Friday, December 30, 2011

Finishing The Job

Was... that... Rick Nash?

The guy who somehow had only 10 goals in 36 games?

On a team with only 9 wins in that same span?

A guy who had been a minus-20, good for (though that's probably not the best way to put it) second-worst in the league?

The league's plus-minus standings from NHL.com, after Thursday night's game. Yes, this is the last page.
Why yes, that was indeed Rick Nash who opened the scoring in the American Airlines Center in Dallas Thursday night. And it started something. Although Dallas' Vernon Fiddler would tie the game barely five minutes later, the Jackets stayed on the attack. The Jackets regained the lead on a goal from fellow under-scoring forward Antoine Vermette in the second.

From there, things took a turn... not on the scoreboard, mind you, but unfortunately on a more lasting level. James Wisniewski took a slapshot to his left ankle about even minutes into the second, and the early report is a fracture. The loss of Wiz certainly didn't help the CBJ's still-struggling power play. However, despite having to finish the game with five defensemen, the Jackets managed to maintain their focus -- and the lead.

Even in the third, which has been a concern for even the biggest, most delsuionally optimistic CBJ fan this season... even way before the power play explosion and subsequent defensive implosion against Nashville a week ago.

Nash added a second goal about six minutes into the third. It was a "Rick Nash goal," too... not like that crazy thing he did in Phoenix a couple years ago, but you know... one of those "get the puck, get around a guy and as another guy's joining the crowd, flick the wrister to the net" kind of goals. Thursday's performance was one of those that reminds us why we still love him in Columbus, and why fans in other markets wish he wasn't playing in Columbus.

And as time continued to tick down, the Jackets continued to hold the lead. They even killed a couple of penalties. Hell, on a couple of occasions, they almost made one wonder which team had the man advantage.

Simply put... the Blue Jackets finished what they started.

What it means when Alex Ovechkin and the Capitals come to town on Saturday... who knows?

But the Jackets finally got that tenth win. That may not be much, but it's something.

WRANDOM WRISTERS
  • I did not realize this until it was mentioned/repeated ad nauseam in pregame and during the game (admittedly, I don't watch the pregame shows a lot), but this was apparently the first road win in regulation this season, and first since March. Wow. Just... wow.
  • In a strange twist of a former CBJ player taking out another former CBJ player, current Coyote Raffi Torres might be facing supplemental discipline after putting a shoulder to current Av Jan Hedja's head in the Phoenix-Colorado game Thursday -- check out Puck Daddy's Greg Wyshynski's wrapup of the situation. Scary looking impact... and apparently, this was the second time in as many nights that Torres has caught some extra attention for a hit.
Follow @MartiniHockey on Twitter....
and/or you can now "Like" the blog on Facebook....

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Hell... Fire.. Brimstone...

There are so many fire- and flame-related puns that could apply to a post about a game against the Calgary Flames. The increasingly hot seats under the respective derrieres of Scott Arniel and Scott Howson; the apparent flame-out of the collective psyche of the team after blowing a 4-1 lead; the "fire-sale" of key components of the team (or at least we thought they were key components of the team when they were signed to extensions). And so forth.

As I told another blogger this evening, I'm beginning to understand what it must feel like to be an Islanders fan. You know... that feeling of having absolutely no hope whatsoever.

You still can't picture it? Ask a Cleveland Browns fan.

Obviously, the Jackets' effort tonight was not totally lacking by any means. And frankly, Steve Mason was pretty damn good throughout the game. The one that got past him was tragic... it took until the second or third replay to even see where it got past him. He dove a little early, perhaps... I don't know. Jarome Iginla is a pretty badass hockey player.

Again, the effort was not lacking. The Jackets had chances. The problem is... well, a top-five payroll like this should be finishing these chances. Four power plays in the second, with nothing to show for it? Inexcusable.

Now, sitting at 9-22-5... where do the Jackets go from here?

Some fingers point to the suspension of James Wisniewski -- and thus, his absence in the first eight games of the season -- as the beginning of this season's debacle. Some others might point to injuries -- which is supposed to not be an excuse, but the impact of man-games lost to injury probably can't be ignored. Still others point to Mason, which a lot of people can certainly agree on... at times.

People have been calling for Arniel's head for weeks. It took me awhile, but I've certainly been leaning in that direction of late. I mean, a guy telling the media after last Thursday's 6-5 debacle to Nashville that his team is mentally "gone" does not inspire confidence.

Saying practice the next day was canceled? Uh, no. Not cool. I'm all for mental breaks, but the three-day break obviously didn't yield anything positive. There are still 82 games in a season, kids.

So does the team start firing people? Trading people? What will get this team going again?

Or at least get them to ten wins?

Follow @MartiniHockey on Twitter....
and/or you can now "Like" the blog on Facebook....

