Saturday, March 31, 2012

Cat Scratch Fever

Now, the Florida Panthers are no Detroit Red Wings, and they may only be the leaders (so far) in the Southleast Division... but man, what a win that was for the Columbus Blue Jackets.

It was another night filled with highlights from the future (hopefully) of the franchise... as Nikita Nikitin and R.J. Umberger each put in two goals. And Allen York... well... Allen York was the man in net, earning his second straight win.

Yes, that Allen York... the guy who was fourth on the depth chart in net coming into this season.

I could use all the cliches that the Jackets were playing like the team we expected all year... mostly because they're true. The team came out fast and aggressive, and that give-and-go Umberger had with Derick Brassard before schooling Jose Theodore just a few minutes in... that was pure art.

However... what probably set the tone of the game was the penalty kill in the first period, which included 1:40 of 5-on-3 time for the Panthers. One could be forgiven for losing count of how many saves York made in that time, but he was absolutely, "how the hell did he do that" spectacular in what could have been a horrific situation.

Even with the difficulties generating offense through the rest of the period, the Jackets stayed solid and spoiled the homecoming of sorts for Florida coach Kevin Dineen, who got a really nice ovation during the game. Dude kept a straight face through it, too, which was impressive.

The goals that Nikitin put in probably had no business going in from that distance. A few feet inside the blue line? Top of the circle off a faceoff? Crazy.

Rick Nash has quietly put up six points in the last four games. Umberger's pair of goals brought his total to eight points (six goals, two assists) in the last five games.

Hated to see a shutout bid spoiled with just seven minutes or so left in regulation, but it's the Ws that matter... the rest is just details.

WRANDOM WRISTERS
Friday was the Columbus Chill's 20th Anniversary. It was fun watching that celebration (having never seen a Chill game back in the day... though I soooooo wanted to). Seeing all that Chill swag just made me smile.
Florida's loss was the team's second straight, putting Florida in the less-than-comfortable situation of being up by four points over Washington with four games remaining for each. The Caps are currently in eighth. The Panthers are third in the East only by virtue of a division lead, and they could very well fall out of the top eight if they aren't careful.

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Thursday, March 29, 2012

An "Answer" Game...

Ah, that time-honored institution in sports. A team is down... way down. Two straight crushing losses in back-to-back games on back-to-back nights. The more recent of the two, to the current opponent.

The original backup goaltender never played this season. The backup to the backup recently learned he won't play the rest of the year. The starter takes a puck to the head in the morning skate... so now the backup... to the backup of the backup is starting against a team that lit the starter up for six goals two nights before.

So, then the backup to th-- never mind.

So, to give the Jackets a body on the bench, the fifth in line is a guy commuting from Ann Arbor, on a one-day amateur tryout contract. Stay tuned, though... no way of knowing what's going on with Mase.

Although Wolverines goaltender Shawn Hunwick did not see action, he did see one hell of a game.

He saw the Blue Jackets play what some would call an "answer" game.

And they freakin' won it. And how.

The Jackets played a "We're not dead, and to hell with you for thinking we are" kind of game. It's too bad, really, that fewer than 13,000 were there to see it. It is what it is, though.

The statistics that count, though, were in favor of the Blue Jackets... among them, Allen York earned his first career NHL win. Against the freakin' Red Wings. He stopped 29 of 31 shots, out-dueling Ty Conklin.

Someone better have snagged him that puck. Just sayin'.

Meanwhile, whether it was a goal or an assist -- there seemed to be debate there between the broadcast and the announcement -- Rick Nash extended his scoring streak to three games with (apparently officially) the assist on the opening goal by Vinny Prospal.

Speaking of scoring... what the hell has gotten into Derek Dorsett? Who cares? All I want to know is how can we bottle it? Dude put in his career-high-and-still-going 11th goal, which is also good enough to match his career high for points at 17.

Derick Brassard and R.J. Umberger also made the highlight reel with nice-looking goals, and each has points in three of the last four.

