Monday, December 31, 2007

NYE at Nationwide

It's New Year's Eve which means the Jackets have a home game tonight, and there's plenty of "What happened last year?" articles and stories to partake. May as well add one of my own...the Jackets year in review.

Rapid fire style...

- Season ends on a high note, Hitch coaches just under .500 as coach, Norrena becomes first winning goalie in franchise history.

- Doug MacLean is fired.

- Repeat: Doug MacLean is fired.

- Hope is restored.

- Scott Howson hired as GM.

- Columbus hosts draft, the capacity crowd gives John H. McConnell a 5 minute standing ovation.

- Doug MacLean remains fired.

- Hitchcock opens training camp with the team in the best condition its ever been in.

- Rick Nash is confirmed to be a monster.

- Team has hottest start ever, the fans celebrate October rather than praying for it to end.

- Howson's budget minded acquisitions of Jan Hejda, Jiri Novotny, and Michael Peca pay dividends to the team. Later, Howson acquisition Chris Beech is called up and eventually rises to the first line.

- Nikolai Zherdev emerges as a dominant force on the ice rather than the pouting force we'd seen in previous years.

- Team lapses from hot start, but remains in the hunt when Santa delivers toys around the globe.

- Nikolai Zherdev makes Carolina defense look silly in a two goal, two assist effort on Dec 29.

And that brings us to this evenings game with the Oilers...the last game of the year. A year that saw as much change in Columbus since Bettman stood at a podium in '97 and said we were getting a team. A complete turnover in the front office has provided a new direction, and they offered no empty promises other than we'd be, "a hard team to play against." So far, so good...

Win or lose tonight, the Jackets will enter '08 above the .500 mark. A win at home combined with Detroit knocking off the Blews would have the Jackets sitting 9th heading into the new year. Not too bad for a team that's typically looking forward to golfing by now.

If '08 brings similar changes, then Jacketland might be celebrating their first playoff trip in a few months...

Thursday, December 13, 2007

London to Columbus to Watch the Flames

With my upcoming visit to Columbus on Tuesday to see the Flames, I figured that I would give the readers a glimpse into the visiting team that night.

First off, I have been going through a ton lately and just have little time to post my thought(s) about the Flames. It has nothing to do with their 4-10 November, as evidenced by the fact that I have done little in their 3-0-2 December either. I have in the last month, changed jobs, had my heart procedure and had a baby who every 2nd or 3rd night forgets that he's supposed to sleep.

The Flames were losing games in November for a variety of reasons. At least they tried to keep it interesting by finding a new way almost every loss. Some games it was blown leads, some they just were so snake-bitten in the scoring department (much like my man Sea) that it hurt to watch. Other times it was a complete lack of effort. Other times it was a sloppy mistake changing the momentum.

There were two constants in the losing. Subpar goaltending and subpar special teams. That will kill you in the NHL, no matter the level of talent you have on paper.

Let's face it, on paper the Flames have a ton of talent, but so far they have not lived up to that.

In December thus far, we have seen Vezina like goaltending from Kiprusoff and it has turned the team around...a little. They are still nowhere near contention. This type of play will move them up the standings and into a playoff spot, but any hopes of any type of playoff run lie with improving the PP and PK.Stanley Cup winning teams are almost always top ten in both the PP and PK.

Here's a little break-down of the Flames players thus far this season:

Playing below capability

Miikka Kiprusoff - He is starting to turn it around, but his numbers tell the story. No SO. 2.78 (down from over 3 a couple weeks ago) and a .895 save % (up from the 880's a couple weeks ago).

Rhett Warrener - has lost a step and is not the hitter that he used to be. Now strictly an average 5 or 6 d-man. Used to be a top 5 or 6 d-man who was capable of playing as a 4.

Mark Smith - has improved recently but has little offense as his 1 assist in 21 games would show. He is now carrying the puck a little more and is dropping the mitts with all the middle weights on an almost nightly basis.

Marcus Nilson - Gotta love the effort this guy puts in, especially since he's usually got a nagging injury. However, he is slowing down and is barely chipping in offensively. Still decent as a PK'er.

Stephane Yelle - see above.

