Thursday, March 31, 2011

Capital Punishment

I have talked quite a bit about how the NHL desperately needs to find a real television partner. A television partner that is actually accessible to most American households. I figure I'd be a little less upset about the situation if it didn't seem like NBC and Versus were getting paid to kiss Disney Crosby's and Alex Ovechkin's asses all the time.

Now, obviously every hockey fan knows the deal: Disney Crosby is "The Next One," and Alex Ovechkin is probably the only other player who even comes close to Crosby's skill level. I understand that marketing Crosby and Ovechkin are a big priority for a league that is essentially starving for attention against the other Big Four sports.

Yet, all the NHL has is NBC -- who squeezes in a game on New Year's Day, then takes a few weeks off, then televises one game (maybe) weekly through the end of the season, and even then takes a few weeks off during that time.

For what... ice skating? Bicycles in half-pipes? Golf?

And Versus... well, let's just hope they never have a dispute with Time Warner over subscription fees. They won't win that battle.

Hockey fans are still being punished for the fact that the NHL had the 2004-05 lockout, and the ESPN told the NHL to essentially go to hell. As a result, for national coverage, we're stuck with Comcast's craptastic coverage that makes it seem like Disney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin are on every freaking channel.

I suppose it wouldn't bother me so much if fans didn't occasionally have to miss the games they want to watch on some nights, because Versus feels like it has to have the only hockey game on television. Memo to the NHL: Not everyone wants to watch the Penguins and Capitals, okay?

Believe me, I can go an entire season without ever watching a Washington Capitals g--

We're playing them tonight? Oh. Well, I guess I can sit through one.

Coming off a win for the first time in what seems like for ever, the Columbus Blue Jackets are taking on the Eastern Conference's #2 team. While the Jackets are essentially waiting for that proverbial bell to toll, the Capitals are riding high and hard toward what will probably be another first-round upset in the Playoffs. Then again, with Jose Theodore gone, they may have a shot at getting out of the first round -- but I digress.

The Jackets had an admirable game on Tuesday (thank you, Hockey Gods...), although taking the game to a shootout was more than a little stressful, given recent events. Still, seeing the Jackets playing good hockey and seeing the guys you expect to score (such as Scottie Upshall and Antoine Vermette) doing their jobs was a great feeling. It was an even better feeling seeing Maksim Mayorov get on the board with that wristshot that would be the only shootout goal.

Will it lessen the sting of missing the Playoffs in the long term? No, but it helps keep fans engaged for next year if the Jackets can keep up this kind of effort for these last six games. It will take one hell of an effort to get out of Washington with a win tonight, especially with Rick Nash apparently sitting out (per the Dispatch) tonight. Ovechkin returned to the ice Tuesday against Carolina after having a few nights off, and didn't get on the scoresheet at all, but the Blue Jackets can't rely on him staying rusty, and the Caps are still fighting for top seed -- sitting three points behind Philly and only three points ahead of Boston, and both teams have a game-in-hand on Washington.

However, the Jackets showed they just might be up to the task. Sure, they could mess with Washington's seeding in the Playoffs. However, I'd say it's probably more important to wipe away a little of the Capitals' smugness in front of their fans on their home ice.

Then again, to hell with that. The Jackets should win because it feels good, and knowing that fans are jumping out of their chairs feels good.

C'mon... as long as we have to sit through a Capitals game on TV....


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Other posts this week:
Turning To Prayer... Episode III
The NHL: Making Head Shots Legal Again Since March 28th

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Turning To Prayer, Episode III

Are you there, Hockey Gods...? Yeah, I know… It's me again.

Before I get to my request, let me share the conversation from this morning that I had with the Mrs.:
"Oh, and if you have a chance, find me a sweater for the game."

"Sure, you have a preference?" [Because, obviously, over the span of 10 years, we have a few Columbus Blue Jackets sweaters.]

"I don't know, think of something... who's still in?"

"What do you mean, 'Who's sti--

"Oh. Right."

Don't get me wrong. Mrs. Martini is actually a Columbus Blue Jackets fan. The harsh reality, however, is that she has lost the faith. You see, she is a staunch believer that professional sports teams in Ohio are forever cursed.

True… hers is not the best attitude to have. However, it is not her fault.

She's from Cleveland. As you know, all the other sports gods hate Cleveland....

Then again, Cleveland has not been an NHL city in quite some time... maybe you guys aren't so crazy about Cleveland either.

But, I digress.

On to my point: For all their recent trials, the Blue Jackets have fared decently against the Eastern Conference this year (10-3-2). I'd kind of like that relative success to continue, should you see fit, against the Florida Panthers this evening.

Yeah, the Playoff Push is over and all, but... I've tried pep talks... I've tried anger... this is my last resort.

Since the trade deadline, we've seen the Jackets range everywhere from good-but-just-not-good-enough... to lackluster... to downright WTF Territory. In the last few games, it has been hard to talk about highlights that aren't there.

In short... I'm not asking for a blowout, I'm not asking for Steve Mason to score a goal.

