Category Archives: Columbus Blue Jackets

Before the CBJ puck drops: Philadelphia, Part Deux

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

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!

Before the CBJ puck drops: Winnipeg

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

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!

Before the puck drops: New York Rangers

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!

Before the CBJ puck drops: New Jersey

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!

Before the CBJ puck drops: Pittsburgh

GAME 30

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

20-10-1

(7-2-1 in last 10 games)

SINCE WE LAST MET (ON NOVEMBER 2):

The Penguins have been on a roll indicative of their place as a prohibitive Stanley Cup finals participant, plain and simple.  They hit a brief, three-game, slide immediately following their 3-0 win over the Columbus Blue Jackets at the beginning of November but have since rebounded with winning nine out of their next 13.  Truth be told, the only team that they’re having trouble with is the Boston Bruins (Boston had the upper hand in an overtime winner on November 25 and in regulation this past weekend).   Outside of that, they have the periodic off night that happens in an 82-game season…but not much more.

What does that mean?  To me, it means that that Blue Jackets are basically in for an evening at the Consol Energy Center with an opponent that is sixth in the NHL in goals for and fifth in goals against.

The Pens’ current top scorers are:

- Forward Sidney Crosby (15 goals, 27 assists, 42 points)

- Forward Evgeni Malkin (7 G, 30 A, 37 pts)

- Forward Chris Kunitz (17 G, 14 A, 31 pts)

- Forward James Neal (10 G, 10 A, 20 pts)

- Forward Jussi Jokinen (9 G, 9 A, 18 pts)

In net, Marc-Andre Fleury will get the start and look to build upon his 16-8-1 record in 26 starts (.920 save percentage).

THE REAL IMPORTANT STUFF TO KNOW

From a FOX Sports Ohio point of view, the most important thing to know is that the game won’t be on FOX Sports Ohio tonight.  It’s a “national” game, meaning that NBC Sports Network will be carrying it across the United States.  And our FSO team of Jeff, Bill, Brian, Dan and Dave get a well-deserved night off.

The national aspect of this game, combined with the opponent, makes for an interesting dynamic considering the thuggery that took place by both sides in Boston between the Bruins and Pens.

(To be clear, I’m not posting the NESN broadcast because I buy the NESN line.  It just is a feed of the James Neal knee to Brad Marchand’s head followed by Shawn Thorton’s slewfoot/knockout of Brooks Orpik.)

There is no need, nor in my opinion, should there be a place in hockey for either cowardly act: That of Neal on Marchand, and that of Thorton on Orpik.  Neal will be serving the first of a five-game suspension tonight.  Thorton has his hearing in the league offices tomorrow, and expect the hammer to come down because Orpik was blindsided and then knocked unconscious after he was down on the ice.  In both cases, there are so many egregious violations of “Codes”, rules and perhaps laws that my head is spinning.

Orpik won’t be playing tonight.  That’s relevant, seeing as he’s a top-pairing defender for the Pens.

Surely, the announcers will have something to say about this – before, during and after the game.  The question I have related to tonight’s game, however, is whether the Penguins can shake off the trauma of being on both the giving and receiving ends of such ugly on-ice behavior.

As the loss of both Neal and Orpik clearly demonstrate, there are no winners in hockey thuggery.

WHAT I’LL BE WATCHING FOR

First and foremost, there’s the question of whether the Blue Jackets can capitalize on the moment.  Clearly the Penguins will have the Boston game and its fallout on their minds.  Will it be enough to distract them from the game at hand?

The Blue Jackets had no part in the weekend’s craziness, though, so let’s put that behind us.

The CBJ are still playing one of the most potent teams in the league, and Evgeni Malkin appears to be a “go” to play tonight.  This won’t be a cakewalk, even with Neal and Orpik’s absence.  Can the Blue Jackets play the type of simple, straightforward, tough (but not stupid) game that gave them the 4-0 shutout of the Minnesota Wild?  Remember, the Wild have a better goals against ranking than the Penguins…and the CBJ dropped four on Minnesota.  We’re not talking about a pipe dream here.

So I’m thinking it’ll come down to the CBJ’s top shooters – remember that list I compiled for the Tampa game?  Jack Skille’s back in on the farm in Springfield, but Nick Foligno, Ryan Murray, Artem Anisimov, Ryan Johansen and R.J. Umberger look to be my guys to drive to the goal and slip a couple past Fleury.

Don’t forget that Sergei Bobrovsky is still out with injury.  I would presume that, had he been healthy, Bob would get the start tonight.  Instead, Curtis McElhinney continues to hold down the fort.  Considering that McElhinney is riding a 75+ minute string of shutout goalie minutes, I’m not sure that’s a bad thing.

