Step away from the emergency button, please.
I'm in the same boat as probably the majority of Jackets' fans out there, I admit. To perfectly sum up how the Blue Jackets' played last night in one, simple example ... I think the best example would be in the latter part of the first period, when Martin Erat rode a cumbersome, flat-footed Rusty Klesla from the neutral ice zone all the way in to the Jackets' zone, shoved him aside with one hand like a rag doll, and then tossed the puck in behind an otherwise defenseless Pascal Leclaire.
In essence, you saw in that one play much of what you saw last night. A team that played stupid-aggressive. Because there's a difference in playing aggressive -- which is what this team did during its six-game point streak -- and playing stupid-aggressive. Stupid-aggressive is like what we saw earlier in the season when this team faced off against the Vancouver Canucks.
One highly astute observation came from Ron Hainsey, who told The Columbus Dispatch that the fact the Jackets couldn't draw any penalties at all (save one) was ... well ... bad:
"We didn't draw penalties. What did we have, one power play? That kind of shows you something, that we weren't skating enough to make them have to slow us down."
Given, the Jackets' power play has been deplorable as of late, so why worry about whether they can get power play opportunities? Well, it's more the fact that they could have desperately used some time on the power play to just control play, and also force the Predators to waste time on the penalty kill.
While I say not to panic, I may not be so casual about things if the Jackets' end up dropping the next two games. Up next is the suddenly surging Blackhawks, who have surpassed the Jackets for 2nd in the Central after beating the Red Wings on Sunday night. It's worth pointing out that they are the reason for three of the Red Wings' losses this year (two regulation and one in the OT/SO).
After that, the Jackets face the Blues down in St. Louis. While so far this season we have been running them in to the ground, having shut them out two times in a row, I'm not about to go and make any proclamations about how that game will definitely right the Jackets' ship. Frankly, I'd be a fool to do so, considering it was just last season that the Blues were on top of us in the standings, and were only getting better thanks to some shrewd moves by Blues' president John Davidson.
I know this much: If the Jackets do lose the next two games, I foresee an overall record under .500 by the evening of November the 18th, sometime after the Red Wings have finished sinking their skates in to a Jackets' team that will most likely be playing in front of a highly hostile (both angry Jackets' fans and thousands of traveling Red Wings' fans) Nationwide Arena.
The Drew and Mike Happy Three-Quarters Hour!
So, yesterday night, after some rather on-the-fly planning, we came together to watch the Blue Jackets' face the Predators down in Nashville ...
... then podcast!
Some readers may recall several months ago, when I gave solo podcasting a shot. Honestly, although I got some positive comments about it, it just didn't feel right doing something all on my own. There's no one to work with, let alone converse with. The better way to do it, at least for someone like me, is to set up something with someone else, and feed off of one another's comments and dialogue.
When the topic was brought up again sometime during the pre-season, I admit that while at first I was excited, no sooner had we both agreed to get moving on doing a podcast, the Jackets' beat writers of Tom Reed and Aaron Portzline came right out of the blue with their own podcast, Cannon Fodder. I truly felt a little dejected, and actually was bothered by the notion that some people may just assume we were copying them, when in reality this had been in the planning stages since June.
In any event, this was my first ever podcast with anyone else, and I'm pretty sure it was Drew's as well, so go easy on the both of us. This baby clocks in at around 45 minutes, and is about 42 MB in size. I should also mention that due to technical constraints (i.e. my own ignorance), we were forced to record ourselves on our own laptops, and then splice the files together so that they sounded like an actual, back and forth conversation. It still came out well enough, although you'll probably notice that at times, there's somewhere around 0.3 seconds in delay between one of our microphone's picking up the other person talking, and that person actually talking. Forgive me, I'm a simpleton!
Since I lack my own host, I sadly can't just make it a Hotlink, and instead must rely on Megaupload, much like I did before. So simply follow these directions to download, and enjoy:
1) Type in the three letter keycode that appears at the top right, then hit enter.
2) Wait 45 seconds while you are put in que to download.
3) Download, and enjoy.
They're not dead yet ...
"I’m not giving up hope just yet. Detroit is a damn good team, and they
were playing at home, and that would be a tough win for any team. And
of course, I was expecting .500 hockey this season, and they’re still
above that mark, so no reason to panic just yet. Chalk the last two
games up to experience, and move on."
That spotlight's getting a little bright ...
-Have continued to set a franchise record for best start ever (8-3-2), and sit 4th in the West, as well as 2nd in the Central.