WRANDOM WRISTERS
Columbus' win helped Nashville clinch a Playoff spot, and potentially sets up the winner of Friday's Wings-Preds game to be the front-runner for home ice... potentially in a series featuring those same two teams. The two are separated by only a point.
Per a tweet from CBJ Communications Manager Ryan Holtmann: Jack Johnson broke his own record for ice time by a CBJ player with 32:16. Yikes. That's a lot of time... makes me shudder to think what the all-time NHL record is.


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Monday, March 26, 2012

Just... Wow...

That, uh... whole thing about maybe a pick-up in performance, since 30th place is clinched and the pressure's off?

Ummmmm... oops...?

Well, the fact that the Blue Jackets were playing Detroit probably had a lot to do with it, but still... this was a team missing its top scorer and starting goaltender. Oh... and playing its third-string goaltender. At least I think he's the third stringer.

Well, Ty Conklin might as well be the starter, because it's not like the Jackets got a lot of pucks on him anyway. Whatever the situation, that game was harsh. On a night after the Jackets gave up five goals in the second period to the Edmonton Oilers... the Jackets gave up four goals in the first. Check that... the first ten minutes of the first.

And on the night after the Jackets clinched 30th place, the Red Wings clinched their umpteenth straight Playoff spot (yes, I know how many... I just can't bear to type it).

Okay, before I go into a raging meltdown, let's concentrate on the positives. Mark Letestu showed why he should probably be a keeper, as he put a goal past Conklin that actually looked easy. Rick Nash had the first assist, which actually established [gasp]... a point-scoring streak.

And for the second straight night, Allen York came on to relieve Steve Mason in the third, and managed to slow the bleeding. I feel bad for the poor cuss... pressed into service against the Wings. Ouch. Still... could do a lot worse than one goal in 11 shots.

Thank goodness someone recently discovered that the ancient Mayans didn't factor in leap years, or else... well, how would you feel if this was the last hockey season on earth...?

Nash even got a goal of his own... an improbable long distance shot that clanked in off the post. I won't kid you... when Rick Nash is on, he's a hell of a player to watch. Hopefully, he'll keep this up and make a decent farewell tour of the next week and a half.

Hell, maybe even make Detroit look silly on Wednesday.

I'd take it.

Six games to go... we need to see some really good hockey before this thing is over.

Go Jackets!
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Top Draft Pick (maybe)! Ummmm, Congrats...?

Well... those who are into the whole #Fail4Nail B.S. can at least sleep at night.

That's good news... I guess.

The Columbus Blue Jackets slipped, slid, stumbled and bumbled to a 6-3 loss to the last team standing in the way of the Draft Lottery advantage... the Edmonton Oilers.

The CBJ will have the most ping pong balls in the hopper.

Yay.

Amazing how giving up five goals in one period can suck the life out of at least a decent offensive effort. At least up to that point, anyway.

Three goals could have/should have/would have been enough, if not for lackluster goaltending and overall defense.

And again... no building of momentum from Friday's win. Though R.J. Umberger managed to start a point streak, adding an assist to the three goals he potted against Carolina.

In a time when the "Who's going to still be here next year?" question is nagging in the backs of our heads, and we try to figure out life after Rick Nash... it's great to see guys like R.J. Umberger emerge when the team needs someone to step up.

Umberger's hat trick ended a fairly long scoreless drought -- and he has had a few -- in grand fashion, netting a hat trick off assists from Derick Brassard and Nikita Nikitin, as the Jackets smoked the Hurricanes 5-1.

Another glimpse of the greatness that is still possible in the Post-Nash Era? Eh, maybe. Depends on what else is in store this summer. I'm still not entirely sure that Umberger wouldn't be dealt this summer. I was surprised to not see him dealt at the deadline, frankly. That's still a big salary on the books... but this bad year could just as easily be an anomaly.

Hell, Umby could wind up being the Jackets' next captain. We just don't know.

However, this is a prime example of guys who need to step up. The pressure's off... at least team-wise (individuals obviously have to worry). Might as well finish strong. Really want to stay in Columbus? Final auditions start now.

Or... want Columbus to trade you to somewhere other than Long Island? See above.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2012

NashWatch: The Incredible Disappearing Captain

It's time for us to make our peace with the deteriorating Rick Nash situation.

