The 5-Hole: Blue Jackets News and Notes – 3/30/10

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

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The Week That Was

This Week: 2-1-1, 5 points
Overall: 31-32-13, 75 points (5th division; 14th conference)

Well, it’s official. The Jackets were officially eliminated from playoff contention this week. But, if moral victories mean anything, there were some to be had. I won’t mention that 75 points in the Eastern Conference would have them only five points out of the playoffs. Wait, I guess I just did. In all seriousness, the Jackets were eliminated, yes. But, they took out some frustration on a division leader along the way.

Tuesday, 3/23 in New Jersey – Devils 6, Jackets 3 (Box Score) – Highlights
Thursday, 3/25 in Columbus – Jackets 8, Blackhawks 3 (Box Score) – Highlights
Saturday, 3/27 in Columbus – Islanders 4, Jackets 3 – OT (Box Score) – Highlights
Sunday, 3/28 in Chicago – Jackets 4, Blackhawks 2 (Box Score) – Highlights

It was quite the offensive explosion. Granted, the defense wasn’t that great, as they could never get close to New Jersey, and even in a big win against Chicago allowed three goals. The loss at home to a mediocre Islanders team wasn’t anything to be excited about, but the two wins against playoff-bound Chicago—including the emasculation on Thursday—were definitely feathers in the cap.

Of course, this invites the argument of: are the Jackets playing themselves out of a better draft pick, and thus should they tank the rest of the way? I’m not the best person to ask, as I am incapable of rooting for my team to lose while they are actively playing. I’ve enjoyed seeing them play better hockey over the last six weeks, knowing full well that they still had no shot at the playoffs and were potentially killing their draft status. An interesting point from Tom Reed in the Dispatch blog:

The Jackets are in the middle of a four-game stretch of home games featuring No. 1 overall picks. It started last week with Patrick Kane and the Hawks and John Tavares and the Islanders. They will see Steven Stamkos and the Lightning tonight before ending the week with a visit from Alex Ovechkin and the Caps. Everyone knows about the Jackets’ spotty draft record, but they’ve only had a top-3 pick once in franchise history, which they used to trade up for Rick Nash. … Every win is this 6-2-2 surge is leading them further from a top-3 pick again.

Call me an idiot, but I don’t care. I’d rather see some promise from these young players and some overall improvement than to worry about picking four spots higher in the draft. Sincerely, Me During Browns Season in December.

 

Up Next

The Jackets have only six games to go, so for those of you who dislike this column you’re almost done and the Clip Show will be in this time slot soon enough. Four more games this week, and then two next; three at home, three on the road. Columbus is home Tuesday night against Tampa Bay (30-33-12, 72pts), heads to suddenly-hot Detroit (39-23-13, 91pts) on Thursday, back home on Sunday against the juggernaut from Washington (49-15-11, 109pts), and then back on the road on Monday in St. Louis (36-30-9, 81pts), where they have struggled quite a bit in recent years. The Blues are pushing for a playoff spot, so the Jackets can play spoiler.

Full Schedule

 

Team Rankings

This section highlights the different units on the team and compares them to last week, last season, and the league-at-large.

Offense:
Current: 2.67 gpg (17th)
Last Post: 2.57 gpg (24th)
2008-2009: 2.68 gpg (21st)

Defense:
Current: 3.09 gapg (28th)
Last Post: 3.06 gapg (t26th)
2008-2009: 2.72 (t9th)

Power Play:
Current: 53-for-286, 18.5% (13th)
Last Post: 51-for-273, 18.7% (11th)
2008-2009: 41-for-322, 12.7% (30th)

Penalty Kill:
Current: 251-for-306, 82.0% (15th)
Last Post: 240-for-291, 82.5% (13th)
2008-2009: 282-for-346, 82.1% (13th)

Well, the offensive explosion this week definitely affected the top number, but sadly the defense dipped a bit as well. The Power Play continues to look more like last year’s than the one we saw earlier, though I must say I saw a few stretches where Rick Nash was almost playing the point, and his shots and passes from there were more effective than some of the other guys. The PK is right around where it has always been, which is not great but not bad.

 

Who’s Hot, Who’s Not

Hot: Jakub Voracek. Dude is on fire. Jake has eight goals, 13 assists and a plus-9 rating in the last 17 games, including seven of those goals in the past 10 games. En fuego! Considering that Jake had only eight goals and 20 assists through the first 59 games, I’d say it’s safe to say he’s been one of the hottest—if not THE hottest—Jacket since right around the Olympic break. Jake is closing in on a 50-point season (16/33/49) in just his second year in what has been a largely disappointing year for the team. That’s definitely a bright-spot for the club in its own right.

Not: Fedor Tyutin. Pointless in seven of his last eight games (1A in that span), Tyutin’s production has stopped almost cold. The only saving grace for Fedor in that span is his +3 rating, but for a guy who gets top Power Play billing and is considered one of the Jackets’ better offensive defensemen, he needs to at least be facilitating a bit more offensively and can’t go for stretches with no points.

 

Injury Update

In addition to Jan Hejda and Rostislav Klesla, who are both done for the rest of the season, the Jackets lost two other guys for the remaining stretch: they will be without Chris Clark (strained left knee) and Jared Boll (left hand) for the last six games.

 

Coach Watch

Before you begin anything, remind yourself that difficulties and delays lie ahead. You can only see one thing clearly, and that is your goal. Form a mental vision of that and cling to it through thick and thin.

–Interim coach Claude Noel.

I decided to leave last week’s quote-of-the-week up here, and to change it into a more pertinent discussion point. Claude Noel is, to his credit, making a serious bid to be given strong consideration for the permanent head-coaching position. I have to recognize that. As I said last week, I’m not here to say that if the team had had Noel as coach for the entire season they would be in better shape, but whatever he’s doing in spite of his quirkiness, they are playing better under Noel. In 18 games as coach, the team is 9-5-4 for 22 points, which is a noticeable improvement over the previous 58 games (22-27-9, 53pts). Again, you can’t speculate that this 18-game cross-section would translate to a 38-21-17 / 93pts season to this point. But it’s certainly worth noting as the slice of games under Noel gets bigger that his team has earned almost half as many points as Hitchcock’s team in 40 fewer games.

The biggest beneficiaries of Noel’s work have been some of the young guys. We detailed Voracek’s continued surge above, but what’s most important to note is that Jake has picked it up in the last 17 games. Noel has been coach for 18 games.

Another example is center Derick Brassard, who has had probably the toughest season of all of the heralded young players, has been better since Noel took over: in his last 17 games, he has a goal and 10 assists, and is +7. Considering that in the previous 59 games he had seven goals and 17 assists, and was –20, the improvement has been noticeable.

It can’t just be a coincidence. Some of that has to fall on Jake and Derick for not being able to produce like they’re clearly capable with Hitchcock as coach, but it would be foolish to think that the way Noel is working with the young guys isn’t having some effect.Whether the Jackets elect to keep Noel as full-time coach next year or move in another direction, they will only progress as far as someone can take these young guys.

  • sleepless in cincinnati

    Good article DP. I am from an area where no one really follows hockey so I never became a die hard fan. I know nothing about the coach but he seems to be a motivator based on that quote and the teams play since he took over.