Before the CBJ puck drops: Philadelphia, Part Deux

By Tom

GAME 36

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

16-15-4

(5-3-2 in last 10 games)

CURRENT NHL RANKINGS

PHI
RANK

PHI
GOALS/GAME

CBJ
RANK

CBJ
GOALS/GAME

GOALS FOR

22

2.43

 16

2.57

GOALS AGAINST

15

 2.69

 21

 2.83

WHY ARE WE GETTING A FRESH PREVIEW OF TONIGHT’S GAME?

That’s a great question, actually.  For on Thursday, I wrote this:

BLOG NOTE: As the Flyers and Blue Jackets are playing back-to-back games, I’m writing this as an overview of both games.  Should something dramatic happen in the course of the first game to warrant an addendum to this preview, I’ll be sure to write about it.

I think giving up five goals in the third period to blow a 3-0 lead qualifies as “dramatic”, don’t you?  So we discuss and mull over the game in front of us.

THE REAL IMPORTANT STUFF TO KNOW

This still applies:

This home and home series (Thursday and Saturday) marks the beginning of five straight games in the Metropolitan Division for Columbus.  We’ll see two against Philly, then Carolina, New Jersey and Pittsburgh.  To say that this stretch is important – with only 3 standings points separating the six teams occupying third through seventh place – to the Blue Jackets’ playoff hopes could be an understatement.  Four out of the five games are against teams in that cluster competing for the third (and likely final) Metro Division playoff spot.  As the team at the bottom of this pack, the CBJ need to win as many games as possible…and in regulation…to accumulate points and deny their divisional rivals points at the same time.

Philly, in winning the game, bumped up to 36 standings points and sits alone in third place in the Metro by a single point – ahead of Carolina and New Jersey at 35, the New York Rangers at 34 and Columbus at 32.  Again, the key is to win the games in the regulation: Get two standings points for yourself, but also deny your opponent even a single point to stop their progress up the standings ladder.

Beyond the long-term strategy, however, is the immediate issue related to the team’s psyche.  People much brighter about hockey than I watched the game and are of the opinion that the Blue Jackets were having trouble on the defensive side of things all night long (perhaps related to the loss of Dalton Prout to injury early in the game?), and that it took two periods for the Flyers to capitalize.  Implicit in that: Be happy it was only five goals.

That may or may not be the case, but there is no way that you can sugar-coat giving up five goals in a single period, especially in the third when you should be locking the game down and stealing two needed standings points out from under the home team in a divisional game.  This was a collapse, a meltdown.

How the team responds to the loss will be telling.   This isn’t just blowing off the bad game and moving on against another opponent, the quasi-blessing of playing a season with 82 games (“It’s just one lousy game.  There are 81 other chances to play better and win.”).  It can’t be, because the opponent is the same team that dropped five on the CBJ in the prior 20 minutes of game play.  Nope, the team will need to face that demon straight in the eyes and fight it.  Doing so requires a team with impressive fortitude.

Long story short: We will learn volumes tonight about this incarnation of the Columbus Blue Jackets, and so will team management.

WHAT I’LL BE WATCHING FOR

The injury train appears to be slowing, albeit in spurts.  Let’s roll through who’s out:

- Nathan Horton is still out, but he apparently has returned to practice sans the “no-contact” sweater.  This would suggest that his in-game Columbus debut is not too far off.

- Jared Boll is out for three to four months after ankle surgery.

- Dalton Prout, as mentioned, got hurt against Philadelphia and won’t play tonight.

- Jack Skille dinged his hand after scoring one of Columbus’ three goals on Thursday.  He’ll likely be out.

- Sergei Bobrovsky is still nursing that strained hamstring from back at the beginning of the month.  As  best I recall, he’s still not even practicing.

Then there’s the recently returned.  Curtis McElhinney re-entered the lineup against Philadelphia on Thursday.  While he wasn’t perfect (a five-goal night could never be called such for any goalie at any level), it could reasonably be argued that he was the reason that the first two periods went so well for the Blue Jackets from the defensive perspective.  I think he’ll again get the start for the CBJ tonight.  

Lastly – and the reason why I am mentioning injuries in this section about What I’ll be Watching – we’ve got a couple key returning players tonight:

- James Wisniewski is back.  While it’s always great to get a top two pairing defenseman back into the lineup, that joy is magnified by the fact that Wiz’ return helps compensate for the loss of Prout.  It’s reasonable to think that part of the problem on Thursday night was that coach Todd Richards appeared to shorten the defensive bench somewhat, with Jack Johnson, Ryan Murray, Fedor Tyutin and David Savard all logging over 21 minutes apiece.  The third pair, Tim Erixon and Nikita Nikitin, put in 14 and 16 minutes respectively.  It could be argued that the third period fade was simply due to fatigue on the part of the top two pairs, which would make Wiz’s return that much more important.

- At long last, Marian Gaborik is back from his sprained knee injury.  There is no better way to combat the mental trauma of Thursday’s game than to drop a heaping big pile of goals on the offending party, and a healthy and motivated Gaborik can contribute to that.

