Cannonball: The streak, my fandom and avoiding the jinx

On November 29th the Columbus Blue Jackets beat the Tampa Bay Lightning. It didn’t seem all that significant at the time. Tampa Bay was playing without their all-star captain Steven Stamkos and we had just beat them at their place before we lost in a shootout to Florida three days prior. No one could have known that a shootout loss potentially cost us setting an all-time win streak record just as the NHL prepares to celebrate 100 years. No one could have known that win against Tampa Bay would start a streak that would bring so much media attention that even the guys that sound like buffoons when they mention anything ice related (Mike and Mike) would be giving it that coveted ten seconds before they jump into a stamps.com advertisement.

The guys that write about hockey for a living (outside of our guys at the dispatch of course) wrote about how this fluke would end soon and the team would finally revert to the Blue Jackets they expected – taking their place in the middle of the metropolitan trending towards the bottom. Fans of original six teams cheekily commented how it was cute that the CBJ was finding ways to win games against back up goalies and half-assed competition. We got to 10 straight and the editorial sports writers wrote about how we were defying all logic and our power play couldn’t keep this blistering success rate.

Then, in game 11 we played Pittsburgh at home.

The puck dropped and scoring opened with Sidney Crosby doing his thing batting an airborne puck into our net with an obscene amount of hand eye coordination. After that, it was all Jackets – all the way to a 7-1 win. Just after Foligno hugged Bob that night, the perspective about our Columbus hockey club changed. We went from a plucky bunch of guys punching above their weight to a threat. Top of the NHL in points. Top performing power play. A goalie, coach and rookie being mentioned as candidates for some of the most prestigious hardware the NHL has to give outside of the Cup itself. Hometown fans began scrambling to find out how the expansion draft would affect what is sure to be a dynasty. I became positive that I may never have to write on my blog ever gain.

Every year I pick a small self improvement project to stick with for one calendar year. Many of these endeavors have failed: going vegetarian (lasted 15 days – in retrospect this also was not self-improvement), going gluten free (lasted less than one day), learn a foreign language (banõ is about the extent of what I learned), learn to play the acoustic guitar (I have four chords that I am really, really skilled with as long as you only want to hear them one at a time with no consistent strumming pattern), and increase the business of my side consulting gig (success!). Seeing the above track record, I knew for the 16-17 period (this typically starts in the summer) I needed something that would be low on time investment and it had to fit in with things I enjoyed recreationally. Enter the Columbus Blue Jackets.

I have been a fan since we were blessed with a franchise as a part of the 2000 expansion draft that brought both the Jackets and the Wild into the league. I graduated high school in 2000, I was drinking beer with Jody Shelley and Rick Nash on campus on 15th avenue in 2002 (don’t calculate my age, just know I look a lot like my older brother – at least in his ID photo). When we made the playoffs for the first time against the Detroit Red Wings in the 08-09 season I could not wait for the first home playoff game. I sat with one of my closest friends in the highest seats that nationwide has to offer. Long before we became the 5th line, I spent over $200 (that I really didn’t have) on bourbon in nationwide arena after Detroit scored inside of the first minute never looked back sweeping us out of the playoffs.

I sat in Nationwide at the end of the shortened lockout season watching the Minnesota Wild on the scoreboard lock us out of the playoffs by winning and getting the edge over us via tie breaker. I celebrated our move to the eastern conference and no longer falling asleep on the couch in the middle of all our never ending west coast games. In 2014 I bought tickets to every home game in the playoff series against the penguins. I remember wondering if I had actually gone deaf as I left the stadium after our OT win in game four. I will never forget Dubinsky’s game tying goal or Umberger’s sprawled out poke to Foligno for the OT game winner. My wife and I took our then six-month old son to game 3, the first of many questionable parenting moves we have made – though my son (now 3) may be a bigger CBJ fan than I am playing hockey year round in our living room even though I never actually played the game myself.

The Blue Jackets officially  became a part of our family tapestry that year.

I remember only half-way joking that a fan would get to play if one more person got hurt in the 14-15 season. Hope abounded in the offseason prior to 15-16. I told everyone (much like all CBJ fans were doing) that this was our year, we were going deep in the playoffs and Joey was about to blossom into the all-star we all knew he could be. Bob was going to be Vezina Bob again. We traded for Brandon Saad. Ryan Murray was finally going to be healthy. We named a captain finally.

We sucked. We sucked bad in 15-16.

We traded Joey, fired our coach, replaced him with the coach that tried to fight another coach in the dressing room, and were still enjoying the privilege of watching David Clarkson remind us that Nathan Horton’s contract wasn’t insured every time his overpaid keister skated down the ice. Poor Rimer discussed Torts training camp every ten seconds trying to give us a reason to stick with the team and I think it took 30 games for the commercial with John Davidson telling us how we are here to play for the Cup came off the air. I watched all 82 games, even after being knocked out of the playoffs by Thanksgiving.

