Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Game 7: Little Things Kill

Little things kill.

It pains me to say that. Not just because the sentiment is by all means true... but also because it's from a song by Bush, who is also responsible for the "BREATHE IN... BREATHE OUT... BREATHE IN... BREATHE OUT... BREATHE IN!" that we hear at least a hundred times a season when "Machinehead" continues to play in the hallowed space we know as Nationwide Arena.

But my reasoning for why "Machinehead" needs to be retired and never played again... is another post, for another time.

I digress... so anyway, "little things kill."

While it's easy to harp on mistakes and breakdowns that allowed the Minnesota Wild to grab a 2-0 lead in the first period, the amount of fight and resolve that the Blue Jackets displayed after that was admirable. Like it did the previous evening, the Jackets looked like they were about to get back in the game again and at least get a point.

But in a twist of fate that was part playing-on-their-heels and part hey-dammit-that-guy-is-offsides, Pierre-Marc Bouchard sped into the zone, made pylons out of the defense and put the puck past Steve Mason.

It was an ending that wasted the efforts (and payoff) of the goals by Mark Letestu in the second and Jack Johnson in the third. It also wasted another solid effort by Steve Mason, who kept the Jackets from being trounced as they struggled to score.
Hockey games have 60 minutes, and the Jackets haven't played all of them. Not once. Not yet.

A hockey team can not rely on breaks like a disallowed goal to stay in the game (although it helped), and we all know a team can't rely on a linesman or referee to watch the blue line closely enough all the time (and that certainly could have helped).

A lot has been said about the Jackets' scoring woes. I wonder how many goals this team could score if it actually worked for 60 minutes? Playing desperate hockey is great, sense of urgency is great... but that can be done with a lead, as well, guys.
The Jackets now come home for six straight, before taking a six-game road trip. Needless to say, every point is crucial. Not getting to at least .500 by February 12 could de devastating to the Jackets' chances of making something of this shortened season.

No pressure, obviously.

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Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Game 6: Jackets Find Their Game

It was enough to make a Columbus Blue Jackets fan yell, swear, throw stuff at the TV (or radio, or nearest jerk in a Stars sweater).

A four-minute power play after Vernon Fiddler earned a double-minor, with two minutes of 5-on-3 in the middle after Tom Wandell tried to play the puck with his hand...

...and... came... away... with... nothing.

At that point, the Jackets were down after Philip Larsen's goal about four minutes in, a shot that got redirected, and one that Sergei Bobrovsky could do little about.

The Jackets had come out of the gate slowly, putting up only three shots against a Dallas Stars team that countered with nine shots of their own.

All-in-all, the Jackets found some fire in the second period, putting up 17 shots. This included that futile power play time during which they seemingly couldn't buy a goal. That was until Artem Anisimov got free, gained the zone and dropped the puck to Fedor Tyutin. The pass to Dorsett for the one-timer looked seamless. A true thing of beauty.

From there, the Jackets seemed to find that jump we have waited to see for some time.

Vinny Prospal's goal just a minute-and-a-half into the third -- from a damn-near-impossible angle -- seemed to set the team on fire for the rest of the period. They generated chances and Bobrovsky remained solid. The team played desperate hockey. They played with a sense of urgency and stopped a winless skid that threatened to derail the shortened season very early.

They'll try to take that momentum to the Twin Cities on Tuesday, and try to climb back to .500 before coming home against the always-tough St. Louis Blues on Thursday.

However, it's safe to say the good guys found their game. They still need to play it for 60 minutes, but a little resilience like tonight's performance could go a long way.

Go Jackets!

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Monday, January 28, 2013

Game 5: Karma Or Conspiracy...?

Saturday night was the first time in a while that I had the privilege and opportunity to hang out it R Bar before a Columbus Blue Jackets game.

Predictably, the place was packed with fun-loving hockey fans -- both for Columbus and for Chicago. There was a lot of talking, a lot of laughing, and a lot of pleasantries exchanged... just as you would expect from any dysfunctional family like we hockey fans often are.