I'm just asking for 60 minutes of hockey, 60 minutes of focus for the team... and maybe some good bounces, okay?

Help the Jackets out with this one... and I'll try to not ask anything else of you for the rest of the season.

Unless Todd Bertuzzi and the Red Wings get into the Finals. I'm reserving the right to make emergency appointments in that case.

Thanks for your time.

Martini

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Wrandom Wrister: The NHL... Making Headshots Legal Again Since March 28th

This may offend a couple people, but I'm just going to come right out and ask, okay?

Who in the NHL front office is having an affair with Todd Bertuzzi?

Seriously... the NHL's crackdown on head hits got off to a good start on March 22... nailing Matt Cooke -- a repeat offender with a 14- to 17-game suspension for his latest transgression, an elbow to the head of Ryan Johnson.

That crackdown lasted... what, a WEEK?!?!?

Todd Bertuzzi clearly decked Ryan Johnson. Although the story in the Detroit Free Press defends Bertuzzi (of course), claiming the hit happened "as Bertuzzi backed off the hit."

Ummmm... I don't know about "backed off"... more like "backed into." And honestly, the would be understandable except... hey look!



THAT'S STILL HIS ELBOW making contact with Johnson's head.

Seems open-and-shut to me.

Apparently, it's also open-and-shut for the NHL. Ken Holland tells the Freep that the league tells him that Bertuzzi... a repeat offender, mind you...



...walks.

Again.

Someone in the NHL is getting shtupped here... and I'm not talking about people who pay money to see the Ottawa Senators.

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Sunday, March 27, 2011

Two Weeks Notice

When Aaron Portzline from the Columbus Dispatch tweeted after Thursday's debacle in Phoenix that Blue Jackets head coach Scott Arniel was having a closed-door team meeting... my first thought was, "Oh, to be a fly on the wall for that one...."

Then the first thing that popped into my head was that scene from Raiders of the Lost Ark -- you know... they open the Ark, the souls turn to horrifying beasts, faces melt off, people explode, etc.

Figuring the fly on the wall would also not survive such a spectacle, I changed my mind and just went to bed.

And unlike much of the season, I went to bed very bitter... not just because the Jackets are out of the Playoffs, but that they were playing like it. They have alternated between a team whose best effort just isn't good enough because of little mistakes leading to opposing goals, or a team that just doesn't seem to be trying.

This season threatened to go to hell after another godawful December-January run, but this team fought back to reach "buyer" status at the NHL Trade Deadline, and looking oh-so-close to getting above that Playoff line.

However, the season has been pretty much going back to hell since then. And since the Playoffs started getting out of reach, the Blue Jackets have seemed almost content to stay there, book a tee time for April 13, and so forth.

Playoffs or no, that overall attitude and/or effort needs to change. Sure, the Playoff Push is over....

Wow. That may be the first time I've said that and committed to it. That sucks.

Sure, the Jackets can have only so much impact on the rest of the Western Conference Playoff race.

But dammit... these guys have eight games to go out and play some hockey like they know they can play it. Starting with this one. Forget for one game that Vancouver is the best team in hockey, and looking well on its way toward the Presidents Trophy this season.

So what if the Playoff Push is dead. The season still has 82 games in it.

Being a hockey player is a big deal, but in one very important aspect, it is just like any other job: You don't stop working, just because you got your two weeks notice.

That's just no way for anyone to go out.

Hope to see you at the Sunday Matinee. Go Jackets!

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Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Just Waiting for the "e" ...?

The inexplicable ten straight wins the Columbus Blue Jackets will rattle off to contend for a Playoff spot began tonight as scheduled, thanks to the Jackets' special te--

Wait, hold on... Duchene scores... Duchene scores again... game is tied.

Wait... there's R.J. Umberger with the slapshot! Jackets take the 4-3 lead!

So, as I was saying, the Jackets' inexplicable ten strai-- Oh, for [bleep]'s sake! THREE SECONDS LEFT?!?!? REALLY?!?!?

This is what I get when I start drafting the lead to my post before the final horn.

It just got worse with the OT, with both the Jackets and Avs getting dangerously close to ending a game that never should have gone into overtime.

But, thanks to the Jackets' inexplicable inability to hold a lead as of late... well... there you go.

It looks pretty damn close to over, at least as far as the Playoffs are concerned. The Jackets are pretty much in "audition mode" now... just waiting for that "e" to show up next to the team name in the standings.

The effort just seems so...

...wasted.

An awesome backhand goal by Rick Nash past Brian Elloitt's pad. Derek MacKenzine's shorthanded wrister off the assist from Derek Dorsett. R.J. Umberger's pause to get a Erik Johnson to slide to block, only to lift the puck over him, and past Elliott (shorthanded, no less). Then Umby crashing the net to force it past Elliott again before bowling him over while carrying John-Michael Liles on his back.

All that. Wasted.

The Jackets scored two of their four goals on the penalty kill, shaking off a lackluster, five-shot effort in the first period and bringing the attack to the Colorado Avalanche and getting to a 3-1 lead. And then... it just seemed to go to hell.

