming it. It looks ... dead. I mean dead dead. Deader than the mouse I found dead a month ago in my apartment dead. There's probably no more than, maybe, 4-5 media-type folks at the seats there, as they ask some questions to Joe Sakic, and before then Brendan Shanahan.

It's saddening, really. Look, I understand that this is the All-Star Game, so media representation is hardly a big deal to any newspaper or media outlet in the U.S., and maybe even in Canada to an extent. But the problem is that this looks depressing. Like there's no one there that cares.

Then I remembered this entry made today by Paul over at Kukla's Korner, talking about the recent meeting held by the Pro Hockey Writers Association, where the question about bloggers getting press credentials was brought up.

And really, when you look at the fact that newspapers in the U.S. are leaving the NHL like rats abandoning a sinking ship, what is there to lose? So far the NHL has actually been the vanguard for sports when it comes to welcoming the Internet with open arms, drawing in people with things such as YouTube and Google video uploads, and even the hiring of people such as Paul for regular articles on their website.

Is there anything that the league -- and the individual teams -- has to lose by opening its doors to bloggers and independent writers without any newspaper/media affiliations, and allowing them the ability to get a more up close and personal with the teams or the league? If you want to penetrate the Internet populace, then giving the people who have a hand in the fanbase of the sport on the Internet -- bloggers -- a chance to be more in-depth with their writing and fan following, can only help.

All things considered, by next year's All-Star Game, they may be down to just three people asking questions. Or less.

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Well, gee. Isn't that just the height of "f***ing dandy"?

Football is superior; hockey can't even compare to ice skating.

You know, what's the point? I ask you, my fellow hockey fans, be you just a reader, or even a blogger: what is the point in trying to penetrate the American sports mentality?

These statistics are depressing. In fact, they are more than depressing; they're the type of results that make you want to just spend the next day finding Gary Bettman's personal phone number, calling him up, and telling him that he's better off just relocating the whole league back north of the border.

I'd been procrastinating on a rather long rant for a while now; a rant that really focuses on the fact that the National Hockey League has, for all intents and purposes, died in the minds of the majority of Americans, and some of the many reasons behind that. Not only that, but I wanted to give my own, uneducated yet well-meaning perspective on what the league needs to do to get back any sense of respect in the United States. Obviously I am hardly the first to give an amateur opinion on what will fix the state of the league, and I will not be the last. But that doesn't mean that I don't hope that my ideas won't be considered if some big wig at the NHL Headquarters in New York ever see this entry.

All I know is that I love this sport. And I always will, even when it's dead, dying, and the only place I can find it is in the northernmost reaches of Canada, because even the Canadians in places like Toronto and Ottawa have forsaken it for something like Canadian Football.

Part 1: What the Hell happened to the NHL?
Well, it isn't like this question is that hard to answer.

-Lockouts.
-A lack of a marketable "American" name.*
-A lack of "Americanization".*
-A bad TV deal.*
-A horrible schedule.*

The problems with asterisks? I'm going to touch on those.

A lack of a marketable "American" name/A lack of "Americanization"
This has been something that has been eating at me for a while, however I only again thought about it as I listened to a random episode of NHL Live via NHL.com. A listener both mailed and called in about the fact that even though hockey might be a great sport, it lacks something "American" about it, which -- I hate to admit -- ignorant, me-centric Americans must have if they are to give anything any attention.

Baseball? Oh, please. That's about as American as mom's warm apple pie, the right to bear arms (yee-haw!), bald eagles, and capitalism. Even as the sport continues to diversify, it will always be considered something that Americans created, and Americans will dominate (just don't tell them about that loss to Canada at the World Baseball Classic last year).

Football? Well, let's just skip that, since regardless of how American it is, it's liked by more than 40% of Americans, and considered their favorite sport.

Basketball? Here's the funny thing: a Canadian invented the modern version of the sport, for all intents and purposes. Regardless, it has gained a following in the lower class of the country due to its simplicity. Grab a ball, find a hoop, and you're all set! It also has a strong American contingency in the NBA, even as diversity grows.

Let me ask the readers here a question: can anyone here tell me who near everyone can agree is the best American player in the NHL? Anyone at all? Because there seems to be no clear cut choice. Canadian? Sidney Crosby. Russian? Alex Ovechkin? Japanese? Yutaka Fukufuji (hur, I so funny).

