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Before the CBJ puck drops: Edmonton

GAME 26

EDMONTON OILERS

8-16-2

(4-6-0 in last 10 games)

SINCE WE LAST SAW THESE GUYS ON NOVEMBER 19:

No snark this afternoon…I learned my lesson last time around when the Oilers shellacked the Columbus Blue Jackets, 7-0 in the Great White North.

The Oilers are 2-1-0 since we last saw them.  That includes a home win against Florida (4-1), a home loss against defending Stanley Cup champion Chicago (5-1) and a road win last night against Nashville (3-0).  It’s a little like what we’ve seen with the ‘feast or famine’ approach to hockey, but I don’t think anyone would begrudge the Oilers a loss to the Blackhawks.

In addition, last night was Ilya Bryzgalov’s first start in goal.  He stopped all 33 Predators shots and backstopped the Oilers to their shutout win.  Defense and goal has been achilles heel of this team, so an effective Bryzgalov would be humannngous beeg for Edmonton as they look to escape the NHL’s sub-basement.

In light of what we’re seeing out of Edmonton over the last week plus, the question is fairly raised: Are the Oilers finally turning the corner?

THE REAL IMPORTANT STUFF TO KNOW

If you follow the general trend that the team has tracked on over the month of November, the Blue Jackets should win tonight.  If you look at the way the score differentials have been going, I think it fair to expect a 10-0 Blue Jackets shutout.

Of course that won’t happen, but the ‘win one-lose one’ cycle has been going for a while now (even before the ten-day Canadian road trip).  The more alarming side of it is that those score differentials have moved from close games that end in overtime to blowout shutouts, both for and against.  It’s getting very strange.

Considering how high the highs have been, and how low the lows have been, I think the Blue Jackets have to come out blazing, get that first goal and make the young Oilers team play desperate.  If the Jackets fall behind early, hold on tight.

WHAT I’LL BE WATCHING

The Blue Jackets gave former Buffalo Sabres (and Michigan State Spartans) forward Corey Tropp an unexpected Thanksgiving surprise in claiming him off waivers when the Sabres tried to shuffle him off to the minors.  He’s surely going to be in the bottom six for Blue Jackets forwards, but it will be interesting to see how the presence of a new face – one with a bit of a chip on his shoulder, having just survived being banished to the AHL – impacts the team.

In a less extreme way, the elevation of Jack Skille from Springfield three games ago also has been interesting.  He’s already netted a goal in limited play, something you don’t expect from your AHL-NHL tweeners.  Still, these guys like Tropp and Skille are people who live on the bubble and are hungry to make their mark while in The Show…so perhaps that attitude will help the team’s psyche right now.

YOUR FOX SPORTS OHIO BROADCAST INFORMATION

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

- The puck drops at 7:00PM with Jeff Rimer and Bill Davidge on the call.

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

A little Black Friday hockey for you!  Have fun tonight!

Before the CBJ puck drops: Nashville

GAME 25

 

NASHVILLE PREDATORS

12-10-2

(5-5-0 in last 10 games)

WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT OUR OPPONENT:

If you really need to know anything about the Nashville Predators and consider yourself a Columbus Blue Jackets fan, odds are you are new to the team this season.  You see, Columbus and Nashville have been slugging it out as divisional rivals since the inception of the Blue Jackets.  That means 6-ish times a season – a great deal of familiarity.

And, bless their hearts, Nashville never changes.

The Preds have the same general manager since their Day 1, David Poile.  They have the same head coach, Barry Trotz.  They built the team outward from goal, with powerful defense and an offense that scores every full moon.  The team is again built on a salary budget, with nearly $5 million in unspent cap space, meaning that the team is loaded with B-list talent to accompany past Vezina Trophy finalist Pekka Rinne and past Norris Trophy finalist Shea Weber.

The big changes since our respective clubs are twofold: 1. A grab-bag situation at goalie after the injury/illness/infection to Rinne, one that has had him out of the lineup for over a month; and 2. An infusion of youth in the form of two 19-year-olds, defenseman Seth Jones and forward Filip Forsberg.  These two high first round draft picks appear to be the new core of the Predators for the forseeable future.

Beyond that, it’s the Preds that we know and love.  Don’t go changing, Nashville.

Top scorers are:

- Forward David Legwand (4 goals, 15 assists, 19 points)

- Forward Craig Smith (6-9-15)

- Forward Patric Honqvist (6-7-13)

- Shea Weber (7-5-12)

- Forward Colin Wilson (3-9-12)

That’s right, a defenseman leads this team in goal scoring.  A very, very good defenseman, but a defenseman nonetheless.  The team is 24th in the league in scoring. I rest my case.

And in a nod to our corporate parents here at FOX, I’d be remiss if I didn’t remind everyone that forward Mike Fisher (4-5-9) is married to “American Idol” winner and country music superstar Carrie Underwood.

In net, Rinne started nine games (4-4-1, .917 saver percentage) before falling ill.  The other goaltenders are Carter Hutton (8 starts, 4-3-1, .891 save percentage) and Marek Mazanec (7 starts, 4-3-0, .929).  Mazanec gets the start tonight.

THE REAL IMPORTANT STUFF TO KNOW

One would think that the injury bug would be crippling, but the Blue Jackets played that hand against Toronto and played what could arguably be called their best game of the season in shutting out the Leafs, 6-0, on Monday night.  Such is life with the unpredictable nature of this team.

Anyhoo, the M*A*S*H list is long: Marian Gaborik, Brandon Dubinsky, Derek Mackenzie, Jared Boll and Nikita Nikitin.  That overlooks Nathan Horton, who I gather won’t be available to play for at least a month (but has started skating with the team in practice, a great sign).

Put it all together, and the CBJ are down an entire first line and two-thirds of a bottom six line.  That’s brutal, devastating for most teams, but the Blue Jackets somehow did what they did against Toronto.

Why?