Frustration doesn't sum it up well enough. It's a lot closer to anger.

I had some friendly banter with an Avs blogger (the Avalangelist) as the game was getting started -- mostly for fun because he understands I defect from the Avs fanbase for four games a year -- and he seemed rather lukewarm about the Avs' chances. I only said there were no gimmes -- heaven knows I've been burned by assuming any game is a gimme.

After that effort through 47 minutes, it should have been, though.

It's rare that I hate being right.

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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

In Search Of Some Confidence...

Tonight's matchup in the Pepsi Center features two teams in deseperate need to feel good about themselves.

On one end, you have Columbus, who have been trying desperately to right the ship since the NHL Trade Deadline, only to be plagued with inconsistent play, slumping offense and a seemingly very large confidence problem.

On the other, you have the Colorado Avalanche, who on Saturday managed just their second win in 22 games (2-18-2 since January 24).

Coming off a demoralizing loss to New Jersey in which they managed only 13 shots on goal, Columbus needs to run the table in the last ten games to even have a prayer.

Hey... you. I saw that eye-roll.

It's not over until that "e" pops up next to the name. The standings guy at NHL.com is just asleep at the switch in Colorado's and Edmonton's case, alright? I'm an optimist. What of it?

Still, the Jackets got down early, and then got caught in Jacques Lemaire's trademark, lame-ass trap that has propelled his Devils and Wild teams -- but especially this Devils team -- over the years. But it's time to get over it, and move on.

And most of all, shoot the damn puck. Crash the net. Don't stop shooting.

Plain and simple, the key to tonight's game for the Jackets can be summed up in five words:

"Kick them when they're down."

First, get some confidence... and worry about the other nine straight wins as they come.

Go Jackets!

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Wrandom Wrister: The NHL? Disciplining players? No Way... You're Kidding!!!!

I already harped on the nuts and bolts of this issue Monday, so I'll skip to the point....

I will tell you right now: I'm shocked. And to tell you the truth, I'm actually kind of impressed.

Pittsburgh Penguins cheap-shot specialist Matt Cooke -- in his second supplemental disciplinary hearing in six weeks -- was smacked with a suspension that will finish his regular season and keep him out of the first round of the Playoffs. In total, Cooke will miss 14 to 17 games for the elbow he put to Ryan McDonagh's head during Sunday's game with the Rangers.

The NHL may finally be putting its money where its mouth is when it comes to letting players like Cooke know that illegal head hits will not stand in the NHL.

Kudos to Colin Campbell. And honestly – if I could believe that Gary Bettman actually had something to do with that call — I would give him credit too. However, after his blasé handling of Air Canada's threat to back out of its sponsorship over head hits — I'm pretty sure Bettman didn't even touch this issue, beyond giving a quote that made him look like he gives a damn, then went right back to his office to not work on a better TV deal for the NHL.

The fact that Cooke is a repeat offender — again, in just the last six weeks – is probably the only reason the suspension was so sizable. I couldn't have imagined him getting more than three or four, if he hadn't already served a suspension in February. This suspension is pretty heavy, considering what the NHL has done in the past.

Look at Todd Bertuzzi. The guy ended a kid's career and missed only three to six more games than a guy who dished out a head hit in which the guy got up and kept playing.

If only this new revelation could be applied retroactively, and Bertuzzi could get the lifetime ban he should have received in the first place... instead of being reinstated, signing with a perennial contender and threatening to get his filthy hands on the Cup.

However, the NHL may finally be setting a new standard. Maybe the league finally gets it.

Better late than never.

Well... unless you're Steve Moore.

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Monday, March 21, 2011

Matt Cooke? Dirty Hit? No Way... You're Kidding!!!!

I have to say, while looking for a game summary on Sunday's match between the Penguins and Rangers on the Pittsburgh Post Gazette's website, I found it almost comical to find the headline "Penguins players approve of a committee to study head hits," for an article published Sunday.

I wondered, "Gee, I wonder if they asked Matt Cooke" -- he who famously blindsided the Boston Bruins' Marc Savard a little over a year ago (knocking him out with a concussion through the first round of the 2010 Playoffs)...



...and got four games just last month for boarding Fedor Tyutin.

Actually, they did ask him... he said the league needed to clarify its intentions when discussing head hits and Rule 48, and that "I think it's a process."

Now, here's the punchline: In the line before Cooke's quote, the Post-Gazette introduces him, followed by the phrase: "who has adjusted his game to adapt to Rule 48"....

Apparently, not enough...



Even the Pens/Capitals butt-kissers on the NBC crew couldn't dispute that Cooke's hit on Ryan McDonagh was illegal.

The Post-Gazette didn't dispute it, and I applaud that. I think that, for the most part, the print media tends to be more reliably unbiased than the on-air crew.

Amazingly, Cooke was neither penalized nor suspended after the Savard hit last year.