Gaborik’s return also has a huge spillover effect.  As I suggested in Wednesday night’s Rinkside Chat, a healthy Gaborik is a transformative figure for a roster.  Coaches need to make room for those types of players, and that means messing around with what has been working.  In this case, check out the morning skate’s top three forward lines:

- Calvert – Johansen – Umberger

- Jenner – Dubinsky – Atkinson

- Foligno – Anisimov – Gaborik

Compare that to the de facto top two lines from the past few games:

- Calvert- Dubinsky – Atkinson

- Foligno – Johansen – Umberger

As I guessed, the chemistry from the November and December games is being tossed to the wind to make room for the star player.  I’d expect to see the same effect again once Nathan Horton comes back (though I’m gathering that Horton and Umberger are platooning in practice).

Yes, there’s a lot to watch.  McElhinney has to stay tough, the defensive corps needs to absorb the returning James Wisniewski and the forwards have to adapt to new running mates up and down the roster as they welcome the team’s superstar scorer back onto the ice.

YOUR FOX SPORTS OHIO BROADCAST INFORMATION

The puck drops at 7PM , which means…

- “Blue Jackets Live” with Brian Giesenschlag and Dan Kamal at 6:30PM

- The Flyers and the Blue Jackets drop the puck  at 7PM with Jeff Rimer and Bill Davidge in the booth.

- “Blue Jackets Live Postgame” with Brian and Dan starts immediately following.

 

To say that this game is intriguing (if not just out of early season desperation to rebound strong) is an understatement.  I’m really looking forward to it.  Go Jackets!

Before the CBJ puck drops: The Philadelphia two-fer

By Tom

GAMES 35 & 36

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

15-15-4

(5-3-2 in last 10 games)

Records as of 12/19/13

CURRENT NHL RANKINGS (as of 12/19/13)

PHI
RANK

PHI
GOALS/GAME

CBJ
RANK

CBJ
GOALS/GAME

GOALS FOR

23

2.35

 16

2.53

GOALS AGAINST

14

 2.65

 19

 2.76

BLOG NOTE: As the Flyers and Blue Jackets are playing back-to-back games, I’m writing this as an overview of both games.  Should something dramatic happen in the course of the first game to warrant an addendum to this preview, I’ll be sure to write about it.

ABOUT TONIGHT’S OPPONENT:

Amazingly, the Columbus Blue Jackets have made it through almost half of a season without playing their new divisional rival, the Philadelphia Flyers.  But they’re on for tonight, and for Saturday, and for a couple other times this season…so let’s dive in.

I can’t think about the Flyers and not recall my freshman year college roommate, who camped out at his dorm room desk for the entire year in a Flyers jersey while regaling our quad with stories of The Great Ron Hextall (former Flyers goalie, in case you didn’t know) when not burying his head in books.  He’s now a cardiologist.  I’m not.  Maybe I shouldn’t have blown his hockey wisdom off.  But I digress.

The CBJ history with Philadelphia is deliciously intertwined.  Forward R. J. Umberger and Team Ambassador and Broadcast Associate Jody Shelley once played in Philly.  Columbus’ former players Jake Voracek and Steve Mason now play there.  The teams also swapped a few draft picks along the way, with the most notable being Columbus’ number one becoming the Flyers’ Sean Couturier and the Flyers’ number one becoming Columbus prospect Marco Dano.  I daresay that only the Columbus-New York Rangers relationship runs deeper on the personnel side.

The Flyers got off to a terrible start to the season, going 4-10-1 out of the gate and seeing their coach, Peter Laviolette, marched out of town on October 7th.  Laviolette coached a scant three games before being replaced by former assistant Craig Berube.  While it took a while for Berube to right the ship, the Flyers pulled themselves out of the NHL sub-basement and now sit in fourth place in the Metropolitan Division, two points ahead of the seventh-place Blue Jackets (Yes, it’s that tight.).

Expectations in Philadelphia always are sky-high, and the team spends like it.  Philly was the winner of the Jaromir Jagr free agency derby when he returned from the Russian KHL, and Jagr helped the young stars like forwards Claude Giroux and especially Voracek elevate their games.  Jagr wasn’t re-signed, however, and the Flyers backfilled that by bringing in free agent Vinny Lecavalier.

As for Columbus, this may be a .500 team that they’re facing tonight…but they’re not playing like one.  Not even close.  Plus, the stats don’t do the current state of the Flyers justice.  You have to balance their 4-10-1 start against their 15-15-4 record.  That means that once things started clicking in early November, Philadelphia has been an impressive 11-5-3.  I daresay any team in the NHL would enjoy that type of success.

The Flyers’ current top scorers are:

- Giroux (7 goals, 19 assists, 26 points)

- Voracek (8 G, 11 A, 19 pts)

- Forward Brayden Schenn (7 G, 12 A, 19 pts)

- Forward Matt Read (10 G, 7 A, 17 pts)

- Forward Wayne Simmonds (6 G, 10 A, 16 pts)

- Couturier (6 G, 10 A, 16 pts)

In goal, Hextall is long gone (actually, he’s the Flyers’ assistant general manager) but former Blue Jacket netminder arguably is the team’s most valuable player thus far, going 12-9-4 in 29 starts with a .924 save percentage.  Backup Ray Emery, when not slugging goalies who don’t want to fight him, is 3-6-0 in 9 starts with a .891 save percentage.  Mason will get the start against Columbus on Thursday night, and speculation is that Emery will start on Saturday.