I’m sticking with my “motor” theory until someone pokes a big enough hole in it to make me change my mind.  Matt Calvert, Nick Foligno and Boone Jenner combine to push the Blue Jackets to play above and beyond.  As long as those three are playing, Columbus has a chance.

That, and Ryan Johansen has become a pretty darned good hockey player.  But that’s another story for another preview.

WHAT I’LL BE WATCHING

Sergei Bobrovsky gets the start tonight, and the team’s “feast or famine” trend is reflected in his play.  Look at the last five games:

- 11/25 Toronto (win) – Stopped all 18 shots, 1.000 save percentage

- 11/22 Vancouver (loss) – Stopped 29 of 35, .829 Sv%

- 11/20 Calgary (win in overtime) – Stopped 24 of 25, .958 Sv%

- 11/19 Edmonton (loss) – Stopped 14 of 18, .778 Sv% (and was pulled roughly halfway through the game)

- 11/17 Ottawa (win) – Stopped 29 of 30, .967 Sv%

A general rule of thumb is that a goalie has to have a save percentage of .920 or better to be NHL starting quality.  I appreciate that there’s more to Bob’s save percentage than just his personal performance, but that save percentage appears to be a terrific bellweather for how the CBJ are going to do in a given game.  And it appears that Bob’s not a .920 goalie.  He’s either a .800 goalie or a .950 goalie.  HUGE difference.

YOUR FOX SPORTS OHIO BROADCAST INFORMATION

NOTE THAT FOX SPORTS OHIO HAS BOTH BLUE JACKETS HOCKEY AND CLEVELAND CAVALIERS BASKETBALL AT THE SAME TIME TONIGHT.  CLICK HERE TO SEE HOW TO WATCH THE CBJ GAME IN YOUR AREA.

Nothing beats Nationwide Arena’s home cooking, and the boys are back in Columbus! Tune in to FOX Sports Ohio for:

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

- Puck drop at 7PM with Jeff Rimer and Bill Davidge.

- “Blue Jackets Live Postgame” with Brian and Dan immediately follows

- “Blue Jackets Slap Shots” wraps up your Columbus hockey evening around 10PM.

 

Before the CBJ puck drops: Toronto

GAME 24

 

TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS

14-8-1

(5-4-1 in last 10 games)

SINCE WE LAST SAW THE LEAFS (ON OCTOBER 25):

The Maple Leafs were 7-3-0 when we last played, and they’re 14-8-1 now.  That means 7-4-1 over the period since losing the CBJ, 5-2, at Nationwide Arena.  I sense a slight cooling off, but nothing substantial.  They’re still at 29 standings points, good enough to be tied for second in the Atlantic Division.

Their scoring has dropped off a tad, going from 5th in the league in goals for to 12th.  The defense has gone from 8th to 10th, another dip but not as big.  Point is, the Leafs are still a top-tier team in today’s NHL – right now.   The last ten games’ performance, combined with the goal scoring drop-off, makes the question of whether the Leafs are coming back to earth a reasonable question.  I’d say we have to wait another 5-10 games before making that call.

The point differentials are interesting: Once you get past the three overtime games (all went to shootouts), the Leafs have had a whopping zero one-point score differentials since October 25.  Either this team wins by two-plus goals, or they lose by two-plus goals…or they go to OT.  Nary a one-goal game in regulation.  In fact, they’ve only had three all season.

OK, so that was interesting to me.  Moving along…

Top scorers are:

- Forward Phil Kessel (12 goals, 9 assists, 21 points)

- Forward Mason Raymond (8-9-17)

- Forward James Van Riemsdyk (9-7-16)

- Forward Nazem Kadri (6-10-16)

- Forward Joffrey Lupul (8-7-15)

In net, Jonathan Bernier has 13 starts, an 8-6-1 record and a .934 save percentage.  The Blue Jackets will apparently be facing his backup, James Reimer (who has the coolest fan-made t-shirt in sports in my opinion), who sports a 6-2-0 record in 10 starts along with a .947 save percentage.

Solid offense.  Solid defense.  The Toronto Maple Leafs remain a solid hockey team.

THE REAL IMPORTANT STUFF TO KNOW

We can belabor the extreme highs and lows of the Columbus Blue Jackets right now, but I think that it’s perhaps more germane to look at the dynamics of tonight’s game.

- The Leafs are probably not pleased with having been undressed, 5-2, in their last game against the Blue Jackets.  So the chip is on their shoulder.  Anything to get motivated over an 82-game season, you know.

- It’s a home game, the last one of this home stand for the Leafs, so they’ll be motivated to grab a couple more standings points before doing a three games in four nights stretch.

On the flip side, check out this “big story” preview nugget from the Leafs’ public relations department:

“The Blue Jackets have an almost identical record to the 7-12-4 mark they posted through 23 games last season, when they proceeded to nearly make the Stanley Cup Playoffs after a second-half tear. On the plus side, this is an 82-game season, giving them far more time to turn things around. They’re also no longer in the Western Conference, where their poor start would have all but buried them. On the other hand, Sergei Bobrovsky (2.95 goals-against average, .904 save percentage) needs to rediscover something close to his Vezina Trophy-winning form in a hurry.”

Hard to argue with that assessment.  Sometimes it takes an outsider’s eye to put it all in perspective.

WHAT I’LL BE WATCHING

With both Derek MacKenzie and Jared Boll down for the night, the injury bug that has afflicted the CBJ top six has now infected the bottom six.  Coach Todd Richards has done his share of line shuffling this season, but I have a feeling that it’s going to reach new levels tonight.  You can respond to changes in circumstances like this either positively – with players taking advantage of newfound opportunities to shine – or negatively.

I’d like to think that with the team’s top three “motor” players – Matt Calvert, Boone Jenner and Nick Foligno – in the lineup despite the injuries, positive motivation won’t be hard to find.

YOUR FOX SPORTS OHIO BROADCAST INFORMATION

WE’RE BACK IN THE EASTERN TIME ZONE!