Friday, December 23, 2011

Uncle, Dammit! UNCLE!!!!

There aren't enough four-letter words.

You remember that part in A Christmas Story,  where the narrator discusses his father weaving "a tapestry of profanity that, to this day is still unmatched"?

The Old Man had nothing on me during the third period last night.

Of course, if you're in Nashville, then the words you're looking for are "Holy $#!+..."

But in Columbus? Well... hockey died a little on Thursday.

Can an NHL coach get fired this close to Christmas?

We just might find out today. It's sad, but... it's time.

If my memory is correct, the current "Fired NHL Coaches" count is sitting at five. One of them, Washington, was even above .500 when they pulled the trigger. Hell, St. Louis was only a game below .500 when they canned Davis Payne.

Never mind what the hell you say to a guy who has coached your team to a 9-21-4 record through 34 games... how quickly do you say it?

Even in his best mood, ghosts and all, Ebenezer Scrooge would be saying "Cratchitt, take Christmas off! You know what... take the next day off, too!

"There's a game then? Bah, we'll make it work!"

And then change all the locks.

You can bet your pucks that the Ghost of Hockey Seasons Yet To Come showed Scrooge last night's game. On repeat.

A hat trick by Jeff Carter in the first period, en route to a 4-1 lead in the first period. Four power play goals... three of which came on a five-minute power play after the Predators' resident lumberjackass Brian McGrattan boarded Jared Boll.

All of those great plays... those highlights... and yet, it's really hard for Jackets fans to give a $#!+.

Why? Because the team has apparently stopped giving a $#!+.

You know that whole "cooler heads prevail" thing I was preaching some time ago? Yeah, that attitude is now a scratch. A very un-healthy scratch.

The Jackets are 10 or 11 regulation losses away from mathematical elimination (loose estimate, based on 95 points for the 8th seed). The odds are damn near impossible for the Jackets to win enough games to scrape out that Playoff spot now.

(Okay, they probably were a week ago... maybe two.)

(Okay, three.)

I understand the front office's previous stance about the injuries, and how fans needed to see the roster that Scott Howson built before making a decision on Scott Arniel.

Well, for the steps forward the Jackets have taken since then, they have taken more steps back. The team is now in worse shape than before.

The best the Jackets can hope for is to fight their way back to...

...well, "respectability" is off the table.

How about "some shred of dignity"?

There's an old joke that says, "You know you're going to have a bad day when your boss calls you into the office, and tells you to leave your coat on."

I'm sensing Scott Arniel is about to have a very bad day.

It's sad, but... it's time.

Follow @MartiniHockey on Twitter....
and/or you can now "Like" the blog on Facebook....

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

National Disgrace... Or Lost In Translation...?

It's a sad day when one of the finest players of his time in his particular sport can manage to do a complete 180 and become a national disgrace.

No, not Mark McGwire... I'm talking about a watchable sport.

Peter Forsberg -- who won two Stanley Cups with the Colorado Avalanche in 1996 and 2001, and scored the gold-medal winning shootout goal at the Lillehammer Olympics in 1994 -- turns out that he might have been part of an Olympic dive... in the Winter Games in 2006.

Or... it's all a big misunderstanding.

In a documentary about his life, Forsberg has supposedly admitted Sweden may have tanked against Slovakia in 2006 to secure an easier path to the Gold Medal that didn't involve a game against the Russians or the Canadians. The Swedes lost to Slovakia 3-0, but then won three straight win the Gold against Finland.

Is anyone else having a hard time not feeling a little sick? Just a little?

I know I'm a little ill at the prospect that there is any truth to this, as a fan of this great sport. The very idea of tanking in general bothers me. Normally when you hear about it, it has something to do with phoning in the rest of the season in order to improve your draft position... like the Cavaliers supposedly did in order to get Lebron James.

Now, this is a little different, because this is one of those cases which tanking actually gave Sweden a competitive edge at the time... on the ice in the tournament. Sure, there is always a chance that this little plan could have backfired and Sweden doesn't win the gold in 2006.

However, what upsets me --  and I would assert any hockey fan -- is this: If you're going to tank on the ice... the Olympics would be the POOREST choice of venue to do so.

Keep in mind... this is all during the era of NHL players on Olympic teams. It's a situation in which you hear NHL players gushing about what a holy honor it is to be able to play for their home countries in the Olympics.

Represent their home nations.

Win Gold for their homelands.

What does it say to the world if a bunch of players were willing to put on their nation's uniform in the Olympics... and take a freakin' DIVE?

Still not sure? Okay, try this little twist…

What does it say about a national hockey team that would take a dive because they're essentially scared to play Russia or Canada?

For the record, two players have denied this already, including team captain Mats Sundin.

But why would Peter Forsberg say it? Why would Sweden's greatest hockey player place his own reputation, and the reputations of his teammates -- his countrymen -- in doubt?

