Cannonball: Preview of the Predators

Tomorrow the Jackets travel to music city to visit Ryan Johansen and the Nashville Predators (6-3-1 in last 10). The Jackets have hit a bit of a skid as of late (5-5-0 in last 10) and have not looked good even in the games we have won as of late. With all-star weekend providing a much needed break to most of the team (except for Jones, Bobrovsky, and hopefully Atkinson now that Malkin is out) which may be just what they need. Not to sound like a grade school coach, but it just doesn’t look like they are having much fun out there right now.

The last three meetings between the Predators and Jackets have not been all that exciting with Nashville taking two out of three games played and all three were won by four goals. Both teams enter this game with a new marquee defender on the roster Nashville via trade (Weber for Subban) and the Jackets via draft (Werenski) and both enter Thursday sporting injuries on defense (Josi for NSH, Savard and Nutivaara for CBJ – Savard may be available).

Here is a quick team stats comparison:

Offense Ranking:   CBJ: 3rd  NSH: 12th

Defense Ranking: CBJ: 4th  NSH: 10th

Power play ranking: CBJ: 1st  NSH: 16th

Penalty Kill Ranking: CBJ: 8th  NSH:10th

Goals per Game AVG: CBJ: 3.30  NSH: 2.75

Goals Against AVG: CBJ: 2.32  NSH: 2.52

PIM per Game: CBJ: 9.1  NSH: 9.8

Shot Differential per Game: CBJ: .32  NSH: .92

Player Highlight:

For the CBJ Cam Atkinson just keeps scoring goals (second in the NHL only to some guy named Crosby) and has done so in the last two games even with being taken off the NHL’s #1 power play unit.

For NSH while former Jacket Ryan Johansen leads the club in points (36), Filip Forsberg has been coming on over the course of the last 15 days after a tumultuous start to the season. He is currently 15-17-32 with a -4 +/-.

Game Insight:

The current question is who will start in goal for the CBJ? Korpisalo has not been strong in his last full showing giving up six in a win against Ottawa (though he did stop the bleeding against NYI once Bobrovsky was pulled after giving up four), and Bobrovsky is coming off a game in which he was pulled (his third this season, Boston, Washington, New York Islanders). Bobrovsky has been the winning goalie in each start following being pulled thus far this season. With Bob’s selection as an all-star, I have to believe he starts against Nashville and then sits against the Rangers immediately following the all-star break. If Bob is in, we most likely win – rhyme optional.

Our vets have to get going. Brandon Saad is on a cold streak that has to end (right?), Dubinsky has been strong in the faceoff circle but only possesses a 7.7% shooting percentage, and Boone Jenner has been invisible for the majority of games this season. On the young guy side of the roster, no one has emerged as dependable in the faceoff circle with both Karlsson (44.8% face off wins) and Wennberg (46% face off wins) continuing to struggle. Luckily, the predators face a similar issue with their 3rd and 4th line guys struggling to get the puck off the dot too (Ribeiro 41.2% and Sisson 48.9%).

For me, this game is less about the Predators and more about the Blue Jackets getting back to better play. Our ten game record does not accurately reflect how poorly we have been defending or that we have gone back to primarily dumpling and chasing rather than possessing into the offensive zone. This involves playing more than one period per game well. We will be a playoff team this year and we have to start gearing up for that level of play.

Worthless stat:

So far this season, Nashville wins 65% of its home games and Columbus wins 65% of its away games

Interesting stat:

The Blue Jackets currently have ZERO players that have played in 10 games or more with a negative +/-. Even lifting the 10 game criteria only two are negative (Milano -1, 2 GP and Bjorkstrand -1, 5GP).

Let’s Go Jackets!

Cannonball: 12-5-4, Proving ’em wrong

Where we stand

Five games away from having completed the first 26 games (we have been doing it in blocks of 13 here at the Rant), 12-5-4 (28 points) and tied for third in the Metro is not something that was really predicted anywhere (cough, cough, cough, cough). It has been a lot of fun so far and I think we can keep it rolling…….

Back 2 Back

CBJ play a league-high 19 back to back games (tied with Sabres) and to date have played six of them. Our record is 7-2-3 scoring 17 points in 12 total games played. We are 1 for 6 currently in winning both games in a B2B.

With the exception of the Calgary loss, in the month of November the CBJ win when there is a day between games. If this trend continues into December than we have a good shot of starting the last month of the year 4-0-0. Downside is the fifth game is a B2B, and is against a divisional opponent in the Islanders.

May the Blue Jackets continue to be the holiday gift that keeps on giving…..

