Every Tuesday, WFNY’s The 5-Hole brings you up to date with the goings-on of the CBJ…
The Week That Was
This Week: 1-1-0, 2 points
Overall: 1-1-0, 2 points (t4th division; t8th conference)
It’s not really fair to post standings at this point, as in the division all teams have played either one, two, or three games. So, tied for fourth in the division is basically two points out of first. Likewise, two points is tied for 8th, but also tied for 13th, and also two points out of first. But, 5-Holes is 5-Holes, and the format has always worked for me. At any rate, the season has begun! The Jackets are back in the States after their trip to Sweden. They split two games with the San Jose Sharks—one of the best teams in the league—so the early returns are decent.
Most Jackets fans were a little wary of these first two games. New coach, new system, same players from whom we’ve expected much before and received a big lump of coal in our stockings. Couple that in with a trip to Europe and two straight games against a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, and the task seemed daunting.
As always in the NHL, the first couple of weeks can be a bit murky, as sometimes teams start off hot and end up not sustaining it (like, say, Columbus last season) and other, better teams start out slowly and then revert to their expected form as the season progresses. All of that having been said, Jackets fans have to be at least encouraged by the results in Stockholm; the Jackets more than held their own against a tough opponent for two straight days.
The bright spots were the five-on-five defense (only one goal allowed, an admittedly soft one b Steve Mason), the goal-tending (other than said soft goal, Mason was more than solid), and the Power Play efficiency (lots of good chances, two goals). That’s not to say there weren’t issues. The Jackets took too many bad penalties (14 in two games) and thus gave up too many Power Play goals (four in two games).
The Jackets also got a great contribution from Nikita Filatov and Kristian Huselius on the PP (two goals by Huselius with two primary assists from Filatov) and their new third line of Ethan Moreau, Sammy Pahlsson, and RJ Umberger. This line was solid on defense all weekend, and contributed two goals. The ruminations coming out of camp were that this line could score; so far, so good.
The Jackets are in the midst of five days off to recover from traveling to Sweden. They get back on the ice to open up their true home schedule (game one in Sweden was considered a “home game”) on Friday against the Stanley Cup Champion Blackhawks (1-1-1, 3pts). They then turn around and head to Minnesota (0-1-1, 1pt) on Saturday. The Jackets swept the Wild in two games in the pre-season, and aren’t demonstrably better than the Jackets at all. The Jackets should be competitive at home against anybody, and should be able to win games like this on the road if they want to be a playoff contender—they were a dismal 12-23-6 on the road last year, which contributed to their drop-off. I’d like to see them come away with three points out of these two games.
Who’s Hot, Who’s Not
It’s still a little early, but let’s give it a shot…
Hot: LW Kristian Huselius. I joked on Saturday on a message board that if the Jackets played 82 games on Juice’s home ice of Sweden he’d win the Richard Trophy. Two goals in two games—both of the PP variety—make Juice the first winner of this season. He’s a guy who’s capable but often so streaky that he can be maddening. Let’s hope this start is indicative of a good season to come, and of continued chemistry for the top Power Play unit. Specifically for Juice, both goals were set up by Nikita Filatov.
Not: D Mike Commodore. For all the talk—and look—in the pre-season of a rejuvinated and ticked off Commodore, he sure came out flat in the first two games. He got whistled for a couple of penalties that really weren’t on him, but overall his defense is still sketchy at best. His inability to clear a puck on the first Power Play on Saturday led directly to the Sharks’ first goal. Commodore has to step it up.
Quote of the Week
This week’s quote is from newcomer Ethan Moreau, who scored the game-winning goal on Saturday.
You have to be aware. I don’t mind getting roughing or charging penalties. That’s kind of the way I play. When you get a tripping penalty … I didn’t feel too good about that. The guys bailed me out. I was pretty anxious in the penalty box. I definitely wanted to get some redemption.
–Winger Ethan Moreau
I picked this quote because the one common thread through the first two games was penalties, more specifically the Jackets taking too many of the cheap variety. While the Jackets earned the split against San Jose, they still had to kill off 14 penalties (and managed to kill off only 10, as the Sharks potted four goals on the PP) along the way. That cannot continue. The Sharks’ PP unit is deadly, and it was the only thing between the Jackets and a four point opening trip.
Not only does being down a skater for so much of the game cause your defense to have to play more on its heels killing off the penalty, but it cripples your offense. Scott Arniel wants this club pushing up and generating scoring chances. That’s not going to happen as much if you’re down a man for 10-15 minutes a game. It also keeps guys like Derick Brassard, Nikita Filatov, and Jakub Voracek on the bench, as they don’t kill penalties.
The Jackets have to fix this if they want to consistently be able to play their game and make teams have to respect their offense.
…With a Little Help From My Friends
And finally, another new section. In an effort to better connect with so many of the great Columbus Blue Jackets blogs out there, I’m going to take a moment at the end of each 5-Hole this year to highlight some of the great writing by some of these folks.
4. The “Checking” Line: Most Jackets fans expected solid, veteran play out of the Umberger – Pahlsson Moreau line, but did anyone expect it to be so emotionally draining to watch? This line brought feistiness, solid back-checking and offense too, finishing with two goals, two assists and a combined Plus/Minus of +5. They also finished with a total of 8 penalty minutes, a couple of which caused collective hair loss back in Columbus. After heading to the box twice in Game Two, Ethan Moreau, who clearly looks motivated and happy to be in Columbus, emerged as the hero with a deft, top-shelf wrister to win it in OT. His addition to the roster already looks to be a very shrewd move by GM Scott Howson. If the play of one line summarized the Jackets two games against the Sharks, it was this one. Thrilling, inspiring, maddening, gritty, clutch. This line was all over the place, literally and figuratively.
For $62.4 million, the excuses made – trust me, LTL and I only state what all the other media types – print and internet – also believe, but don’t have the cahonies to write or comment on – have to end.
[We debunk] the notion that Nash’s inability to have a bona fide centerman stifles him. I won’t dispute having a true no. 1 center wouldn’t take him to the next level; however, what he now has is far ahead of what he used to be paired with.
Add to that his point totals going down while his centerman’s point totals almost doubling – well, it doesn’t wash.
I, more than anyone, hope the captain makes me look like a dope – wouldn’t be the first time – but, until they build the team with a true no. 1 center, secondary scoring and legit defensive pairings – that’s the world he lives in and he will have to lead – by example.
Even some of the biggest homers I know in Jacket-land said that taking a split with San Jose would be a great result, and that’s exactly what they did.
If they hadn’t been in so much penalty trouble, this game would likely have ended a Jacket win in regulation, but I’m OK with needing an extra two minutes to beat one of the best teams in the conference.
If you’re not excited yet for this team, I don’t know what to tell you. See a doctor or consider looking for a new team to root for, because I can’t understand how you’d have watched this game without feeling some flutter of enthusiasm and still call yourself a fan.
Next up, the real home opener on Friday! Get ready!