Or did he even say it? Why don't we know for sure?

Hell, why isn't there an independent translation of this interview yet?

If there is any truth to this, what does that say about Sweden? About the NHL? How about the NHL's participation in the Olympics?

I, for one, would say this would bolster my argument against continuing to send NHL players to the Olympics. Hell, as a hockey fan, I wouldn't care who was playing. I'd still watch it... and I think most hockey fans would. There are plenty of young players out there around the world who would love to have the opportunity to play for their national teams.

I seriously doubt you'd ever hear anyone talking about tanking if the Olympics went back to non-NHL players. Representing your nation in the Olympics is a privilege... one that should be reserved for those who work hard to get there.

And leave no doubt that they would work for it, and leave everything on the ice.

Follow @MartiniHockey on Twitter....
and/or you can now "Like" the blog on Facebook....

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Out Of The Cellar...(?)

For sure… putting away the shootout in only two rounds would have been nice. Steve Mason's letting in the second shot from Alexandre biter-- er, Burrows... perhaps added a little suspense to a situation in which Columbus Blue Jackets fans could do without the suspense. However, the wrister from James Wisniewski that slipped just between the post and Roberto Luongo's left skate shut the door on any further, unnecessary suspense.

Thus, the Jackets split a pair of games with each of the defending conference champions from last year's Stanley Cup Playoffs.

As a bonus, the Jackets have also, for the time being, climbed out of the cellar of the Western Conference. No, really! Look!

CBJ not in 15th! It's on NHL.com, so it MUST be true!
Now, the Jackets obviously have way to go to reach 13th. However, no one said the climb was easy

Make no mistake about it... the climb to the Playoff line is pretty freaking monumental right now. We are at the 30 game mark now. That means the blue jackets have 52 games remaining in theh season… of which they need to win about 37 to get in (this is just an estimate, of course, based on the final standings of the last several years).

Hey, when you're a CBJ fan obsessed with making the Playoffs, especially after such a godawful start… you crunch numbers like this. When you're really bad, you lie awake doing this. It's our lot in life.

So, yeah, winning 71-75 percent -- see? I'm doing it now! -- of your remaining games is a pretty hefty task.

Doable? Sure.

Herculean? Absolutely.

But doable.

Speaking of doable... after playing a crazy-good stint in net all game, I thought Steve Mason was toast when I saw him go down on his side. I thought for sure he popped a groin or something... seemed like the most logical conclusion after seeing a guy down on the ice for that long after that split he did. Thankfully, it wasn't, and he got back in net after Curtis Sanford held down the fort for a few minutes. Man, that had to be some damn painful cramping to give people a scare like that.

It was Mason's first start since mid-November. However, on this night, Steve Mason was the freakin' man in the crease tonight.

And if he keeps that kind of stuff up in net... this season is still doable.

And dammit... I'll believe it's doable until it isn't.

Two more games left in the homestand, and the Kings are up next on Thursday.

Watch the throne....
Go Jackets!

Follow @MartiniHockey on Twitter....
and/or you can now "Like" the blog on Facebook....

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Going For Another Turnaround...

The Boston Bruins are eight games above .500. The Columbus Blue Jackets are eight games below .500.

Mismatch? On paper... absolutely.

On the ice... not so fast.

"Jackets vs. Bruins: Episode I" was also a mismatch on paper, when these teams met three weeks ago. The Jackets were at a dismal 3-13-1 record, while the Bruins were (at the time) gunning for their seventh straight win, which they got on route to a crazy 14-0-1 run that stretched through all of November and into December. Since then, they have dropped two straight. That includes an unthinkable shutout by Jose Theodore. Actually, it's not that unthinkable, as Theodore usually doesn't shut down until the Playoffs... but, I digress.

The Jackets lost the teams' first meeting in a shootout three weeks ago. However, in the process the team seemed to kind of find the proverbial "on switch," and managed to build on that game, winning three of their next four, and earning a five-game point streak. Unfortunately, the Jackets regressed a bit in a few games since, and find themselves still last in the Western Conference.

So tonight... Columbus finds itself in a similar situation to the last time they played the Bruins.

After a soul-crushing OT loss to the Nashville Predators Thursday night, Columbus desperately finds itself desperately needing to turn it around, if there to have any chance of salvaging the season -- and let me just express just how messed up it is when you're saying those words in December.

Apparently, Mrs. Martini's favorite well-spoken NHL player Tim Thomas is expected to get the start tonight. Too bad, really, because I had a dream the other night that the Blue Jackets lit up Tuukka Rask in this game. And no, I don't even claim that any of my dreams mean anything… if you look at my preseason picks, it is clear (at least at this point) that I apparently do not possess the gift of prophecy.

