Saturday, January 22, 2011

Wrandom Wrister: Foppa Coming... Home?

Admittedly, I don't get a chance to write much about the Avalanche and Bruins on here, except for the Playoffs.

I suppose that is he fault of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Then again, the fact that I don't have Blue Jackets stuff to write about from April through June is also the fault of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

However, with the Avs and Bruins playing today, and the fact that Peter Forsberg skated with he Avs today, and may kinda-sorta-maybe-possibly come back to the NHL in an Avalanche sweater... this is a pretty exciting day.

Sure, we've heard he Forsberg stuff before. "I'm back... ow, $#!+, my foot!"

However, I've always been a Peter Forsberg fan. He was the best player of his era (sorry, Jaromir... but you know it's true).

And while the last several years have raised questions about his health... one can never downplay what Peter Forsberg has accomplished. Even in his shortened comeback attempts, it was rare that Foppa didn't average a point a game. Not many of today's players can say that, even with all the measures the NHL has taken to increase scoring. And the ones who do... well, I won't mention them here, because God knows we hear their names enough on Versus and NBC, because they don't know who else to talk about.

And we know which two I'm talking about: One's a dirty player and the other looks like he's twelve and needs supervision to trim his little Prince-like moustache.

Not that I should insult Prince like that.

Anyway, for the Avs fans that have been tweeting about how good it is to see Peter Forsberg in an Avs sweater...

...I'm still waiting to see pictures.

Good luck, Foppa. Hope to see you on NHL ice again.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Game 47: Perseverance, Baby...

A 2-zip deficit in the first period is scary as hell in hockey. Any way you slice it.

So, when the Columbus Blue Jackets fell behind by two by midway through the first, with such an important two points on the line....

Yikes...

...but never underestimate the good things that can happen after a late-period goal.

It took awhile, but good things can happen. And as any hockey fan knows, good things also happen when you shoot the puck at the net.

Not always, obviously. Heaven knows we’ve seen Steve Mason turn in a few 40-something-save games that blew fans’ minds. The point of that whole cliché is, you have to try and shoot the puck at the net.

That’s not scolding. Don’t get me wrong. Look at the box score, and there’s the point. The Blue Jackets were outshot 15-7 in the first period, but Fedor Tyutin popped in a late-period goal in the first to try and stop the bleeding. What happened after that?

The Jackets clamped down defensively. They outshot the Panthers 11-6 in a scoreless second period, then nearly doubled them up again in the third with a 17-9 performance. The most important shot, of course, was Antoine Vermette’s backhand off the rebound with 53 seconds left on the clock to snatch the game-tying goal. It was a great opportunity, when the Panthers were simply caught with not enough guys helping Tomas Vokoun down low.

The second most important shot would be Derick Brassard’s potential game-tying goal off the rebound of a Rick Nash shot, which hit the crossbar and bounced just wrong. Annoying, but undeniable that it wasn’t in. I know. I hate that, too… if for no other reason than the morons in the Toronto “war room” made the call.

Simply put, the Jackets had problems early, but played the kind of hockey they needed to grab an oh-so-important win on the road, capped by R. J. “I’m Umby, Dammit!” Umberger’s deflection of a shot by Grant Clitsome from just inside the blue line.

Down 0-2… win 3-2. It’s hockey. It happens. Like our friends say often say in Phoenix on Twitter: “Don’t Blink.”

The good guys come back west to take on St. Louis on Saturday.

Thank you for reading!

Cheers… Go Jackets!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Definite Rumblings...

There are definite rumblings among the Columbus Blue Jackets’ fan base. Rumblings about how “tonight’s game is a ‘must-win’ to save the season.” “If Florida wins, kiss this season goodbye,” and so forth.

It’s even in my own house.

“So, how many more games until it doesn’t matter, and we don’t have to watch anymore?”

Guess who.

Yes, Mrs. Martini is done. Out. Season’s over. Done with hockey. I think she was done when Detroit swept that season series in November, knocking the Blue Jackets down to a horrid 16-6-0 record. Optimism gone.

Of course, I’ve pointed this out before… Mrs. Martini is from Cleveland.