I already had, really, before Rick Nash provided the only real highlight in last night's debacle.

I already mentioned a bit about the cliche of "Rick Nash just trying to get on the scoresheet" in the recap of last night's game. However, it's more than a sad cliche, really....

It's a sad sign of the times.

Prior to last night's deflection from Jack Johnson, Rick Nash had gone a whopping nine games without a goal or an assist. This, after tallying three goals and an assist in the three games after the Trade Deadline.

Those three games at least appeared to indicate that Rick Nash was still aboard. He would still wear the sweater. Still be a Blue Jacket. Still be one of us.

Now, Rick Nash is also a streaky player. That sentence is also a sad cliche. However, it also really is true. He is. The guy gets white hot... then dry-ice cold.

When he's hot... he's a freakin' spectacular hockey player. When he's cold... well, he's just another hockey player.

But that's a fact of life we have lived with ever since Rick Nash became a Columbus Blue Jacket.

From his entry-level contract... through his contract extension with Doug MacLean (who caught hell for whining about teams overspending and the need for Salary Cap... and then immediately signed Rick Nash for $5 million/year, once he got the cap)... and all the way up to his current $7.8 million/year deal.

The problem with this scoreless streak, however, was the timing. At any other time, Blue Jackets fans could gladly accept the fact that Rick Nash is... well, streaky.

The problem this time is that he has requested a trade. Now, there is the recently-discussed development that Nash went over Howson's head to talk to John P. McConnell about a change of leadership, and when it was shot down, he requested a trade.

I would also be willing to bet as well that if you took a poll among the CBJ faithful, and asked them to choose between Rick Nash remaining with the Blue Jackets as a player and Scott Howson remaining as GM... I think the majority would probably choose Nash.

But not so fast.

Whether or not Rick Nash asked for a change in the front office before requesting a trade, or just wanted out after the season turned into a disaster... I think Rick Nash is made it pretty clear that he's ready to move on.

That there was a bit of debate last week as to Nash's level of commitment, when my esteemed colleague Dark Blue Jacket discussed comments Nash made to the Edmonton media at the beginning of the Jackets' last Western Canada Road Trip.

During that dialogue with the media, Nash said, "We're going to try and get as many points as we can by the end of the season. Finishing last is something we don't want to do. Perhaps management and other levels of the organization have different obligations, but for us, there's no chance that we want to finish in the basement."

Now, DBJ labeled that statement as "mutinous." It's kind of a strong word, but I don't disagree. If anything, implying that the management would expect or want the team to take a dive to secure that top draft pick (or at least the most ping-pong balls in the Draft Lottery) seems to support the belief that there is something more to the reports of Nash asking for a management change.

Sure... Nash more than likely heard the collective gasp in Columbus when Scott Howson revealed in his post-Trade Deadline news conference that Nash had requested a trade. From there, a schism of sorts began among CBJ fans... those who felt Howson threw Nash under the bus to cover his own perceived failings, and of course those who felt betrayed to know that all that talk about being a Blue Jacket and spending the next several years here was just a bunch of crap.

But Nash was a gentleman about it the next day. He didn't call out the management or lend any credence that he wanted Howson removed. He made it sound like his request for a trade had to do with trying to get the team the pieces that it needs to contend...

...oh. And for his career.

He didn't elaborate on that for "my career" part. Repeated it a couple times, but didn't elaborate. Essentially, he tried to make himself still seem like the good guy... and the "company man" he has always been for this franchise.

Last week in Edmonton, he broke character a bit. As much as Howson outing Nash's trade request was a "proverbial warning shot across the bow" at Nash... Nash returned fire.

But make no mistake… Nash's statements in Edmonton was just as much an agent-coached, spin-filled load of crap, as the news conference he gave after the deadline.

I'm not saying that we as Blue Jackets fans need to turn our backs on Rick Nash. I'm sure he's a very likable guy.

I'm just saying that we need to get used to the fact that this ugly divorce is going to happen. I think we all also need to get used to the fact that it very much needs to happen.

