2010-2011 NHL season preview: Columbus Blue Jackets

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ricknash2.jpgLast season: (32-35-15, 79 points, 5th in Central Division,14th in Western Conference) To put it bluntly, the Blue Jackets were not good. They fired Ken Hitchcock halfway through the season and let Claude Noel ride things out the rest of the way. They were disjointed, they were bad defensively and they couldn’t score a lick. At least they scored a solid first-round draft pick out of that mess in Ryan Johansen.

Head coach: Scott Arniel takes over as coach and with that he’s going to try and bring in a puck-possession style, transitioning Columbus from a lock-down defense-first team to a team meant to keep the puck and pressure offensively. That doesn’t usually go too well as it takes time to play things out and get the players that fit the system best. Just ask the Minnesota Wild how they’re doing in the post-Lemaire era. Arniel will have his hands full negotiating through a system change. Hopefully GM Scott Howson can be patient with him through it.

Key departures: None. Seriously, they didn’t lose anyone of significance.

Key arrivals: F Ethan Moreau, F Nikita Filatov. Moreau comes over from the Oilers via waiver claim while Filatov returns from Russia after being essentially exiled by Hitchcock. The offensively-starved Blue Jackets could use a guy like Filatov breaking out and fulfilling his potential.

Under pressure: I’m going a little off the radar here and picking on Derick Brassard. When Brassard broke in, he had immediate chemistry with team leader Rick Nash. One injury later, Brassard hasn’t been the same player he appeared he was going to be and on a team that’s in desperate need of having a playmaker on the first line with Nash. Brassard’s regression (36 points and just seven goals last season) was a huge letdown. He’s making $3.2 million against the cap for the next four seasons so it’s high time he steps up and plays like a guy meant to earn that.

stevemason1.jpgProtecting the house: The Blue Jackets will again roll with Steve Mason and Mathieu Garon in goal. The 2009 Calder Trophy winner is coming off a nightmarish season, giving new meaning to the term ‘sophomore slump.’ His save percentage went from .916 in his rookie season to .901 and his goals against average went from 2.29 to 3.06 while recording only half as many shutouts (five compared to 10 the season before). While he benefited from Hitchcock’s system two years ago, he struggled behind it last season and was often left in games to take a beating. If his confidence is shaken, Mason’s struggles could resurface again. Garon is just a backup goalie at this point and if they need to fall back on him to save the team, the Jackets are in big trouble.

Defensively, this team is as weak as it gets. They lack a true shutdown defenseman, they lack a true power play quarterback offensively and while they’ve got nice role fillers they have no absolute presence here. Mike Commodore is a solid defensive defenseman and Anton Stralman has a good shot from the point, but after that things get really iffy. Jan Hejda, Kris Russell, Fedor Tyutin, and lifetime Blue Jacket Rostislav Klesla round out the pack. Marc Methot and Grant Clitsome help fill in when needed. If the team wasn’t concerned with finances they’d likely make a move for a guy like Sheldon Souray or Tomas Kaberle to improve things.

Top line we’d like to see: Let’s get creative. Filatov-Brassard-Nash. Nash has been working out some in camp at right wing so why not give him the playmaker he once had chemistry with in Brassard and a dangling potential star in Filatov and just let them run wild on the ice to see what they can create. This team desperately needs something exciting out on the ice and the slick skating of Filatov mixed with the skill and power of Nash could be a lot of fun. If Filatov isn’t your cup of tea, change it to Jakub Voracek and let them get rough and tumble out there with a wrecking ball-ish line.