But to truly demonstrate how done she is – and that she really doesn’t have it so bad – here’s a new fact: Within the comfort of our own home, I have probably watched more games on my computer, while she watches-slash-falls asleep to something else.

See? I'm a decent guy... I spoil her, really.

Unfortunately, this usually means I'm trying to drown out the Food Network – with the likes of Marc “Double Dare” Summers, Alton “Chef Snarky” Brown, Guy “Pass The Hair Mousse” Fieri and that one lady… Giada something... I don’t know what it is, but I sense something sinister about her.

Anyway, I can usually wait until the Mrs. falls asleep, and then I can change it before I get carried away with visions of delivering a head hit on Alton Brown.

I won’t hide it, okay? I hate most alternative programming to hockey, but Food Network is right there at the top.

On the other hand, it probably also explains why I can’t cook worth a damn.

Sure, ask Mrs. Martini about my hand-rolled gnocchi. Yes, it was awesome (and I might add, a surprise because she was working late). However, it took 2 ½ hours to make, with a royal @$$-kicking of the Jackets by the Penguins blaring in the background.

Hockey and food don’t mix. Unless it's a pretzel or Skyline, and there's beer involved.

And she’s not suffering as much as she lets on.

So I ask the Jackets tonight: Please get it together and win these last few before the All-Star Game…

…don’t give Mrs. Martini an excuse. Keep my TV safe....

Follow @MartiniHockey on Twitter...

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Game 46: Another “Almost”

Man… how rough is it to be Marc Methot the past few days?

First… the dude has a couple goals go in off him against the Red Wings on Saturday – and to read some of the commentary on Twitter during the game that night, you’d think the poor guy had skated the wrong way on a penalty shot and shot it into an empty net.

But then Methot has a Steve Stamkos shot go in off his leg tonight? First of all, that shot has got to bruise. Second, the third goal in two games of a dude’s leg has got to be more painful than any bruise.

Now, thanks to the tenacity of Derick Brassard and the sick wrister R. J. Umberger buried in the first, the Blue Jackets managed a point against the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the two goals potted by the NHL’s leading scorer, Steven Stamkos.

All in all, it was a decent effort, considering the scoring power the Jackets faced with Stamkos, Martin St. Louis and company. The end result was not horrible... though one can certainly argue Methot’s recent "plight" makes it at the very least unlucky, and the disallowed Chris Clark apparent-goal is infuriating. It doesn’t help the Jackets a whole lot.

Then again… a point is a point.

Two points would be nice tomorrow in Sunrise, though.

Thanks for reading! Go Jackets!

Follow @MartiniHockey on Twitter...

Not Ideal, But Oh, So Close…

It’s not as good as four points.

But against the Detroit Red Wings and playing games in back-to-back nights – and when the West is starting to shape up like it is – you take three points wherever you can get them.

What I mean by the West “shaping up” is that the division leaders have now built decent leads to the point where – barring major streaks or schneids – the only major movement you’re likely to see at the top will just be a conference lead change each day or two. However, the rest of the West is starting to show the climb the Jackets face. The difference between 4th and 14th places in the West is but a mere nine points; but that difference is so much tighter above the Playoff line, where 4th through 8th (only three points difference) now figures to change daily.

Unfortunately, the Jackets are on the 13th/14th-place end of that nine-point spectrum, six points out of eighth, and though this December was not nearly as bad as last December, it was still a disaster of missed opportunities in a Western Conference that has been very competitive.

Besides, January has been worse.

Win three or four more of those games during the team’s 6-14-3 slide going into the weekend series with Detroit, and the Jackets are sitting in seventh or eighth. No sense dwelling on that, though. Maybe all that is behind the Blue Jackets after the weekend series with Detroit, a pair of games that both saw overtime, and ended with each team going home with three points. All-in-all, not bad. Four would have been nice, but Columbus is only trying to catch the Playoff line… not the Red Wings. Small steps, people.