-Have seen goalie Pascal Leclaire be named 2nd star of the month by the NHL, after which he proceeded to get his fifth shutout in his very next game against the Blues on Sunday (who he's now kept scoreless for two straight games against them).
-Have been recognized by the national media (that's really just a small taste of some of the attention they've received so far, too).
-Have seen several of their big-time prospects get honored or recognized for equally awe-inspiring play (Steve Mason is 9-2 after returning from Jackets' camp, Derrick Brassard was recognized as the AHL's rookie of the month, and Jakub Voracek was the QMJHL's player of the month).
I mean, for the love of [insert your favorite deity here], I might as well start shooting rainbows out of my eyes while singing Tiny Tim's Livin' in the Sunlight (aka Having a Wonderful Time) and prancing about like some sort of ninny. Seriously, what the Hell do I even have to gripe about? Maybe Rick Nash needs to shave that beard? Or how about I start complaining that we only have one short-handed goal on the #1 penalty kill in the league?
But really, to tell you the truth, all this attention and all of these good things happening leave me just a little concerned. It isn't so much pessimism as much as it's a case of knowing that sooner or later, this team is going to hit its first real roadblock ... and from the looks of it, this next week to two weeks could be considered the Blue Jackets' first real test, as they have seven straight games against divisional rivals to look forward to starting Wednesday.
Blackhawks, Red Wings, Predators, Predators, Blackhawks, Blues, Red Wings. And then one more Red Wings' game about a week after that last one. Daunting task, thy name is November schedule.
The Jackets did start off this long, Central Division swing on the right foot, however, when they once again shut the Blues out 3-0 on Sunday. I'll get through all the positives real quick, simply saying that Leclaire was again amazing (that glove save in the 2nd period on Paul Kariya was highway robbery); Adam Foote now looks like some sort of grizzled Union Army officer, and is playing with about as much passion as one, too, tallying two great assists; Nash and Nikolai Zherdev are practically sharing brains, and no better an example can be seen than by that beautiful airmail pass from Zherdev to Nash, who was waiting in the slot, before dropping it down, weaving a Blues' defenseman, and wristing it home. And don't forget that extended, extended delayed penalty in the 1st period, in which for what was almost a full minute, the Jackets' cycled, passed, shot, left and then re-entered the zone, cycled, shot, left and re-entered the zone again, then finally rifled one into the net thanks to a shot by Manny Malhotra.
Okay, then, that takes care of most of the good. So let's get to the bad, and then move on. The power play never registered a point, despite a prolonged 5-on-3 opportunity very early in the game. Give credit where credit is due to the Blues, who actually have the #2 penalty kill in the league, but also heap a little bit of shame on the Jackets for not being able to bury anything on such a marvelous opportunity right out of the gate. My stance is that so long as the Jackets' can at least manage to keep their power play efficiency somewhere between 16th and 20th in the league, it'll ultimately be a net gain when also factoring in their #1 penalty kill. The problem is that at the moment, it's 21st in the league, so unless they start to pick it up in the next few games, that great penalty kill will be put to waste.
David Vyborny is continuing to struggle, and it's hard to watch. I'll admit, he's playing with a good bit of passion in his recent play, but he's still been held pointless for four games now, after showing some signs of life with a three-game point streak between the 21st and 25th of October. It can be painful to watch, largely because during some of the Jackets' most bleakest times, Vyborny was there to at least give the team some hope (he led the team in scoring in the past two seasons). Is it because he's no longer consistently paired up with Nash? Or maybe he needs more time to gel with his linemates, who have shifted from time to time. He's been paired with Jiri Novotny the past two games, so maybe that can help him out ... maybe, considering Novotny's now gone three games himself without a point, after grabbing five (3g, 2a) in three games.
For now, that's all I got. There's a certain game that I'm eagerly anticipating at the end of this week, but I'm reminding myself -- and all of you Blue Jackets' fans out there -- that we should be focusing on Wednesday's first. Getting ahead of ourselves about certain, measuring stick match-ups can be a bad thing.
Delicious blog post; I must eat it.
Tired of your average chocolate? Hershey bars, Reeses Cups, and Nestle Crunch starting to seem dull? Bland? Maybe even making you feel sick? Then take a puck to the teeth! A chocolate puck, brought to you by the Columbus Blue Jackets!
Delicious, delectable, and downright divine in their taste, it'll be the one puck that you want to hit you square in the teeth. But instead of knocking out those incisors, it'll simply be knocking your taste buds to the floor in awe.
Made right in Columbus itself, with sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, and with a crispy crunch thanks to the crisped rice on the inside, these babies -- nearly the size of an actual puck -- can be yours for $2 a pop down at Nationwide Arena. So, go! Go and lose yourself in chocolate euphoria!