Points Leaders

We have 8 players with double digit point totals after 21 played. They are:

20 Cam Atkinson – 8-12-20

20 Alexander Wennberg – 5-15-20

19 Nick Foligno – 8-11-19

17 Brandon Saad – 6-11-17

16 Zach Werenski – 5-11-16

13 Sam Gagner – 8-5-13

13 Scott Hartnell – 5-8-13

10 Josh Anderson – 7-3-10

Only two of our regular players (with more than 10 GP) have a negative +/- in Dubinsky (-2) and Jenner (-6). Neither have played very well, but they also have not played all that poorly either. There is a question as to whether these two will be able to adapt to our new style of play, but I think it is way to early to make any type of call and Dubinsky specifically continues to contribute in the faceoff circle.

Short Look Ahead

Our next five games feature two home and three away games. All of the teams we face are currently in the bottom two of their divisions. The first four all have at least a day between each game, only the fifth game against the Islanders is a back to back.

We have played very tough against some of the stiffest competition in the league and seemed to wilt a bit against the lesser teams (based on standings). I look for this stretch to snap that trend. I think we can take all five of these games, with the only coin toss being the Islanders on the second leg of the 12/9-12/10 B2B.

I cannot not understate how fun this season has been thus far. Let’s Go Jackets. Keep it rolling!!!!

Cannonball: Corsi Be Damned

Tortorella hates corsi. Everyone has reported on it because if our record was reflective of our corsi average, it would look a lot more like last year’s record. Today, Down Goes Brown (on THN.com), lists us as a confusing team that is punching above its weight, but will come crashing to earth soon enough. I disagree. No, I strenuously disagree.

The NHL season is a long winding road, where to find success some things have to bounce your way. You can’t have key personnel constantly injured, you have to find a way to get a point on nights where it just isn’t going your way, and your players have to somewhat ham & egg it through the season to keep the wins coming. We are ham and egging it right now and winning games in the part of the schedule where we weren’t supposed to. That’s why this is so exciting. Boone Jenner, Scott Hartnell and Brandon Dubinsky have been mostly invisible. Ryan Murray has been really inconsistent. Saad was preordained as our goal leader, but has not taken up that mantle as of yet. BUT, Wennberg is tied for 2nd in the entire NHL with 13 assists, Foligno not far behind with 10 assists. Anderson and Gagner have both been big contributors (Anderson is 5th in the NHL with a 26.3% shooting average) and  Zach Werenski has been as advertised (not typical for us CBJ faithful). Prior to his injury Seth Jones was making it known that he belonged on that top pairing.

When Seth Jones got hurt, I thought we might be in for a rough stretch as he has been an integral part of our early success. It hasn’t been the case thus far. We definitely miss him, and are a better team with him, but we have still managed to find a way to continue to pick up points.

Our special teams continue to be special (Atkinson is tied 6th in the NHL with 4 power play goals), although our power play has diminished over the last few contests, and we still have yet to give up (or get for that matter) a short-handed goal to our opponents. The kill has been especially noteworthy and for the first time that I can remember as a fan, it doesn’t feel like taking a penalty is automatically giving up a goal or when we don’t give up a goal on the kill that there should be some type of special in arena giveaway.

Look, it doesn’t hurt that teams have been starting their reserve goalies when facing us. It doesn’t hurt that teams we have played have had key injuries when we faced them (hello, upcoming Steven Stamkos-less games), but we have beaten quality teams both home and away and won the first of many upcoming tough divisional games in what might be the toughest division in the NHL.

Next week will be telling with five games in a seven day span, and hopefully then others will begin to see that this team has the ability to be better than they are now – but continue to find ways to win.

Last time I checked they don’t determine the playoffs by corsi score, and everything I have ever read about corsi points to it not even being relevant until the home stretch of the season (even then, mostly as a signal that a team is getting hot at the right time). Early season, just win baby. The Jackets are doing just that and will continue to get better along the way.

Let’s Go Jackets. See you in the playoffs.

 

BOF Report: The Weekend Circus (W,OTL)

Basically:

Friday night against Montreal, I game that I was in attendance for, 10-0 Jackets. Saturday an overtime loss to St Louis. In both cases, most coverage outside of Columbus was more along the lines of how the other team played so poorly, rather than the Jackets playing well. Montreal was perfection. Everything went our way, Anderson’s backhanded flip into the goal was far and away my favorite moment, and Carey Price was on the sidelines. St. Louis was a little bit of back and forth (with plenty of sloppy play) but felt like it could fall to the Jackets in overtime after we possessed the puck to start OT for a looooong time. When Tarasenko made the move around Saad, it was over before he ever took the shot. McIllhinney was fantastic, Dubinsky continued to be MIA, and Jones (now out for three weeks with a fracture) continues to show just how high his ceiling might be.