True, the next few steps are small, yet their potential impact is unmistakable. The Jackets have four games in eight nights before going into the All Star Break, starting with a back-to-back in Florida. Tonight’s opponent is the rejuvenated Tampa Bay Lightning, well on pace to make the Playoffs again after taking a few years off to play golf in the spring and rebuild. However, they have been average of late and – like the Jackets – are looking to find some consistency in the win column – they also have Washington breathing down their necks for the Southeast Division lead.

The Bolts have lost three of their last four, including two losses to the woeful Devils. The Jackets are also non-winners in three of their last four, but are coming off showing some signs of life against Detroit. One can only hope this weekend’s performance means enough to draw some momentum and fire from it for this road trip.

Yes, Detroit had some key guys out, but good hockey teams don’t use injuries as an excuse, and I doubt they did (assuming here, as I did not read the Freep while out of town on business), so let’s take the three points from Detroit, smile and nod…

…and the team needs to focus. They have a chance to get right back in it going into the Break, but they just need to worry about each game… one at a time. Worry about the standings later.
Better yet, leave that to puckhead lunatics like me.

Wrandom Wristers

  • The NHL revealed the All Star Game uniforms for the Jan. 30 game. They’re sharp. Check them out here. According to Reebok, these jerseys use the “latest design techniques and innovations in cresting, lettering and numbering. This, of course, is merchandising-speak for “your Nash All Star jersey will cost another 20 bucks each for the sweater and customization.”
  • Nicklas Lidstrom and Eric Staal have been named the All Star Game captains, and the teams will henceforth be known as “Team Lidstrom” and “Team Staal,” continuing to add to the outright silliness of this ridiculous new All Star Game format. Cripe… and people thought the Big Ten’s “Leaders” and “Legends” divisions sounded cheesy? Oh, well… at least Crosby isn’t a captain and we won’t have to hear his name any more than we absolutely have to on Versus -- although they'll always come up with some excuse to mention the little twerp.
  • Matt Calvert continued making the most of his call-up over the weekend, grabbing a goal on his only shot Saturday night in Detroit, which at the time gave the Jackets a brief 3-2 lead in the second. He’s getting things done and seems to be working hard. I hope he sticks.

Follow @MartiniHockey on Twitter...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Game 43: Disappointment, Defined

If an NHL hockey game was only 20 min. long, the Blue Jackets had it.

If and NHL hockey game was only 40 min. long, the Blue Jackets had it.

Unfortunately, however, an NHL hockey game is 60 minutes long. Now, of course, had the Blue Jackets played 60 minutes of hockey, maybe they would've had it.

Just a matter of minutes into Tuesday night’s game, after goals by Jared Boll (!) and Rostislav Klesla, it looked like the Jackets had come with their A-game, and with the determination that CBJ fans had been wanting for the past week and a half.

Then, things got a little shaky in the second period.

After Phoenix’s Vernon Fiddler scored one early in the second to cut the lead to one, the Jackets actually had an answer for it, bumping to a 3-1 lead exactly a minute later. Eric Belanger’s goal just 27 seconds later hurt. It hurt bad, and cut the lead to 3-2 . Even then, however, Mathieu Garon seemed confident in net, despite the flurry of action that was in front of him at times.

Radim Vrbata’s goal in the first minute of the third put the Jackets in a bad spot. What made it worse was a 5-on-3 for 50 seconds, in which the Jackets seemed hesitant to put shots on net. They spent most (if not all) of that 5-on-3 in the Coyotes’ zone, and managed to stay in the zone for most of the man-advantage after that. Nothing but seemingly endless keep-away.

But then, to go out on that circus-freak goal by Derek Morris with nine minutes and change left…
…oof. Just painful. I am not sure how many fans witnessed this harsh display of hockey, but it looked significantly smaller than the announced 11,109.

The good news? The Jackets will definitely get an attendance boost on Friday, because the Red Wings are in town.

The bad news? The Jackets are an easy ticket to score this year, and unless home fans decide to invest, the diehard fans that drive from Detroit will be joined by throngs of Walmart Wingnuts from the suburbs and the sticks.

The result… the only way to know the difference between a Jackets or Wings goal will be the horn and the cannon.

Please, hockey gods… let it be more of the horn and cannon on Friday.