Craig Conroy - I guess if you revert back to thinking of Conroy as a 3rd line defensive player, he is doing well. Howvere, he is still playing top 6 minutes and is not producing with only 12 points in 31 games. Still a leader and still a defensively sound player.

David Moss - was playing well other than scoring as that goalpost in OT in game 6 of the Wings series last year seems to haunt him. Better numbers were expected. Now injured.

Playing about as you'd expect:

Curtis McElhinney - hasn't seen much action but has been solid as a rookie backup.

David Hale - not sure why this guy has been sat out as often as he was when Eriksson was struggling. Would be a solid #6 on any team and fits that bill nicely here. Only one assist on the year but offense is not his forte.

Eric Godard - surprisingly can hold down a semi regular shift which is more than can be said for many enforcers. Rarely loses a fight. Still takes untimely penalties.

Dustin Boyd - all over the ice, creates a lot of chances. Offense will come.

Eric Nystrom - has a lot of his dad in him. Hopefully will turn into at least half the player that his old man was. Hits, fights, kills penalties. Not a lot of offense but really none is expected. A young Yelle without the faceoff prowess but tougher.

Anders Eriksson - would have been in the catagory above if I had done this 10 games ago, but he has turned around with more ice time. Weird. Has been dependable and even plays a decent #2 PP QB.

Robyn Regehr - pretty much bang on what you'd expect. One of the best defensive d-men in the game.

Owen Nolan - has struggled to score at times, but has been an agitator, generates chances, hits and works hard.

Adrian Aucoin - been consistent even if his scoring from the start of the year has been slowing down.

Matthew Lombardi - would have better numbers if played with Iginla and Huselius/Tanguay like he should be. Fast, fast and more fast from this guy. Dangerous on the PK. Still improving.

Dion Phaneuf - hits a little less which is good and bad. He picks his spots a little better but his hits sometimes change a game so a few more may be needed. His scoring is down, but that's mostly because teams key on him at the point now. His improvement will need to be in the playoffs where he has been medicore at best, injuries may have been a concern there though.

Alex Tanguay - shoot the fu^&$%g puck. This guy turns down more scoring opprtunities than a lot of guys get. He is creative though and is almost a point per game. Expect that to pick up as the Flames break out of their team wide scoring slump.

Kristian Huselius - started off on fire, slumped, now is getting confidence back. When his game is on, he can QB the PP from the half boards. Has some of the best one on one moves I have ever seen. Surprisingly effective when used on the PK.

Daymond Langkow - this was tough because he does more than the average person would expect from him, however since I have come to expect this guy to be the second best, and best on some nights, player on this team, he is right where you'd expect. With an improved percentage on faceoffs can literally do anything asked of him.

Playing above expectations:

Cory Sarich - I expected a #4 d-man and got a guy that is one of the best 3's in the league. The only thing that makes him a 3 and not a 2 is the lack of offense. Other than a game against Detroit where Datsyuk burned him twice, as consistent defensively as they get.

Jarome Iginla - should get consideration for the Hart if the Flames make the playoffs. On pace to break his point record for a season.

Not enough games to merit a ranking:

Wayne Primeau - only played 6 games

Tim Ramholt - one game

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The apocalypse is upon us...

The Jackets have defeated the Avs two straight games. Never mind that it took 6 years for the Jackets to manage two wins over the Avs at all...

So, down go the Avs a second straight game. This game was played like most of the games in October: hit, hit, hit, forecheck, hit a little more, play solid in your own zone. It was good to see the team get back to that.

In the middle of the hit, hit, hit portion of the game was Jared Boll...there's a shocker. Boller netted the game winner, too, and for his efforts he was given the #1 star of the game. Couldn't have been given to a harder working player tonight. Actually, I'm not sure Boll has taken a shift off since August.

There has been a troubling thing come out of the last two games: The total disappearance of Jason Chimera. He had a couple shifts where his feet got him into the play, but that's it. His head and hands just don't seem to be in it. This is a guy that the Jackets count on to be a leader on the ice and in the room, and of late he's been invisible on the ice.

So, off to Boston for the Jackets. Following that, they come home to play the Flamers. Zukes...the ONE TIME CONTRIBUTOR to Better On making the drive down for the game. We anticipate watching hockey and drinking beer...not necessarily in that order...