And, perhaps also predictably, there was little bit of gamesmanship involved when it came to the jukebox. After all, following the incident a couple seasons ago when "Chelsea Dagger" was inexplicably played inside Nationwide Arena when the Blackhawks were in town... it can only be assumed that playing the song out of turn would not be tolerated in very many places in Columbus... let alone its main hockey bar.

So, much to my amusement, within the first 20 minutes or so that Mrs. Martini and I were at R Bar on Saturday, two attempts were made to play "Chelsea Dagger." Both times, the song mysteriously faded out about 30 seconds in... and the next song came on.

Just for good measure, a third attempt was made about 15 to 20 minutes before puck drop... and that one was similarly squelched.

I'll admit it... I was quite amused.

For the record, I will say that perhaps skipping over the next song, "Sweet Home Chicago," might've been borderline inhospitable.

I mean, sure... someone should know better than to spend credits on "Chelsea Dagger" in a bar when you're the visiting team. It's your goal song. A blues song that happens to be about Chicago, however... come on.

That's a damn good blues song. You can't let those credits go to waste.

Sadly, the joke was on the Blue Jackets. The cruel twist of fate came when Nick Foligno possibly tipped a blast from Derick Brassard past Corey Crawford.

Brian Johnson of AC/DC screamed... the cannon fired... "The Whip" came on...

...and mysteriously faded out.

Karma? Maybe.

Perhaps my tendency toward Schadenfreude at R Bar a couple hours earlier had somehow jinxed our guys.

Or the refs just hosed them, with some assertion that Foligno had interfered.

Honestly, I'm posting this well after the fact, so discussing other aspects of the game seems kinda moot. You've read every other take on this already. So, in case you were wondering if the Jackets were somehow cursed by the guys in stripes... consider this an alternate conspiracy theory.

Either way... I was no longer laughing.

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Friday, January 25, 2013

Game 4: Confidence Building...?

Well, that was not good.

The Columbus Blue Jackets played a much better game, compared to just 24 hours before in Phoenix.

And lost. Terribly.

They did more things right, but the result did not change. And you have to wonder how that affects the good guys as they come back home Saturday to face an as-yet-unbeaten Chicago team.

It's good to see the Jackets having one another's backs, and picking up some speed, but goals are nice. Sweet goals, garbage goals, what have you. They need goals. The fans need to see goals.

More than anything, fans need to see FSOhio's Natalie Taylor interviewing a guy in a CBJ sweater after the game. Tough to do after a shutout, though.

Those are the rules: Goals make good TV. Good goaltending makes for good TV, too, of course. Sergei Bobrovsky was quite good for most of the game, but Semyon Varlamov was pretty spectacular for the whole thing. Sadly, the good TV was on Altitude his evening.

Not a good way to start a string of seven games in a short period of time, but it is what it is. A loud Nationwide crowd on a Saturday night could fix it all, and get the guys on track.

It had better.

We'll see what happens.

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Thursday, January 24, 2013

Game 3: Dogged In Phoenix

Well... at least there's no goaltending controversy.

Actually, that's not entirely fair. It doesn't matter who is in net when the guys in front of him seem to be a step behind the opponent. Unfortunately for Steve Mason, he has been the scapegoat for years, and this was one of those nights he happened to be in net when the team in front of him played like hell.

And thus is the story of the first game in a stretch of seven games in 11 nights for the Jackets. It's a stretch that sounds crazy when you think about it... except for the fact that probably every team has a few of those stretches this season. That's what happens when you're cramming 48 games into 99 days, and every team is doing it.

In that aspect, everyone in the NHL is in the same boat... so, no excuses.

The Columbus Blue Jackets were flat-out... well... flat.

Fedor Tyutin managed essentially the only highlight of the evening with his shot from long distance that somehow went in unobstructed.

After that, all the unobstructed paths to the goal belonged to the Coyotes, and I'm not sure you can blame even one of them on Mason. Bodies were not in the way. Dumb penalties happened. For the sake of this guy writing, let's just say I'm not going to overanalyze this much. Steve Sullivan (three goals) and Oliver Ekman-Larsson (two more, plus an assist)

Suffice to say, it did not go well, and neither will I if I don't get some sleep.

On to The Can tomorrow to meet the Avalanche. Shake it off, it's one game.

Go Jackets!