Wrandom Wristers
  • Last night's loss was the Jackets’ first loss after leading for two periods this year.
  • The Blue Jackets are 20-20-3, sitting at .500 for the first time this season.
  • Rick Nash has made the All-Star Game. Not really surprising, but the Blue Jackets can certainly use the positive press.
  • Vernon Fiddler's shorthanded goal was the third shorty the Blue Jackets have given up in as many games
Thanks for reading!

Follow @MartiniHockey on Twitter...

Wrandom Wrister: Memo to the Hockey Gods...

Are you there, hockey gods? Yeah, it's me again… Martin.

Remember a few months ago, back when the Columbus Blue Jackets were 14-6-0?

Remember when some of us CBJ fans were asking, "Who are these guys, and what the hell have they done with our hockey team?"

Just to be clear, that was actually a joke. We really, really like that team.

Can we have that first team back... like right now?

How about if we throw in Boomer? I mean, you can't really take him anywhere he'd fit in, except maybe a Lion's Den, but....

Never mind... I digress.

Thanks for your time. Hope to hear from you soon.

Really, really soon....

Continue reading to Game 43...

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Still Waiting...

The Columbus Blue Jackets continue to be in a holding pattern, in regards to potential trade going down involving Mike Commodore. The latest word floating around cyberspace, the CBJ blogging community, and the Columbus Dispatch is that nothing is imminent.

Basically, we’re hearing a lot of the same stuff that we have heard all season, namely “we think the answer is still within the organization,” “we are not in panic mode,” and so forth.

Maybe it is time to put those slogans on T-shirts. After all, we’re hearing them about as often as we're hearing “Gotta See It LIVE!”

The problem is, those two slogans probably won't sell very well. Judging from crowd sizes this year, not many people are buying into the last one, either.

On one hand, I can understand the front office’s holding pattern. Obviously, Commodore is not going to be an easy player to move. And you certainly don't want to get roped into anything stupid trade-wise. So, I can understand that it is not necessarily time to be in panic mode.

On the other hand, the situation has turned into a sideshow drama, to a point where one can honestly wonder if the situation has become a legitimate distraction for the team. Sure, the Blue Jackets showed some definite fight inclined back into Saturday night game against Los Angeles. They deserve all the credit in the world for that.

However, when the CBJ’s not-so-special teams give up another two power play goals and a shorty – 24 hours after giving Anaheim three PP goals and a shorty – I have to say… I’m seriously concerned, and dreading whatever “panic mode” might look like if it gets to that point.

That is not to say there weren’t bright spots… I mean, the Jackets did score four goals, including new call-up Matt Calvert’s first career goal to open up the scoring. Plus, Rick Nash got on the scoreboard for the first time in a week or so with his pair.

Now, those could be signs of momentum, especially heading into Tuesday’s game against Phoenix at home. It’s a prime opportunity for Columbus to get fans going again at home…

…because look at the calendar. Yep, those are the Red Wings on the schedule Friday and Saturday, with the home game on Friday.

And on Friday, the Red Wings will bring the scourge of every diehard Blue Jackets fan… and no, I’m not talking about Red Wings fans in general. But that’s something for another post… you’ll just have to swing by again this week.

Follow @MartiniHockey on Twitter...

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Game 41: The Phone Is Working, Right?

I understand that stuff is in the works in Columbus for a roster shakeup, but it may be time for GM Scott Howson to step on it a little.

Then again, it's not like the team gave him much to showcase to potential trade partners.

Six goals, four on special teams (three on power plays and one shortie). Just one win on the road since November. Horrific support of their goaltenders under a seemingly constant onslaught of pressure.

I can't decide whether the Jackets were distracted... or asleep. I mean professionals surely don't get distracted by front office rumblings, right?

They don't seemingly sleep through games, either. Sooooo... what's the excuse?

It's officially the midpoint of the season, so double the Blue Jackets' points. That's... 86. That's about eight or nine points out of a playoff spot in the West. Sadly, it's good for about 6th or 7th in the East.

Harsh reality, huh?