The Overreaction:

5-3-2! 5-3-2! We are making the playoffs. Go ahead and have the shirts made. I don’t care if the Rangers, Capitals, and Penguins are the best three teams in the entire league right now (and all in the Metro) we are making the damn playoffs! Look at this start!

Final Thought:

Wennberg is looking like the player everyone thought he could be. Werenski is going to be an absolute stud. Jones gets better every week. The beginning of this season finally gives me hope that our young talent will pan out. It helps that Bob (and Mac against St Louis) are playing exceptionally well, but we have a strength in special teams to build off of and our 5 v 5 seems to be improving with each game. If our typically dependable players (looking at you Dubi and Boone) get going, it is going to be a really fun season.

Point Scorers for CBJ (St. Louis game only):

Goals: Anderson

Assists: n/a

Cannonball: Six games until first divisional play

Stars in Columbus

After starting 3-3-1 (7 points), the Jackets begin a busy November that includes four back to backs and their first three games against two divisional opponents (New York Rangers/Washington Capitals x 2). Tonight the Dallas Stars come to Nationwide looking to avenge the 3-0 shutout delivered to them in Dallas. Bobrovsky starts again in goal (he will have to rest at some point) and holds an 8-1-1 record against the Stars. The first match-up saw a goal from a pass off a linesman, Bobrovsky stonewall a flurry of shots in the second period after we returned to turning the puck over in our own zone, and the first game where the Jackets played all but 5-7 minutes consistently and well.

Dallas has the ability to to turn up the heat quickly with Seguin and Jamie Benn bringing both speed and scoring ability. Benn was out of the first meeting for a brief time taking a five minute penalty after mixing it up with Brandon Dubinsky. Murray returns to the lineup scratching Dalton Prout (who has been more of a liability than normal lately) and Dubinsky is clean shaven in an attempt to make any change that gets his offense going.

The penalty kill was a big part of the last game for both clubs, with the Jackets shutting down 5(!) power play attempts to Dallas wiping out two of the Blue Jackets advantages.

A tough schedule lies ahead, these early season points prior to metro play, seem more important than normal.

The Eye Test

An observation. In the games that we have won, we have done a much better job taking the puck off of the wall and possessing it down the ice. In the games that we have lost, it looks like we are simply whacking at the puck hoping for something positive to come about.

Possession crossing both blue lines is something that I believe separates the elite teams from the middling ones. If you want to have good offensive chances, the puck has to be on your stick. Dump and chase has never been our strongest suit.

The Excitement is Back!

After the 0-2 start, it seemed like it was going to be a glum task doing this writing challenge for the entire season. The last four games however, we have looked way more like a team that can compete in every game going forward. Seeing Foligno start well carries over to the rest of the guys, Bob is doing Bob things (the good kind), and Saad seems to finally be finding himself again in the early going. The young guys are hard to miss. Anderson and Werenski both are making names for themselves in Columbus (Werenski outside of Cbus too) and Seth Jones has a crazy high ceiling.

The excitement is back. Let’s Defend Nationwide. Let’s Go Jackets.

 

The list: Halloween/Superhero Edition

Periodically I am going to create a list involving the Blue Jackets roster. It is going to be total non-sensical fun. Remember that. It’s for fun.

For the preseason list I have taken a few members of the CBJ roster and tried to see which comic book superhero they most resemble or share attributes with.

The Hulk: Dalton Prout – This is a no-brainer, with the only difficulty being I can’t envision any aspect of Dalton Prout’s demeanor matching up with the mild mannered Hulk alter-ego Bruce Banner. Also, I doubt Dalton has the science chops of Bruce Banner. As for the green guy version of Bruce Banner, ole number 47 seems to do a pretty good hulk smash.

Ghost Rider: Brandon Dubinsky – While I don’t think Dubi has made any deals with the devil, I don’t think it would take much convincing to get people to believe he is possessed. He has that Johnny Blaze edge, with the nice-guy persona mixed in there too (who wouldn’t buy an engagement ring from Dubinsky’s jeweler of choice?). In my far too rampant imagination it would be awesome if his head burst into a skull of flames every time he began to lose it on the ice. Crosby is already a little scared of him. This might be unfair to the flightless bird’s captain.

Deadpool: Scott Hartnell – A foul mouthed, always under the skin of whoever is in front of them wise-ass – this just fits too easily. Can we all agree though that as much as we like Hartnell we will pass on seeing him in a red skin-tight spandex suit?