Eastern Time Zone games mean 7PM starts, and I could not be happier.  Tune in to FOX Sports Ohio for:

- ”Blue Jackets Slap Shots” at 6:00

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

- The Blue Jackets and Maple Leafs drop the puck in the Center of the Hockey Universe at 7PM  - with Jeff Rimer and Bill Davidge on the call.

- “Blue Jackets Live Postgame” with Brian and Dan immediately follows, with another “Slap Shots” (a reprise?) after that.

 

Before the CBJ puck drops: Vancouver

GAME 23

VANCOUVER CANUCKS

11-8-4

(3-4-3 in last 10 games)

WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT OUR OPPONENT: 

(I missed the preview for the Canucks last time around, so allow me to treat this like it’s my first serious look at the team…which it is.)

Stop, take a moment, and look at the Vancouver Canucks’ record thus far.  11-8-4.  That’s 26 standings points.

In the Eastern Conference, 26 standings points would put you in the 6th seed for playoff positioning.  In the Western Conference, 26 points won’t be enough to let you on the playoff dance floor.

That’s right, the Vancouver Canucks are in 9th place right now in the West.  They occupy fourth place in the Pacific Division.  (If they were in the Columbus Blue Jackets’ Metropolitan Division, they’d be in second place behind Pittsburgh.)

Yes, that information is only tangentially related to the Canucks as a team and gives you no real insight into the team itself.  Still, it’s worth pausing and reflecting on what a buzzsaw the Western Conference is.  And I’ll reflect on how glad I am that my team is out of there…and not just because of the 10PM (ugh) start times.

But let’s look under the hood in Vancouver, shall we?

As I see it from my outpost in Central Ohio, the Vancouver Canucks are a mystery.  I mean, think about it:

- Why would you fire Alain Vigneault, a coach who only missed the playoffs once in his seven-year run in British Columbia – and who took the team to the Stanley Cup Finals?

- Considering your two foundational stars are the incredibly talented identical twin Sedin brothers, two guys who have zero reputation for playing defense, why would you bring in the master of shot blocking hockey from his days with the Tampa Bay Lightning and New York Rangers, John Tortorella, as Vigneault’s replacement?

- If your starting goalie, Roberto Luongo, is as miserable as the day is long and saddled with an impossible contract (that you shoved across the table to him), why would you deal away your starting quality backup goalie, Cory Schneider…leaving Luongo to stay and start for a team that he’d really rather leave?

- And how in the world did you let your team get so old?  The Canucks have only two players – Zack Cassian and Niklas Jensen – under the age of 24.  OK, OK…that one’s actually more understandable if you understand that our worldview in Columbus is shaped by having a team that’s almost entirely under the age of 29.  The Canucks have ten players on their 23-man roster who are 29 or older.  (You’re allowed to do that?)

As the above examination of their record suggests, Vancouver is not a bad team – not in the least.  Their top line numbers are middling, what with their 2.48 goals for per game (21st in the league…OK, not terrific) and 2.52 goals against per game (13th in the NHL…surprisingly, dropped from 2.40 goals against per game and 11th place in the NHL despite adding Team Defense Maven Tortorella as coach).  But middling numbers don’t make for bad teams.  The Canucks still know how to win, especially with their core group of veterans like the Sedins, former OSU Buckeye Ryan Kessler, Alexandre Burrows, Kevin Bieksa and Luongo.

Here are Vancouver’s leading scorers:

- Forward Henrik Sedin (4 goals, 18 assists, 22 points)

- Forward Daniel Sedin (7G, 10A, 17 PTS)

- Forward Ryan Kessler (9G, 6A, 15 PTS)

- Forward  Mike Santorelli (5G, 8A, 13 PTS)

- Defenseman Kevin Bieksa (1G, 10A, 11 PTS)
- Forward Chris Higgins (7G, 4A, 11 PTS)
In net, Luongo runs the show now that Schneider is playing in New Jersey.  In 19 starts, he’s 9-6-4 with a .914 save percentage.  Backup Eddie Lack, who the Blue Jackets beat 3-1 back on October 20th, is 2-2-0 in four starts with a .911 save percentage.

THE REAL IMPORTANT STUFF TO KNOW

“One such loss is an aberration.  A horrific aberration, granted, but an aberration nonetheless.”

 The Blue Jackets, tired and icing a roster lacking high-energy players in Matt Calvert (who apparently will return to the lineup tonight) and Brandon Dubinsky (day-to-day, last I heard), got down to business a couple of nights ago.  In dispatching the host Calgary Flames in overtime, they helped prove that the 7-1 loss to Edmonton a day earlier was the aberration that I referenced above.  

If the team really wants to put the Edmonton talk to bed, however, they’ll need to finish out their Canadian road trip strong.  That means tonight against Vancouver and Monday against Toronto.  Consistent success breeds confidence, and that’s something that this team needs to build up as they try to position themselves for the playoffs.

Do the Blue Jackets need to win the game tonight to accomplish that?  No, but it would help.  An overtime loss (and the dreaded “loser point”) still would help in the standings, and perhaps even more important is the quality of the game played.  Playing a hard, north-south game that drives to the net, offering a stiff team defensive posture to neutralize Kessler and the Sedins and some straightforward goaltending (To paraphrase Bob, “I stop puck.”) – that’s what we need tonight. Don’t be flashy.  Just get in, get the win, and move on.  Calm yourselves (and your fans) down.

WHAT I’LL BE WATCHING: 

I was hoping to write a “Blue Jackets at the quarter pole” piece, but time is getting away from me.  So permit me to couch my biggest revelation about this season in this section.

This team is almost totally dependent on its high-motor players.  With them in the lineup, they play pretty well.  Without them, things look bleak.

