Monday, October 29, 2007

Russell the Rookie

A lot of print has been devoted to Kris Russell, 3rd rounder in the '05 entry draft, and rightfully so. At roughly the same size as most of the JV players at Dublin Jerome, Russell isn't your typical imposing NHL defender. So, at 20 years old, what is he doing in the NHL?

Well, the kid can play hockey, and play it well. He moves the puck as well as any defenseman the Jackets have ever had on the roster. Some of his passes just make you ask, "How did that get through there?" And even lacking size, he's positionally sound on d...well, other than that one time he was out of position against Dallas.

The stats aren't glowing, he's got 2 points and is -1 (see: Out of position v. Dallas) through the first 10 games. A lot of what he's done in his first ten games in the league isn't showing up on the stat sheet so far...he's played solid d, but in the offensive zone he knows when to pinch and where. He had one rush where he just pulled away from everybody on the ice, then hit the post with his shot. He's set up Rick Nash with a pass through the crease, and he's shaken off checks from men 90 pounds heavier than him. So far, Kris Russell has made the decision to keep him seem like the right one.

On the flip side, Hitch has protected him so far, keeping his ice time under 15 minutes per game for the most part. In last Saturday's ugly-fest against the Sharks, Kris only had 11:16 of ice time, so when the game gets tight defensively, the rookie is going to sit. I think that's as much for his maturation process as it is for protection of the lead. Why throw the kids to the wolves when Rusty, Footer, and Hejda can eat the minutes and keep the puck out of our zone? No reason to pressure the kid too much.

But in the offensive zone, Russell has been a joy to watch so far. The speed and the hands have been a joy to watch so far. Sure, he's made his share of mistakes, he's still a rookie and has played all of 10 games so far, but he's still in there. I like what this kid brings to the table and can't wait to see more of it.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The Never Ending Shelley Discussion

With the Jackets off to their best start in team history, and fresh off a shellacking of the Hawks 7-4 last night (nice to see the offense show up), we turn our attention to everybody's favorite enforcer: Jody Shelley.

I usually don't spend a lot of time concerning myself with Jody, he's a great guy, a great team guy, a great leader in the room, but his ice time in the big picture of the NHL is roughly the same as taking a leak in the ocean. Don't get me wrong, I believe the enforcer still has a place in the NHL, although it is a diminishing role. Jody is a victim of that as much as he is a victim of his own lack of pure hockey skills. (Not a knock on the guy, but we're not kidding anybody...he's no Curtis Glencross.)

However, it seems in various forums Jody gets more discussion time and bandwidth that he does TOI in a month. The never ending he eating a roster spot? Should he be dressed at home to satisfy his fans? Is he a dinosaur? (My answers to those are no, no, and no. Jody is at least assured of sticking around until the next Avs game...he has a date with Scott Parker, I'm sure.)

But, every so often, Jody's role gets confused. And confused in a way that makes me think to myself, "We're still an expansion city..." The latest of this comes from fellow blogger Tyler over at The Jacket Times. Tyler stated the following yesterday, which prompted my own blog entry in a counter-point kind of way...
"Shelley first seemed doomed when Tollefsen has solidified his place on the Jackets squad, but matter have only gotten worse this season with youngster Jared Boll. Boll is a scrappy winger who can score in addition to throw punches."
Here's my issue with this: Tollefsen is a hard nosed defenseman who plays the body as well as anybody on the team who happens to drop 'em on occasion. Boll is an agitator at the core, not an enforcer in any way. Sure, Jared will throw a few punches, but usually in self-defense after blasting somebody. Neither of these guys fill Jody's role. Basically, being able to fight does not make somebody the heavyweight enforcer.

There are plenty of guys on the roster who have been known to throw the gloves off...Footer, Chimera, Malhotora, and even Rick Nash has been known to chuck'em. That doesn't make any of them worthy opponents for Boogaard, Parker, or Parros.

Now, I can definitely agree with Tyler that Jody's role is diminishing, as are the three guys named above. It's almost as if coaches are now baiting other teams to dress their enforcer so they can scratch their own and basically shorten the other bench by one player.

However, a couple guys on any roster that can fight doesn't mean they're fighters. We're not better off with OKT or Boll in the box for five minutes at a time, their primary role is clearly something else.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

So, what's changed?

Jackets go to Denver and lose.

Jackets get behind and lose interest.

Jackets get a powerplay and can't get the puck deeper than the face off circles.

With last night's outstanding game, I belive the Jackets record against the Avs stands at 1-2,346-1. Put Avs jerseys on the boys that play hockey at Notre Dame and they'd beat the Jackets by 2.

Beyond the obvious "we can't beat the Avs ever" whining, what else was that? There was no energy like there was the three previous games. The forecheck apparently stayed in Columbus. The penalty kill started well, then acted like the rest of the Jackets game and fell apart at the seams.