Oh captain, my captain: Nash is the captain and much like Jarome Iginla in Calgary, he’s the whole show and the whole reason people want to watch their team. On a team severely lacking in offense last season, Nash still scored 33 goals to lead the team. He tries to lead by example doing everything he possibly can to help the team win and God love him, but there’s only so much a single man can do. The only thing left to wonder about this season is how many alternate captains will Nash have as his executive committee. The current Blue Jackets roster lists off six players as wearing the ‘A.’ That’s just goofy.

jaredboll1.jpgStreet fighting man: If there’s anything the Jackets have been good at over the years it’s fighting. Whether it was Jody Shelley back in the day or David Ling getting the call out of the minors to run around and be a maniac, they always had fighters going for them. Now it’s up to Jared Boll to be the one to show them the way of the fist. Last season, Boll had 21 fighting majors and with a holy terror like Derek Dorsett running around and creating havoc, Boll’s job is a tough one. Not that Dorsett has anything against dropping the gloves — he had seven fighting majors last season — but Boll is the heavyweight with Dorsett the cruiserweight.

Best-case scenario: If Brassard can regain his form and abilities with Nash, they both can have huge seasons. With Antoine Vermette, Kristian Huselius and Voracek doing their part as well. Columbus can have two solid scoring lines. The forwards play the way they look like they can and all play their roles to the max and get strong, serviceable play from the defense while Mason regains his rookie-season form, the Blue Jackets could push for a playoff spot. That’s a lot of ifs and variables, however.

Worst-case scenario: Brassard continues to struggle and Nash goes without a guy that can help set him up. Filatov and Voracek have middling seasons while guys like Vermette and R.J. Umberger check in with average seasons that seem better in comparison because the team is struggling. The defense plays as bad as advertised and Mason plays more like he did last season and the Blue Jackets are instant front-runners for the No. 1 pick in the 2011 draft.

Keeping it real: With as much promise as there is with this team with guys like Voracek, Brassard and Filatov, along with a guaranteed producer like Nash, there’s reasons to be hopeful. It’s just a question of when or if it’ll be fulfilled. With the brand of hockey that Arniel wants to play, however, he doesn’t have the players in place to make that successful right away. Counting on breakout seasons for the young guys they’ve got is wishful thinking. For now, this is not a playoff team and may still end up being one of the worst in the league.

Stanley Cup chances: On a scale of 1-5, with one being the worst and five being the best, the Blue Jackets are a definitive 1. They’re in no way a threat to win the Stanley Cup. They barely have a defensive unit fit to win the Calder Cup in the AHL, and their scoring depth, while loaded with all kinds of potential has to show up in a big way to clear up any kinds of doubts. Mason is coming off a terrible season that casts doubts on his ability to carry a team. Unless Arniel catches lightning in a bottle the way Joe Sacco did in Colorado last year, this team isn’t even a threat to make the playoffs.

Video: Giroux bumps scoring slump to give Flyers the OT win

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The Philadelphia Flyers needed a win.

So overtime against the New York Islanders seemed like a perfect time for captain Claude Giroux to bust his scoring slump.

Without a goal in his last 12 games, or since Dec. 21 before the holiday break, Giroux finished the Flyers comeback with an overtime goal to give Philly a 3-2 victory on Sunday. Jakub Voracek did great work along the boards to force a turnover from John Tavares, and Shayne Gostisbehere followed up his chance with a quick pass to a wide-open Giroux at the top of the crease.

That comeback win — Philly trailed by two goals early in the second period — bumps the Flyers back into a wild card spot.

Steve Mason had a big game in net for Philly, with 36 saves, while the Flyers fired 47 shots on goal toward Thomas Greiss, although it’s a difficult task trying to re-set and stop Giroux — an accomplished scorer in the NHL — on the doorstep.

Goals, goals and more goals! Blue Jackets outlast Senators for overtime win

COLUMBUS, OH - JANUARY 19:  Mike Condon #1 of the Ottawa Senators stops a shot from Cam Atkinson #13 of the Columbus Blue Jackets as Mike Hoffman #68 of the Ottawa Senators skates back on defense during the third period on January 19, 2017 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. Ottawa defeated Columbus 2-0. (Photo by Kirk Irwin/Getty Images)
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Plenty of goals. A little three-on-three overtime. Seemed like an enjoyable afternoon of hockey between the Ottawa Senators and Columbus Blue Jackets.