By high-motor players, I’m talking about the ones who skate hard every shift, who have the energy and drive to play through checks and blast past defenders, who aren’t afraid to take a hit if that means they get the pass or shot off.  And, perhaps most of all, whose on-ice behavior is infectious…where you actually see their linemates play a higher quality game because they’re enjoying having such a passionate running mate with them out on the ice.

Who are the CBJ’s high-motor players, you ask?  I see three primary guys: Nick Foligno, Matt Calvert and Boone Jenner.  And if you would have asked me at the beginning of the season whether I thought the CBJ’s season would rise and fall on these three, I would have laughed in your face.  But that’s what’s come to pass.  (You can throw in Brandon Dubinsky as a fourth such player, but I’m not convinced that Dubi raises the games of the players around him like, say, Foligno has done with R.J. Umberger.)

Tonight’s the first game since game four that all three will be on the ice.  Foligno’s been working through the incredible strain of having a newborn baby with some severe health challenges, but he made the road trip.  Jenner missed nine games with a leg injury but returned against Ottawa (one of the team’s best games of the season thus far…you do the math).  Calvert had abdominal surgery and will be back tonight.  I’ve heard comparisons between Calvert’s injury and Marian Gaborik’s late-season injury of the short 2013 season, and that probably means he won’t be at 100 percent.  Still, a healing Calvert offers coach Todd Richards yet another high-motor player to keep pushing the rest of the roster to play harder.

You bet I’ll be watching all of those three.  It’s almost as if the team’s success depends on them.

(Oh yeah, and emerging CBJ superstar Ryan Johansen is making his only appearance of the season in front of his de facto hometown crowd.  Don’t be surprised if he has a little extra jump tonight.)

YOUR FOX SPORTS OHIO BROADCAST INFORMATION

It’s CBJ Date Night!  Go catch the early movie, everyone, because this game is being played right next to the Pacific Ocean.  You can have a lovely dinner, see a show and still be home in time for the 10PM start.  In fact, you probably can be home in time for…

- “Blue Jackets Live” with Brian Giesenschlag and Dan Kamal at 9:30PM

- Vancouver hosting Columbus at 10:00PM with Jeff Rimer and Bill Davidge from the Rogers Arena

- “Blue Jackets Live Postgame” with Brian and Dan starts immediately following (projected for 12:30).

There’s nowhere near the high drama that the Calgary game held, but this is just as important.  Enjoy!

Before the CBJ puck drops: Calgary

GAME 22

CALGARY FLAMES

7-11-3

(2-7-1 in last 10 games)

SINCE WE LAST MET (ON OCTOBER 4): 

(This is going to be the shortest “Since we last met” because, frankly, the opponent makes zero difference tonight. More on that in the next section.)

After a nice little two-week run to open the season after the season-opening win against the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Flames have dropped back to conventional wisdom expectation and become a middling-to-poor hockey team.  Consider that four of the Flames’ 7 wins occurred at least a month ago, and you get the picture.

Here are your leading scorers:

- Forward Jiri Hudler (7 goals, 14 assists, 21 points)

- Forward Sean Monahan (8G, 6A, 14 PTS)

- Forward Mike Camielleri (9G, 4A, 13 PTS)

- Defenseman Dennis Wideman (2G, 10A, 12 PTS)

- Defenseman (and former Blue Jacket) Kris Russell (3G, 8A, 11 PTS)
In net, there appears to be a three-headed monster going:
- Karri Ramo (7 starts, 2-4-1, .882 save percentage)
- Joey MacDonald (7 starts, 3-3-1, .885)
- Reto Berra (7 starts, 2-4-1, .889)

THE REAL IMPORTANT STUFF TO KNOW

From yesterday:

I’ve always heard that an unsettled team needs the relative simplicity of a road trip to clear their heads, refocus on their games and get their acts together.  You don’t have the distractions of family and “life” on the road, but you don’t get last line change, either.  You play a simple game, a straightforward game.  You stop trying to be cute for the home crowd.  You just play hockey.  Perhaps that’s just what this team needed.

Anyway, there is no good reason for the Blue Jackets to lose this game tonight.

Thing is, I didn’t listen to Admiral Akbar!  What was that, Admiral?

Oh my gosh, how true.  Lulled into an apparent sense of satisfaction after playing what arguably was their first complete game of the season on Sunday at Ottawa, the Blue Jackets escorted their fanbase back to their deepest, darkest hockey fears and then left the poor folks to wallow in it until midnight.  Quite the trap, one I hope not to have to repeat…ever.

As we heard time and time and time again after the game, the only positive to come out of last night was that there was only 24 hours to wait until the team could try to recover from the loss.  Here we are, looking at 24 hours later.  Can this team recover?

One such loss is an aberration.  A horrific aberration, granted, but an aberration nonetheless.  Two or more of these “shows” – as Jack Johnson put it – and you’re learning something about this team, something that could have repercussions at the trade deadline and in the offseason.

WHAT I’LL BE WATCHING: 

I have become quite the unabashed fan of Todd Richards’ attitude when he comments on his team with the media.  For it seems like we’re on the same page:

That was me, last night during the first period.  Here’s Richards during the post-game media scrum:

“I don’t know if this is a team that can handle success.”

There ya go.  Now, how will they handle adversity like this?

Another thing that Richards picked up on was this:

“How we played the third period.  We were just playing to run the clock out. To me, as a coach you watch certain things and certain players to see how they’re going to respond in tough situations. … Well, we had guys who just wanted to get the game over with, which I’m really disappointed with.”

It’s one thing to get stomped and, in the process, keep banging your head against the wall to try to get over it.  It’s another to mentally check out and play to get the heck out of Dodge.  This is perhaps more disturbing than the loss itself – the core question of competitiveness.  While I hope that CBJ general manager Jarmo Kekalainen and Richards had a long, difficult conversation about exactly what that meant, I as a fan am interested in seeing which players dust themselves off and choose to play all 60 minutes.  (And, I suppose, which ones don’t.)

For in this league, where you have to be ready to play hard every night, there is no room for a hanger-on.