This brings us back to my self improvement project for the year. I watched the CBJ already, I wanted to get back to writing in some form, writing is easy (hahahahahahaha), so this would be a breeze. We were the league darling prior to the 15-16 season and our pieces had largely remained the same. I was cautiously optimistic. I had written out some preseason player profile and predictions, but I had not yet named this blog thing. Every pundit in the world was predicting bottom of the heap for us and I thought about a National Lampoons Christmas Vacation Clark Griswold Christmas night type melt down if we had another season like last year. JacketsRant.com was born.

Once the season began I learned two things:

  1. Writing, even about something you enjoy immensely is not easy. At least not writing something remotely interesting. Also if clever doesn’t come naturally to you, it isn’t magically going to come to you when sitting in front of your MacBook.
  2. Just because you write it, doesn’t mean anyone is going to read it.

I struggled finding what I actually wanted to write about, I really enjoyed doing the game predictions, but post game recaps added nothing that wasn’t already out there and bed outweighs staying up to write 10 out of 10 times.

A decision was made. I would write only about one out of every five games, and just give my own editorial about what I saw on the ice – no one was reading it anyway. I picked a game to start this tradition – our rematch with the Montreal Canadiens, they would look to avenge the 10-0 beating we put on them early in the season (my son was in attendance for this game too, he still thinks that when he goes to nationwide that we will hear the cannon every ten seconds).

Then we beat Pittsburgh 7-1. The streak was alive, we were legitimized in the eyes of the national media and I didn’t want to write a damn thing in fear that it would surely jinx us. I was convinced that if I wrote a positive word and expressed any public optimism that even with essentially zero readers that this would cause Bob’s groin muscles to eject from his body, Werenski would remember that he is just a rookie and David Clarkson would somehow be back on the ice giving me a karmic middle finger.

Instead, we won 16 straight. Instead Blue Jackets games weren’t just must see tv for my family, but almost everyone we knew. Instead I got text messages asking me about rules and strategy from non-hockey fans trying to understand the rules so they could claim to be the world’s biggest hockey fans come Monday morning around the water cooler. Our bandwagon was (and still is) taking on all comers. We not only finally began defending nationwide arena, we filled it up. Every game felt like a playoff game. It was absolute magic.

We were present for #16 over Edmonton. I will never forget it. My appreciation for what they accomplished and the timing of it (over the holidays) added something to it that is indescribable. This city wants to love this team. I want this city to love this team.

I am going to complete this writing project as I had planned prior to the streak. One game out of every five games. No deadline other than to myself. Unless of course, the Jackets win ten in a row and then no one would be happier not to write a word.

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.

 

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.

 

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!!!

BOF Report: 10/25 Kings (OTL 3-2)

Basically:

The story of the season thus far is how the Jackets special teams are playing so dominantly. Saad gets on the board for the first time this season and Gagner creates a goal for Atkinson (a beauty). Bobrovsky continues to look tough and was tested with some looks that easily could have been goals, especially in the first period. Transition back in overtime ended up costing us the second point, but Jones has played well thus far so we cannot hold this turnover against him too much. We take the point and move on to back to backs with San Jose and Anaheim.

The Overreaction:

I understand that Murray is hurt, I get it, and to a certain point I am used to it. But why in the holy hell do we keep putting Nutivaara and Prout on the same pairing?!? We might as well hang on sign around Bob’s neck saying “here’s your chance”.  These two haven’t been able to get the puck cleanly out of our own end yet. Is Harrington worse than this? WTF?

Final Thought:

Werenski finally had a game where he didn’t make it onto the score sheet. Even without notching a point, it is impossible not to notice him in every game. We constantly hear about developing talent, but this kid has “it” and he showed up in Columbus possessing it before we made any adjustments.

Point Scorers for CBJ:

Goals: Atkinson, Saad

Assists: Foligno, Gagner, Savard, Wennberg

 

BOF report: 10/22 @Stars (W 3-0)

Basically:

I am not going to lie. Starting with two losses and about to face two of the better teams in the western conference did not give me a lot to be excited about. Then we took back to back W’s against Chicago and Dallas. There is work to be done for sure, each game has seen long stretches in our own zone whereby you get the feeling that we are living on borrowed time, but a shutout win in Dallas was a great feeling. Also have to feel good about the production of both Anderson and Werenski who have 7 points between them in four games (Anderson 2, Werenski 5). The Captain Nick Foligno has four points equaling 10.8% of his point total for the SEASON in 15-16.

The Overreaction:

We beat two playoff teams, lost to a Stanley Cup finalist and to a Boston team that is surging out of the gate. Werenski is on pace for 102 points! Just starting engraving his name on the Calder Trophy now.

Final Thought:

Sergei Bobrovsky has looked great in the first four games. In the losses he didn’t get any favors from the guys in front of him and even with the Boston scoring fest he is boasting a .935 save average through four games while taking an average of 32.5 shots per game. I know that we are only four games into the season, but with a least a game in hand on every other team in the metro division that Jackets have stayed in the mix early. Typically that wouldn’t be worth noting, but after last year’s start I like the idea that we can still aspire for the playoffs after the third week of the season. We have to get better in the faceoff circle.

Point Scorers for CBJ:

Goals: Anderson, Calvert (EN), Hartnell

Assists: Dubinsky, Jenner, Jones, Karlsson, Werenski