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Monday, January 21, 2013

Game 2: Hockey Comes Home

The Columbus Blue Jackets were outworked, outskated and clearly outdone for more than a period and a half in their first game at home. Detroit came in hungry... and man, were they fast.

Yet the Jackets still managed to only be down 1-0.

It took a while for the team to get it together... hell, they even let in another goal before Cam Atkinson got the quick response goal in to quickly close it to 2-1, and give the Jackets a little fire and momentum going into the second break.

They held onto it, too, as the Jackets forced Detroit into making mistakes to start the third. Dumb mistakes. Three power plays in short order gave the Jackets two goals in fairly short order.

Unfortunately, Pavel Datsyuk did what Pavel Datsyuk does, with little more than six minutes left.

God, I hate when he does that.

An OT and a shootout later... the Jackets settled for three points in their first two games. Against Nashville and Detroit... that's not awful, people.

Sure, it leaves a taste in the mouth like last week's Brussels sprouts, but it's nothing fatal.

On that Atkinson shot... you know what, I totally got it. Double-tap, whatever. I can accept that, I guess.

But watching the game on TV, you could hear some guy in the crowd yelling, "You suck, ref!" after he gets off the phone with Toronto and skates to the red line. Then he just stood there... seemed like a full five seconds at least... before he emphatically shot out his arms for the no-goal.

Seriously, he might as well have been flipping off the crowd, he looked like he was that into it.

Still, despite that just sick deke Damien Brunner put on Bobber at the last possible moment in Round Four... man, Bobrovsky was just crazy good, despite letting in three goals. The dude has made some really impressive saves these first couple games. Kinda makes one feel confident, y'know?

(Just wish I could have seen the Boll-Tootoo fight as the puck dropped... but a meeting ran over).

Yes, a loss after a game like this sucks. It's all about how they bounce back now, as the Jackets hit the road for a pair of games out west on Wednesday and Thursday. It's a little early in the season to be either breaking out an energy drink or grabbing a pregame nap for a 10 p.m. faceoff, but... oh well, that's life as a hockey fan.

Speaking of hockey fans... did I read that right that there were more than 19,000 people packed in Nationwide tonight?

And people say we're not a hockey city.

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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Game 1: Welcome Back

The look of a brand-new team. Five brand new faces on the roster... and the "face of the franchise" gone.

This is a Columbus Blue Jackets team that took the ice a week after all the T's were crossed and I's were dotted for a game in a 48-game schedule being played in 99 days. Grueling, perhaps, in any sport.

However, this was a team coming off a dead-last finish in the league, who lost the Draft Lottery when it had the best chance to win, and then traded away its captain later than it wanted to, because said captain put up every roadblock possible to make sure he wound up somewhere he could win the Cup.

This team that skated onto the ice at Bridgestone Arena Saturday night didn't have a chance in hell. It was going for only the second win in the last 20-something games (honestly, I've lost count) in Nashville's barn.

Then an early goal slipped past Sergei Bobrovsky in less time than it took for a guy that just walked into R Bar to get a beer in his hand.

This team had no chance in hell.


Well, a shot by Fedor Tyutin that Nick Foligno just got a stick on and past Preds netminder Pekka Rinne changed the mood of R Bar little more than 16 minutes in.

A matching Nashville goal gave the Preds the lead not even two minutes later, and that feeling threatened to take over again: One weak goal to start it, and the Jackets just can't seem to turn the corner.

Except they did.

They even got a goal from one of the other new guys -- Artem Anisimov -- in the second to tie it up. From there, the Jackets held steady. The defense bent, but did not break. The second period expired... then the third. The team that didn't have a chance in hell had earned a point in Bridgestone Arena, after a one-week training camp, new players, a new netminder... and quite possibly a new attitude. Dare we say a new culture, even?

But there was still hockey to be played... and still that nagging recent history playing in Nashville. But the team didn't let up, and forced a shootout.

A shootout that was almost over in three rounds with the Jackets up 1-0, but a goal got in on Nashville's third shot. And so it continued.

Two more rounds... no goals for either side. Then Derick Brassard opened the sixth round of the shootout. Then, all Bobrovsky had to do was stop one more shot.