YOUR FOX SPORTS OHIO BROADCAST INFORMATION

How does an hour-long pregame web chat sound? Well, it’s Wednesday, so FSO’s Dan Kamal, Rick Gethin, Alison Lukan and I will be holding our weekly Rinkside Chat at 8PM.

Once the chat wraps up, you can go brew that pot of coffee to prepare for a 10PM game in the Saddledome.

- “Blue Jackets Live” with Brian Giesenschlag and Dan Kamal starts at 9:30PM

- The puck drops at 10:00PM with Jeff Rimer and Bill Davidge

- “Blue Jackets Live Postgame” with Brian and Dan starts immediately following (projected for 12:30).

- Right after that (1:00?), FSO will have a late-late night edition of “Blue Jackets Slap Shots”.  Third shifters, rejoice!

It’s gut-check night for the Blue Jackets.  Hold on tight.

Before the CBJ puck drops: Edmonton

GAME 21

EDMONTON OILERS

5-15-2

(2-7-1 in last 10 games)

WHAT YOU SHOULD KNOW ABOUT THE OPPONENT

It’s been a while since we’ve seen a fresh face this season – we’ve done lots of “What have they been up to since last time?” pieces – but tonight is a fresh look at one of the habitually worst teams in the National Hockey League over the past decade or so, the Edmonton Oilers.

Oh Oilers, you of the near-permanent placement at the top of the NHL draft board.  You of the “WE CAN HAZ MORE TEENAGE CENTERZ PLEEZ” mindset at the expense of goaltending and defensive help.  You of the closest thing in the NHL to North Pole weather:

That 2006 quote about Edmonton was courtesy of the newest member of the Edmonton Oilers, goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov.  Good luck up in Edmonton, Bryz.  I hear the tundra is humangous beeg.

Seriously, I actually grew up liking the Oilers.  Who wouldn’t like the team that had Gretzky, Messier, Fuhr and so many other stars?  It was The Championship Team of its day.  And now…it’s a bunch of kids.  Some talented kids, but kids nonetheless.  And while they may be individually talented, it’s more and more clear on this end that their talent is being wasted as long as there are no adults around on the ice to demonstrate how to be actual professional athletes.  The other 29 teams should file a class action against the Oilers for screwing up nearly a generation of top draft picks like Jordan Eberle, Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakupov.

And, of course, it was bad last season.  So what did they do?  They fired their coach and general manager.  For GM, they brought in ex-Oiler Craig MacTavish – a guy who never had been a general manager before.  He’d coached, but he never sat in the front office.  For coach, they hired Dallas Eakins, an AHL coach who never was a top bench boss at the NHL level before.  Yeah.  That’ll go well.

The Oilers are 5-15-2 and are in last place in the Western Conference, only one point above that burning refrigerator box in Buffalo.

Even lousy teams have to score once in a while, and here’s who’s doing it for the Oilers:

- Forward Jordan Eberle (5 goals, 11 assists, 16 points)

- Forward David Perron (5G, 8A, 13 PTS)

- Forward Taylor Hall (5G, 8A, 13 PTS)

- Forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins (5G, 8A, 113 PTS)

- Forward Mark Arcobello (2G, 10A, 12 PTS)
Yes, for all of those high draft picks on forwards, the Oilers (2.36 goals per game, 23rd in the NHL) are still below the Columbus Blue Jackets (2.55 goals per game, 18th in the NHL) in goals for.  Where it gets truly atrocious for the Oilers, though, is the goals against.  They’re in the NHL sub-basement with 3.73 goals against per game, while the Blue Jackets are in 21st at 2.80 per game.

The Oilers’ goaltender job appears in a bit of flux with the mid-season signing, shakedown and promotion of Ilya Bryzgalov to The Show.  I gather that the Blue Jackets will be facing once (and current?) starting goaltender Devan Dubnyk, who is 4-10-1 in 15 starts while carrying an .889 save percentage.

To summarize: It’s bad in Edmonton.  Really bad.

THE REAL IMPORTANT STUFF TO KNOW

Don’t look now, but the Blue Jackets may – and I stress M-A-Y – have turned the corner and started heading back in a positive direction.  They’re on a five-game point streak, and the last game in Ottawa was perhaps their best 60-minute performance of the year.

I’ve always heard that an unsettled team needs the relative simplicity of a road trip to clear their heads, refocus on their games and get their acts together.  You don’t have the distractions of family and “life” on the road, but you don’t get last line change, either.  You play a simple game, a straightforward game.  You stop trying to be cute for the home crowd.  You just play hockey.  Perhaps that’s just what this team needed.

Anyway, there is no good reason for the Blue Jackets to lose this game tonight.

WHAT I’LL BE WATCHING: 

At the micro level, I’m keeping an eye on Ryan Johansen, who quietly took over the team’s goal scoring lead with six on the season.  Also, R.J. Umberger has had two goals in the last two games.

When painting with a broader brush, like our friend Bob Rossky, I can’t help but marvel at the effect that the return of Nick Foligno and Boone Jenner have already had on the team.  The CBJ missed their “motor” guys more than I ever would have thought.  I suppose we’ll see tonight if that was just a Saturday Sunday matinee thing, or the beginning of a trend.

YOUR FOX SPORTS OHIO BROADCAST INFORMATION

We’re on one of those Dreaded West Coast Trips.  The CBJ is playing in Edmonton, and the puck drops at the Rexall Center at 9:30PM, so….

- “Blue Jackets Live” with Brian Giesenschlag and Dan Kamal starts at 9:00PM

- The puck drops at 9:30PM with Jeff Rimer and Bill Davidge

- “Blue Jackets Live Postgame” with Brian and Dan starts immediately following (projected for midnight).

- Right after that (12:30?), FSO will have a late-late night edition of “Blue Jackets Slap Shots”.

Put the coffee on, everyone, and settle in for a little North Pole hockey with FOX Sports Ohio!