So, no pressure, but whatever is brewing needs to be significant... and the players need to respond. The Blue Jackets are about three or four wins behind where they need to be, to barely make the Playoffs.

Actually, Mrs. Martini just told me that last line was the dumbest thing she has ever heard.

To be clear, her context is: Why am I even talking about the CBJ and playoffs in the same sentence?

She has already given up. I can't be too hard on her, though, she is from Cleveland. Sports optimism does not run deep there.

The Jackets aren't exactly inspiring confidence right now, so she kind of has a point. All I got was an eye-roll when I pointed out the Jackets still have 41 games left to right the ship.

However, I don't know if that's her "Cleveland sports fan" eye-roll, or her "hockey widow" one.

Follow @MartiniHockey on Twitter...

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Wrandom Wrister: Ted Williams

I usually have these little blurbs at the end of longer posts, but I figured what the hell. The last couple mornings have been all abuzz about the “Homeless Guy With The Golden Voice.” I hate even typing that, it has become so cliché… I mean Ted Williams has a name, media. Use it.

But anyway, he has been all over TV and has become an overnight celebrity in Columbus (and employed, too), and for some reason the one thing popped into my head as I was leaving for work after catching some of his segment on The Today Show…

“JACKETS… onnnnnnn thaaaaaaa POWERPLAAAAAAAAAAY!”

Now, I’m not by any means suggesting that current PA Announcer Greg Murray should go anywhere. It would be kinda cool to hear Ted Williams do it sometime in a guest appearance, though.

Maybe Greg needs a stunt double? Maybe he wants to get out of Columbus and go someplace warm with the family in the winter months?

It's a much better idea than putting Penguins fans on the Zambonis at intermission...

See... totally wrandom.

Okay, back to our Trade Vigil... thanks for your time.

Riding The Waive

Columbus is quiet. Really quiet.

Except, of course, for the near-constant buzz going around among the CBJ Twitterati and the blogging community, as everyone tries to figure out who -- if anyone -- is coming to Columbus if and when Mike Commodore leaves town.

It has become very apparent in the last 36 to 48 hours that change is coming, in the hope that it will change the Columbus Blue Jackets' fortunes.

So far, that change has involved sending down Kyle Wilson — thankfully he cleared waivers first – and setting the process rolling to get Mike Commodore (who requested a trade) a ticket out of Columbus, by putting him on waivers as well.

So it’s not rocket science to think that general manager Scott Howson is up to something. The big question, of course, is precisely how it's going to happen.

The idea of moving a guy at Commodore's price point on waivers seems like an odd move. Then again, the likelihood of being able to move him via trade is not an easy task. Commodore's current cap hit, at $3.75 million, is not likely to be attractive to very many NHL teams right now. So, the challenge for Howson is, how does he sweeten the deal?

It's not that Commodore is an unattractive player on the market by any means. It's just that not many teams will take on that kind of salary without something else.

So what is the general manager to do? I'm no executive, but I'm thinking he may have to throw in a warm body, in the hope of getting an NHL-ready guy in return, even if it’s just a "depth" guy. Put Commodore on the market by himself… it might be tough to get even a couple of decent draft picks for him. That’s just my take. Others here more than likely think differently. I saw one guy who says Columbus is positioning to make a trade that would "rock the hockey world," or something like that.

It is really an unfortunate situation for Commodore. He has been a healthy scratch for seven of the last eight games, and has appeared in barely half of the Blue Jackets' games. Probably not what he had in mind to follow up last season, when he was plagued with conditioning issues.

Unfortunately for Columbus, the team has not gotten its money’s worth out of Commodore. Even sadder, the team probably won’t get its money's worth by trade, either...

... and, of course, if Commodore leaves by waivers, Columbus gets absolutely nothing.

Well, not nothing, necessarily. Columbus will have some cap room to play with, which they can use to try and get a marquee player at the trade deadline if they are still in the playoff hunt, or in free agency in the offseason. Also keep in mind – and I hate to be all doom-and-gloom – we don’t know how long the offseason will be, with the potential end of the Collective Bargaining Agreement looming.