The top American hockey player? I hate to say it, but unless Erik Johnson is the second coming of Bobby Orr, save for the fact he's American, there is no favorite. There is no player we can all agree is the American player right now. There probably isn't even any players that most people could agree are in the top three or top five.

A horrible schedule
How many people in the media have to say it? How about the fact that more than half of the team presidents hate it? What about the fact that practically any fan you talk to loathes it? The schedule's awful. It's horrible. It attempts to breed artificial contempt through repetitive games against divisional rivals, when all it does is annoy both players and fans. The only people who even enjoy this damned schedule is the "Atlantic Cartel" led by the man who I hate to love (even when you move and follow another team, you're a Devils' fan for life), Lou Lamoriello. All because a few teams in the tri-state area want to save on gas money and traveling expenses.

Well, good on you, Atlantic Division. Good on you for penny pinching and letting the rest of the league suffer through at least one more year of this horrible schedule, all because it lets those pampered players not have to spend another hour on an airplane. Oh, boo hoo.

A bad TV deal
For the longest time, I tried to defend the move to VERSUS.

"It'll work out in the long run!" I said with gleeful optimism, my hazel eyes shining like an innocent kid looking for the silver lining in the most darkest of times. "Just watch! OLN will start penetrating more homes and they'll make the NHL their cornerstone in a strong bid to make ESPN no longer the one and only dominant sports network!"

What the [censored] was I thinking when I said that? I must have been delusional at the time. And up until now, I refused to admit that it was a bad decision. All because I didn't want to submit to the mocking, and the jeering, and the laughing that the idiots like and Tony Kornheiser and Tony Reali from ESPN were doing every single day (or rather, any day they ever brought the NHL up) to help fuel the venomous disdain for the sport that most Americans seem to have.

It took too long for VERSUS to turn the corner and start to create better broadcasts, and even now they waffle where it matters, such as with particular color commentators and play-by-play analysts who sound about as exciting as watching grass grow. It took too long for NBC to start and aggressively push their NHL coverage through advertisements during NFL games. And to add to the frustration involved in advertising, ESPN has effectively blocked any and all NHL advertising on their channel, refusing to carry anything by the league so long as they refuse to bed with them and their monopoly on the American sports world.

What does it matter if the league is being treated like a god, if the place it is being treated as such is just a small mound of dirt (VS) behind the shadow of a cathedral (ESPN)?

Part 2: What the Hell can the NHL do?
Unfortunately, firing Gary Bettman isn't possible. Or rather, if it is, it won't be happening any time before I'm 30 (6 more years! Whoooo!), and by then the NHL could very well be an afterthought.

-A new TV deal.
-Continue to ensure the game stays fast and furious.
-A better schedule.
-Work harder towards diversity in the sport.

A new TV deal
Look, anyone with a sense of pride doesn't want to see the NHL return to ESPN. It would be a blow to the league's pride. But then again, pride is a deadly sin, is it not? And in this case, it has more or less been the death knell of the league this season, as it continues to drop further and further in to obscurity.

You can't penetrate the sports market of America if you don't have a single game on ESPN. The NFL, MLB, NBA, and even the MLS have coverage on "The Worldwide Leader in Sports." And no one is even saying that the NHL has to rely only on ESPN, either. Keep in mind that the NBA started off humbly enough, with the league relying on TNT.

But there is a problem you need to consider, though; ESPN has shown just how scathing and how violent they can be towards the NHL both in commentary and coverage ever since the league told them to take a long walk off a short pier after that "revenue sharing" offer. ESPN could very well tell the NHL to fornicate themselves if they continue to try and broadcast games with anyone but ESPN and ABC.

It's a risk the league has to take, though. And the league needs to at least try and work out some sort of deal with ESPN, lest it continue to be assaulted by venomous commentary. I'm no conspiracy theorist, but even a town idiot could see the bias behind many things said during shows like PTI, Around the Horn, The Sports Reporters, and so on. Bear in mind the gallup poll results, and how even while the league may have been unpopular even before the lockout, the fact that they were connected to ESPN shielded them from a lot of criticism and commentary about attendance or television ratings.