Before the CBJ puck drops: Montreal

GAME 19

MONTREAL CANADIENS

9-8-2

(4-4-2 in last 10 games)

SINCE OUR LAST MEETING (OCTOBER 17)

The Habs got off to a terrific start to the 2013-14 campaign, capped off by their 5-3 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets in their first meeting of the season and going 5-2-0 out of the gates.  Not sure you could ask for better.

Since then, they’ve been downright “Meh,” however.  They’ve never won more than two in a row, and even endured a four-game losing streak that they just ended last week.  Lots of give a little, take a little.  No amazing blowout wins (a couple 4-1 victories, granted, which is nothing to sneeze at), no humiliating losses.  Just a .500-type season befitting a team that’s currently a tick over .500.

Who’s scoring for Les Habitants?  Glad you asked:

- Defenseman P.K. Subban (3 goals, 14 assists, 17 points)

- Forward Alex Galchenyuk (3G, 11A, 14 PTS)

- Forward Lars Eller (6G, 6A, 12 PTS)

- Forward Brendan Gallagher (8G, 4A, 12 PTS) – But I’m hearing that Gallagher has the flu, so it’s unclear as whether he will play tonight

- Defenseman Andrei Markov (2G, 8A, 10 PTS)

In net, CareyPrice is 7-7-2 in 16 starts and with a .933 save percentage.  Alas, coach Michel Therrien has chosen to give Price the night off, so the CBJ get to face Peter Budaj (2-1-0 in three starts, .953 save percentage) tonight.  Not exactly a step down in facing the backup, is it?

THE REAL IMPORTANT STUFF TO KNOW

FOX Sports Ohio’s Dan Kamal said it best after last night’s overtime loss to Boston: The CBJ are taking “baby steps” back to competitiveness.  I agree 100% with this assertion.  The team has yet to put a complete game together, but they’re a far sight better than the team that lost big to Pittsburgh, Ottawa and the Rangers at the beginning of the month.

In that light, a couple of single-point games don’t look so bad.  The team appears to have been in a pretty dark place during their five-game losing streak.  It takes conscious effort to pull oneself out, and that comes unevenly when you’re talking about a 23-man roster.  Some guys will emerge more quickly than others.

But make no mistake, the Blue Jackets have demonstrated significant improvement in their on-ice play in the last couple of games.  They’re playing harder and, dare I say, smarter.  I honestly like what I’m seeing right now…light years more than what I was seeing during the losing streak.

If the roster keeps its focus, the wins will start coming.

WHAT YOU NEED TO BE WATCHING

Tonight’s a special one for the FOX Sports Ohio digital team as FSO and the Blue Jackets are doing “FOXSportsOhio.com Night”.  Here’s a selection from the news release:

FOX Sports Ohio is excited to announce the Columbus Blue Jackets game telecast this Friday, November 15th will be FOXSportsOhio.com Night. When the Jackets host the Montreal Canadiens at Nationwide Arena this Friday, FOX Sports Ohio’s broadcast will highlight FOXSportsOhio.com’s Jackets coverage and reporting team.

Tune in to Blue Jackets Live pregame show at 6:30pm, where co-hosts Dan Kamal and Brian Giesenschlag will introduce the writers behind FOXSportsOhio.com’s CBJ coverage, Rick Gethin, Alison Lukan, and Tom Fellrath.

Viewers can visit FOXSportsOhio.com/BlueJackets to “Ask the Experts” and submit questions for FOX Sports Ohio broadcasters Bill Davidge, Jeff Rimer, and Kamal. After the puck drops at 7:00pm, questions will be answered live during the game.

Throughout the game, viewers can also interact with the FOXSportsOhio.com team on Twitter using the hashtag #FSOCBJ.

The “Ask the Experts” questions can be submitted either at this web page or by Tweeting with the aforementioned #FSOCBJ tag.

Make sure you watch the pregame show.  We’re all very excited to share a little bit of our online presence with you on TV tonight!

YOUR FOX SPORTS OHIO BROADCAST INFORMATION

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

- “Blue Jackets Live” with Brian Giesenschlag and Dan Kamal starts at 6:30PM – with Rick, Alison and me popping in along the way

- The puck drops at 7PM with Jeff Rimer and Bill Davidge – and they’ll be answering your questions on-air!

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

- Right after that, FSO will be airing another edition of Brian’s “Blue Jackets Slap Shots” magazine show.

 

Enjoy the game, and let the FSO digital team know what you think!

Before the CBJ puck drops: Boston

GAME 18

BOSTON BRUINS

11-5-1

(6-3-1 in last 10 games)

SINCE OUR LAST MEETING (OCTOBER 12)

A surefire Stanley Cup Finals contender, the Boston Bruins are a steamroller of a team.  They might lose a game here or there (only lost twice in a row once so far this season), but the Bruins always bounce back and make a run of wins that more than straightens out the ledger.  They’re currently riding a three-game winning streak.

The Bruins are well-coached with talent in the right places.  They can score (2.76 goals for per game, 12th in the NHL) and can stop pretty much everyone from scoring on them (1.71 goals against per game, 1st in the NHL).

The scoring distribution is impressive.  As opposed to Washington, which already has a couple twenty-plus point scorers, check this list of top Bruins scorers out::

- Forward David Kreiji (3 goals, 13 assists, 16 points)

- Forward Milan Lucic (7G, 7A, 14 PTS)

- Forward Jarome Iginla (4G, 7A, 11 PTS)

- Forward Reilly Smith (5G, 6A, 11 PTS)

- Defenseman (and Calder Trophy candidate for NHL rookie of the year) Torey Krug (6G, 5A, 11 PTS)

- Forward Patrice Bergeron (6G, 3A, 9 PTS)

Nobody jumps off the page at you, yet the team keeps scoring.  And winning.