But you know what, this just my version of the story. Let the R Bar crowd tell you what happened next.

That, friends... is a moment.

So the Jackets return to Nationwide Arena Monday night to debut at home against the Detroit Red Wings... who inexplicably lost to the St. Louis Blues by a score of 6-0.

Opportunity for a little puffery by the good guys?

Better not be. The Wings have egos like anyone else, and you can bet they won't stay down when they're wounded.

Still... this was a hell of a feeling to have after one game.

It's just one game, of course.

But it's one game in which the Jackets had no chance in hell. In a season in which prognosticators give them no chance in hell.

And this is one hell of a good way to get started.

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Thursday, January 17, 2013

Letters To The Antichrist(s), Part II: Dear Gary Bettman...

An Open Letter to Gary Bettman:

As we approach a hockey season in just over two days, we need to get one thing straight.

You are not the hero in this whole Lockout mess. Anyone who is a hockey fan -- and even sports fans who could care less about hockey -- knows it. In fact, I think that, deep down, even you actually realize that you are not the good guy in the Lockout.

Don't worry... neither was Don Fehr. Of course, it's pretty much impossible to conceive how anyone could ever paint Fehr as the good guy, as he is the head of a professional players union that represents so-called "laborers" who get to play a game for a living.

That fact alone, Gary, was the chance for you to be the good guy! The fact that your counterpart is the Antichrist. That's PR just being handed to you on a silver platter.

But noooo... you couldn't even avoid screwing that up.

All you did was prove that you are just as bad. I suppose it's not like we didn't know already that you're just some jackass in a suit, who would probably never watch a hockey game if it wasn't an essential component of what pays your checks.

Now, while I'm sure I speak for a lot of fans who appreciate the fact that you tried to control costs and everything with the NHL... you picked the absolute worst way to go about it.

Are players overpaid? Sure. We'll give you that.

In fact, we can probably come up with a couple of Columbus Blue Jackets players who didn't earn the checks from the Hockey Related Revenue that we the fans pay for.

However, opening your so-called negotiations by cutting the players HRR share from 57% to 43% pretty much set the tone for the last few months. You cannot realistically go in front of the public and the media and brag about $3.3 billion in hockey related revenue in the last year of the previous CBA one day... and then say the next day how the league "cannot survive under the current business model."

The idiots who somehow let you keep your job also cannot put a proposal on the table that limits contracts to five years, after signing players to six- to 12-year deals. Yeah, no... that's not going to fly.

I'm trying to keep this concise, so I won't turn this into an episode of All Your Sins Remembered, so I'll just skip to the biggest one.

Remember that thing you guys did for about 16 hours or something, more than a week ago, to get to a "framework" of a deal to agree on? That's called NEGOTIATING.

However, this is the third time you have had a work stoppage because the first tactic you employed was a Lockout.

"Don't like our deal? Lockout."

"Here's a proposal, take it or leave it. Oh, a counterproposal? Screw you. Call me when you're serious."

So good for you... you figured out three months into a Lockout that maybe that wasn't going to work this time.

So, Gary, you can yammer on forever about how league revenues have grown consistently, and made it to a whopping $3.3 billion last season.

To quote a much-mocked political statement from 2012, Gary... "You didn't build that. You had help."

That help came from us. The fans. The people who will (hopefully) pack NHL arenas to watch the world's greatest sport in two days.

It's pretty much a given that you won't get that much revenue this year. However, I'm sure you don't care. You get your checks... in fact, I bet you didn't miss any.

And that's okay. We don't expect you to care. You're not a hockey person.

We are hockey people. Hockey people who are ready to see hockey whenever the word is mentioned in the media, not you or Don Fehr talking about how awful and unreasonable the other guy is.

Hockey people who are looking forward to not having to look at you again until it's time to award the Cup at the end of June.

I like to think there's a special hell for you when the time comes, and that Don Fehr is there with you.

In the same, cramped suite.

And all you'll be able to do is sit there staring at each other and flipping each other off.

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Letters To The Antichrist(s), Part I: Dear Don Fehr...

Although the sentiments of this gentleman in this old '68 DNC picture pretty much sum up my message...