Besides... a one-goal win is good enough for me. Two points is two points. Curtis Sanford and the Jackets just need to really, really earn those two points tonight, against a damn good hockey team.

But they did it before, in front of a raucous crowd in a tough arena three weeks ago. They can do it again on home ice.

Go Jackets!

Follow @MartiniHockey on Twitter....
and/or you can now "Like" the blog on Facebook....

Friday, December 9, 2011

Potentially Making Matters Worse...

Coach Scott Arniel's... ummmm, "paraphrased" comments to the media might be the least of the Columbus Blue Jackets' worries when practice opens this morning.

The media in Nashville's already talking about it. So... just so no one's surprised amid the obvious frustration over the Jackets' come-from-ahead OT loss...

...the Jackets may very well go up against Boston on Saturday without one of their better defensemen of late.

At issue is the hit Nikita Nikitin put on Patric Hornqvist almost immediately after he scored the goal to pull the Preds to 3-2, a hit Preds coach Barry Trotz says is worthy of a suspension, per PuckScene.

Since it happened right after the goal... there is actually video of the hit to peruse.



I won't kid you... I don't think this will turn out well. I think the Jackets will be without Nikitin for a couple games. That's just my guess. It definitely looks like Nikitin's elbow is going into Hornqvist's back, and Hornqvist goes dangerously into the boards. The good news is that he managed to turn his body to ensure he didn't go into the boards head-first, and he returned to the ice.

I don't think Brendan Shanahan will ignore the fact that the hit was from behind.

It's a spot on what was otherwise a relatively good evening for Nikitin... as he tallied an assist, which was his 10th point in his 13 games with the CBJ.

If this goes the way I think it will, that playmaking ability will be missed on Saturday.

Follow @MartiniHockey on Twitter....
and/or you can now "Like" the blog on Facebook....

A Point Wasted...

It's enough to make one sick, really.

I mean, I have a strong stomach, but the collapse in that we witnessed by the Columbus Blue Jackets against the Nashville Predators was as epic in its illness-inducement, as it was in its sheer speed and severity.

The Jackets let the Predators threaten in the last couple minutes of the first period, but Curtis Sanford managed to keep the Preds out of the net, despite the increased pressure.

Still, even then, it seemed like the Jackets would be okay. Jeff Carter had scored a phantom goal that nobody saw until the War Room in Toronto took a look at it during a stoppage in play.

Yes! Really! The freakin' BLUE JACKETS got a phantom goal! AND the War Room got it right!

But I digress....

The backhand shot that Antoine Vermette roofed over Pekka Rinne kept the good feeling up for a while, even after Mr. Carrie Underwood cut the lead to 2-1 not two-and-a-half minutes later.

Even Derek Dorsett continued his insane, increased contributions to the CBJ, with his wrister past Pekka Rinne at 1:24 of the third period.

Then the Preds pulled their goaltender.

Like any Jackets fan... I'm sensing blood in the water. My next Tweet said it all:


[NOTE TO SELF: Next time you tell your team to put that "last nail in the coffin"... it's a good idea to specify WHICH coffin.]

One goal off a rebound, one shitty penalty (hey... Arniel said it) and one power play goal later... bam. The Blue Jackets had blown a lead and had OT forced on them... for a second straight game. Exactly the thing I'd discussed earlier this week.

The rest is history. Sick... infuriating... profanity-laced history.

Vermette's backhander. Wasted.

Dorsett's sweet cruise through the slot for a goal. Wasted.

A phantom goal from the blithering idiots in the War Room... who routinely BLOW such a call. Wasted.

That all-important second point.

Wasted.

And it has to stop....

...STILL.

Follow @MartiniHockey on Twitter....
and/or you can now "Like" the blog on Facebook....

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Miller Saga Continues: Puck To Face Disciplinary Hearing

This has now gotten to the point of ridiculous.

A little over three weeks ago, Ryan Miller was a damn good goaltender who just happened to be in a slump. Then a couple days later, he was a d-bag who took to the press to insult and complain about a player who ran into him after he came at least 20 feet out of his crease to race the player to the puck and won by a half second. Then he became a crybaby demanding a suspension for a collision that was partially his fault.

Then he became a little bit of a hothead, as he pummeled Jordin Tootoo, after Tootoo crashed into him in his first start back from the concussion he sustained because of the aforementioned collision that was partially his fault. Then he became a crybaby again, demanding a suspension for hit that -- to his credit -- was not partially his fault this time.

Last night, I was almost to the point where I was actually starting to feel bad for Ryan Miller, when I found out he took a puck to the face after one of his own guys inadvertently knocked off his mask against the Philadelphia Flyers.

So for those keeping track at home, a quick recap… in his last three starts, Ryan Miller has sustained a concussion, been plowed into by an opposing player, and had his mask knocked off by his own teammate and almost immediately took a puck to the face.