YOUR FOX SPORTS OHIO BROADCAST INFORMATION

Again, there’s no FSO coverage tonight.  The game starts at 7:30 on NBC Sports Network.

Enjoy the game!  Go Jackets!

Before the CBJ puck drops: Minnesota

GAME 29

 

MINNESOTA WILD

17-8-5

(5-4-1 in last 10 games)

ABOUT OUR OPPONENT

Columbus’ NHL expansion cousins make their only appearance of the season at Nationwide Arena tonight, and they appear to have finally turned the corner toward respectability.  The twin cornerstones of this team are the mega-contracted defenseman Ryan Suter and forward Zach Parise.  The story in how they got to Minnesota – Suter being pulled out of Nashville, Parise from New Jersey (and both being drawn back from the prying claws of Detroit, among other teams) – is the stuff of sports agent legend.  And they’re pretty good hockey players…Suter, especially, on the blue line.

We’ve seen a lot of Minnesota over the years, so tonight probably will have an Old Home Week feel to it like many of these home-and-home visits with Western Conference teams.  After a rocky season during the lockout-shortened 48-game 2013 schedule (edging Columbus out of the last playoff spot by a tiebreaker only to get slaughtered by the eventual Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks in the first round) that came nowhere close to living up to the hype of the Parise-Suter signing, head coach Mike Yeo survives to another year.

And what do you know: With another year of maturity from the Wild’s younger players and another year of familiarity from their veterans, the team is doing OK.  Not great, but OK.  They are currently in third in the West’s new Central Division but only lead Colorado by a single point and giving the Avs four games in hand.  Looks like another playoff bubble year in St. Paul, which I suppose is more acceptable in the powerhouse Western Conference.

Here’s the rundown of Minnesota’s top scorers:

- Parise (12 goals, 12 assists, 24 points)

- Forward Mikko Koivu (6-17-23)

- Forward Jason Pominville (14-6-20)

- Suter (0-15-15)

- Forward Nino Niederreiter (5-10-15)

In goal, Josh Harding (20 starts, 15-4-3, .935 save percentage) apparently has supplanted past Vezina nominee Nicklas Backstrom (9 starts, 2-3-2, .896 S%) as the Wild’s top netminder.  If you haven’t read up on Harding’s impressive story of playing NHL hockey and living with multiple sclerosis, take a minute to get inspired by his heroic achievements.  That said, the Wild appear set to rest Harding and give us Backstrom tonight.

The Wild aren’t prolific scorers – 23rd in the league in goals for with 2.37 per game – but neither are the Blue Jackets (22nd with 2.39).  Where they ARE prolific is on that blue line, where they are an incredible 4th in the league in goals against (2.20 goals against per game).  The CBJ’s shooters will have to be sharp tonight.

THE REAL IMPORTANT STUFF TO KNOW

(Photo from bluejackets.nhl.com)

The overriding concern in the Blue Jackets’ camp is the situation at goal.  Starter Sergei Bobrovsky pulled his groin making a save in the third period against Tampa Bay earlier in the week, and an MRI indicates that Bob will be on the shelf for 4-5 weeks.

In his place will be backup Curtis McElhinney, who has performed reasonably well in his role with a 1-3-1 record and .925 save percentage in 8 appearances.  McElhinney has never had more than 21 NHL appearances in a single seasons, but his 49 games last season with the Blue Jackets’ AHL affiliate in Springfield, Massachusetts suggests that he can handle the workload for at least a while.

Also, Derek Mackenzie, the team’s elder statesman (at 32, the oldest player on the youngest team in the NHL) returns to the lineup from injury, and the Blue Jackets bottom six solidifies that much more.  Perhaps even more importantly for the team’s long-term prospects, Mackenzie’s return moves a prospect like Michael Chaput back to Springfield, where he will get badly needed top line minutes instead of the fourth line minutes he was getting in Columbus.

Lastly, and I should have mentioned it for the Tampa game, Movember is over.  Mackenzie never played the Fu Manchu card (if you miss what I mean, here’s a link to a 2011 post with a shot of Mackenzie in early Movember form), a terrific disappointment, but at least the majority of the NHL’s players no longer look like they should be on “America’s Most Wanted.”

WHAT I’LL BE WATCHING FOR

We’ve already talked about the 900 lb. gorilla of tonight’s game, that of Minnesota’s impressive defense.  How the Blue Jackets get through that defense and past Backstrom (not a shabby goaltender in the least) will be fascinating to see.  Maybe we should go back and look at that list of CBJers with high shooting percentages.

On a lighter note, the snowpocalypse currently falling on Central Ohio makes me think that Nationwide Arena will be a little sparse tonight.  A light crowd makes for a cozy game, a very different fan experience than a sold-out affair.  I’ll be keeping an eye on the crowd, more out of admiration for those who make it to the game despite the lousy weather.