Then again, these are different times... maybe. After all, Cooke did sit four games on his last cheap shot. This latest gem makes Cooke a repeat offender in the same season. Hell, in the same six-week period.

Whatever the league decides in his supplemental hearing (and with guys like Gary Bettman and Colin Campbell in charge, who knows anymore?)... you have to wonder how much longer the Penguins can tolerate having a thuggish cancer like Todd Bertu... oops, sorry, Freudian slip... Matt Cooke as part of their team.

You'd think a team whose captain has been out with concussion symptoms for two-and-a-half months -- after taking head hits in consecutive games -- would have something to say on the matter.

Mario? Your thoughts...?

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Sunday, March 20, 2011

Nash-ty Streak Broken

"Rick Nash can be a very streaky player..."

If we had a dime for everytime we've heard that, we'd have season tickets... a Season Ticket waiting list as long as Detroit's, and the Blue Jackets' future in Columbus would not only be secure, but the team would be turning a profit.

Nash matched a pair of previous goal droughts of 11 games apiece. But when he snapped this latest one... he did it with style.

Nash figured into all four goals in regulation -- putting in two himself. Defensemen Kris Russell and Jan Hejda contributed the other two goals I what was an exciting and sometimes scary game.

Of course, it didn't have to be scary, but giving up two totally preventable goals in the last 5:07 will do that to you. However, for the first time in what seems like forever, the Jackets survived some rough moments in OT and avoided the shootout on Antoine Vermette's last-minute goal... and the Jackets got that second point.

The offensive outburst may not have erased the memory of that horrific shutout at the hands of the Detroit Red Wings, but that proverbial light at the end of the tunnel...?

Still on.

Still a long tunnel, but it's still on. The Jackets will still need a lot of help, but they also have to make sure to take care of their own business and go on an unprecedented run.

But there is hope -- again, razor-thin margin for error -- but it's there. And it may center around that... "streakiness" we so love/hate about Rick Nash. If last night is a sign of things to come, the timing is good, considering the NHL's hottest team, the New Jersey Devils are coming to town today.

The ride isn't over. That light stays on as long as the Blue Jackets light the lamp.

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Thursday, March 17, 2011

Invasion of the “WalMart WingNuts” – The Final Chapter (This Year)

Happy St. Patrick’s Day! In honor of this wonderful holiday, I am dyeing today’s post green…. Sure, it’s not overly fancy, but I like to be festive. Enjoy.

I was at one of our fine sports memorabilia shopping destinations a couple months back, looking for some cool CBJ stuff if I could find it (which is rare in a non-Blueline establishment, but still a better chance of finding stuff than on NHL.com).

I was admiring a CBJ “Draft Pick” T-shirt (here’s a link to what one from, say, Toronto looks like) which I had not yet seen, since it isn’t on the site. I was admiring how it looked, and mentally going over when I’d be out that way again to pick it up, when I hear this voice over my shoulder…

“Y’know… you should try and find something like that for a real team…”

I looked over my shoulder and turned. Work boots… jeans… light winter jacket over a Red Wings sweatshirt… non-hockey cap. And immediately, I suspected it…

… a WalMart WingNut.

You know… the fans that pile into Nationwide Arena on a Detroit night and make it just as loud (if not louder) for a Detroit goal than for a Columbus one. Think a professional hockey version of the “WalMart Wolverine” (Google it).*

No, I'm not talking about the real fans that make the trip from Detroit, or the "lifers." I’m talking about the ones from the rural areas and suburbs who jump on the bandwagon, go out and buy Wings swag, and wear it just to feel like a fan… or just to piss people off. The same ones who don’t know a five-hole from a pothole, or Osgood from sporting goods.

Now, the real Detroit fans… I can tolerate. God love them. I even occasionally get to watch games with a friend who is “all in for Michigan,” has family there, and he even calls them during Playoff games.

But the WalMart WingNuts… a despicable, insidious lot. Just a small step below the guy who sneaks in the octopus… if only for the fact that the stench is less obvious.

So, being the kind of fan I am… I decided to engage this gentleman in a cordial manner to confirm or dispel my suspicion. We discussed streaks and slumps, Detroit’s then-recent two consecutive losses and injury problems – Pavel Datsyuk’s being the most prominent…

Okay, I was satisfied. He was legit.

We exchanged pleasantries, a little polite “see you in a couple weeks” trash talk, and parted company.

Tonight marks the Final Invasion of the WalMart WingNuts for the season, and there’s a lot on the line. The Jackets remain seven points out of a Playoff spot after last night’s action, and hanging by a thread to stay in the Western Conference race. The Wings, barring a surge by Chicago, are likely locked into second or third seed – unless the Canucks’ game goes completely to hell before April. Columbus is 2-2-1 against the Wings this year, and has been strong in each game since Detroit swept that home-and-home in November. The Jackets took the last game in The Joe 3-0 on February 4.

However, the Jackets have dropped eight of their last nine games, while Detroit has won three straight, coming off their win against the Capitals last night.