A better schedule
Sorry, Atlantic and Southeast Division; but the league needs a better schedule. Everyone is sick and tired of their divisional opponents. I don't want to see the Red Wings and their snotty fans invading Nationwide Arena just as much as the Red Wings fans want to waste time with a pathetic and boring basement dwelling team like the Blue Jackets eight times a year. We, as fans, want variety in our schedule. You want proof of how horrible this schedule is? Just check out Christy's post at Behind the Jersey back in December criticizing the fact that her Wings faced just two teams over the holiday season.


Don't worry, Detroit, we feel your pain ... maybe even worse, actually. Blue Jackets fans will disgustingly recall the "Predators, Avalanche, Predators, Predators" span in November, followed by the "Predators, Predators, Blackhawks, Predators" span just this month. Yeah, way to spread out those division rivalry games ... real smooth.

SO CHANGE THE SCHEDULE!! For God's sake, change it!

Better yet, the new schedule should, for just a year, force the Eastern teams to travel to the Western teams more than the West to the East. Consider it payback for dropping us with this stupid burden of a schedule that hurts one conference just as much as it "helps" the other.

Work harder towards diversity in the sport
You want to see the league expand its fan base? Maybe even see the very first, non-WASP (White Anglo Saxon Protestant) top draft pick, which could very well start turning the heads of American minority markets as well as social classes other than the upper class, which the league seems to rely so much on thanks to box seats? Then start devoting a lot more time and effort towards helping groups of people throughout the country to be able to actually give hockey a chance.

The sport needs more Yutaka Fukufuji-types coming from those Asian countries, and inspiring any sort of interest in non-traditional regions of the world, or even demographic groups other than the typical WASP. The most fastest growing ethnicities in the United States are people of Latino and African descent, and they need to be focused on. The NHL has somehow managed to seal itself in some sort of bubble from the world as it has passed it by when it comes to demographics, somehow teetering between obscurity and relevancy for a long time now when it comes to minority groups. As it stands, there are only four black players in the NHL that come to mind right off the bat, those being Georges Laraque, Anson Carter, and Kevin Weekes, with Jarome Iginla being multi-ethnicity. Latino? Jeez, I couldn't even think of one, sadly. And even when it comes to the black contingency in the NHL, these are all Canadians.

...

You know, I could go on and on, I'm sure. I've been writing this little by little during the NHL All-Star Game, enjoying this game as much as I could (and it's actually been a pretty fun All-Star Game to watch, too!). But I think I've touched on the core points. The points that people beat to death, and will continue to beat to death.

C'est la vie, right?

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Draft disparity (cont'd).

Waking up this morning, the first e-mail I found in my mailbox was a notification for Drew's comment in the last post, asking me how the draft comparison between the two conferences would look if instead of only comparing how many #1 picks each conference had the past 21 years, I compared the total of top 5 picks for each conference over that same time.

I'd just like to take this time to say that Wikipedia is awesome beyond compare.

In any event, this is what I found:

Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting Photobucket - Video and Image Hosting



Once again, these results ignore any variables such as trades for draft pick placement, as well as relocation and expansion (such as the Nordiques moving West, or the Blue Jackets' and Wilds' obligatory top five pick during their shared first year).

Even so, how can you ignore something like this? About 65% of top five picks over the past two decades have gone to the East? This brings in to question a lack of parity in the Eastern Conference, where teams that are bad are bad (why hello there, 2006-2007 Philadelphia Flyers), while bad teams in the Western Conference are, while bad, nowhere near as apparently abysmal as their East counterparts.

Yes, I know, the lottery could very well be changing things around, and some overall worst teams could actually be in the West each of those seasons that I checked the draft out for, but were placed elsewhere in the draft due to the lottery. But come on; even with that in mind, the discrepancy between total picks for each conference is a pretty wide margin, in my opinion.

Anyway, now I'm off to see if I can't make this apartment look a little more spic and span. I'm not really sure if there was any real revelations behind comparing top pick balance (imbalance) between the conferences, but it still has me wondering about a thing or two. Hmm.

Edit (5:20 PM EST): I've decided to take it a step further and checked the top 10 picks over this timespan, and which conference got the most. The West still trails, however they manage to cut the percentage difference from 65/35 to 56/44! I think if I took it any further, though, there'd just be no real point.

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"Rick" Roll
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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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