Now I'm about to lose myself in apartment-cleaning misery and woe, before I go to watch this early evening's game.
And I have class in eight hours. Ugh.
I'm being melodramatic, though. I know I shouldn't be this peeved about tonight's loss, based off a variety of reasons: the Jackets were outplayed due to penalties stifling any sort of rhythm they were trying to get in to. The Jackets were playing back-to-back games. The Ducks had practically been licking their chops -- or bills, rather -- in preparation for this game, both due to their 4-game losing streak, and the chip on their shoulder from that Jared Boll hit on Travis Moen (completely clean) on opening night. The Ducks got three of their regulars back all at once.
And don't forget, no matter how much us Blue Jackets' fans may want to think otherwise, this team will lose at times. I know, it's hard to believe when your starting netminder leads the league in a variety of goalie statistics, and your team as a whole actually has a winning record for the first time ever after the first month of the season.
I'm obviously not being fair by focusing on this loss, and simply glossing over the win against the Kings just the night before. So let's go back to said game, and think happy thoughts before we mull any more on those not-so-happy thoughts from tonight.
October 31st: Blue Jackets at Kings
Much like it'd be folly to expect the Jackets to never lose after such a great opening month, it'd also be silly to expect the Jackets to never give up another power play goal. You got to admit, at times it feels as though the Blue Jackets won't ever give anything up on the PK ... so when the Kings' Kyle Calder scored on the power play and broke the Jackets' club-record 18 penalty kills without letting in a goal, I couldn't help but feel a little bummed.
But beyond that, and the peppering of shots that the Jackets' allowed Pascal Leclaire to face, they put on a strong game. In particular, Jason Chimera was a beast, Sergei Fedorov played smart, Gilbert Brule got his first goal of the season (good for him), and Rick Nash picked up an empty netter along with an assist, to add to his team-leading point total (currently sitting at 15 points in 11 games).
Before Leclaire was recognized as the 2nd star of the month by the NHL, I had a feeling that he would have to put together a great game against the Kings just to prove that all the positive attention he had been receiving was well-deserved. And although he wasn't able to add to his already impressive four shutouts, he played a very strong game, about as strong as the game he played against St. Louis on Saturday.
All in all, a great win against a Los Angeles team that -- even though the loss put them back below .500 -- was riding a four-game winning streak. It's not always about beating the team with the best record, after all ... sometimes it's about beating the teams that are currently hot. And this win, combined with the win over the Blues last Saturday, was good stuff.
... so enough about that. Let's get to tonight.
November 1st: Blue Jackets at Ducks
Michael Arace called tonight's game "awesome television" in his entry at Puck Rakers. I was sooner prepared to call it something else. I don't exactly have a phrase for it, but it made me want to repeatedly bang my head against the wall.
But maybe that's why it was awesome television reminiscent of a playoff game. It reminded me of the kind of stress I felt way back in 1999-2000 during the Stanley Cup Finals, when the Devils and the Stars slugged it out in seemingly endless overtime in both games 5 and 6. Not that a regular season game in November can legitimately compare to a possible Cup-clinching game, but you get the idea.
But truthfully, I wasn't happy with the play of the Jackets tonight as a team, with the exception of Nikolai Zherdev. Zherdev, who every so often gets flak for his play last season and not racking up goals left and right this season despite the fact that despite playing hard since game one, was the very reason that the Jackets managed to bring this game to overtime, when he helped a slightly struggling Jackets' power play unit tally the tying goal just a few minutes after Fredrik Norrena had been beat by Rob Neidermeyer 13 seconds in to the third period.
Watching the shootout may have been why I was so livid after the game. Not only have the Jackets lost both of their shootout games this season, but they've done so without even tallying a single shootout goal. When I touched on how last season, Ken Hitchcock resorted to simply having a shootout drill at the end of each practice and letting the winners be the shooters during any possible shootout in the next game, I probably overlooked the fact that by that point in the season, there was nothing to lose by using such a simplistic method to deciding who got picked for shootouts.
Now, however, shootouts are very important to a Blue Jackets' team that'll need to win a few if they want to stay above .500.
Before trying to finally get some sleep, I just want to say that I hope Fredrik Modin's injury is nothing too serious. Being taken out of the game that early, I believe, had a notable impact on the ability to roll four lines, let alone cut through the top line's efficiency like a hot knife through butter. It'd be vexing if, after being out for several games, he has to go back to the IR. But from the sounds of it, this was something else beyond any muscle strains of pulls, like he'd been dealing with.
And now, to hopefully get some sleep.