Goaltender Tukka Rask is 10-4-1 in 15 starts and possesses an eye-opening .948 save percentage.  That’s all fine and good, as word is out that the Blue Jackets will be facing his backup, Chad Johnson (1-1-0 in two starts, .900 save percentage) tonight.

THE REAL IMPORTANT STUFF TO KNOW

With Philadelphia’s win over Pittsburgh last night (the Flyers’ third straight win after their terrible start), the Blue Jackets now are the sole occupant of last place in the Eastern Conference’s Metropolitan Division.  The 2013-14 season hasn’t even hit the quarter pole yet, but each and every game increasingly feels like a must-win if the Blue Jackets are to get into playoff position.  It doesn’t even matter that the CBJ are playing one of the best teams in the Eastern Conference (if not the league) any more…the Blue Jackets have to squeeze standings points out of every single game.

As I said last night in the Wednesday night FOX Sports Ohio CBJ Rinkside Chat (and I’ll toss in a slight edit to clarify):

I think the last couple of games has shown that this team – not the one with Calvert, Horton and Jenner[, but rather the one taking the ice right now] – can win games. It’s in their heads and hearts to do so. They’ve got enough skill. They may have to work harder than they’ve thought necessary, but they can do it.

That’s my take.  If they want to win and are willing to do what it takes, they CAN win.

And it’s not like all is lost already.  Remember, the CBJ nailed down three standings points in the last two games.

WHAT I’LL BE WATCHING LISTENING FOR

I don’t get to inject local color into this blog that much, so permit me to share a little tidbit: That piped-in DJ music at the TD Garden tonight is coming courtesy of former Blue Jackets in-house disc jockey Nick Johnson.  A genuine talent with a great ear for music old and new (appreciation offered by a former DJ myself), Nick moved out to Beantown after the 2013 season ended.  He’s now the full-time arena DJ in Boston, a sweet gig in one of America’s great music (and college) towns.

So listen close to the tunes coming out of tonight’s game and know that they’ve got local roots.  The more you know!

YOUR FOX SPORTS OHIO BROADCAST INFORMATION

The puck drops once again at 7PM, so….

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

- The puck drops at 7PM with Jeff Rimer and Bill Davidge.

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

- Right after that, FSO will be airing another edition of Brian’s “Blue Jackets Slap Shots” magazine show.

 

Another big night for the CBJ as they keep pushing to get their season on track!

Before the CBJ puck drops: Washington Capitals

GAME 17

WASHINGTON CAPITALS

9-8-1

(6-3-1 in last 10 games)

WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT OUR OPPONENT

The Washington Capital are a classic East Coast team.  They’ve got their superstar (Alexander Ovechkin), a solid core, an owner who probably thinks he knows more than he likely does and a general manager who surely is popping Maalox by the hour as he juggles the crazy owner, the primadona superstar and the perpetual coaching carousel.  When they’re “on,” they’re among the best in the National Hockey League.  When they’re “off,” pop some popcorn and enjoy the fireworks.  

Right now, the Caps appear to be “on.”  They used their October 19th 4-1 win over Columbus as a springboard to a gaudy 7-3-1 run and, in the course of this success, vaulted to second place in the madhouse that is the NHL’s Metropolitan Division.  Yeah, I’d take that any day of the week.

Nothing like beating the Blue Jackets to get on a roll, eh? 

Top scorers are:

- Ovechkin (13 goals, 7 assists, 20 points)

- Forward Niklas Backstrom (5G, 15A, 20 PTS)

- Forward Mikhail Grabovski (5G, 10A, 15 PTS)

- Forward Marcus Johansson (2G, 13A, 15 PTS)

- Forward (and former CBJer) Jason Chimera (5G, 7A, 12 PTS)

- Forward Joel Ward (8G, 4A, 12PTS)

As they say out in the sticks, that there’s some firepower.  By comparison, the top CBJ scorer has 13 points.

As for the goalies, Braden Holtby has a .922 save percentage and a 7-6-0 record in 14 starts.  His backup, Michael Neuvirth, is .913 and 2-2-1 in 4 starts.  I think it safe to say that while the Caps won’t lose too many games because of their goaltending, they probably won’t win a bunch because of the people between the pipes, either.

THE REAL IMPORTANT STUFF TO KNOW

Three things:

1. I think it was CBJ defenseman Jack Johnson who recently said something to the extent of, “If you want to win in this league, you have to score three goals a game.”  Guess what?  The Caps are at 2.94 goals per game.  They also are ninth in the league in scoring.  Coincidence?  I think not.  Hence, they win.

By comparison, the Blue Jackets are 20th in the league in scoring, at 2.50 goals per game.  It’s amazing how a half a goal per game – just one more goal every couple of games – can make such a difference.

2. The Caps have dropped their last two games, but they love their home cooking.  Since beating Columbus at home, they’ve won all three other games in Chinatown (two of them in a shootout).  Last line change, home crowd boost, who knows…they find ways to win at home.  This will be a terrific challenge for the CBJ.

3. The Blue Jackets have crawled back from the brink of despair with their convincing 5-2 win over the New York Islanders on Saturday, but I think it premature to say they’re out of the woods until some consistent winning comes their way.  A win against a (currently) strong team like Washington in their barn would be at least as impressive as Saturday’s slump-busting win to me.  Perhaps moreso.

WHAT I’LL BE WATCHING

Let’s keep in mind what I just said about Washington’s scoring.  I think it safe to say that if you’re going to beat Washington, you can’t rely upon stout defense.  You’ll need to put some goals up.  To that end, consider that rapidly maturing forward Ryan Johansen is coming off a three-point night.  Brandon Dubinsky has five points in the last three games.  James Wisniewski has three points in the last couple of games.  R.J. Umberger dropped two goals in over the past three games, too.

By contrast, forward Marian Gaborik has registered just a single point – an assist – over the last five games and relinquished his team scoring lead to Wisniewski and Dubinsky.  Marian must get back on track, and soon.