Sure, every Red Wings game is huge, but this one is pretty damn important at this point of the season. That uphill climb will feel a bit less steep if the Jackets can put together 60 minutes of damn good hockey tonight. Plus, it wouldn’t hurt to get some confidence going into Saturday’s roadie in Minnesota and Sunday’s matinee against the red-hot (pardon the pun) New Jersey Devils.

Okay, everybody… pints up: GO JACKETS!

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* For the record, I Googled “WalMart WingNut” to figure out if anyone had used it before, and the closest thing I could find was a bunch of negative political blogs, but never found the two words used together. Eh, whether the concept already exists or not, it's all in good fun... besides, the WMWN's know who they are....

Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Efforts Unfulfilled...

The Columbus Blue Jackets went into a Tuesday night game with a chance to take down a slumping Boston Bruins team and keep that Playoff light on at the end of the tunnel.

Man, that is a long freakin' tunnel....

After earning only their first win after the Trade Deadline against Carolina on Saturday night, the Jackets unfortunately took a huge step back in the shootout loss against the Bruins.

Now the good guys remain in that “no margin for error” territory -- actually, that situation isn't any different -- teetering on the brink between Playoff hopes and the remainder of the season amounting to just auditions for next year.

The game pucks go to Grant Clitsome, whose goal from just inside the blue line was his fourth point in five games; and Scottie Upshall, who scored an awesome goal and demonstrated why the Jackets need to try and lock him up before July.

And Matt Calvert! How many times did his speed cause Boston to wind up in the box, anyway? Two? Three? I know it's a recurring topic, but the kid's crazy good.

Unfortunately, the Jackets couldn't get any goals off their six powerplay opportunities (given, one was really short). And honestly, Tuukka Rask was looking like he did in last year's Playoffs... before the infamous collapse against the Flyers, anyway.

There are 13 games left, and the fact that the Jackets are getting a point in some of their recent losses can only prolong the Playoff Push for so long. It's not looking good. Although they are not mathematically eliminated, you always have the option of watching the Jackets' progress against "the line" -- that estimate we use to signify how many points in the standings the eighth-place team in the West will have. It means we stalk the standings a little less, and know when it's over without waiting for the "e" (eliminated) to pop up next to our team in the newspaper.

By the way, that "e" is not next to Edmonton yet, but technically, they are out. Even a zombie apocalypse in the bottom half of the West standings would get them no higher than 10th. (Sorry... I've been watching The Walking Dead on DVD the last couple days.)

Last year, that line was 95, put up by the Colorado Avalanche... and by the way, the other seven teams had 100 points or more.

In the previous two years, the line was 91.

So, if we assume 95, the Jackets need 21 points in the remaining 13 games. However, the West is tighter than usual, so is 95 going to be enough? That's a good question.

Some estimates have said 97 or 98... both are technically doable. I'm sure there's some
mathematical guru somewhere who can tell us what the line definitively is... but who has the time?

That whole "magic number" thing I mentioned a few days back? Yeah, throw that out the window. There's a reason why that works in baseball, and not in hockey.

I suppose it's also the reason hockey is so much more watchable.

The ride's not over, although it's going to take a hell of a game against Detroit to keep it all going. And from here on out, it's safe to say the Jackets need a lot of help. To figure out who can help the most, stalk the daily "Games That Matter" feature by Dark Blue Jacket. I don't envy the task... I did it a couple years back in the CBJ's Playoff Push a couple years back. It's fun, but man, that's a lot of numbers sometimes.

Wrandom Wristers
  • Man, Rick Nash needs to get back on the scoreboard. He has not had a goal since the game-winner against Nashville on Feb. 22.
  • For once, I'm glad the refs stepped in between two guys before a fight broke out. Derek Dorsett vs. Zdeno Chara? Did not want to see that.
  • This may just be armchair coaching, but there seemed to be too much stickwork by Nasher and Fedor Tyutin in the shootout. Too fancy, it wasn't fooling Rask, and they just simply ran out of room.
  • However... hell of an "ankle save" by Mase on Patrice Bergeron.
  • How this escaped me up until now since I watched Boston so much in the Playoffs last year, but I just saw Tuukka Rask's headshot for the very first time. Anyone else think he somewhat resembles a young Buster Poindexter?
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Saturday, March 12, 2011

Looking For Salvation Out East...

Hi, gang. Others in the CBJ Blogging Community (as I refer to it) have written about this game already, so I won't go into the disappointing details of the Jackets' night against the Kings. I was out with the Mrs. and our favorite hockey buddies for a kick-ass sketch-comedy-and-rock-show at Shadowbox Live after watching the game. I can draft a blog when Mrs. Martini has some Food Network stuff on, but if you were to try something like that at the Box... you have a hockey problem.

Don't get me wrong... I do have a hockey program, but a Shadowbox show takes priority over anything you can do on a phone.

So, if you haven't read about the game by now, page down a couple times and check out the list of fine writers our hockey-loving fan base has to offer on the right sidebar.

HOWEVER, I do have stuff to say here, too.