Getting to that point, however, is likely to be a very painful process. The process is made all the more difficult by the fact that Columbus and the rest of the hockey world know that Nash requested a trade, which was a very bad move on Scott Howson's part.

Much like calling out the management while half-assing it on the ice was a very bad move on Nash's part. Like I said before, I think there's a reason why Nash doesn't and probably shouldn't do news conferences very often.

It's time to let go.

Certainly Rick Nash cannot be expected to carry the entire team on its back... although at $7.8 million a year, it's understandable that people might have such expectations. But while I don't feel he needs to completely carry the team… I do feel he should be doing something more than just dragging their asses across the finish line.

It's time to let go.

However you may feel about Scott Howson's leadership and whether he should even be the general manager when the season is over... if Rick Nash thinks he can somehow impact whether Howson has that job, he is a bigger fool then he has unintentionally made of himself in the media in last few weeks. If a player starts dictating who should be in the front office, that sets a dangerous precedent. It's not like Rick Nash can run this team any better than he has captained it lately.

However, fans find themselves in a situation that seems very "no-win." Howson has probably hurt his chances of getting what he wants for Nash by revealing Nash's desire for a trade. Nash is further hindering the process by being so selective in which teams he will go to.

Oh. That scoreless streak he only recently snapped probably isn't doing him any favors, either.

Scott Howson will apparently get one more chance to "re-shape" this team this summer. How he can do that with a likely drawn-out battle of trying to move Rick Nash to get some workable pieces in order to fill out the long-term strategy... that's anyone's guess.

This is the mess we face this summer. And we still have two weeks of the regular season and the entire Playoffs to sit through.

I've mentioned before that it's important that Jackets fans continue to support this team... and as long as Rick Nash is wearing a Blue Jackets uniform, he is part of this team.

However, there are nine games remaining in this hockey season. And based on his play, Rick Nash is already looking ahead. He's still wearing the uniform, and we should treat him accordingly, even if he does seem to have checked out.

But come April 8, it's time for us to start looking ahead as well. And although this could be a very long and painful process for him to leave Columbus... we need to get used to the idea that Rick Nash will no longer be a Columbus Blue Jacket.

It's time to move on.

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MORE NASHWATCH COVERAGE
3/1/2012: Well... Now That Nash Has Spoken...
2/28/2012: Bad Season... Turned Nightmare...
2/27/2012: Trade Deadline Day: The Beginning Of The End (?)
2/16/2012: Bubble Hockey (Players): Rick Nash

Sweep And Sour

The Columbus Blue Jackets managed to clamp down on defense and keep the Chicago Blackhawks out of the net... after spotting them a 3-0 lead.

Nope, never mind. 4-0. Power play goal.

Nope... 5-0. Power play goal from a stupid boarding hit by Darryl Boyce.

Aaaaand we're back to the days of the Columbus Blue Jackets being eternally unable to buy momentum after a win. It was a game that would be taxing on even the most fervent of Jackets fans.

It was littered with many of the typical cliches on the radio and the telecast...

"There's a goal Mason would love to have back."

"Johansen denied."

"Rick Nash just trying to get on the scoresheet."

The fact that Rick Nash finally did get on the scoresheet was little consolation for the rest of the evening.

The Blackhawks still swept the Jackets in the season series this year. No one else in the Central Division -- even the St. Louis Blues, who are gunning for the Presidents' Trophy -- can say that.

Good for him. He showed up to work. Even if he was fully invested in this team -- and I'm being candid here... I think it's pretty clear he is not -- he can't get a shorthanded defense to play better.

Frankly... I'm not sure he can still lead this team. But that's another discussion.

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Monday, March 19, 2012

Wrapping With A "W"

It is certainly not where anyone associated with Columbus expected this team to be when it was constructed last summer.

This team was supposed to be trying to avoid a letdown in the March-April stretch run... not making Playoff contenders sweat by depriving them of much-needed points with but three weeks remaining in the season.

Mick said it best: "You can't always get what you want."