Seeing as the team just came off a five-game slide, it’s understandable that the scoring numbers would be a touch low, but there are places you can point to and show that something good can start happening.  Let’s see if the team can keep piling up points tonight like they did against the Islanders.

Then there’s that other nagging issue that all teams playing the Capitals face: Who’s going to match up with Ovechkin?  I mean, he’s only arguably the best player in the world.

YOUR FOX SPORTS OHIO BROADCAST INFORMATION

It’s a standard 7PM start. (Isn’t this Eastern Conference thing great?)  That means:

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

- The puck drops at 7PM with Jeff Rimer and Bill Davidge.

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

 

Enjoy the game, everyone!

Before the puck drops: New York Rangers

GAME 15

NEW YORK RANGERS

4-6-4

WHAT TO KNOW ABOUT OUR OPPONENT

From a Columbus Blue Jackets fan perspective, there’s the obvious and the not-so-obvious when you talk about the Rangers.  Let’s follow the path less traveled first.

The New York Rangers are a bit of a team in transition, which is a pretty constant state when your club swings for the fences (and generally misses) every year in pursuit of a Stanley Cup.  They fired coach John Tortorella after the conclusion of last season and replaced him with former Vancouver Canucks coach (and darned fine gum chewer) Alain Vigneault, the guy who piloted the Canucks to the Stanley Cup Finals a few years back.  Also, Vigneault hired former CBJ bench boss Scott Arniel as one of his assistants, continuing a relationship that goes back to their times together in the Vancouver system.

Tortorella had lulled Rangers GM Glen Sather into a mode of actually developing young talent and letting them grow up, but that wasn’t happening fast enough for Slats.  The Dallas Stars’ (and former Tampa Bay Lightning player) forward Brad Richards hit the unrestricted free agent market in 2011, and he apparently liked the idea of being reunited with his old Lightning coach, Tortorella, and signed with the club.  Oh yeah, he also liked the 9 year, $60 million deal that Slats slid across the table, too.  Small matter.

But that didn’t put the Rangers over the top, so Slats and former Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson (who had  swapped assets before in the 2008 Nik Zherdev/Dan Fritsche-Fedor Tyutin/Christian Backman trade)  got together to do the Trade That All CBJ Fans Know So Well: The CBJ’s Rick Nash for the Rangers’ Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Tim Erixon.  There were some other minor pieces, but that was the core of the trade.

Problem was, the Nash trade – which surely was to have put New York over the top, right? – didn’t put New York over the top.  So when new CBJ GM Jarmo Kekalainen came a-callin’ last season with Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett and John Moore dangled out like a carrot, Slats gladly gave up Rangers doghouse-dweller Marian Gaborik.  Thus, the two teams are now so thoroughly cross-pollinated that I have no idea who people will be rooting for tonight. (Well, I have an inkling of an idea.)

Will the infusion of all this CBJ talent onto the Rangers prove to be what the doctor ordered for this ever-desperate franchise?  We shall see.  The team had a killer nine-game road trip to start the season to allow construction crews to finish the $1 billion-plus remodel of Madison Square Garden and they have rebounded from a rough start with a 6-4-0 record in their last ten games.  The Rangers are on a roll and, as the CBJ’s Metropolitan Division rival, present a serious threat to Columbus’ playoff hopes.

Top scorers are:

- Brad Richards (5 goals, 7 assists, 12 points)

- Forward Derek Stepan (4G, 7A, 11 PTS)

- Derick Brassard (3G, 4A, 7 PTS)

- Defenseman Ryan McDonagh (3G, 4A, 7 PTS)

- Forward Chris Kreider (2G, 5A, 7 PTS)

- Forward Mats Zuccarello (1G, 6A, 7PTS)

Completing the former Blue Jacket Watch: Nash has 0G, 3, 3 PTS in three games (he has a concussion and will not play tonight) and both Dorsett and Moore have 1G, 1A, 2PTS each. Defenseman Anton Stralman is 0G, 2A, 2PTS.

Goalie Henrik Lundqvist is a perennial Vezina Trophy candidate for goalie of the year, but the Rangers will give him a rest tonight and start Cam Talbot (.929 save percentage in three games).

THE REAL IMPORTANT STUFF TO KNOW

The whole “players facing their old team” soap opera drama is fun and all, but this Columbus Blue Jackets team has much more important things to be worried about.  Namely, a four-game losing streak.  Over the course of this slump, the Blue Jackets went from being a marginal playoff contender to just one point above the NHL laughing stock that is the Philadelphia Flyers.  The Rangers also leapfrogged the CBJ in the Metro Division standings as well.  Not good.

On the bright side, the Metro looks to be a dogfight for every team not playing in Pittsburgh.  A few division wins, and the CBJ are right back in the thick of things.

Every game that this slump continues increases the importance of winning the game of the hour.  The slump has to end, and the team needs to start racking up standings points to keep pace with the playoff contenders.

WHAT I’LL BE WATCHING

Sergei Bobrovsky gets the start after a couple games of rest (and Curtis McElhinney starts), so it’ll be interesting to see how he looks.

Another player that I need to pay attention to is center Ryan Johansen.  A muscled-up Johansen is emerging as a force to be reckoned with for the Blue Jackets – both in the faceoff circle and with the puck.  The team needs him to keep up the pace as they try to find their (2012-)2013 late season form.

Lastly, I’ll be looking for the competitive spark that has largely been absent over the last couple of games.  Sharp passes, driving to the net, tight defensive pressure, smart shot selection and well-coordinated play on the ice…all of them are needed.

YOUR FOX SPORTS OHIO BROADCAST INFORMATION

It’s a 7PM start. That means:

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

- The puck drops at 7PM with Jeff Rimer and Bill Davidge on the call.

- “Blue Jackets Live Postgame” with Brian and Dan, helping us make sense of the situation with interviews and analysis.

 

Every game counts, and this one has the potential to be very entertaining.  Enjoy!