Captain America: Brandon Saad – While not the captain of the hockey team, to be Captain America you must actually be American (unwritten rule). He seems to always have a smile on his face (even after a puck tried to take most of his teeth last year) and even has that combed to the side hairdo like Steve Rogers. Leads the team in offense, leads the avengers in his spare time.

Beast: David Savard – Go to the team website. Go to google images. Go anywhere you can see a picture of David Savard. Tell me I am wrong.

Wolverine: Boone Jenner – Somewhat ill tempered, operates on his terms, is the guy that bring the team together. While I wish Boone had that adamantium skeletal system two years ago when we lost him to the back injury, he is currently the glue to the Jackets physical presence on both ends of the ice. I also would like to think that if he had Wolverine’s claws he would do us all a favor and use them on Pittsburgh fans.

Nightcrawler: Cam Atkinson – Quick, can show up out of no where thank to teleportation, and always an integral piece of the story, just never the lead. I am sure if I did research there would be an issue where Nightcrawler delivered a dog to someone – I just am not that into researching for these lists. No word if Cam was found at a circus like his comic book alter ego.

Lois Lane: Sidney Crosby – Always in trouble or starting trouble and letting someone else fight their battles. If Superman hadn’t spun the world against its rotation would have died under a pile of dirt. I wish someone would do this and take last year’s cup out of Pittsburgh.

 

Cannonball: Early Season Observations

As this is the first time I am doing this, from time to time I am going to write about what I am seeing (hopefully with some statistics to back it up) and these posts will be called the Cannonball. All opinions are my own, stats from Hockey-Reference.com and musing from other pundits (who I will credit)

Special Teams Looking Special

Our only allowed power play goal was an empty net goal versus the Sharks, placing our penalty kill percentage after five games at 94.12%. I credit the addition of Brad Shaw on this one, and I think we will continue to see success as the season goes on in this area. His PK in St. Louis was special (albeit he had more talent there) but the opportunism for short-handed goals has been a welcome development. If we begin to capitalize on these opportunities, we may become a very dangerous offensive PK unit.

Our power play is looking amazing thus far as well. We are 5-10 on PP opportunities and I didn’t realize how quickly we are scoring those goals until seeing Portzline’s tweet earlier today. All PP goals have been scored under 50 seconds and four of those goals were scored under 26 seconds into the power play. If you have been a fan as long as I have, then you have been in Nationwide as the boo-birds come out as we have held and passed the puck without taking any shots in the past. Welcome to the new world, way better than the old world. Also of note, Alexander Wennberg has racked up 4 assists on the PP unit thus far and I have been impressed with his presence thus far (he was may prediction for breakout player after-all) except for in the face off circle, which we will get to next.

On the dot, but off the mark

Our faceoff success continues to be lackluster. Given, the center position is probably biggest need for improvement but off all Jackets skaters who have taken ten or more faceoffs thus far – none are over 50% in success rate. Take a look below:

Dubinsky – 42 wins in 91 total faceoffs, 46.2%

Gagner – 11 wins in 24 total faceoffs, 45.8%

Karlsson – 32 wins in 55 total faceoffs, 49.2%

Wennberg – 31 wins in 71 total faceoffs, 43.7%

This eventually is going to bite us harder than the two losses we have taken. Statistically speaking, we do not have a go-to right now when the game is on the line. Dubinsky performed well last year (and I expect his numbers to improve), but on a team that already has possession issues – this is an area that stings.

Hopefully not a sign of things to come

Currently 11 CBJ members hold a negative +/- rating and only 5 possess a rating in the positive range. I would like to think that the team we have seen in the last three games is the team that will come out all season (these ratings in only five games are anchored down by the Boston walloping), but these numbers give me a bit of pause. Werenski (0 +/-), Wennberg (-1 +/-)and Foligno (0 +/-) lead the way with five points and while the rookie has been the story, you can’t be anything but happy to see the captain with a strong start after last years struggles. Saad broke through in the last game and look for him to add a few more points tonight and tomorrow.

Big back to back

With at least one game-in-hand on all of the other members of the metropolitan division, tonight’s game against the Sharks and tomorrow’s against the Ducks have a chance of putting us in divisional territory that has been unfamiliar the last couple of seasons. With a win tonight, we would be tied for third in the metro and with wins in both games we would be tied with Pittsburgh for second in the metro after 7 games (others still have there 7th game to play as well). I am cautiously optimistic. We seem to play well on west coast swings historically, and we are going to need to have a good standing as we start division play with the Capitals with the 14th game of the season.

While my game by game predictions have not been so hot thus far, my overall record of 8-4-1 in the first 13 is still alive.

Let’s Go Jackets!!!