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: 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.

Prediction Time: 26 In, 56 to go

I have never been so happy to be wrong about something. In my prediction for the last thirteen games I had us going 8-4-1 for a predicted overall record of 15-8-3. Compared to the last couple of years, this would have been glorious and satisfying – but we have out done ourselves thus far. 17-5-4. 17-5-4. You read that right. 17-5-4 with a 10-1-2 run in the last thirteen games. Possession is increasing, as to shut up the corsi snobs, shots attempted is going through the roof (safe is death), and our transition from defense to offense looks the best it ever has been – and I am talking about since the club’s inception.

It is an exciting time to be a Blue Jacket fan and coming off the divisional win against the surging Islanders (and being in Nationwide for it) has made the first (a little under a) third of the season unbelievably enjoyable. Let’s take a look at our opponents over the next thirteen games and try to make another prediction.

We play four divisional games in this stretch and two back to backs. This run of thirteen games ends in early January with a back to back with the Rangers and Flyers. We only draw one team twice over this period (Edmonton). Of the 12 opponents we face eight of them are in the top three within their given division, including all three of the leaders in the Metro division as of this writing (NYR, PIT, PHI) although we have games in hand on all of them.

@ Edmonton – This has the feeling of an overtime game for me. Excited for the Jackets and every opportunity to watch the NHL point leader Connor McDavid (12-27-39) skate. Jackets win in OT in Edmonton.

@ Calgary – I think this is a win, but I have gone back and forth. Jackets normally play well on western trips, but this year has been anything but typical. Jackets win.

@ Vancouver – This feels like a trap game. We have been playing exceptionally against greater talent and relaxing against lesser foes. This game feels like an OTL to me.

Los Angeles – Back in Nationwide the Jackets are the fifth game of the Kings 9 game road stretch. Jonathan Quick may still be out, we defend NWA – Jackets win avenging our early season OTL against them back in October.

Pittsburgh – There will be a lot of attention paid to this game and for better or worse it will be seen as a test of how good the CBJ really are. The Penguins are playing some of the best hockey in the league (seven skaters scored last night). Club needs the fans to help defend NWA, Jackets win 4-3 on the late game heroics of Brandon Saad.

Montreal – Carey Price in net and they have not forgotten the 10 goal drubbing we gave them last time. This one probably doesn’t go our way against a pumped-up Habs team and the next night after a tough game against Pittsburgh.

Boston – Why, oh why, do we play so poorly against Boston? We don’t lose two in a row, beat Boston (finally) back on the winning track.

@ Winnipeg – Jackets drop one that isn’t expected to be an L in Winnipeg.

@ Minnesota – Dubnyk is playing out of his mind currently. Jackets win a close one with McIllhenny in net.

Edmonton – McDavid comes to Columbus, falls in love with Schmidt’s lunch buffet, leaves with a loss. Jackets win.

@ Washington – We have gotten them twice. Don’t think it will be a third time in their place. Jackets lose 4-2.

Rangers – New York looks to avenge their early season loss and keep Columbus down in the metro division. Doesn’t work. 4th line magic pushes CBJ to the win.

Philadelphia – Much like the Montreal game, coming off a tough game with the Rangers the night before costs Columbus the win in a tight game.

13 Game Prediction – 8-4-1

NOTE: I did not mean for my prediction to be the same for each thirteen games, it has just worked out that way. I try to look at every game individually and find it somewhat funny that 8-4-1 per each thirteen is where I have landed all three times.

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.