I'll take the wins any way they come, people. It's all good, "#Fail4Nail" be damned. And if it means it messes with the Calgary Flames' Playoff hopes... so be it.

The win is what's important. Seeing Mason coming off the bench when Curtis Sanford left the game, and play like we know he can... that's a bonus. Especially considering the team in front of him made him stop a lot of pucks in that second period. Even the goal Mase gave up wasn't completely awful... or at least not really his fault, anyway. It would have been nice to see someone on defense pick up Matt Stajan as he sneaked toward the crease. Nikita Nikitin's shot past Miikka Kiprusoff in the first sure was a beauty, though. Cam Atkinson wrapping the game in a shootout never hurts. Especailly with that last deke before he put it home behind Kipper. That was a gorgeous shootout goal.

Very little about this win was pretty. Snapping a four-game losing streak makes everything hurt a little less, though.

If nothing else, it's nice to get the team back home to Nationwide Arena, after a rough trip through Western Canada. The Jackets will play the next three here, before a home-and-home against Detroit.

Hard to believe there are only three weeks left. It just seems wrong.

Oh, well. Go Jackets!

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Monday, March 12, 2012

Group Therapy

The St. Louis Blues are evil. We've known this for pretty much our entire hockey team's existence. However, this year they have been particularly evil.

I came to this tongue-in-cheek conclusion Saturday night at the CBJ Tweetup Drinkup in Grandview.

While I'm sure the event itself was not planned because of the weekend's home-and-home with the Blues... it was strangely appropriate. After all, the rise of the Blues pretty much started with an event that came very much as the Columbus Blue Jackets' expense: The hiring of Ken Hitchcock. The Blues are 39-11-7 since then. The Blue Jackets are... well, that's not important.

But we all knew that going in.

The CBJ Tweetup Drinkup was about celebration. Sure, the team isn't doing so hot, but hey... we all still love hockey, right? Of course we do. So, when there's a watch party and an opportunity to spend time in good company with other Blue Jackets fans, you jump all over that... how long do you get to see all these great people in one room? It's not like we all get to sit in the same section at games.

That is a hell of an idea, though. But I digress.

Although, the game didn't exactly go the Jackets' way -- it pretty much went to hell in the third, in fact -- there was still a packed (and very loud) room of Blue Jackets fans cheering very loudly for the Jackets... with the exception of a couple poor souls in our midst, who lost a bet to a fellow Central Division fan from St. Louis. These men of great moral character honored the unfortunate consequences of this bet, having to wear T.J. Oshie shirts for the game.
This. Is. So. Wrong.
I am concealing their identities, because they have obviously been traumatized enough. However, kudos to one gentleman for his innovative modification:
This, I can live with...
Oshie... why did it have to be Oshie?!?!?

For the record, Starla did assure me that she at least tried to get Kris Russell T-shirts for the guys. I'll give her the benefit of the doubt on that one.

However, when the devil himself scored late in the second -- part of the Blues' three unanswered goals to pull away -- well... that was just brutal.

There was a baby there. One of the chillest, most well-behaved babies I've encountered in recent memory, too. Pretty sure I heard the first cry out of him after that goal.

Well, it might have been in the third. Might have even been after the game. I'm still blaming it on Oshie and/or the Blues. Because I can.

Because it illustrates the second most important point of my story. The Blues bring about sin and vice, lead good people into bad gambles, steal coaches and, last but not least... make babies cry.

See? The St. Louis Blues are evil.

But even that fact doesn't put a damper on the fact that hockey fans rock, especially here in Columbus... because we can get together and have a great time no matter what happens on the ice.

And when it comes down to it... that is what is the most important.

Still... if we can get a hold of those Oshie shirts and some kindling...

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Friday, March 9, 2012

Ha! King Me!

I had to wait to watch the game until I got home, but nonetheless, as I was driving to the next destination after one hell of a great meal for Dine Originals Week here in Columbus, I switched on the postgame show in the car.

As they took the live feed of Todd Richards' news conference, Richards sounded downright jovial as he said, "I'll just wait for your questions. I have a feeling there's going to be some good ones."