YOUR FOX SPORTS OHIO BROADCAST INFORMATION

The puck drops 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.

Stay warm, and enjoy the game!  Go Jackets!

Before the CBJ puck drops: Tampa Bay

GAME 28

TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING

16-9-1

(4-5-1 in last 10 games)

ABOUT OUR OPPONENT

One of the early 1990′s expansion teams as part of NHL commissioner Gary Bettman’s “Southward Ho” plan for a nationwide league footprint to grab television network attention, the Tampa Bay Lightning have had it all.  Suffering through the expansion blues – yet with a plan to emerge from them as a playoff contender – they won a Stanley Cup in 2004 (with the help of former Columbus Blue Jackets forward and current Central Ohio youth hockey assistant coach Freddy Modin) and, not too much later, scraped the bottom of the NHL barrel.

Bottoming out has its benefits, however, when that means you can draft the likes of Steven Stamkos.  Since being drafted first overall in the 2008 draft, Stamkos has torn up the league.  He has won the Rocket Richard Trophy for the league’s top scorer twice (2010, 2012), participated in the All-Star Game twice (2011, 2012) and made a Young Stars appearance in 2009.  He’s pretty much an all-world talent.

And, CBJ Luck being what it is, we won’t get to see Stamkos tonight.  He broke his leg in spectacular fashion against Boston on November 11 and is recovering.  Fortunately for him, the Lightning and the league, he’s already off crutches:

Photo from FOX 13 Tampa Bay

Doesn’t help for tonight, granted, but still great to see.  Here’s to a speedy recovery.

Back to the Lightning.  The “bottoming out” thing also resulted in the inevitable front office and coaching shakeup.  In this case, however, the shakeup went beyond that to replacing the entertaining yet feckless ownership team with Boston investment banker Jeff Vinik, who went out and snagged Steve Yzerman from the Detroit Red Wings to run the team’s hockey operations.  Yzerman, looking for a coach, caught wind that then-CBJ general manager Scott Howson was at the altar with AHL wunderkind coach Guy Boucher.  A phone call, a flash of Vinik money, a look at Tampa weather (and no Florida income taxes!)…that’s about all it took.  Boucher was coaching the Lightning.  (And Howson went to his Plan B, Scott Arniel.)

Boucher already had built a legend around his 1-3-1 scheme, which clogged the neutral zone and dared the opposition to break through.  All too often the opposition did not break through, and the Lightning forced a turnover and scored.   That worked for a while, until then-Philadelphia Flyers coach Peter Laviolette called Boucher’s bluff on national television:

Yeah, that went over well.  (And if you ever wonder why I think that Laviolette is an awesome coach, watch that video.  Forget his Stanley Cup ring; he had the guts to pull that move.  Love it.)

Finally exposed for what it was, the 1-3-1 system fell apart almost as quickly as Boucher’s shelf life.  So Yzerman went to his bench and promoted perhaps the most successful AHL coach of the 2000′s – Jon Cooper, who piloted the Lightning’s fam club to an AHL-record 28 straight game winning streak.  Cooper’s in charge now, and while his roster isn’t ideal (especially with the loss of Stamkos), he’s still sitting in playoff position in the Atlantic Division.

Yzerman’s biggest failing, however, was in failing to find an NHL-capable goaltender to start for him.  With all sorts of money thrown at the likes of star forwards Martin St. Louis, Stamkos and the now-departed Vinny Lecavalier, Stevie Y was forced to shop from the bargain bin and saw results commensurate with his goalie quality.  This year, he’s going with former Nashville Predators (a goaltending factory, if you were unawares) goaltender Anders Lindback and the odd man out in St. Louis and Ottawa, Ben Bishop.  Bishop is The Man, and he’s more than holding his own.

Why not run through the top five scorers and goalie numbers?

- St. Louis (10 goals, 14 assists, 24 points)

- Stamkos (14-9-23 — IN ONLY 17 GAMES)

- Forward Valterri Filppulla (9-10-19)

- Forward Teddy Purcell (7-9-16)

- Forward Alex Killorn (6-10-16)

As for goalies:

- Bishop – 20 starts, 14-4-1, .931 save percentage

- Lindback – 8 starts, 2-5-0, .876 S%

The Lightning are 10th in the league in Goals For, and 13th in Goals Against.  Nothing to sneeze at.

Tampa has become a very solid team, to be sure, and will be a strong test for the Blue Jackets tonight.

THE REAL IMPORTANT STUFF TO KNOW

The injury cycle is closing.  FINALLY.  Word is that forward Brandon Dubinsky will be back tonight, and Derek Mackenzie will be back on Friday against Minnesota.  Not word on return dates for Jared Boll, Marian Gaborik or Nathan Horton yet.

