Every Tuesday, WFNY’s The 5-Hole brings you up to date with the goings-on of the CBJ…
The Week That Was
Week: 2-1-0, 4 points
Overall: 33-27-6, 72 points (3rd division; 6th conference)
The Jackets are like Frodo at the end of “Return of the King” – they’ve struggled to get this far, almost falling apart many times along the way, the finish line is in sight while they continue flirting with evil, and that evil almost pushed them over the cliff and into the lava. They’re hanging onto that cliff edge right now, and just when I think they’re ready to let go, good old
Rudy Samwise reaches over and grabs their wrist. And then helps them score EIGHT goals at Detroit. In short, the Jackets are still sitting in sixth place with 16 games to go, but the Western Conference Playoffs Logjam is back in full force. And, Sauron (the schedule) is definitely going to put the squeeze on them the rest of the way. OK, OK… I promise… no more nerdy LotR metaphors after the jump. Baggins.
Tuesday, 3/3 in Columbus – Blue Jackets 5, Kings 4 (Box Score) – Highlights
Thursday, 3/5 in Nashville – Predators 4, Blue Jackets 2 (Box Score) – Highlights
Saturday, 3/7 in Detroit – Blue Jackets 8, Red Wings 2 (Recap)
Well, after complaining about their offensive output last week, the Jackets shoved it back in my face with 15 goals in three games. Granted, eight of those came in one game, but still… the Jackets had never scored eight goals in a game before. And I mean EVER. It would have been nice to have scored five each in the Nashville and Detroit games, but that would be me just being greedy. Speaking of things they’ve never done, they are only eight points short of their franchise record (80) set last season. With 16 games to go, I’m hoping that they can eclipse that mark as well.
Another guy who’s nearing his personal best for points is The Captain. In addition to finishing his first season as Captain and being in his first real playoff chase, Rick Nash is only five points off of his previous career high, sitting now at 64 points (31G, 33A). The biggest difference this year is that his assist numbers are way up: his previous high for an entire season was 31 assists, and he’s already at 33 with 16 games to go.
The big news of the week, of course, was the trading deadline deal that saw former #1 goaltender Pascal LeClaire going to Ottawa along with a 2nd round draft pick in exchange for center/forward Antoine Vermette. Local media was unanimously positive about the move, as was/am I. Because of immigration and work visa wrangling, Vermette didn’t arrive with the team in time to play in Nashville on Thursday, and so his first action was on Saturday against Detroit. Considering he’d only been with the team for roughly 48 hours, he more than held his own. Vermette is fast, and his reputation as a strong defensive forward and faceoff man are more than justified. Vermette notched his first assist in the Detroit game (although, with eight goals, who didn’t earn a point?) and was a part of the Jackets’ 6-for-6 penalty killing effort on the night. Coach Ken Hitchcock called him “smart, solid, and needed” in the post-game interview. Vermette himself says that he’s adapting well to the new team and system:
Actually, this is there now for me, because we had two coaches with Ottawa this season. I’ve seen the system before, because I’ve played against Hitch. And it’s similar to some coaches I’ve played under before, so it’s not a big adjustment. It’s actually pretty close to the style I like to play, right? I like to use my speed to get up on the puck and make (the skater with the puck) make a decision before he wants to get rid of the puck. It’s a structured system, but it’s a responsible system. I like playing like that.
At this point in the season, the team needs to be like a distance runner with a great kick: they need to turn that final corner and push themselves all-out to the finish line. With that focus in mind, I’m going to attempt to streamline The 5-Hole to focus on the playoffs, and what it’s going to take. Check the “Up Next” section below for a complete break-down of the remaining schedule.
We’ve begun running this section, thanks to the data provided at the wonderful Sports Club Stats website that runs daily simulations and predicts probability of playoff finishes by conference. This site is updated daily, and also weights each game to show how every outcome affects each team in the race.
We added the Kings back on, as they’re back up to almost 9%. However, the two teams below them still qualified under 1% (actually under 0.3%) of the time in the simulations. The Jackets have moved up over the week (from eighth to sixth), but are still essentially sitting on the precipice right now, as despite having the sixth seed in points they are behind the three teams around them in terms of games-in-hand. The gap between sixth and eleventh is four points. Two games. Oy. This week’s Western Conference playoff probabilities standings, thanks to Sports Club Stats:
(key: points – derived from record, 2 pts for a win, 0 for a loss, 1 for an overtime loss; G-I-H – games in hand; this number is the amount of games the team has left subtracted from the number of games played by the team who has played the most in the conference; Record – the team’s record, with wins, losses, and overtime losses [shoot-out losses count as overtime losses]; Playoff% is the probability in percent of the team making the playoffs based on their simulations)
Let’s take a longer-view look at the schedule the rest of the way, now that we’re down to 16 games remaining. The Jackets are in the midst of a tough stretch, but thankfully the next four out of five are at home. The flip side: that means six of the last 11 are on the road.