THE REAL IMPORTANT STUFF TO KNOW

This home and home series (Thursday and Saturday) marks the beginning of five straight games in the Metropolitan Division for Columbus.  We’ll see two against Philly, then Carolina, New Jersey and Pittsburgh.  To say that this stretch is important – with only 3 standings points separating the six teams occupying third through seventh place – to the Blue Jackets’ playoff hopes could be an understatement.  Four out of the five games are against teams in that cluster competing for the third (and likely final) Metro Division playoff spot.  As the team at the bottom of this pack, the CBJ need to win as many games as possible…and in regulation…to accumulate points and deny their divisional rivals points at the same time.

WHAT I’LL BE WATCHING FOR

From this week’s Winnipeg preview:

“This appears to be one for the last games of the “depleted” Blue Jackets roster.  Word is filtering out of Nationwide Arena that James Wisniewski and Marian Gaborik will be back later this week, and Nathan Horton will make his Blue Jackets debut (finally!) after Christmas.”

“So tonight could be seen as a bit of a curtain call for The Squad That Dug Themselves Out Of Their Hole.  I’d love to be there tonight and give them all the cheering that I can muster, for this group surely deserves it.”

Word out of the Blue Jackets locker room is that both Gaborik and Wisniewski could be back as soon as Saturday, meaning that the team will get another shot at a curtain call for the Columbus M*A*S*H Jackets.   Considering the less-than-stellar game that the team had against the Jets, I’m hoping that the added incentive of grabbing two points at the expense of a divisional rival motivates the squad to turn it on tonight.

The goaltenders will be interesting to watch tonight, but for very different reasons.  For Columbus, Curtis McElhinney will return from injury.  That always is an adventure, for we will never know how much rust has shaken off until the pucks start flying in real time.  Here’s hoping that McElhinney bounces back strong.

On the flip side, Steve Mason….oh man, where to begin?  I still remember the Steve Mason of 2009 that grabbed 10 shutouts and helped will the Blue Jackets to their only playoff appearance despite no real goalie coach and a case of mono.   That Calder trophy-winning season made so many CBJ fans think that the goaltending issue was solved for the foreseeable future.  Of course, that wasn’t the case (you name the reason why, and you’ll probably be at least partially correct) and here we are.

I have a soft spot for Mason because of 2009 and always felt that his was a classic case of needing a change of scenery to get his mojo back.  So guess what happened?  He got a change of scenery – perhaps to the Black Hole of Goalie Suffering, but a change nonetheless – and found himself.  It was never about the physical nature of the game for Mason; it was always between the ears.  A fresh start let him shake off the negative experiences from Columbus and take off once again.

Yes, I’ll be rooting for the Blue Jackets tonight.  I always do.  But I’ll also be rooting for Steve Mason tonight.  (And if he plays on Saturday, something I wouldn’t recommend for the sake of his mental health, I’ll root for him then, too.)

YOUR FOX SPORTS OHIO BROADCAST INFORMATION

The puck drops at 7PM for both games (Thursday at Philadelphia, Saturday in Columbus), which means…

- “Blue Jackets Live” with Brian Giesenschlag and Dan Kamal at 6:30PM

- The Flyers and the Blue Jackets drop the puck  at 7PM with Jeff Rimer and Bill Davidge in the booth.

- “Blue Jackets Live Postgame” with Brian and Dan starts immediately following.

 

And thus begins a big, big, big stretch of games for Columbus if our favorite team is serious about its playoff aspirations this season.  Go Jackets!

Blazers’ Mo Williams enjoying new role in new winning situation

By Sam Amico

CLEVELAND – Mo Williams knows winning.

He was a point guard on Cavaliers squads that won 66 and 61 games in back-to-back seasons (2008-09 and ’09-10). He’s now a member of a Trail Blazers team that entered Tuesday’s game at Cleveland with a league-best record of 21-4.

But these Blazers don’t necessarily remind Williams of those Cavs.

“It’s a totally different team,” he said. “But it’s a similar a feeling. We’re winning a lot. We do take the approach like it’s our last game, like it’s a must-win.”

Williams is averaging just more than nine points per game, coming off the bench behind reigning NBA Rookie of the Year Damian Lillard.

Williams is enjoying the role.

“It doesn’t take me long to get comfortable anywhere,” he said. “I’m pretty much a smart, intelligent basketball player. I’m not ignorant in the sense of guys feeling they can do more than they can. You gotta know what the team needs and what they ask of you.”

That type of mentality and team-first attitude is why the Blazers are having early success, according to Williams.

“That’s what separates the really good teams from the bad,” he said. “I knew where I could fit with this team and be good. It’s all about accepting everybody, and here, one through 15 has accepted everyone. That goes for any good team. You might not like (your role); I’m sure guys 13 through 15 want to play. But at the end of the day, they have to accept where they are. Their time will come. And even for six through10 — they may get called on and have to step up.