Again, it's almost enough to make you feel sorry for him, because he is apparently the unluckiest goaltender in the NHL right now.

Then I read this little item in the Buffalo News. You see, after fellow blogger @derdrache made a comment about Miller during the Philly-Buffalo game, I immediately was curious, and theorized that maybe he broke a nail or something.

However, I waited to see highlights, and got to see Miller's rather impressive face save on Scott Hartnell's shot. Nothing about the play seemed necessarily dirty… however, I figured he would at least have something interesting to say during the post game comments. Maybe Hartnell shot the puck in his face on purpose, or there was intent to injure on the part of the puck or something stupid like that. Wouldn't be the first time he or Lindy Ruff shared conspiracy theories this season, after all.

So, I figured check out the Buffalo News to find out. Well, apparently Miller has had problems keeping his mask on this season. The News reports that Miller has worked with more padding this year to try and protect himself from a concussion like one he sustained last gear from a slapshot.

Unfortunately for Miller, the padding has presented a problem in the fact that his mask keeps coming off, or as he tells the paper, "apparently it's not keeping it on my head […] I got to get a way to make that thing stay on a little tighter."

Why, yes, Mr. Miller... I believe they're called stronger STRAPS.

Miller went on to share that he has tried different things with his helmets, and his helmet has come off four or five times this year. "I'll have to go to the drawing board on that because this is too much..."

Wow... ya think?

Follow @MartiniHockey on Twitter....
and/or you can now "Like" the blog on Facebook....

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Closing The Deal

Now, I'm the last person you'd ever hear complain about two points. A win is a win, is a win.

However, this whole "letting teams stay in the game way too long" thing has got to happen a lot less often.

Our Columbus Blue Jackets escaped Montréal with two points Tuesday night.

Don't get me wrong… the fact they got two points is all that really matters in the big picture. And we love good close games, one-goal games, and even overtime games and shootouts. Seeing Rick Nash sealing up the last two shootout wins is even sweeter.

However, this game should not have taken 65 minutes and a shootout. This isn't impugning Montréal's talent... my concern is more with the timing. The two goals the Jackets gave up -- both of which tied the game at the time – came with 1.5 seconds remaining in the first, and about a minute-and-a-half left in the third period.

Simply put, Jackets need to learn how to be better finishers.

They essentially played 58 minutes of hockey Tuesday. No, wait… make that 63 minutes of hockey, because they only played 58 minutes. This team, however, was built to play 60... and has the talent and -- sorry, it has to be said -- payroll that screams the expectations of not needing the extra five minutes to take care of business.

How many times have the Blue Jackets been burned by game-tying and/or even game-winning goals (sometimes even in the same game) in the closing minutes, and be left to either settle for one point... or worse... zero? We don't even have to think as far back as the first few seasons against San Jose to come up with an example (man, it sure seemed like that happen a lot against the Sharks, though).
Hell, look at the Ottawa game in Oct-- you know, on second thought... let's not.

It's not that the Canadiens aren't good, but... well, they're not by any means great, even by Eastern Conference standards. Sure, some good young guys are coming up, and in the hodgepodge that's left, a couple veterans are providing some leadership. And to his credit, Carey Price (if my calculations are correct) has lasted longer than any goaltender in Montréal in the post-Roy era... and they have gone through more than a couple flashes in the pan in the last 16 years. Hell, even Price himself had a couple forgettable seasons before the semi-Renaissance he's having now.

The point is, the Jackets need to put away the winnable games. Ottawa was in hand. Colorado in October was in hand. Montréal was in hand. When you have the lead, you finish the damn job in regulation, because the league keeps track of those now, and subtracts shootout wins for the first tiebreaker when the season's over.

Now, of course, the Jackets have a ways to go before they have to worry about tiebreakers.

But fix this issue before it becomes a real problem... and the rest will work itself out.

The good guys are back home, and Nashville's next. Go Jackets!

Follow @MartiniHockey on Twitter....
and/or you can now "Like" the blog on Facebook....

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Well... It Doesn't (Completely) Suck...

Well, Detroit will not move east... if for no other reason than, well... there is essentially no East anymore.

Columbus will also not move east... because, well... there is essentially no East anymore.

However, the Board of Governors did not push the Doomsday Red (Wings) Button I envisioned Monday, to essentially nuke the Eastern Conference out of Stanley Cup Final... because well... there is essentially no East anymore.

Instead, the Board approved a new, four-conference plan that will ease the travel schedules of both Columbus and Detroit -- who had the largest stake, in terms of traveling two to three time zones away for major road trips -- and make it so every team will travel and visit every arena in the NHL every year.

Some things will not change much for the Jackets. For one, they will still be in the league's toughest division... except now it's called a "conference." So, that whole "getting to the postseason" thing won't get any easier.