I will note that it was quite interesting to see Greg Wyshynski of Yahoo's Puck Daddy blog discuss another stanchion-turnbuckle-whatever-the-hell-it's-called hit involving R.J. Umberger on Drew Doughty. Like he notes, this was not really all that similar to the Zdeno Chara hit on Max Pacioretty earlier this week, which I discussed here a couple days ago.

Doughty did miss a couple shifts, apparently, but still played out the rest of the game. Intention (or lack thereof) was clear to all parties involved.

And, although I know I may be sacrificing the two or three Bruins fans that read my stuff during the 2010 Playoffs... I still think that the NHL made the wrong call on Chara's reckless -- though unintentional -- hit.

But enough about how horribly Gary Bettman runs this league... and the apparent need for a Breathalyzer for the governors who continue to extend his contract. Let's talk about the Jackets for a minute.

The Jackets take their 71 points -- 10 out of the Playoffs in the West, and sadly only three out in the East -- and their 9-2-1 record against the Eastern Conference into Carolina this evening, to try and reverse course in a Playoff Push that is a razor-thin line from being over. The Hurricanes are no slackers against the West, either -- they're currently 9-5-2 against the better conference, in fact.

All the more reason for the Blue Jackets to find that near-flawless -- or at least physically and emotionally sound -- brand of hockey they displayed at the beginning of the season and in late February. If the Jackets are going to make a push of this, they need to have a perfect week with a win over Carolina tonight, then the Northeast-leading-but slumping Bruins, the Detroit Red Wings on Thursday and Minnesota a week from tonight. Which obviously brings to mind that Airbourne song they play in the CBJ goal celebration, "No Way But The Hard Way."

There's no question that the Jackets are "used to it."

But will they answer the call on the road and preserve what's left of hope for the Playoffs?

We'll find out tonight.

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Thursday, March 10, 2011

Should the NHL Punish "Accidents"?

It was horrific. There are no other words to describe it.

The sight was alarming at the very least. The sound of the incident, at least when you realize what happened in the replay...

I don't have enough words to fully describe the chill down my spine when I see Max Pacioretty's head hit that glass at the end of the Boston bench.

The Montreal Canadiens announced Pacioretty sustained a severe concussion and a non-displaced vertebra fracture, which I guess is the kind of vertebra fracture you want if that situation ever comes up.

Here's the video, if you can watch it:



Now, do I believe there was intent to injure on the part of Zdeno Chara? No. I don't believe that is his game. It wasn't the golf swing that Brad May pulled on Steve Heinze's face, and it wasn't the shamelessly premeditated and gutless Todd Bertuzzi hit on Steve Moore.

It was a horrific accident. However... does that mean the NHL should not have taken further action on Chara?

I know this is only the latest big head injury that fans have had to see, but this was a bad one. I love the Boston Bruins, and I think Zdeno Chara is a hell of a player, but I think the NHL made a bad move here.

Pacioretty was hustling to get to the puck. Chara was coming in to stop him, and was finishing his check. They were right along the boards.

I gotta tell you... that last shove Chara gives him looks really, really damning, people. Hell, even Pacioretty himself said he didn't expect a large number of games in a suspension. But he is right in expecting something.

Yes, I understand the league's taking Chara's previous record as a clean player into account, and that's fine. But I sincerely believe there needed to be something to send a message that this was not acceptable.

And I'm a Boston fan....

Was the play intentional and gutless? No.

Was it careless? Yes.

These are professional hockey players. They are the best in the world. Why? Because they are aware of their surroundings during a game. They know where they are, and what they're doing. A guy that ges a double-minor for high-sticking and drawing blood doesn't mean for his stick to cut the guy, but he gets a penalty, because the player was careless, and the rules state the player has to control his damned stick.

A drunk driver doesn't mean to hit the pedestrian... you get my point.

Similarly, you know where you are on the ice at all times --  and yes, it's a fast game, but NHL rinks have a pretty standard design. If you're side-by-side with a guy, skating along the boards in front of the bench, but then get that shove in to finish your check and you're right near that partition... you're damn right that's a bad play.

And that bad play, and the NHL's reaction to it, is evidence of the usual failure of leadership at the top.

Look at Air Canada's threat to pull out of its sponsorship of the NHL, and Commissioner Gary Bettman's apparent defiance and alluding to taking the NHL's business elsewhere. This shows that the NHL is still hesitant to take head hits seriously.

And Bettman would know about not taking head hits seriously. This is the same man who reinstated Todd Bertuzzi after a mere 20-game suspension, for the sucker-punch from behind that ended Steve Moore's career.

Now, anyone who knows me or talks to me about hockey knows that I think Gary Bettman is a brainless jackass, but this just takes the cake. Air Canada is trying to send a message about a serious issue in hockey, and Bettman is smirking and grandstanding about finding sponsorship elsewhere.

Well, gee, Gary... that's the same kind of bridge-burning attitude that has the NHL slumming it on NBC three times a month if they're lucky, and sandwiched in between bull-riding and bass fishing on Versus.