“But when everybody’s healthy, you have to accept that this is our team, this is who we are, this is what we have to be in order to be successful. Guys here have bought into that.”

Williams was traded by the Cavs to the Clippers in 2010-11 in the deal that eventually netted Kyrie Irving with the No. 1 overall draft pick.

“Worked out OK for them, huh?” Williams once said, smiling.

But today, it appears to be working out OK for Williams, too.

Before the CBJ puck drops: Winnipeg

By Tom

GAME 34

WINNIPEG JETS

14-15-5

(4-4-2 in last 10 games)

CURRENT NHL RANKINGS

WPG
RANK

WPG
GOALS/GAME

CBJ
RANK

CBJ
GOALS/GAME

GOALS FOR

20

2.50

 18

2.54

GOALS AGAINST

 20

 2.82

 19

 2.76

ABOUT TONIGHT’S OPPONENT:

The old Atlanta Thrashers have found a loud and boisterous home in Manitoba, in a metro area of 730,000 (a little less than one-third the size of the Columbus metro area).  In the process, they’ve made the 15,000-seat MTS Centre one of the most exciting places to play NHL hockey.

The Jets also were a recipient of realignment dreams, moving out of Atlanta’s Eastern Conference slot (Yes, I know, Atlanta is actually positioned west of Columbus on the map.) and into the Western Conference…opening up the spot that both Detroit and Columbus took in moving East.

Yes, they ASKED to move to the West.

Yes, Winnipeg is nuts.

You see, Winnipeg is 14-15-5.  They’re in dead last in Central Division and are 10 points away from the Central’s fourth and final playoff seed.

The Columbus Blue Jackets, on the other hand, are 14-15-4.  The CBJ are currently in 5th in the Metropolitan Division and are within three points of the coveted third divisional playoff slot.  (Yes, I’m presuming that the Atlantic will get the Metro’s fourth playoff seed.)

And in a non-sequitir, the Jets are in the shootout a lot.  I mean a LOT.  In fact, they have some special contest up there:

Why wait until the 18th? The Jets have been in shootouts on 9 occasions already this season.

While light years better than the Thrashers of old, the Jets have a long way to go before they will be able to crack the Blackhawks and Blues’ stranglehold on the Central.  Good luck to them.  (Better them than Columbus!)

The Jets’ current top scorers are:

- Forward Bryan Little (13 goals, 17 assists, 30 points)

- Forward Blake Wheeler (11 G, 14 A, 25 pts)

- Defenseman Dustin Byfuglien(6 G, 17 A, 23 pts)

- Forward Andrew Ladd (8 G, 14 A, 22 pts)

- Forward Olli Jokinen (8 G, 13 A, 21 pts)

In goal, Ondrej Pavelec has 27 starts and a 10-13-4 record to show for it (.909 save percentage).  Backup (and tonight’s starter) Al Montoya has a 4-2-1 record in seven starts with a .921 save percentage.

THE REAL IMPORTANT STUFF TO KNOW

This appears to be one for the last games of the “depleted” Blue Jackets roster.  Word is filtering out of Nationwide Arena that James Wisniewski and Marian Gaborik will be back later this week, and Nathan Horton will make his Blue Jackets debut (finally!) after Christmas.

I look at this skill upgrade – at least on paper – as a bit of a mixed blessing and approach it with some trepidation.  For as banged up and short-staffed as the Blue Jackets have been, the players who have been able to represent the team on game day have figured out a team identity that’s starting to get some wins.  It was a while in coming, but I have to admit that I’ve liked what I’ve seen from the team since Thanksgiving.

Now, with significant players like Gaborik and Horton injected into the lineup, the chemistry changes.  The lines change.  The scheme might change to take advantage of their obvious skill.  Todd Richards and his staff will be hard pressed to ensure that the best of what we’ve seen from the Blue Jackets remains as these stars return.

So tonight could be seen as a bit of a curtain call for The Squad That Dug Themselves Out Of Their Hole.  I’d love to be there tonight and give them all the cheering that I can muster, for this group surely deserves it.

WHAT I’LL BE WATCHING FOR

I usually pick players to watch, and I also pick Blue Jackets to watch, but tonight’s a little different.  As we only get to see Winnipeg twice this season, my eyes will at least partially be on Jets head coach Claude Noel.

Noel, as most CBJ fans know, was an assistant to former CBJ bench boss Ken Hitchcock.  When Hitchcock was sacked, Noel stepped in and piloted the team to a 10-8-6 record in what was already being referred to as a lost season.  This reasonably successful interim head coaching stint was good enough to get Noel an interview for the head job, but apparently wasn’t good enough to warrant serious consideration as then-general manager Scott Howson instead chose to go with AHL wunderkind head coach Guy Boucher (who instead chose to coach the Tampa Bay Lightning, failed, was fired and currently is not coaching) and then Scott Arniel (who, too, failed, was fired and currently is an assistant coach for the New York Rangers).