Long story short... the NHL will have four conferences, currently named in a "letter format," but expected to reflect on their geographic position, from the early Twitter chatter I've seen so far.

Conferences A and B are essentially made up of the former Western Conference teams plus Winnipeg. Conference B takes Minnesota from the former Northwest, Winnipeg from the former Southeast, and Dallas from the former Pacific Division. Conference A features the rest of the Pacific (San Jose, Los Angeles, Phoenix and Anaheim) with the addition of the rest of the Northwest (Colorado, Vancouver, Edmonton and Calgary).

Meanwhile, in the former Eastern Conference, Florida and Tampa Bay from the former Southeast with join the former Northeast Division of Boston, Ottawa, Montreal, Toronto and Buffalo to form Conference C. Washington and Carolina then join Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, the New Yorks and New Jersey to form Conference D.

So, as covered in the league's release, Conferences A and B have eight teams apiece, and C and D have seven apiece. The 82-game schedule remains intact. The teams in C and D will play the teams within their conferences six times each (36 games), and play a home-and-home against the other 23 teams (46). Teams in A and B will have a home-and-home with each of the 22 teams outside the division (44 games), and play the remaining 38 games against teams within the conference. Thus, each team would play three conference teams six times (18), and the other four teams five times (20). In subsequent years, they'd go on a rotational basis, so they'll play six games against an opponent in Year Two, if they played them five times in Year One, and so forth.

The Playoffs... now, this where it gets a little rough. According to the league's plan, the top four teams in each conference get into the Playoffs. That's it. So, it doesn't matter how many teams are better in one Conference versus teams in another conference. If Conference B's 6th-place team is better than Conference A's 2nd-place team... tough.

No top seeds for division leaders anymore. Finish fourth or better... or you're golfing in April.

Each conference's top four teams will be seeded, and play out the first two rounds to determine each conference champion. Then the conference champions will play in the third round... although the league has not figured out exactly how the semifinal round will be seeded yet.

So... there it is. The road to the Playoffs certainly doesn't get easier... does it necessarily get harder? Meh.

On one hand, being in Conference B with the current Central Division plus Minnesota, Dallas and Winnipeg (they won't suck forever) is definitely going to be challenging.

However, it's also fairly simple. The Jackets know where the bar is. They have to reach that bar like they would any other year. They have, at worst, one dreaded Western Canada Road Trip per year instead of two, one California road trip instead of two. Sure there's quite a bit of travel within Conference B (man, I hope they come up with some good names), but at worst, it's a one-hour time change.

It's not as good as going East, where the Jackets have performed fairly well the last few years, but it will have to do.

At least it's not as bad as Detroit going East.

Follow @MartiniHockey on Twitter....
and/or you can now "Like" the blog on Facebook....

Monday, December 5, 2011

Last Word on Realignment(?)

There is a chance that we might get the final answer this week about whether Columbus will move to the Eastern Conference of the NHL for the 2012-13 season. It has been a hot topic, especially in the cities of Columbus, Detroit, and Nashville. All three teams would certainly love to take Winnipeg's place in the East.

And why not? After all, the winner of the Eastern conference sweepstakes truly has greener pastures waiting on the other side.

Now, I do not think I'm the only one (in fact I think it's a pretty acceptable assumption) that a Columbus/Nashville/Detroit-for-Winnipeg swap into the Eastern Conference and Southeast Division is highly unlikely. With Winnipeg lying so much further west than Detroit and Nashville (and even Minnesota, in the Northwest Division), I think a directs swap putting Winnipeg into the Central is just weird, though Nashville and perhaps even Columbus would be at least okay geographically for the Southeast.

Now, do I think that an adjustment of the six division format is workable? Probably. However, I would have to say that I somewhat favor the idea of a four-division alignment that allows at least a home-and-home series against every team. I do very much like the idea of being able to play teams like Detroit (because Columbus in Detroit likely will be split up), Pittsburgh, and Boston at least twice each year. I think it's good for this sport when everyone has a chance to visit every arena. So, I think that's how the NHL is going to make it work.

However that same lingering question is burning in three cities: Who gets to move east?

Well, for the sake of argument, I have compiled a short list of pros and cons for Columbus, Detroit, and Nashville.

Let's start with COLUMBUS:

Pros
1) It gets Columbus out of the Central Division. Let's face it, being in the Central is murder. Moving east helps the team in terms of being able to compete. While boosting the Eastern Conference with a better team that makes the conference tougher.
2) It makes sense geographically... Columbus is at least east of Detroit (which I suppose is a kind of weak argument, as the difference is like a fraction of a degree on the globe).
3) It's almost as fun to hate Pittsburgh as it is to hate Detroit.