Gary Bettman can talk all he wants about what a great brand the NHL is, but if he's not willing to deal with the league's problems, how many people are going to continue to buy into that brand?

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Jackets Blue It Again...

It. Looked. So. GOOD...

...and then it just went to hell.

First, there was the gift of the disallowed goal for Ian Cole in the first period. Apparently, it was an on-ice call after Garon complained about goaltender interference, according to the sharp eyes and ears who were on Twitter at the time. Whether it was that or a call in Toronto, that was a gift, folks. Everybody knows the Jackets have been on the wrong side of those calls for less than that.

Then came the scoring... Voracek's goal off the precise, crisp passing of Rick Nash and then Derick Brassard... that was a thing of beauty. R.J. Umberger's deflection of Grant Clitsome's slapshot demonstrated why he is the kind of guy you want in front of the net on a power play. Pure art.

Then Derek MacKenzie put home a one-timer off a pass from Jared Boll. It's the kind of play you want to see from your third- and fourth-liners: Guys who can support the top two lines -- and the goaltender -- with some scoring.

And then... the meltdown. They let the Blues back in the game.

Credit where it's due, Alex Pietrangelo put a hell of a shot past Mathieu Garon, who looked like he may have been out a little too far to challenge the shot. Sadly, Ian Cole did finally get on the board for his first career goal.

That goal by Chris Stewart was a killer, though... speeding toward the crease to pick up a loose puck and put it past Garon. Painful to watch that replay.

The Blue Jackets got only six shots on goal in the second, but connected on three of them. You can't take the chance that you'll have that again and put up only five shots in the third. Not that the Jackets didn't try... they just got shut down.

Then to have Stewart get the puck, streak into the Jackets' zone and deke Clitsome ot set up the backhand winner in OT... that just hurt.

The Jackets' failure to get that second point (again) has them eight points out of a Playoff spot, with 16 games remaining. They still need those 14 wins, which will take one hell of a run to pull off. It's possible... but CBJ fans need to see some damn-near-flawless hockey from this club from here on out. Not only is that doable (and come on, we've seen it this year), there are thousands of people who very much want to see it.

This season isn't over. It's a matter of remembering how to play 60 minutes. Hell, look at the New Jersey Devils. For the first 41 games, those poor bastards had clearly forgotten how to play hockey period... let alone 60 minutes of it. Since the season's midpoint, those same Devils are 20-3-2.

We may just get to see what that looks like. So, don't switch it to Food Network just yet.

Or at least that's what I'm telling the wife....

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Tuesday, March 8, 2011

*Sigh*... That's Our Team

Man, early goals are scary, especially when a game is huge, like the one the Columbus Blue Jackets were playing against the St. Louis Blues last night.

Patrik Berglund's goal from the top of the slot past Steve Mason provided this game's early "oh crap" moment, and honestly, it made me question whether Mathieu Garon should have had the start... a move I thought would have been appropriate in the last game as well, after Mason was lit up for four and chased by the Oilers.

However, some sick stickhandling by Rick Nash, and the sweet pass to Jake Voracek that followed five minutes later made fans feel significantly better. So did Matt Calvert's goal off a rebound from a shot by R.J. Umberger, then Fedor Tyutin's goal that put the Jackets up 3-1 barely ten minutes into the game.

Saaaaaayyy... this team looks familiar, I thought to myself.

Then two straight penalties resulted in two power play goals to tie the game at 3, not even 14 minutes into the game.

This team also looked familiar....

Sadly, this tale of two teams ended in disappointment once again... and capped an 0-3-2 road trip that threatens to end the Blue Jackets' 10th season on April 9th.

Yes, the Jackets got one point, and every point is important... the problem is, there are only 17 games remaining in the sesason, and the Jacket need a hell of a lot more points to get into the Playoffs.

By not getting the second point, the Jackets negated a good performance by Rick Nash, who finally got on the score sheet for the first time on this road trip... never mind another stellar effort by Matt Calvert.

The loss leaves the Jackets at seven points out of a Playoff spot (L.A. got a point for taking the Stars to OT). And... again... the Jackets still need 14 more wins to get the points they need for a Playoff spot (and that is assuming 98 points will be enough in the West).

And if they don't pull off that small miracle... that is one more thing that will look all too familiar.

And the Blue Jackets can't afford that.

Wrandom Wrister
Speaking of familiar, why the hell was Fox Sports Ohio talking to T.J. Oshie after the game? Did we really need to see that? Don't the Blues have their own channel?
I'd rather hear the "disappointing," "need two points," "gotta play better," template from a Blue Jackets player than look at T.J. Oshie. Hell, just throw an extra commercial in there to fill the time if you have to.

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Saturday, March 5, 2011

Flaming Out...?

It is official: The Columbus Blue Jackets have to do something unprecedented and freakish to make the Playoffs.

Two missed penalty shots. A player scores the game-tying goal, then takes a foolish double-minor, which results in two power play goals. A goaltender who was chased the night before gets the start, when he probably should have been rested. That was the Blue Jackets-Flames game in a nutshell, a 4-3 loss that spoiled the CBJ debut of Craig Rivet, who opened the scoring.