And what was not to like? After all, Columbus Blue Jackets had just beaten the Los Angeles Kings by a score of 3-1... a win that was the team's fourth straight.

When the second question for Richards was who won the Jeff Carter/Jack Johnson trade, it was almost laughable. It was even funnier listening to Richards struggle to be diplomatic about the answer. Hell, I would struggle with that, after seeing Jack Johnson find a loose puck on what looked like a broken play, and knock it past Jonathan Bernier in the closing seconds of the first period. And that's only the latest plus in his short, six-game tenure here in Columbus.

Mark Letestu was no slouch, either, deflecting a James Wisniewski shot past Bernier to open the scoring, then providing insurance early in the second by knocking in a rebound in traffic.

The last time the Blue Jackets had won four straight was nearly 16 months ago. Sixteen months ago, Scott Arniel was the coach. Hell, as far as we knew at the time, he was a good coach.

Needless to say, a lot has happened between four-game winning streaks.

A lot has also happened to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the last week or so. Mostly good, too.

Unfortunately, even as the Blue Jackets have been playing better, they've also been losing players to injury. Derek Dorsett is now out with some sort of upper body injury. Steve Mason has had the metaphorical hot hand in net, but one of the real ones needed 15 stitches to close a cut from John Moore's skate. Richards said in the presser that he doesn't expect Mase to play this weekend.

This, of course, is certainly a reason for concern, going into this weekend's home-and-home with the St. Louis Blues.

However, lately this team has been showing there are players that are willing to step up. We're finally seeing some consistent synergy on this team.

There is an obvious question is whether that will be enough against a Blues team that just can't seem to lose consistently. Ken Hitchcock is coaching the hottest (and right now, best) team in the NHL.

But, who knows? We'll find out Saturday.

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Thursday, March 8, 2012

Jeff Carter: One Last (One-Fingered) Tribute...

For the third time in as many games the Jackets will face a very recent ghost of the past, when they face the Los Angeles Kings tonight at Nationwide Arena.

Well, there's Jan Hejda in Colorado... but I'm just talking about the Trade Deadline-related stuff.

Of course, some might contend that Jeff Carter was an ever-present ghost for much of the season anyway. It's not like he panned out in Columbus... or even showed up to work half the time.

Now, perhaps I'm being too harsh. After all, I did actually advocate for keeping him at least through the end of the season. Sure… I thought Carter should have a shot at proving himself.

Then again, maybe he didn't want it. And that's okay, too. Just $5 million or so the Blue Jackets are not wasting on a diva-esque, frosted-hair pretty boy who went into hiding and cried after a team signed him to a long-term deal and traded him to Columbus.

So... meh. I'm over it.

Scott Howson got rid of Jeff Carter. If nothing else, we can at least give him credit that he tried to make up for the mistake of getting Carter in the first place. The Jackets clearly lost the Jeff Carter trade with the Flyers. Nothing is ever going to change that. However, the Jackets certainly did not fare too badly in the Jeff Carter trade involving the Kings. The good guys got a defenseman who has already made the blueline better, and a first round draft pick at some point in time -- depending on whether or not L.A. makes the playoffs.

That's a hell of a lot more than you can say about the trade involving the latest Jacket-turned-Coyote Antoine Vermette -- for whom the Jackets got a couple of draft picks... plus the NHL-player equivalent of a pre-owned CPR mannequin.

However, the Jackets just swept the Coyotes in a home and home... so I think they moved on rather nicely from the Vermette trade. I think we as fans have, as well.

Whatever happens in tonight's game, the team has clearly moved on from Jeff Carter as well. And you need go no further than Facebook to see how...

Best. Makeover. EVER!

Yep. That's right, Jeff... we're all over it. Happy homecoming, though, I guess.

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Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Dogging the 'Yotes. Again.

It wasn't always pretty, but if you can't enjoy the final result... well, there's something wrong with you.

Well, unless you're a Phoenix fan.

The Columbus Blue Jackets struck first, struck quickly, and struck hard Tuesday night against the Phoenix Coyotes. In the process, they took their third straight win -- for the first time this season, and for the first time in (quite literally) over a year. Now, we could harp on that fact for a while, but let's face it... this team has taken enough of a beatdown in the conventional and blog media. This fan base is treated with either pity or contempt lately . So, let's just sit back enjoy this.

