The 5-Hole – Blue Jackets News and Notes: 3/31/09 – The “2007 Cleveland Browns Choke Job” Edition

Every Tuesday, WFNY’s The 5-Hole brings you up to date with the goings-on of the CBJ…

The Week That Was

Week: 1-1-2, 4 points
Overall: 39-29-8, 86 points (3rd division; 6th conference)

Ugh. The Jackets have had every opportunity to put this thing away, and seem to be relishing making it as gut-wrenching as possible. A two-day stretch with two games against the hard-charging St. Louis Blues, and the Jackets took one of four possible points, while the Blues took four. The Jackets turn around and play Nashville tonight (another team that has given them fits their entire history), and a loss to the Predators would push the Jackets out of sixth place. And, with so little room to slide, this would be the worst time of year for a losing streak.

Tuesday, 3/24 in Tampa – Lightning 2, Blue Jackets 1 – OT (Recap)
Thursday, 3/26 in Columbus – Blue Jackets 5, Flames 0 (Box Score) – Highlights
Saturday, 3/28 in St. Louis – Blues 4, Blue Jackets 3 – SO (Box Score) – Highlights
Sunday, 3/29 in Columbus – Blues 5, Blue Jackets 2 (Box Score) – Highlights

The Jackets are still in sixth. So, why all the “2007-Browns” doom and gloom, you might ask? Because they are in the process of playing better than they have in any recent memory while losing the one or two games they need to win at the most inopportune time. St. Louis and Nashville have always just KILLED the Jackets, and with a chance to make their move for the playoffs, they gagged in two games against St. Louis (think of that Pittsburgh game at Heinz field in 2007…).

They have two games this week with Nashville, and at least one win would really go a long way to basically pushing them over the top (think, road game in week 16 against the Bengals). But, Nashville carries the nickname “Darth Vader” amongst many Jackets faithful for a reason. In other words, it’s entirely possible that the Jackets will finish with a playoff-caliber record (like, say, the Browns’ 10-6 in ‘07) and NOT make the playoffs if they don’t shore some things up.

I was unable to watch any of the last three games of the week due to my travels, but from what I’ve read, as good as the win over Calgary was, the losses to St. Louis were equally as painful. The shoot-out loss wasn’t too bad, though the Jackets did get horribly out-worked for 40 of the 65 minutes. And, Sunday they were soundly thumped, on their home ice. Not a good sign, folks.


Playoff Update

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’re getting down to crunch time. Some changes: I’ve dropped the Canucks off the list, as they have been at 100% for almost a week; in addition, they and Chicago are both clear of the sixth-place Jackets by five points AND have games in hand. So, anything higher than sixth place is unlikely for anyone below. Also off the list are the Dallas Stars, who have faded to the point of being consistently under 1% with six games to go.

This really is coming down to about six teams gunning for three spots. Thankfully, the Jackets are in the best shape of those six mathematically, but as we’ll see in the “Up Next” section, anything can happen the rest of the way. Keep in mind that this chart is just the percentage that these teams will MAKE the playoffs. The seeding is something we’ll talk about at the very end. This week’s Western Conference playoff probabilities standings, thanks to Sports Club Stats:

6Blue Jackets86039-29-891.6%
7Predators 84038-30-863.7%

(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)


Up Next

Updating the expanded “Up Next” section, we’ll continue breaking down the full schedule the rest of the way, now that we’re down to the final two weeks of the season. This is the final push: six games to go for all six of the teams in the chart above gunning for those last three spots. The Jackets are still technically in the catbird seat, and play Nashville TWICE head-to-head this week. Make or break games, baby.

The math is a little more clear: at this point, the ninth place Ducks can not get more than 94 points (they’d have to go 6-0-0 to get to 94). Thus, the Jackets’ “magic points” number is 9 (from Jackets wins or Ducks “point losses”). However, we’ve been using the numbers of 91 and 92 points as a “safe” measure of what the Jackets need to get in, and that seems fair since it’s unlikely that Anaheim will go 6-0-0 the rest of the way (side note: Ducks and Oilers go head to head Tuesday night as well, which means that both of them cannot get two points in their next game; if the Ducks lose–even in OT–that helps the Jackets magic number). So, for the sake of argument and projection, let’s say that the Jackets (currently at 86 points) need to get 5 or 6 points in their last six games. Possible results that would earn those point totals:

5 Points:6 Points:

The water is clearing, finally. To be realistic: the Jackets have 8 OT/SO losses through the first 76 games (in other words, 1 OTL every 9.5 games, or 0.105 OTL/Game). Using that math, let’s suggest that anything more than one or two OTLs is unlikely. This means that the Jackets basically need to go 3-3-0, 2-3-1, or 2-2-2. Summary: Win—or get to OT in—three games out of six, and they’re basically in. They’ve won 39 of their first 76, or just over half, so the can—by the numbers—take it home. Granted, they may not be holding on to the sixth spot when they get there, but really they just need to get in at this point, right?

Sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? Not so fast. The Jackets were humbled over the weekend by the Blues (currently in eighth) and have a head-to-head matchup with the seventh-place Predators this week. The silver lining is that the Ducks and Oilers don’t have any head-to-heads with Columbus, and those are the teams to worry about right now. Let’s take a full look at the schedule the rest of the way:

3/10BostonW (34-27-6, 74pts)X
3/12PittsburghW (35-27-6, 76pts)X
3/13@ChicagoW (36-27-6, 78pts)X
3/15DetroitL (36-28-6, 78pts)
3/18ChicagoW(37-28-6, 80pts)X
3/21@FloridaW(38-28-6, 82pts)X
3/24@Tampa BayOTL(38-28-7, 83pts)/
3/26CalgaryW(39-28-7, 85pts)X
3/28@St. LouisOTL(39-28-8, 86pts)/
3/29St. LouisL(39-29-8, 86pts) 
3/31Nashville(38-30-8, 84pts)X
4/4@Nashville(38-30-8, 84pts) 
4/5Chicago(40-23-11, 91pts)X
4/8@Chicago(40-23-11, 91pts) 
4/10@St. Louis(37-30-9, 83pts) 
4/11Minnesota(36-32-8, 80pts)X

I’m sorry this chart gets more and more convoluted each week! In the updated “record” column, I’ve added the results/Jackets’ record for games that have been played since we started this a few weeks ago (itals). I’ve also added X’s to the games-past that the Jackets won (2pts) and slashes (half an X, or 1pt) to the overtime losses. In addition, I’ve left three X’s in from previous weeks, though I switched them to the three remaining home games, as we noted above that winning three games would be huge toward sealing the playoff deal. Long-term, the Jackets have gotten 14 (out of 20 possible) of the original 19/20 points I thought they needed when I started this three weeks ago, which definitely belies my “choke” mantra above, perhaps. But, much like those 2007 Browns, if the Jackets don’t win the one or two games they just HAVE to win (*cough* Bengals *cough*), it’s all for not. The Jackets do get a nice three-day break between games with Nashville, though, which helps.

Full Schedule


Injury Update

We noted the Rostislav Klesla was injured (*again*) during the St. Louis game on Saturday. In addition to that, here are some updates from Aaron Portzline regarding the status of some of the other injured guys:

— Neither LW Jason Chimera (groin) nor D Rostislav Klesla (upper body) will dress for Tuesday’s game with [Nashville]. Chimera could dress on Saturday in Nashville, but I get the sense that Klesla’s out a while. LW Fredrik Modin is not skating, so he’s still out a long while.

— C/RW Jiri Novotny will dress on Tuesday. Hitchcock would not say who’s coming out of the lineup to create Novotny’s spot. My guess is Derek Dorsett.

— No changes are planned for the blue line. Christian Backman will continue to play in Klesla’s spot, not Aaron Rome. If Rome didn’t have to go through waivers, he would likely be in Syracuse right now. He hasn’t played since March 13 in Chicago.

— D Ole-Kristian Tollefsen will have his right knee scoped at 7 a.m. Tuesday up in Cleveland. Two hours later, C Derick Brassard will have his latest check-up for his surgically-repaired shoulder. If it goes well, Brassard will be cleared to start skating with the rest of the Blue Jackets on Wednesday or Thursday.

Quotes of the Week

I think plays like that in general take a little wind out of your sails. Going into the third period tied instead of down a goal makes a bit of a difference. But either way we knew we were going to have to score a goal to win the hockey game.
–Center Michael Peca, reflecting on the Steve Mason turn-over that led to the Blues goal on Sunday that broke a 1-1 tie late in the second period. The Jackets never recovered.

We’ve been going along pretty good. Now we have to respond. We’re going to have to earn our way in. Nobody’s going to give us a darn thing. St. Louis pushed us into some uncomfortable areas. We had some responses (from players), and some really good ones. But we had some non-responses, too, and that’s troubling. … The disappointing thing for us is that we had people who were pushed out of the competition. That’s the one thing that’s disturbing, and we have to address it in the next 24 hours, because it’s only going to get harder.
–Coach Ken Hitchcock, talking about the loss to St. Louis on Sunday.

The important thing is, we control our own destiny. We don’t need anybody else’s help to get in, but if we get help it’s a bonus. We just have to play harder for each other and realize the situation we’re in. If we let this thing slide, we’re going to live with the regret for a long, long time. And if we get in, we’ve got as good a chance as anybody.
–Peca, on the team’s playoff path.

They need to start playing again like they believe that they control their own destiny. They got pushed around by the Blues in both games, and though Saturday they were able to muster enough fight to rally for a tie and get a needed point, Sunday’s game (from what I’ve heard and read) was prtty listless from the Jackets, especially after the Mason turn-over and goal.

Nashville wears the Jackets out. They need to snap out of it and start winning again. Thankfully, they get three entire days off between games with the Preds this week, which should help.