Cons
1) Honestly, despite how lopsided it is, I'd miss playing Detroit six times a season. They are a very hated (and natural) rival.
2) Whether Detroit or Columbus moves, Columbus would likely lose a couple easy sellouts of Nationwide Arena. Whether the fans in red sweaters are actually real Detroit fans or just WalMart WingNuts, they're still selling out Nationwide Arena and spending money.

Now let's look at DETROIT:

Pros (for them)
1) Easily steamroll through the Eastern Conference, guaranteed Stanley Cup Finals berth for at least the next 3-4 years.

Pros (for league)
1) Make good on some supposed promise Gary Bettman made to Mike Ilitch.
2) Quiet the whining Red Wing masses who want the team to have easy travel in the Playoffs, because it's SO HARD being in the Western Conference. (News flash, Detroit: Your team has won four Cups in the last 15 years as a member of the Western Conference... only New Jersey and Colorado have more than one in that span... your team is doing just fine).

Cons
1) See "Pros (for them)" above.
2) Five of the Original Six would be in the Eastern Conference, and that's too lopsided. It's bad marketing for the Original Six. You need at least one Original Six pairing in a conference. Detroit vs. Chicago? C'mon... that's classic right there
3) Easy incentive for Todd Bertuzzi to re-sign with Detroit... sign one more year, win Cup, and retire having spit in the face of the sport of hockey one last time.

Finally, NASHVILLE:

Pros
1) Similarly to Columbus, gets Preds out of the Central Division. Despite its success, Nashville is having a hard time consistently keeping up with the leaders of the pack in Detroit and Chicago.
2) Similarly to Columbus, gives the Eastern Conference a better and tougher team. Good potential to develop some good regional rivalries, however the NHL winds up realigning the teams in the Southeastern U.S.

Cons
1) I guess the Central would miss them. They're a damn good hockey team that helps make the Central as tough as it is, but a four-division realignment would probably remedy that, anyway.

To my fellow Blue Jackets fans... I'll be completely honest. I'm not holding my breath for Columbus to move East.

For the record, whatever the divisional format may be -- and biased I very well am --  I think the Jackets absolutely should move east.

I think the Original Six argument I stated above is just as compelling an argument against Detroit, as the fact that Detroit would crush the Eastern Conference for the foreseeable future. However, if Gary Bettman made some sort of foolish promise to Mike Ilitch years ago for preferential treatment come realignment time, then my money says he's more than likely going to kiss that ass, so he doesn't come out looking like a hypocrite.

Thus, the Jackets will have to make the best of it.

Or, just hope that the governors in the Eastern Conference realize that putting Detroit in the Eastern Conference would be suicide, and vote down the plan.

Or at least hope that Bertuzzi takes up lion taming, or cliff-jumping or something, before the 2012-13 season.

Follow @MartiniHockey on Twitter....
and/or you can now "Like" the blog on Facebook....

Tootoo Flies, Miller Cries... Here We Go Again

I don't know, this one just might come down to a coin flip.

Ryan Miller's and Lindy Ruff's sad soap opera It's Open Season On Goaltenders didn't take long to enter its newest chapter, as Ryan Miller was involved in a collision on his first start back from a concussion, which he sustained three weeks or so ago when he collided with Milan Lucic of the Boston Bruins.

This time, the aggressor was none other than Nashville's resident thug, Jordin Tootoo. Tootoo was on, believe it or not, a scoring chance in the Buffalo zone, when he cut toward the net with the puck, then lost the puck an instant before flying into Miller's face and upper body.

Miller, as he brags to the media afterwards, was ready for the hit this time, and Tootoo had barely hit the ice before Miller was on top of him and pounding on him.

Now, don't get me wrong... I love seeing Jordin Tootoo get pounded on as much is the next guy outside of Nashville. However, I'm not entirely convinced that this was all Tootoo's fault.

To be fair, I'm not entirely sure that it isn't, either.

Check out the video from NHL.com, and you'll see what I mean:



Miller, predictably, was mad. He noted that Tootoo is the kind of guy who will "come hard to the net every time." That's absolutely true. Let's also keep in mind, however, that if there was a player who would consider running a goaltender, it's Jordan Tootoo. That's just the kind of player he is.

The cats over at Preds On The Glass characterize this debate as "open season on goalies" vs. "hockey play gone awry." I probably couldnt put it better myself.

Obviously, the Buffalo Sabres are very sensitive about this matter, because this is the same goaltender who was knocked out three weeks ago, because of -- let's be honest -- a stupid, stupid play by Miller. Lucic did not receive a suspension, and rightfully so.