After all, what's not to enjoy about seeing R.J. Umberger hit the score sheet just 31 seconds in? How about new Jacket Jack Johnson following up with another and put the Jackets up 2-0, not even four minutes in?

Screen cap of NHL.com
See? That's a happy dude right there.

We also saw Steve Mason seemingly having an out-of-body (or at least out of his mind) experience in net. All of a sudden, Steve Mason has won four of his last five decisions.

Even with the occasional defensive lapses, the lapses in judgment that led to penalties or just bad whistles in general... the Blue Jackets managed to hold on for the win.

Maybe there was help from the refs, too? Phoenix fans are pretty adamant about that, anyway. Sure... Derek Dorsett clearly trips over LaBarbera after the goalie dives for a puck, and is clearly trying to get up afterward. Now, he is probably having difficulty because he's on skates...

...and on ice...

...and his left leg is across LaBarbera's back, and LaBarbera is also trying to get up.

If anything... LaBarbera is interfering with Dorsett, right?

I'm (sort of) kidding... come on, the ref was standing right there. Maybe he was just as conflicted on whom he should whistle for interference...?

It's just a theory. The Jackets have been screwed by worse non-calls. It could just as easily be "just a hockey play."

Derek MacKenzie's goal went in. It counted. Works for me.

This team earned this win. They almost gave it away on a couple of occasions, but they earned it.

On top of that, the team seemed to look like it was on the same page most of the night. The Johnson-Wisniewski pairing is looking good. Be on-ice communication seems good. Guys were getting out there and making plays, hitting bodies and sticking up for teammates.

The Columbus Blue Jackets resembled a pretty damn good hockey team Tuesday night.

Obviously, a lot can happen between now and April, and certainly more can happen between now and next October. But I think Jackets fans can draw a lot of good things from the way this team played Tuesday, as well as the previous two games in Denver and Phoenix.

And while this apparent renaissance provides hope for the future... more importantly, it shows that the Jackets are focused, and playing in the moment. Hell, two quick opportunities on the penalty kill in the third? With the first coming with the Jackets down two men? These guys were playing hungry, baby.

However long ago the season was technically over, these guys are still playing hockey. And playing to win.

And I'm sure that even those who are sweating the Blue Jackets playing themselves out of the first overall draft pick (a.k.a., the "#FailForNail" crowd)... I'd venture about that even they are enjoying this immensely. Come on... they're still fans. And they're still loud.

And their team is still playing hard.

That is what matters.

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Thursday, March 1, 2012

Well... Now That Nash Has Spoken...

Well, there are still a few questions that remain... but at least we have some answers now.

Columbus Blue Jackets captain Rick Nash addressed the media after the morning skate Tuesday, making his first comments on the Trade Deadline that Jackets fans will not soon forget (though I'm sure they'd like to).

During the morning Q & A, Nash proceeded to give very guarded answers that many of us probably expected him to give. He was a bit vague times... perhaps even dodgy. At other times, he seemed very much the "company man" that Jackets fans have come to know and love over the years.

Whether or not he stays that company remains to be seen. It still doesn't look particularly promising… But at a few points, he did seem to leave the door open for reconciliation in the future. I'm not sold on the possibility, but we'll see.

However, let's talk about the game Tuesday night (recap here). I knew that I had to go see this game against Detroit.

Figuring there was probably no way in hell that I could get tickets to a Red Wings game because the last-minute ticket line would be long-since-occupied by whatever Walmart WingNuts were left who hadn't already bought tickets... I went to StubHub and got a ticket in the upper bowl.

Little did I know that, apparently, most of the WWs would be staying home -- perhaps even they get tired of kicking someone when they're down.

I got there, so believe me… I'm not complaining.

To be clear, I don't endorse the added drama that has compounded this trade deadline debacle between "Team Howson" and "Team Nash" (and I pray to God that CBJ fans do not turn this into some lame, Twilight-style rivalry).

