Friday, February 27, 2015

Forever A Blue Jacket

[AN OPEN LETTER TO NATHAN HORTON]

Man, I don't know where to start.

Except that a quote and a paragraph in a Columbus Blue Jackets news release hardly sums up what you meant to this team, and at least some fans, if not all.

When you made a decision to come play for Columbus, I was pretty freaking excited. A) I seen you play a few games for Florida, and still remember that scoring touch you had in the clutch for the Boston Bruins, especially that huge OT goal in Game Seven against Montréal in the first round of that amazing 2011 run to the Stanley Cup. Then another in Game Seven against Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference Final.

Then, of course, there was the gritty follow-up performance two years later, playing hurt in the Stanley Cup Final in 2013 in Chicago. Say what some people will about the self-sacrifice of playing through injuries, and whether it's advisable for the long-term... dude, you're the man.

But in the off-season, when you decided to step away from the Bruins and test free agency and take a look at other teams, my favorite Boston Bruin chose to become a Columbus Blue Jackets.

Nathan Horton, a Columbus Blue Jacket. That was pretty damn exciting. He paid a visit, took a look around and saw Columbus for the city that it is: a place with a lot of great places to go, things to do, and a place we could bring up your kids. And you chose it. Both as a hockey player, and as a husband and father.

You saw the potential in this team, and you saw the leadership here was trying to build, and you bought in. You had to sit out because of that whole playing-through-injury thing, but man... when you took the ice, you did not disappoint. That energy you displayed, that determination you showed, and that pure joy that you displayed when celebrating a job well done....

I don't care if it was for just 36 games. You are a Columbus Blue Jacket.

For all the obvious frustration of waiting after the shoulder surgery, getting hurt again, and then the back problems. Reading about the debilitating pain... not only the excruciating physical kind, but also having to face a decision to either wait it out in order to take on the risk of playing hockey again, or having surgery that would essentially end your career.

I would not wish that on my worst enemy.

I hate that we never got to see you fully flourish as a member of our community over the term of your contract. However, I am thankful for the time that you had here, for the time he spent at events... of course there was the time that we had the pleasure of seeing you on the ice, eager to get out there and be a part of this team.

The team that you chose, when you could have chosen to play anywhere.

But you chose to play here. You committed to play here. Come and contribute to the success of this franchise.

To me, you will always be a Columbus Blue Jacket.

And for that, I thank you.

And also for autographing my sweater at Hockey Fest last summer.

And hell no, I am not retiring this sweater.

I wish you the best in whatever your future holds for you and your family.

Cheers,
Martini

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Short On Results, Not Sweet At All

Well, that was the worst hockey night I had experienced in quite some time.

I was making my way to my seat with my nephew when my phone buzzes, and the ESPN app is telling me the Columbus Blue Jackets had traded Nathan Horton to Toronto.

Normally I'd blow it off, because the ESPN app screws up hockey stuff all the time -- then I realized this was something they could confirm before they put it out there, unlike crediting an Evgeni Malkin goal to Nick Foligno because they wear the same number.

Nathan Horton, the much-ballyhooed arrival of 2013, whom we had to wait months to see because of shoulder surgery, then lost again before the Playoffs, then watched helplessly as he struggled with a decision on his future because of degenerative back issues.

The guy whose jersey I wear to almost every CBJ game.

Gone.

$#!+.

Don't get me wrong. It's a business decision, and there's not much room for excessive sentiment in this sport. I know that. It does sting. Horton was easily my favorite Boston Bruin in recent years, and he not only wound up here in Columbus... he did so enthusiastically.

So, yeah... that sucked.

And then that game against the Habs happened.

Dub, to the Tee, to the Eff.

Another horrific first period, in which fans were once again forced to take the bad news with the good.

Curtis McElhinney did not look like he had a prayer on any of the Canadiens' three goals in the first period.

The one bright spot in the first...? Tainted in less than two seconds.

Brandon Dubinsky scored on a wrister to tie the game, and no sooner were his arms up to celebrate, than Tom Gilbert tried to get up from his attempt to block the shot, which sent Dubinsky flying and landing into the boards about as awkwardly as a player can do so.

From the seats, it went something like "OH, YE-- $#!+, he's not getting up..."

That is how quickly something can go south, kids.

And the Jackets never recovered. That was something they desperately needed to do, against what could be the team that wins Canada's first Stanley Cup in over 20 years.

On a lighter note, Marko Dano continued to impress on his call-up, scoring a goal to cut Montréal's lead to 4-2, hinting at a brighter future for this team... if the Hockey Gods can find someone else to absorb their wrath.

Otherwise, it was about as deep a descent into hell as a game night can go.

But... it us what it is. On to the next one. However razor-thin the odds... there is still a chance in hell at the postseason.

How ya feelin', Bob?

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Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Bad Decisions Costly

Man. Does it suck to be Anton Forsberg, or what?

It's bad enough being called up from a successful season in Springfield, just to watch a lot of hockey from the bench. But when you're thrown to the wolves against a team brimming with confidence after taking the NHL's best team to a shootout on Sunday, a team who can't wait to take the ice against an AHL goaltender still seeking his first win in the NHL... well, you pray that the team is going to play well in front of you, and not lean as heavily on you as they have on the starter lately.