A few games ago, I noted that the Jackets needed 14 wins in the last 21 games in order to hit the mid- to upper-90s point count they needed to make the Playoffs.

That was when the Jackets had their first regulation loss on the road in nine games, against Nashville (6-0-2 before that game). Four games into a five-game road swing considered by pretty much everyone to be a “make-or-break” stretch for the CBJ’s Playoff hopes, the good guys are 0-3-1.

With 18 games to go… the Jackets still need those 14 wins.

Is it doable? Absolutely. But it’s a Herculean task. Essentially, the Jackets need to pull some New Jersey Devils-type stuff. Of course, the Devils have the greatest goaltender (statistically) of all time in Martin Brodeur, and Ilya Kovalchuk is finally starting to earn the big checks he’s cashing.

So, I guess it comes down to this… if there is such as thing as a “magic number” in hockey, the Blue Jackets’ number is four. Four games for which the Jackets can afford to be less than perfect.

Lose five, and it’s more than likely over.

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Friday, March 4, 2011

Expletive, Expletive and More Expletive...

Sometimes, there are no other words....

Sometimes the four-letter ones are all that seem appropriate. Maybe throw in an "ing" for color.

The timing can't be any worse for that weird, crazy road magic to be wearing off.

The Columbus Blue
Jackets came out fast but quickly fell flat. And for much of the remaining time, they seemed to stay that way.

It was a bit of a late night last night, so I'll have to keep this one brief.

Despite being one of the better teams in the NHL in terms of comeback wins, the Jackets could not get done last night. Matt Calvert continues to impress, and help to keep the game from getting too out of hand early in the second period, after quickly answering an Edmonton goal (which put them up 3-0) with one of his own.

Scotty Upshall also managed to give the Jackets a spark of life in the third, as Mathieu Garon kept the Oilers from worsening the damage, stopping all 23 shots in relief of Steve Mason.

No more sugarcoating this: it is urgent that the Blue Jackets win these last two games on this road trip. That's all there is to it. Get five points out of this road trip. To hell with being six points out of a playoff spot… The Blue Jackets are now four points out of 11.

How can a team that came out so hungry against the Canucks, the top team in the NHL, and come out against the Oilers looking like that strange relative who leans back in his chair at the table after dinner and loosens his belt a couple notches? Guys like Upshall, Calvert, and Garon are delivering. Where the hell is the rest of the team?

Here's to hoping they find themselves later tonight.

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Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Things Are Looking Up(shall) For Columbus

Raffi Torres....

Why did it have to be Raffi-freakin'-Torres?

Torres ended an eight-round shootout -- and a 2-1 win for the Vancouver Canucks -- in a game that saw the Columbus Blue Jackets face down the Western Conference's top team and still walk out with a point.

The loss leaves the Blue Jackets five points behind Los Angeles for the eighth Playoff spot, with 20 games remaining.

Frankly, that was the only thing that spoiled what was an crazy debut by Scottie Upshall.

Simply put... Scottie Upshall played his ass off for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Then, with Upshall in the box for a high-sticking double-minor... the Blue Jackets returned the favor, killing off both minors.

Then Upshall did it again, blocking a shot by Ryan Kesler (at least I think it was Kesler) that had a good chance of going in -- in the closing seconds to send the game into OT.

He didn't stop there either. He managed another shot, and -- if not for the tenacious Canucks defense and a bouncing puck -- could have even won it on a streaking chance a couple minutes into the extra period.

Scottie Upshall is already looking like a steal for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Seriously. It seemed like he was everywhere... on both ends of the ice, but especially in the offensive zone. The shot tracker showed six shots by Upshall... but it could have been double that, the way he factored into a lot of that action on Vancouver's end.

But that goal... what the hell. That looked too fast for a wrist shot. After taking the chip from Derek Dorsett, it looked like he settled the puck and shot it in a half-second. Obviously Roberto Luongo couldn't see it.  I know I sure as hell didn't.

Vancouver certainly did a job on the Jackets' hot-of-late power play. They certainly showed why the Canucks had the third-best power play going in, not to mention the top spot in the Western Conference.

The loss sucks, yes. however, a team can do a hell of a lot worse against a team in Vancouver's spot. The Jackets still have a game or two in hand against the teams immediately above them, which can be very useful as long as they capitalize on it. This loss can be a very good thing to build on.

Wrandom Wristers
  • Upshall didn't just have a good game for himself, he raised the game for other guys on the ice. Linemate Derek Dorsett had five shots on goal.
  • Rostislav Klesla -- returning to the ice for the first time in over a month after a knee injury and the trade that brought Upshall and Sami Lepisto to Columbus -- scored a goal in his debut in a Coyotes uniform.
  • Dallas and Calgary got wins to distance themselves from the contenders floating near the line. Nashville lost in a shootout, and is just a point behind the three-way tie at spots 6 though 8.

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