... I could also say it only scratches the surface. Anyone who knows anything about hockey knew there was going to be a Lockout. It became inevitable the moment you became the head of the NHLPA.

That whole "killing baseball" thing precedes you.

I'm only thankful that we the Hockey Faithful don't have to look at you (more or less) for at least the next eight years, barring some horrific incident that requires our having to hear from the head of the NHLPA.

I also take comfort in the fact that you will eventually... well, expire.

And your seat at Art Modell's table in hell is already saved for you.

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Monday, January 14, 2013

Season Coming, Hellacious Schedule Looms...

Maybe it was catching bits and pieces of the Golden Globes, but the coming NHL season somehow drummed up "red carpet" visions in my head. Maybe it was reading stuff about players arriving from their scrub gigs in the KHL or whatever European league they were lying low in before the two sides somehow came up with an agreement last week. I don't know.

The debut of this shortened season just kind of has this feel of photographers, grand arrivals and "Who are you wearing?" kind of banter.

So, in the Columbus Blue Jackets' case. that answer might be, "The equipment is by Bauer... the jersey by Reebok...

"...and the schedule is by the Marquis de Sade."

Now, of course, all 30 teams in the NHL are playing this 48-game schedule in 99 days -- give or take a couple. And I'm sure for a few, the schedule seems equally hellacious.

But the hopes for the CBJ to bounce back from the disaster that was the 2011-12 season look to have a pretty nasty, uphill climb ahead.

One of the big snags is the all-Western Conference schedule. It's the better conference to begin with, and the Central -- as usual -- promises to be tops in the league.

And as luck would have it -- under the "five games against two teams, four against the other two" divisional schedule -- the two teams the Jackets will play five times are Detroit and Nashville. Ouch.

The fact that three of the Detroit games are at home is little consolation, given Ohio's WalMart WingNut population.

But look at the schedule with those six-game road trips in February and April. Six straight road games before the finale in the stretch run? More ouch.

Now, to be fair, the Jackets do have homestands of four, five and six games mixed in there as well.

And frankly, who the hell knows what's in store with a 48-game season?

This very new lineup could be out of the race by mid-February.

Or... it could jell freakishly well and make the Playoffs.

The big difference between the two could very well be an innate sense of urgency at the core of each and every player on the roster.

Probably some luck, too.

The one certain thing is that on any given night, the team who wants it more will prevail. As I mentioned above, every team is playing the same number of games, in pretty much the same number of days. Everyone else is in the same boat, more or less.

It's just a matter of whether this team has the personnel, skill and character to pull it off.

But in the end... it's just a schedule.

A schedule means we have hockey in five days.

And -- bitterness of the Lockout aside (and heaven knows I'm guilty of it, even as of a week ago) -- that is cause for celebration.

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Sunday, January 6, 2013

Wow... It's (Tentatively) Over...

While we slept and dreamed our dreams about how quickly we could end the Lockout with just two chairs, two pairs of handcuffs, Gary Bettman, Don Fehr and a dry cleaning bag...

No...? Well, that was my dream, anyway.

While we slept and you apparently had much tamer dreams than mine... the freakin' bastards did it.

Contract limits closer to what the league wanted. Revenue sharing. Nice, long-term CBA. All of it. Done.


I should be outside turning cartwheels, making snow angels, or whatever. However, we all well know that we should have been doing that months ago. Such as, at the beginning of a regular hockey season.

While this feeling may very well change in a few days when stuff is ratified -- maybe even only a few hours -- there's one feeling that's nagging at me.

I've been bitching about this lockout since it began. To fellow hockey fans, on Twitter, to the four or five co-workers who care about/know about the sport.

Occasionally even here. Obviously, I haven't written much, but I would have just been repeating myself, while trying to come up with clever new ways to say the same crap. Hell, I endorsed waterboarding, for Gretzsakes.

Despite all this, I can't shake this nagging feeling....

Right now... with fans robbed of a normal season, Columbus robbed of its All Star Game, Detroit robbed of its Winter Classic, and a torrent of mudslinging and backbiting that makes the American government appear downright functional...

I almost don't give a $#!+ that we're (tentatively) a week or so away from hockey.


I don't know. Give me a few hours.

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