Noel instead found himself coaching with Winnipeg, where he’s done OK considering the roster and (now) the competition.  Remember, Noel piloted the Jets to 9th in the East last season, an improvement from 11th in the full season prior.  It’s a much harder road to hoe now, as Blue Jackets fans know too well, but Noel keeps plugging on.  I for one wish nothing but success to him as he continues living out his dream of coaching in the NHL.

YOUR FOX SPORTS OHIO BROADCAST INFORMATION

The puck drops at 7PM at Nationwide Arena, which means…

- You’ll get a brand-new “Blue Jackets Slap Shots” at 6PM.

- “Blue Jackets Live” with Brian Giesenschlag and Dan Kamal follows at 6:30PM

- The Jets and the Blue Jackets drop the puck  at 7PM with Jeff Rimer and Bill Davidge in the booth.

- “Blue Jackets Live Postgame” with Brian and Dan starts immediately following.

- If you tuned in late or are looking for another dose, it also appears that “Slap Shots” will air following the postgame show, right around 10PM.

 

It’s another great chance to grab two more standings points in what should be a very competitive game.  Go Jackets!

Before the CBJ puck drops: St. Louis

By Tom

GAME 33

ST. LOUIS BLUES

21-6-3

(7-3-0 in last 10 games)

CURRENT NHL RANKINGS

STL
RANK

STL
GOALS/GAME

CBJ
RANK

CBJ
GOALS/GAME

GOALS FOR

2

3.43

 20

2.53

GOALS AGAINST

 7

 2.30

 17

 2.72

ABOUT TONIGHT’S OPPONENT:

Let’s be blunt: If you had to pick, say, three or four likely Western Conference participants in the Stanley Cup Finals, the St. Louis Blues will be on that list.

This team is loaded. Number 2 overall in terms of goals for means they can score in bunches.  Number 7 overall in terms of goals against means that they have a top tier defense.

The team is coached by former Columbus Blue Jackets bench boss Ken Hitchcock, a likely Hall of Fame coach who has propelled the Blues from perennial underachiever to, well, Stanley Cup contender.

The Blues have two ridiculously good scorers in Alex Steen and David Backes, who have a whopping 37 goals between them thus far.  Their resident pest, T. J. Oshie, has 23 assists as well.

It’s hard not to look at their stat sheet, frankly, and just sit back in your chair in amazement.  We’ve talked about elite hockey teams – Pittsburgh and Boston being chief among them.  This is most definitely in that class, if not higher – for the Blues are winning their 20-plus games in the ridiculously difficult Western Conference.

The Blues’ current top scorers are:

- Steen (22 goals, 13 assists, 35 points)

- Backes (15 G, 14 A, 29 pts)

- Oshie (4 G, 23 A, 27 pts)

- Defenseman Jay Bowmeester (2 G, 20 A, 22 pts)

- Defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk (3 G, 19 A, 22 pts)

- Forward Jaden Schwartz (8 G, 14 A, 22 pts)

As a point of comparison, only Ryan Johansen (25 points) would crack that list from the Columbus Blue Jackets roster.  Wow.

And despite the gaudy scoring numbers, remember that Ken Hitchcock is known not for his offense but for his incredible team defensive schemes.

Jaroslav Halak has been the workhorse at goal, with 22 starts, a 15-5-2 record and a .910 save percentage.  He’ll get the start tonight.  Backup Brian Elliott is 6-1-1 in eight starts and has a .913 save percentage.

THE REAL IMPORTANT STUFF TO KNOW

We’re back in the soap opera world of NHL hockey, what with the “subplots” of Hitchcock facing the Blue Jackets once again and former Blues president John Davidson and former Blues assistant general manager Jarmo Kekalainen leading the Blue Jackets against their former team.  Personally, I’d be surprised if these stories carry through past the puck drop, what with Hitchcock’s former management being swept out of Nationwide Arena and the fact that former executives animus (if there is any) toward their old team just doesn’t manifest itself well through the roster outside of JD giving the pregame talk in the locker room.

What’s REALLY important, in my opinion, is to look at this game as a measuring stick for Columbus.  The Blue Jackets are 6-4-0 in their last 10 games, but none of those wins were against teams like the Blues.  So we’ll know by about 10 o’clock tonight what we have on our hands as Blue Jackets fans…and whether this team truly has turned the corner.

WHAT I’LL BE WATCHING FOR

Goaltender Mike McKenna – he of the forty whole minutes of NHL hockey this season – gets the start due to injuries to Sergei Bobrovsky and Curtis McElhinney.  Obviously he’s going to have to play a very strong game.  He’ll also require heaping piles of help from the CBJ blue liners to minimize the quality and quantity of shots from the potent St. Louis roster.

But the guy I’m really going to have my eye on is center Ryan Johansen.  Johansen has been on fire of late, jumping up to 25 points on the season and pulling out all sorts of crunch-time heroics.  I can’t see any NHL coach looking at tape of the Columbus Blue Jackets and not saying, “We have to stop number 19.”  Because in all seriousness, shutting down Johansen means that the CBJ’s top scorer and one of their top playmakers is neutralized.  While coach Todd Richards and his staff can try to counter-scheme to free up Johansen (last line change from being a home game is an obvious advantage), Johansen and his linemates will have to do the heavy lifting out on the ice to keep his seven-game point scoring streak alive.