Past that, the Blue Jackets are still as inconsistent as ever.  They weren’t blown out 7-0 by Boston on Friday night, but the Bruins played like Stanley Cup contenders and the Blue Jackets did not.  If the November yo-yo performance plays out, we’re due for a dominating CBJ performance tonight.  The Lightning aren’t tired, though, as they, too, have not played since Friday.

WHAT I’LL BE WATCHING FOR

One of the benefits of getting a few days off is the chance to circle around to some of my favorite sites and see how they’re looking at our team.  When it comes to statistics and analytics, I don’t think anything compares to a site that just popped up on my radar this year, Extra Skater.  Looking at their Blue Jackets page gives you instant breakdowns of the team’s performance in even strength, power play and penalty kill situations.  They also show how individual players perform in different situations as well as how they are used in their shifts.   Real, real interesting stuff even if you never figure out what a Corsi or Fenwick is.

I’m still working through my advanced statistics understandings, so a fair bit of it is still Greek to me, but the Extra Skater CBJ page stunned me with their presentation of shooting percentages.  Remember, Rick Nash topped out at a 15% shooting percentage in Columbus, and he was down under 10% by the time he left town.

Here’s what I saw from this year’s team:

- Jack Skille, 8 shots, 25%

- Nick Foligno, 30 shots, 20%

- Ryan Murray, 18 shots, 16.7%

- Artem Anisimov, 50 shots, 14%

- Ryan Johansen, 76 shots, 13.2%

- R.J. Umberger, 49 shots, 12.2%

- Marian Gaborik, 42 shots, 11.9%

Let’s put Skille off to the side as he only has 8 shots in Columbus.  The rest of the names above all are (or, with Gaborik, were) shooting more effectively than Nash at the end of his days as a Blue Jacket.  And I note that – Skille aside – five Blue Jackets have better shooting percentages than the team’s high-priced scoring machine, Gaborik.

The name that jumps out at me, however, is Artem Anisimov.  Has he really put 50 shots on goal this season? If so, it’s one of the quietest performances I’ve seen.  He’s clearly proficient, but he needs to be in – or put himself in – position to score more.

So perhaps this CBJ fan will be amending his aversion to the “SHOOT IT” guy who inevitably sits next to me at games.  If any of the names above have the puck and are in shooting range, I might very well join him.

YOUR FOX SPORTS OHIO BROADCAST INFORMATION

The puck drops 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.

Enjoy the game!  Go Jackets!

Before the CBJ puck drops: Boston

GAME 27

BOSTON BRUINS

17-7-2

(7-2-1 in last 10 games)

SINCE OUR LAST MEETING (NOVEMBER 14)

“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.”  

That was the November 14th installment of this blog when they were on a 6-3-1 run in their last 10.  Now, the Bruins are up to 7-2-1 in their most recent 10.

So no, the steamroller hasn’t slowed down.  If anything, it’s picking up steam.

THE REAL IMPORTANT STUFF TO KNOW

Today’s game is a study in consistency.  One team – Boston – has it in spades.  They win a few, lose one, win a few more, lose one…goes on and on.  Of course, it helps to have a defensive scheme and goaltender that, together, is good enough to make you tops in the league for goals against (only 2.00!).

The Blue Jackets are in this yo-yo/Jekyll and Hyde mode where they win one game and then lose one game.  And increasingly, both the wins and losses are in spectacular fashion.

It’ll be an uphill climb to break the Bruins’ consistency, but the Blue Jackets have proven (on November 14, in fact) that they can take Boston to overtime at the TD Garden.  They just have to close the deal this time.

One little item to note: Both teams played on Friday – the Bruins beat the Rangers in dramatic style on Friday afternoon, and the Blue Jackets dispatched the Oilers on Friday night.  So it’s fair to say that both teams could be a little tired.

WHAT I’LL BE WATCHING FOR

He’s been in the corner of my eye for the past few games, so let’s focus tonight on Ryan Johansen.  With last night’s goal, Johansen is up to nine on the season. which trends for right around 30 if he keeps up this pace.  I’ll take a 30-goal scorer, yes please.

While his goal scoring is badly needed, I am floored that he was 64.7% from the faceoff circle last night against Edmonton.  That’s his second-highest faceoff win percentage of the season, with his top percentage being 66.7% against Anaheim on October 27.

He finally is rounding out into the top player that the Blue Jackets need in the pivot.  And not a moment too soon – it’s a contract year!

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.

Enjoy your holiday weekend with some Blue Jackets hockey from the land of the pilgrims and the home of Thanksgiving!