Of course, staying in contention means playing with urgency, which does not appear to be happening lately. However, just as Scott Arniel has made lineup changes to send a message to his players over the past week or so, it is now time for Scott Howson to make some moves.

Otherwise, unless the team's play picks up, the only message the Jackets may be sending in February is "SOS."

Again.

Follow @MartiniHockey on Twitter...

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Game 39: Simply Prey

Why is it that in many cases, when the Blue Jackets get a substantial string of wins going, that streak comes crashing down in some horrifying manner, like a pack of cheetahs pulverizing a gazelle?

Or, more appropriately, a pack of Predators pulverizing a hockey team?

Or at least it feels like that, anyway.

Now, the loss to Detroit on Nov. 26 that snapped a then-five-game win streak wasn’t a blowout, but it was one of those losses that was just deflating… an opportunity to prove something against a perennial contender. That loss was the beginning of a slide from which the Jackets are still trying to recover.

Yes, they did just get themselves back into 9th after New Year’s Eve. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like the Jackets are in 15th.

The problem is, they’re not eighth (or above), either. There is still a lot of work to be done, and it starts with being able to win games in the division, and on the road, and most of all, Nashville. Without bogging myself down in tedious research that I’m sometimes known to fritter away time on, I’m willing to bet a good third of the Blue Jackets’ roster was still in juniors the last time Columbus won in Nashville.

Now, it is only the first of a four-game road trip, but getting a good start to a road trip is crucial, and Sunday’s second-period collapse was hellaciously bad.

Now they have to go another two time zones west to play their next three – Phoenix tonight, Anaheim Friday and Los Angeles Saturday. And the West is as tight as it has been all season. Phoenix is just a point behind, Anaheim is only three ahead, and L.A. is only two ahead of the CBJ. A bounceback could spark a nice feeling coming home for a game against Phoenix, before – sure enough – another home-and-home against the Red Wings.

The January schedule doesn’t get any easier, but what will keep the Jackets in contention is their ability to play well on the road. I’m not sure I recall ever seeing the Jackets above .500 on the road at this point of the season. Their early play on the road is what put them in the top four or five early this season, and it could have been even better, ahd they played anywhere near that well at home.

Sure enough, as luck would have it, just as the Jackets start getting wins at home, here comes January – a month with only three home games. But, that’s hockey. It all balances out to 41 home and 41 away games when the regular season is over in April.

The ability to persevere after a horrid loss like Nashville will determine if the Jackets have life beyond the regular season. It’s time for a little redemption in the desert… maybe even to get Buckeye fans to flip to hockey during the Sugar Bowl commercials.

Probably not likely in Columbus, but a fan can dream….

Go Jackets!

Follow @MartiniHockey on Twitter...

Game 38: Happy... End-OF-Old-Year!

Well, if there’s one way to get out of the coach’s doghouse, I’d have to say scoring in OT is a good step in the right direction.

Happy New Year, Jakub Voracek!

After sitting out during a pair of wins that just might be a catalyst to get the Columbus Blue Jackets back on track, Voracek extended the Jackets’ win streak to three with a sweet play, not giving up on a shot on Brian Elliott at ridiculously close range.

Voracek’s tally capped a game filled with nervous moments, espcially the fact that the Blue Jackets blew a three-goal lead, including giving up goals in the last minute-and-change of the second and third periods.

So it wasn’t pretty. So what?

The win puts the Blue Jackets in 9th (and only two points out of 5th) in the tight Western Conference, going into a potentially vicious four-game, seven-night road trip that starts in Nashville tonight. Six or seven points on this trip (if not eight, heh-heh) on this trip would go a long way to get the Jackets back on a Playoff pace at the midpoint of the season (Anaheim on Friday is Game #41).

From the looks of it, the Jackets have recovered nicely from a horrid start to December, and ensured they’re in a much better position than they were this time last year. Scott Arniel started benching guys that weren’t cutting it, and he’s getting the reaction we all want from the team.
Time to sit through some country music in Nashville, then head out west. It’s going to be a tough week, but let’s see what the Jackets can do with it.

Follow @MartiniHockey on Twitter...