YOUR FOX SPORTS OHIO BROADCAST INFORMATION

The puck drops at 7PM at Nationwide Arena, so…

- You’ll get the latest “Blue Jackets Slap Shots” as an appetizer at 6PM.

- “Blue Jackets Live” with Brian Giesenschlag and Dan Kamal kicks off at 6:30PM

- The Blues and the Blue Jackets face off at 7PM with Jeff Rimer and Bill Davidge on the call.

- “Blue Jackets Live Postgame” with Brian and Dan starts immediately following.

- If you tuned in late or are looking for another dose, it also appears that “Slap Shots” will air following the postgame show, right around 10PM.

 

Have fun tonight!  Go Jackets!

Onuaku’s perfect night lifts cruising Charge

By Sam Amico

CANTON, Ohio – Forward Arinze Onuaku erupted for 29 points on 11-of-11 shooting, and guard Robert Hite made his season debut with 13 points, and the Canton Charge cruised to a 105-96 win over the visiting Erie BayHawks in NBA D-League action Saturday night.

The Charge (7-1) also received 11 points from former Cleveland State guard Shane Edwards.

Scott Suggs paced the BayHawks (0-6) with 22 points and rookie C.J. Leslie added 14 points and five rebounds.

Canton led 60-41 at halftime and 83-64 at the end of the third quarter.

The teams meet again tonight at the Canton Memorial Civic Center. Tip-off is scheduled for 7.

Cavs G/F Carrick Felix to miss game at Orlando

By Sam Amico

INDEPENDENCE, Ohio – Cavaliers guard/forward Carrick Felix did not travel with the team Thursday to Orlando because of left knee soreness. The Cavs play at the Magic on Friday (7 p.m., FOX Sports Ohio).  Felix is not expected to join the Cavs in time for Saturday’s game at Miami.

He will remain in Cleveland for additional examination and treatment at Cleveland Clinic Sports Health.

The 2013 second-round pick is averaging 1.3 points for the Cavs and 9.3 points and 5.3 rebounds for the Canton Charge.

Before the puck drops: New York Rangers

By Tom

GAME 32

NEW YORK RANGERS

15-16-1

(4-5-1 in last 10 games)

CURRENT NHL RANKINGS

NYR
RANK

NYR
GOALS/GAME

CBJ
RANK

CBJ
GOALS/GAME

GOALS FOR

 28

 2.19

 20

2.48

GOALS AGAINST

 14

 2.62

 18

 2.74

SINCE WE LAST MET (ON NOVEMBER 7):

We last saw the team at 7-8-0, and they’ve basically been .500 since then (8-8-1).  That has to be a touch disappointing for the Rangers, seeing as they started the game with a monster road trip that bought the Madison Square Garden folks time to finish the reconstruction of their arena.

It clearly has been an exercise in frustration, as head coach Alain Vigneault’s comments about the lack of “compete level” indicate:

“I’m shifting things because we’re .500, so I think at .500 I’ve got some latitude here,” Vigneault said, in response to a question about whether he is trying to get center Derick Brassard back into the top six. “Playing two players that bring more of a physical bite to our team (in Arron Asham and Derek Dorsett), maybe that will make some other players compete at a higher level.”

“I look at the Detroit Red Wings, who I know well because I coached against them the last seven years,” Vigneault continued. “They have no toughness, per se, as far as that type of personnel in their lineup, at no point – other than maybe (Jordin) Tootoo the last couple years, but he’s gone now. But those guys play hard. They have the puck, and they say, ‘Try and get it from me.’ Or they don’t have it and they battle like hell to get it back. They compete.”

“That’s the team toughness that I’m hoping we would get here. Maybe we’ll get there by changing some personnel and adding some more toughness. We’re at .500. I’m trying.”

Ouch.

In other news, leading scorer Brad Richards’ name is being floated pretty consistently in trade rumors.  That’s not a good sign.

Also, forward Rick Nash has returned from his early season concussion…and Brassard will be missing the game with a sore rear end.

While aspirations were high on the Great White Way, I think it’s clear that the Rangers will be part of the Metropolitan Division scrum that will be competing with the Blue Jackets for that third (and likely last) playoff spot.

The Rangers’ current top scorers are:

- Forward Brad Richards (9 goals, 15 assists, 24 points)

- Forward Derek Stepan (5 G, 15 A, 20 pts)

- Forward Mats Zuccarello (6 G, 14 A, 20 pts)

- Defenseman Ryan McDonagh (6 G, 13 A, 19 pts)

- Forward Chris Kreider (7 G, 10 A, 17 pts)

As you can see, no former Blue Jackets are in the “top scorers” mix.  The Nash exclusion is understandable considering that he’s only played in 15 games (6 G, 5 A, 11 pts).  Derrick Brassard, however, has played in every game  and only put up 14 points (5 G, 9 A).  John Moore has 2 G, 3 A.  Anton Stralman has 0 G, 3 A.  Derek Dorsett has 2 G, 1 A.

Henrik Lundqvist will get the start in goal, having started 23 games and yielding a surprising 9-13-1 record and a .913 save percentage.