Now, going forward I think Hitch will chew enough ass to get the ship righted. I doubt we see two games in a row like that, and hopefully don't see another game with that much disinterest out of the Jackets the rest of the season. But I'm beyond tired of losing to the Avs...the boys in blue need to step up and punch the Avs in the mouth the next time and take the game to them.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Observations from the Phoenix game

Off the top, Shane Doan is a douche. Mr. Doan ranks at the top of my wife's most hated player list - God bless her - and he lived up to her low expectations right away with the cheap shot on Vyborny. Thankfully she was at home watching, so a very limited number of people heard the string of expletives. (And Alex's pre-school friends may learn some new words tomorrow.) After said cheap shot, enter Jared Boll.

Jared fears nothing, least of all Shane Doan and his hit-from-behind tatics. Whether by design or not, Boll and Doan ended up on the ice together about three shifts later...and Jared got a run on Doan, which he put to good use. Later in the shift he tried again, but Doan had a little something in the way of a shoulder for him...the homer in me says the second meeting was a draw.

At the start of camp nobody expects him to stick on the roster into the regular season, and last night he's netting his first goal roaring in on a breakaway. He also got 5 for fighting, so he was an assist away from the famed Gordie Howe hat trick. We'll give him a nod for planting Doan in lieu of the assist.

As for the rest of the Jackets, they were again spotted giving their opponent very little breathing room for most of the game. They forced turnovers, cycled the puck deep, made solid breakout passes, and continued the instant backcheck when losing possession. The last 8 or so minutes of the second period I could have done without, but they righted the ship and poured it on the Yotes in the third period.

So, through three games I like what I'm seeing, my question remains can they sustain it? Beyond that, what injuries can they weather without falling off too far? I like the intensity, the forecheck, the backcheck, and the overall "in your face" type game. I think it'll carry the Jackets further than we've seen in Columbus, but I don't know if it'll be enough. Fingers crossed...

Individual player notes...

Peca - good to finally see him on the ice. Even with his ice time limited, he was a noticeable factor in the game, and was inches from a rebound put-back from having his first goal as a Jacket last night. He shook off the slapshot he blocked, which I think caused more than one gasp in the arena.

Nash - the kid is a monster. Does what he wants, when he wants. Combine him with Modin, and there's a tandem with enough size to scare any defensive paring in the league. Last night they cycled low often, and effectively. Give them a few games together, and it'll turn into goals.

Russell - I like what I'm seeing, but you can see a bit of hesitation in his step. That hesitation has lead to his very limited number of mistakes. The more ice time this kid gets, the more confidence he'll play with. By Christmas we'll forget he's a rookie...maybe by Halloween.

Zherdev - through three games, he might have been our best overall player on the ice. His backchecking has been relentless, and even though he's still not making some passes he should make, he's passing more. Once he makes some of those passes, the ice will open up more for him. I like what I've seen out of Nikki so far.

Too bad we have to wait until Saturday for the next game...

Sunday, October 07, 2007

First weekend out of the way

The Jackets got through the opening weekend back to back with a 1-1 record. Opening night was impressive, while the trip to Minny not so much. It wasn't an ugly, cower in the corner performance, but it was a loss. Minny is a pretty good team, though, and very quick to make a turnover into a scoring chance. The Jackets could have won the game, but they'll need to take better care of the puck through the middle of the ice.

On the upside, the Jackets power play is clicking at 30.8%...50% on the road, thanks to the Wild committing two penalties during the game and the Jackets cashing in on the first one. To go with that power play is a kill that has yet to yield a goal and has scored a goal. Granted, it's only two games, but it's looked pretty strong so far.

Now for a couple days break to prepare for Phoenix to come to town. A few questions come to mind before the Yotes get here: Will we continue to go with 7 defenseman, 11 forward line-up or does Jody get a start? Will Nash get off his one game scoreless streak and find the net again?

Friday, October 05, 2007

What was THAT??!!??

OK, Jacket Fan, we were shown something entirely different than we're used to tonight. We saw a team totally dismantle another team, and the Jackets did the dismantling. It was amazing. It's tough to not get mildly excited by that.

The checking was great. The back check was excellent, and instant. As soon as the Jackets lost the puck, the back check was on, and forced more than one turnover. The forecheck was solid, too. At times in the game, Anaheim tried to take control but couldn't. And the frustration mounted.

I didn't see the Boll elbow, but can't think it was very good. I like what Jared brings to the table, but keep the elbows down kid. We don't need a Steve Downey on our hands...

Other notes: Apparently this Nash kid can play a little hockey. Russell looked excellent in his NHL debut. Lost in all the play by the forwards and defenseman was Leclaire's shutout...he didn't have a lot of work, but he did the job when asked.

I can't wait to see what happens in Minnesota tomorrow night, now...