I have to tell you, though, I'm having a hard time figuring out who's at fault in this one. Here are the possibilities:

1. Jordin Tootoo was just being Jordan Tootoo, and was running at Miller, just like Miller (and coach Ruff)claim.
2. Jordin Tootoo is just being Jordin Tootoo, and got caught in a bad angle, because let's face it… he's just not that good of a hockey player... and his clumsy ass barreled into Miller.
3. Jordin Tootoo was pushed. If you watch the video, it does appear that Tootoo is getting a push from Christian Ehrhoff right before the collision. Danny Gare says Ehrhoff got a poke check in there. (Sorry, Danny, Tootoo lost the puck on his own. Anyway, Ehrhoff does seem to push Tootoo... or he just as likely could have been trying to keep Tootoo from hitting Miller, because Ehrhoff get have his arm around Tootoo enough that he lost his stick and right glove as Tootoo hit Miller.

This, of course is easy to analyze when we have the luxury of slow-motion. We have to keep in mind that when the incident is happening in a matter of seconds, we can only assume so much. It also makes it difficult to prove intent.

Obviously, it's easy to blame Tootoo, because again, that is the kind of player he is. However, because Miller (and Coach Ruff) made such a stink over the lack of suspension in the Lucic incident brings to mind the "boy who cried wolf" scenario.

It will be interesting to see what NHL disciplinary guru Brendan Shanahan decides. My best guess is that -- with the Miller-Lucic hit still fresh in the league's mind, and with many in the hockey world clamoring for better protection of goaltenders – Tootoo will sit a few games.

It is a decision that will likely piss off both sides -- Buffalo will consider the suspension too short, and the Preds will be mad there's a suspension at all. But there's a saying (although I admittedly have no idea to set it first) that if both parties are upset with the decision, it just might be the right decision.

So, I think Shanahan will err on the side of caution and hand down the suspension.

Follow @MartiniHockey on Twitter....
and/or you can now "Like" the blog on Facebook....

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Running On Fumes

As I sit down the write this, Blue Jackets head coach Scott Arniel has just said the team "played like a team playing three games in four nights."

It's true... they certainly did. Problem is, there are teams that can do that and get better results. The other problem... the Jackets are not one of those teams.

They should be, though.

This team was built to succeed, and seemed headed in that direction again. Now, it feels like they're back to where they were at the end of October. Twenty-four hours after coming back from two goals down to beat Calgary, the Jackets not only quickly lost a one-goal, third-period lead... they were lit up by a 5-1 margin in the third period alone.

It makes the efforts by Mark Letestu and Derek Dorsett seem... well, wasted. And those goals were beauties, too... especially Dorsett's first one, taking advantage of a turnover and tickling twine as he was hopping over Devan Dubnyk.

Per Fox Ohio, the Jackets won't stop at home before playing Tuesday in Montreal in the Bell Centre. Still, there's some time to work out some kinks -- and more importantly, rest and/or heal -- before then.

They certainly need something to click before then.

Follow @MartiniHockey on Twitter....
and/or you can now "Like" the blog on Facebook....

Friday, December 2, 2011

Trying To Get Back On Track...

It's a sad fact: It's easy to write off this team this year.

Especially when said team is down 3-1, with four minutes and change to go in the game. Few teams come back from deficits like that. Only good teams come back from deficits like that, right?

Well, this situation would certainly bum out a team in the Blue Jackets' situation.

However, the unthinkable happened. The Jackets did not fold.

Quite the opposite, in fact. Nikita Nikitin continued his impressive play since joining the Blue Jackets, and manage to put the puck past Miikka Kiprusoff, -- just off of the face off, no less -- with just over four minutes remaining. Then, Rick Nash deflected another shot by Nikitin with just 58 seconds left to tie it up and earn the Jackets the first point.

Then again, that's the easy part. Getting the second point? That has been tough.

However, that was before last night. The Jackets continued the tough and gritty play in the overtime, and wound up forcing the shootout.

That, of course, has also been a problem for the Jackets this year. However, Rick Nash scored the only goal of the shootout to get the Jackets the second point they so desperately needed... and finally earned.

It was about time.

Tonight, Columbus goes into Rexall Place in Edmonton, for a game against the Oilers, who started out as one of the surprise teams in the NHL, looking like they were perhaps a year ahead of schedule for their return to respectability.

But after a 3-6-1 run in their last ten, the Oilers are muddled in the mix of Northwest Division teams on the outside looking in. However, they are only two points out of the current three-way tie for seventh. Meanwhile, Columbus has a chance to get out of the Western Conference cellar tonight, should Anaheim lose to Philadelphia.

A small step, to be sure. No one said the climb would be easy, though.

The good news is that the good guys get a little more of a break after tonight and before a road game at Montreal. It certainly would be nice to get a good showing on a long Canadian road trip.

And more good news... remember that Kristian Huselius guy we haven't seen in what seems like forever? He might be putting in an appearance tonight!

Go Jackets!

Follow @MartiniHockey on Twitter....
and/or you can now "Like" the blog on Facebook....


(And, as always, thanks for stopping by... after catching up on some stuff, I realized that I haven't posted in like a week. So... thanks!)