The guys at The Dispatch have maintained for most of the year that the Jackets needed to get to 91 points to qualify (picking that number because that’s the point total Nashville had last year to earn the eighth seed). I’m a little more pessimistic, since there are so many teams hanging around. The only silver lining there is that with all of these teams playing each other down the stretch, somebody’s going to be losing ground every night. So, for the sake of argument and projection, let’s say that the Jackets need to get 19 or 20 points in their last 16 games. Possible results that would earn those point totals:
|19 Points:||20 Points:|
That’s a lot of possibilities. But, let’s be realistic: the Jackets have 6 OT/SO losses through the first 66 games (in other words, 1 OTL every 11 games, or 0.091 OTL/Game). Using that math, let’s suggest that anything more than two OTLs is unlikely. This means that the Jackets basically need to go 9-5-2, 9-6-1, or 10-6-0. Summary: they need to win at least nine of their final 16 games. They’ve won 33 of their first 66, or exactly half, so they’ll need to play above that mark just a touch to make it to 91 points.
Sounds easy enough, right? Well, let’s look at the schedule the rest of the way, which is jam-packed in March:
|3/24||@Tampa Bay||(21-32-13, 55pts)||X|
|3/28||@St. Louis||(29-28-8, 66pts)||X|
|3/29||St. Louis||(29-28-8, 66pts)||X|
|4/10||@St. Louis||(29-28-8, 66pts)||X|
That’s a lot to digest, perhaps. The X’s I’ve added to six of the games are the games that I feel the Jackets should have a better-than-average expectation to win. Well, knowing what we know, the Jacket have to win those six games, plus find three or four more wins (or at least lose a couple in OT along the way) to get to that 91-point mark. The four upcoming home games are daunting, but for whatever reason the Jackets have played the tough teams well at home (having beaten San Jose and Detroit twice, and Calgary once on home ice this year). If they can win two of those four upcoming home games, that would be a good start.
The Jackets have gotten Rostislav Klesla back on Thursday, and Fredrik Modin played on Thursday in Nashville as well… for a shift or so. Modin reinjured his knee, and is listed by coach Ken Hitchcock as “week to week”. Y’ouch!
Michael Peca, still out with a concussion, has been cleared to practice, though we probably won’t see him until at least Thursday against Pittsburgh.
Rick Nash Feel-Good Quotes of the Week
We’re not quite there yet, but just having a chance to extend our season is a great feeling. Things have been pretty rough [in my first five seasons]. Usually right about now we’re just playing for our self-pride and our fans. To be talking about a playoff spot, and to really have a good shot at it it’s obviously exciting.
–Captain Rick Nash, responding to questions about the first real playoff chase of his career.
I’m pleased for him, yes. But there’s a better word for it. I’m proud of him. I’m proud of him because he’s been able to hold his head high while he’s been waiting all this time. He didn’t get down, he didn’t get discouraged. He got determined. His level of determination is showing every night in his play.
–Coach Ken Hitchcock, talking about Nash’s first playoff chase as well.
Rick’s done what he’s done — scored all the goals that he’s scored — without a whole lot of consistent skill around him in the lineup. He’s had players in and out of the lineup, a whole different array of guys around him through the years. So his only motivation has been self-improvement. Right now he’s probably at 75 percent of what he’s going to be, in my opinion. Now, putting him in a winning environment, it’s going to just put him over the top. And he could be one of the most dominating power forwards the league has ever seen.
–Center Michael Peca, on Nash.
It is nice to see the team heading in the right direction. There would be a lot more questions [about my contract] if we weren’t adding players [at the trade deadline], or we didn’t have a great young group coming up. This is a fun time for all of us. This is how it’s supposed to be. It’s the time of year you want to be playing big games.
–Nash, talking about the potential for the playoffs relative to his contract situation. The Jackets can offer him an extension as of 7/1/09. Nash’s contract is up after the 2009-2010 season.
As a fan of the team, of course, I am rooting for the whole team to make the playoffs. But as a fan who has seen Nash’s talents largely wasted on horrible hockey teams for most of his career—and as a fan who has a signed Rick Nash poster in his office along with a Rick Nash bobblehead, who has a signed Rick Nash puck in his home office, and who wears a Rick Nash jersey to every game—it’s hard not to be rooting for Nash himself as well. Nash has been the face of the franchise since his rookie season, and has stepped up and filled the vacuum of leadership at the Captain spot after the Adam Foote debacle. If anyone on this team deserves playoff hockey, it’s certainly Nasher. And, if there’s anyone that wants him to stay after his contract is up, it’s certainly me!