THE REAL IMPORTANT STUFF TO KNOW

While I’d like to think that the playoff implications of an intra-division game in the non-Pittsburgh Metro are of paramount importance, it’s naive to think that the players who have been involved in the cross-pollination of the Blue Jackets and Blueshirts aren’t just a tad motivated.  Brandon Dubinsky all but said that in that he’s apparently looking to make a statement to the team that gave up on him when acquiring Rick Nash.  Nash, on the other hand, is openly blase about playing his old club.  Whether he truly is, however, remains to be seen.

Anyway, it’s a long season and players look for motivation wherever they can find it.  As long as it results in a win – which also would work toward the larger playoff goals – I’m fine with it.  Just as long as the Blue Jackets players focus on putting the puck in the back of net and not settling some perceived score by other means…forest and trees, boys!

WHAT I’LL BE WATCHING FOR

The New Jersey game presented a bit of a “trap” situation – lack of motivation following a big game, underwhelming opponent .  It took the Blue Jackets digging deep to pull the game out, and they did in the last minute with a terrific Ryan Johansen bank shot off of Nick Foligno.

Conversely, tonight’s game presents all sorts of motivation.  It’s an away game, though, so last line change goes to the Rangers.  Coach Todd Richards will have to call a more conservative game as a result.  The team also will need to avoid getting behind because it’ll be that much harder to rebound.

Lastly, I think goalie Curtis McElhinney is in for a big night.  Vigneault’s rant of a couple of days ago may have had a galvanizing effect on his team.  If the likes of Richards and Nash are motivated, they will be tough to stop.  Think “Evgeni Malkin bull rush from Monday” hard to stop.  The Rangers stars come across as sleeping giants to me, and McElhinney will need to be on top of his game in case the giants awaken.

YOUR FOX SPORTS OHIO BROADCAST INFORMATION

The puck drops at 7PM at Madison Square Garden, so…

- “Blue Jackets Live” with Brian Giesenschlag and Dan Kamal kicks off at 6:30PM

- The Rangers and the Blue Jackets face off at 7PM with Jeff Rimer and Bill Davidge on the call.

- “Blue Jackets Live Postgame” with Brian and Dan starts immediately following.

 

Big game tonight!  Go Jackets!

Small-Time Basketball Report: Elliott Williams stepping up for Sixers

By Sam Amico

Note: The Small-Time Basketball Report is Sam Amico’s regular feature covering the NBA, the NBA D-League and pro basketball overseas.

Former Trail Blazers first-round draft pick Elliott Williams is off to a solid start with the 76ers.

Williams, a 6-foot-5 guard, is only averaging 2.9 points and 1.4 rebounds in 9.5 minutes, but has offered underrated intangibles that don’t show up on a stat line. The Sixers signed Williams (along with rookie guard Lorenzo Brown) on Nov. 20, when they waived center Kwame Brown, a former No. 1 overall pick, and guard Darius Morris.

Williams was selected with the No. 22 pick in 2010 but appeared in just 24 games with the Blazers after suffering an array of injuries. They included multiple knee surgeries and a ruptured Achilles tendon.

He was not re-signed by the Blazers over the summer — although he did attend training camp with the Cavaliers. Williams appeared in six of the Cavs’ eight preseason games, and was waived before the regular season started.

He has appeared in nine games for the Sixers.

• Former Akron center Zeke Marshall was obtained by the D-League’s Maine Red Claws in a three-team trade with the Reno Bighorns and Santa Cruz Warriors. Marshall, a 7-foot center, was not drafted by an NBA team after his senior season this past summer. Nor has he played for a D-League team. He most recently played with Yulon Luxgen in the Taiwan league, compiling averages of 12.7 points and 4.0 rebounds.

• Former Cavs forward Jamario Moon is averaging 10.6 points and 6.6 rebounds as a member of the Los Angeles D-Fenders of the D-League. Moon, 33, has started four the D-Fenders’ first five games.

• The D-Fenders also obtained the rights to ex-Cavs guard Manny Harris from the Canton Charge for a 2014 first-round D-League draft selection Harris last played for the Charge in 2011-12.

• Speaking of the Charge, second-year forward Kevin Jones (another ex-Cav) has caught the eye of NBA scouts with his start to the season. When asked Wednesday about the odds of a call-up, Jones says he feels “like I have a pretty good shot.”

• Former Lakers and Cavs forward Luke Walton discussed his role with the D-Fenders on podcast on Ridiculous Upside, a website devoted to D-League coverage. Listen to it or read more here.

• Ex-Cleveland State forward J’Nathan Bullock has signed to play professionally in Finland.

• Also, former Youngstown State forward Damian Eargle has signed with the Saint John Mill Rats of NBL Canada. Eargle was named Horizon League Defensive Player of the Year last season.