Yeah, no such luck.

Forsberg never looked comfortable. The only time Forsberg seem to get a confidence boost when the game was already well out of hand. You wouldn't think it was out of hand, because it certainly wasn't for lack of trying. The Columbus Blue Jackets put 47 shots on net, and Michael Neuvirth stopped 45 of them.

47 shots on net. Two goals. And they gave up four.

Now, it's not like Buffalo was by any means a hot team,, and they're not even by any means good, as they do sit dead last in the NHL. However, after the game they put up against Nashville on Sunday, somehow I'm thinking the last thing I would do would be to put my call-up out on the ice against them. It's not that I think Buffalo would think the Jackets were taking them lightly or anything, I just think that is inconsistently as Columbus has played lately, I'm not sure I would sit Curtis McElhinney, if the Jackets weren't playing a back-to-back.

Then again, I'm pretty sure that I wouldn't have scratched the team's top scoring defenseman to "send a message" going into a game against the New York Rangers on Sunday. But that happened, too.

I don't know… I guess I just feel bad for the kid. It was a bad coaching decision to put him in last night. It was a worse coaching decision to keep him in last night.

But I'm not the coach. That tire fire was all Todd Richards -- and the guys who turned the puck over, couldn't play defense, stop a rush, etc.

But when the home fans are mocking you when you start making saves -- after giving up a couple of soft goals -- well, like I said, it sucks to be Anton Forsberg.

It was bad enough seeing the first goal go in when he couldn't control the puck and it went into the net off the inside of his pad.

It was worse when Forsberg got caught out of position and got absolutely schooled by shorthanded goal by Zemgus Girgensons -- a player whose only mark on this year's All-Star Game was that his home nation put him in the game as the top vote-getter.

That's how much it sucks to be Anton Forsberg.

And yet Todd Richards kept him in. And the Blue Jackets still didn't give him help. No sooner had Matt Calvert scored a goal to cut the Sabres lead to 2-1, then Mark Pysyk put yet another puck past Forsberg 42 seconds later. It became 4-1 just 2:30 later with David Savard in the box.

Kevin Connauton was able to cut the lead to 4-2, but the Jackets just could not get anything else past Neuvirth for the last 32 minutes of the game.

It was distressing, to say the least. It was certainly not the kind of showing the Jackets wanted to have -- or should have had -- against the NHL's worst team. Not when they're still trying to hold onto a very slim chance at the postseason. Not when rumors are running rampant the team's top scoring defenseman is being shopped.

Actually, to hell with having a reason. You never want to see a team look this bad on the ice.

This team has been depleted all season, and yet this team has won. Under stress. Under extreme circumstances. This team could be as bad or worse than Buffalo, if not for some amazing effort and fortitude on the part of the players on this team. Conversely, this team could be as good or better than Pittsburgh, the New York Rangers or New York Islanders, if not for the horrific inconsistency displayed by this team.

Anyone who knows me or talk to me about hockey knows that I very much subscribe to the Ken Hitchcock School of No Excuses. Injuries are not an excuse for a bad season. Case in point... the Blue Jackets in December. The Blue Jackets have led the NHL in man games lost to injury for pretty much the entire season. And yet they climbed from dead last to hit .500 before the All-Star Break (though there was that hiccup right before).

They just haven't been able to get it back since.

And they're running out of time.

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Monday, February 23, 2015

Another Bad Start, Little Comfort In One Point

It was only a matter of time.

Columbus Blue Jackets fans knew that one of these days, Rick Nash was going to make the game-deciding tally against the Blue Jackets. That final deathstroke, if you will.

Good ol' Captain Quit scored in the third round of the shootout last night. And thus, the Blue Jackets' rally that saw the CBJ come back from down 3-0 came to an end.

Positives...? It was a point, which of course never hurts. The negative, another lackluster start in the first period put the blue jackets in another 2-0 hole in the first eight minutes of the game.

Off the ice, James Wisniewski was a healthy scratch, stirring up murmurs and debate of whether Todd Richards was sending a message, or that a transaction was pending.

We are, after all, about a week away from the NHL Trade Deadline. While the Jackets are not exactly picking a side between buying and selling in the next week, their Playoff chances have become -- to put it as gently as possible -- more fragile by the day.

While a team is mathematically still in it, I have to question why you to scratch your highest scoring defenseman for a four-point game against a Metro Division opponent. However, if Wisniewski is back on the ice Tuesday, and richer from the experience... then fine.

Or... maybe he is being shopped. Who knows?

What we do know is it the Blue Jackets got five out of a possible 10 points out of that road trip, which did not help their postseason push. At least not much. The Jackets sit 11 points behind Boston for the last Playoff spot, which is probably the only one available, barring a phenomenal collapse by someone above the CBJ in the Metro.

There are no "givens." Not even against Buffalo Tuesday. The Sabres may very well be in full "tank mode," and yet there's nothing that the Jackets can take for granted, with 24 games remaining and time running out to get back on track.

The Blue Jackets need to eliminate mistakes, and find that sense of urgency, night in and night out.

Yes, they have lost a league-leading (by a mile) 365 man-games to injuries. Iinjuries suck.

They sucked in December, too... and look what they did then.

The question is whether they can do it again in time.

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