However, I had to know how fans would react.

I won't kid you... it was better than I expected. I was a bit concerned about how Nash might be received, considering the somewhat polarized reactions we've seen on social media.

I was making my way to my seat as the announcement of the starters was happening... and that seemed to go well.

Well, he made it to the first one, I thought to myself.

Not that you would have been able to hear boos with the crowd noise after Nash scored his goal in the first... but I'm not sure that there were any.

There were, however, some scattered boos when Nash's name was called during the goal announcement. Didn't sound like any more than two or three (on my end of the arena, anyway)... but they're there.

From my seat, I did not hear any boos raining down every time Nash touched the puck. I did not hear any snide remarks, or anything like that.

However... it was a chant in the third that caught my attention I couldn't make it out at first. As it was getting closer -- although I was still having problems finding the source -- it began to sound more like "Wings are awesome."

Well, I figured, you'll have one of those in every section. Then of course it occurred to me that the chant was indeed getting closer... and here I was looking for some jerk in a Red Wings sweater who was sitting down.

At this point, the chant also became clearer... and just as I pinpoint that the chant is actually "FI-RE HOW-SON"... I also pinpoint the source:

A dude in his late teens or early 20s (I'm estimating here) in a knit cap holding a sign with "FIRE HOWSON" emblazoned on it. There were plenty of empty seats on my end, so his walk was mostly unimpeded. The hand rails were a bit of a challenge.


[SUB-PAR CAMERAWORK PROVIDED BY YOURS TRULY. FACE OBSCURED BECAUSE I DIDN'T HAVE A CHANCE TO ASK HIS PERMISSION... HE WAS MOVING, AFTER ALL..]
However... damned if he didn't keep on going. Across 210. Across 211. Across 212.


Approaching press row. Passing press row.


Making his way down the steps.

Long story short… I lost him behind the flags.


Somewhere after that, the unknown instigator apparently had his sign confiscated.

I could hear the chant a few more times after that... I know the dude couldn't have moved that fast, so it was probably someone else...

...but it's out there.

The attitudes among Blue Jackets fans may be pretty polarized, if you're looking at the Twitter feed... but for the paying and/or comped customers sitting in Nationwide Arena... it would seem they are taking Nash's side.

OR... there's a good chance that a lot of fans are probably pretty pissed off at both parties.

And justifiably so.

Hell, I'm a little mad that Nash would ask for a trade. Tuesday's non-committal, dodgy, spin-filled-load-of-crap-news conference doesn't help, either.

And, of course I'm mad at Howson for potentially lowering Nash's trade value by revealing that Nash asked for that trade. Both sides are at fault in this debacle. Howson unwisely fired the warning shot across the bow on Monday... and Nash, well... I think we learned the reason why he apparently doesn't (and probably shouldn't) do news conferences that often.

I'm not incredibly impressed with Howson as a general manager at this point.

I'm also not that impressed with Rick Nash as a person at this point.

I understand, recognize and gladly accept that, to some people who read this... this sounds wishy-washy as hell.

But as crazy, die-hard fan Kevin Schroeder (whom you likely recognize as "Dancing Kevin" from Colorado Springs) reminded the Twitterverse on Monday: The crest on the front of the sweater is more important than the name on the back of it.

I am a Columbus Blue Jackets fan.

This whole thing could explode into a grandiose, sensationalized, "either Nash goes or Howson goes" pissing contest. However, I will leave that crap to the "pros."

I am a Columbus Blue Jackets fan.

This is our team. This is our flag.

As long as Rick Nash plays hard and leaves it all out there on the ice while he's wearing our team's sweater... he is free to spew whatever silly, wishy-washy, agent-coached drivel he wants to, while he's off the ice.

Just play hockey like you're getting paid to do...

...and we pay to watch.

Say it with me... Let's go Jackets!

All of them.

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MORE NASHWATCH COVERAGE
2/28/2012: Bad Season... Turned Nightmare...
2/27/2012: Trade Deadline Day: The Beginning Of The End (?)
2/16/2012: Bubble Hockey (Players): Rick Nash