Twitter: @SamAmicoFSO

Before the CBJ puck drops: New Jersey

By Tom

GAME 31

NEW JERSEY DEVILS

12-13-6

(4-5-1 in last 10 games)

CURRENT NHL RANKINGS

NJ
RANK

NJ
GOALS/GAME

CBJ
RANK

CBJ
GOALS/GAME

GOALS FOR

 28

 2.23

 21

2.40

GOALS AGAINST

 8

 2.32

 18

 2.70

SINCE WE LAST MET (ON OCTOBER 22):

Fifth in the NHL Eastern Conference’s Metropolitan Division and only three standings points ahead of the seventh-place Columbus Blue Jackets, the Devils are firmly mired in the scrum of “Metro” teams that are going to be clawing for the second and third playoff divisional playoff slots.  (Conventional wisdom at this point suggests that the Atlantic Division will leverage the new playoff rules to snag the fourth Metro slot for themselves due to more standings points.)

Like the CBJ, the Devils are a sub-.500 team.  They don’t appear to be playing well enough to break out, yet not poorly enough to fall out of the running.  The Devils do have a glaring deficiency, that being scoring.  What is amazing is that as bad as they are at putting the puck in the back of the net, imagine where they’d be without the ageless Jaromir Jagr, who leads the team with 11 goals and 24 points.  For as it stands, the Devils have no other double-digit goal scorer on the roster.

They appear to be getting by this season on the backs of their impressive defense.  Marek Zidlicky and Andy Greene both are double-digit in assists, so it appears that the Devils are getting shots in from the point.  And their 2.32 goals against statistic suggests they’re not incompetent on the blue line.  (Of course, Minnesota was fourth in the league in goals against and the CBJ just dropped four goals on them…so go figure.)

The other notable element about the Devils is their age.  General manager Lou Lamiorello loves his veterans, and the Devils’ average age is 29.  Jagr and tonight’s starting goaltender, Martin Brodeur, are both 41.  12 players are 30 or older.  By comparison, the Columbus Blue Jackets’ average age is 26.  Their oldest player, Derek Mackenzie, is 32.  Six players are between the age of 30 and Mackenzie’s 32.  Incredible.

The Devils’ current top scorers are:

- Jagr (11 goals, 13 assists, 24 points)

- Forward Patrick Elias (6 G, 11 A, 17 pts)

- Zidlicky (3 G, 11 A, 14 pts)

- Greene (4 G, 10 A, 14 pts)

- Forward Danius Zubrus (4 G, 9 A, 13 pts)

- Forward Michael Ryder (8 G, 5 A, 13 pts)

Martin Brodeur – a surefire Hall of Famer if there ever was one – will get the start.  He’s 8-7-2 in 17 starts with a .905 save percentage.  Brodeur is platooning with Cory Schneider, who is 4-6-4 in 14 starts and a .920 saver percentage.

A little goal support, and the Devils could be dangerous.

THE REAL IMPORTANT STUFF TO KNOW

If the Blue Jackets are going to make a move in the Metro Division, they’re going to have to win games like tonight’s in regulation.  They need to separate themselves from the pack, and that’s not going to happen if they give away standings points.  It’s probably a little too early to call this a “must win” from a playoffs perspective, but an accumulation of near-misses in winnable games can add up come playoff time.

And let’s be clear: The statistics suggest that this IS a winnable game.  The recent Minnesota game is the best measuring stick, what with the Wild’s strong defense and mediocre offense.  When the Blue Jackets play their smart, controlled game, they can keep up with Pittsburgh and Boston.  Why couldn’t they do the same with New Jersey?

WHAT I’LL BE WATCHING FOR

The hockey fan in me is genuinely excited to see Jaromir Jagr and Martin Brodeur play tonight.  I rarely get excited any more about opposing players, but both Jagr and Brodeur are transcendent.  Jagr is currently in 8th place on the NHL’s all-time goal scorers list.  Brodeur has more all-time records to his credit than I can fathom.  These are legendary players, and we get to see them here in Columbus tonight.

On the Blue Jackets, I’ll be looking for signs of a letdown.  We’re on the back-end of a two game/two night stint with the first game having all the trappings of a marquee event: A top opponent (Pittsburgh) and national television across both the US and Canada.  Tonight has none of that.  The Blue Jackets, in my opinion, will need to be mentally sharper tonight because the external stimulus just isn’t there.  This one comes from within.

We’ll also be in our second game without James Wisniewski.  David Savard plugged in for Wiz with Ryan Murray, and the duo didn’t get torched by Crosby and Malkin last night.  It will be interesting to see how coach Todd Richards works with the pieces at his disposal to protect goaltender Curtis McElhinney.

YOUR FOX SPORTS OHIO BROADCAST INFORMATION

NOTE: FOX SPORTS OHIO HAS BOTH THE CAVALIERS AND BLUE JACKETS GAMES STARTING AT 7PM.  CLICK HERE TO SEE THE TELEVISION VIEWING OPTIONS IN YOUR AREA.

 

We’re back at Nationwide Arena tonight, so that means a 7PM puck drop and…

- “Blue Jackets Live” with Brian Giesenschlag and Dan Kamal starting at 6:30PM

- The Devils and the Blue Jackets face off at 7PM with Jeff Rimer and Bill Davidge.

- “Blue Jackets Live Postgame” with Brian and Dan starts immediately following.

 

Enjoy the game!  Go Jackets!