Well, maybe the goalies, Mike Condon and Joonas Korpisalo, didn’t enjoy it as much.

The Blue Jackets prevailed for a 7-6 overtime win, with Cam Atkinson scoring just 1:09 into the extra period. That’s his 23rd goal of the season. Only two players — Jeff Carter (24) and Sidney Crosby (28) — have scored more goals than Atkinson this season.

With the win, and the Capitals sitting idle today, the Blue Jackets move back into a tie with Washington at 68 points in the fight for first place in the Metropolitan Division.

There were some anxious moments for Columbus.

Rookie defenseman Zach Werenski was hurt blocking a shot in the third period. He briefly left the game, unable to put any pressure on his right leg as he was helped off.

The good news: He only missed a few minutes, returning late in regulation and for the overtime as well, which is important for the Blue Jackets.

Despite his rookie status, and being a 19-year-old blue liner, Werenski is having an impressive season with six goals and 26 points in 45 games before Sunday.

“The thing that has impressed me the most about him is he’s a bit unflappable,” coach John Tortorella said earlier this season.

“He’s made a couple of huge mistakes in a game and he comes to the bench, shakes it off and then goes out and makes a great play. For a 19-year-old playing that position and the amount of time he’s getting in key situations with this organization, it’s pretty impressive.”

Julien: ‘We don’t have enough talent to … get away with a mediocre game’

Boston Bruins head coach Claude Julien looks up at the score board during the third period of an NHL hockey game against the Edmonton Oilers in Boston, Monday, Dec. 14, 2015. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)
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Another game, another loss for the Boston Bruins, who came apart in the third period of Sunday’s game versus Pittsburgh, resulting in a 5-1 defeat.

That’s four straight losses for the Bruins. Claude Julien’s job security appears on the line. Following talk of Julien’s future in Boston, there has been criticism toward the Bruins front office for failure to improve key areas of their roster during the offseason.

On Saturday, Julien said he wasn’t quitting on his team. On Sunday, after another frustrating defeat, in which Boston carried the play, particularly in the second period, Julien offered a pretty frank assessment of his team and its current make up.

“This is a team that needs all 20 guys going to win. We don’t have enough talent to think we can get away with a mediocre game,” he said, per Fluto Shinzawa of the Boston Globe.

Scoring is a major issue for the Bruins. They’ve been terrific with puck possession, the best team in the league in that category at even strength, but they’re in the bottom third of the league when it comes to goals-for. Against the Penguins, they tested Matt Murray with 45 shots, including 22 in the second period, and could only manufacture one goal.

It didn’t help Boston’s cause that their starting goalie Tuukka Rask left the game due to migraines and didn’t return. Zane McIntyre entered the game and was ventilated for three goals in under three minutes in the third period. Game over.

And that just adds more scrutiny on the Bruins and Julien’s job security.

“Right now we’re all confident in Claude, and we all want to be here and play for him. If [saving Julien’s job] is the extra motivation you need for the games then so be it,” said Patrice Bergeron, per CSNNE.com.

“But we’re all professionals and we’re here to win hockey games. I’ve said this before that I’ve been with Claude for 10 years, and he’s the guy that I believe in and that I want to play for.”

It’s gone from bad to worse for the Bruins

BOSTON, MA - DECEMBER 16:  Brad Marchand #63 of the Boston Bruins looks on during the third period against the Pittsburgh Penguins at TD Garden on December 16, 2015 in Boston, Massachusetts. The Bruins defeat the Penguins 3-0.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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The bad news continues for the Boston Bruins.

With head coach Claude Julien on the hot seat — he didn’t wish to discuss his future following Friday’s heartbreaking defeat to Chicago but spoke at length on Saturday about how he’s “not quitting on the team” — the Bruins came unraveled over a three-minute stretch in the third period against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Sunday.

That’s the wrong team to come unraveled against.

The Penguins scored three times in just under three minutes early in the third, and suddenly the Bruins went from being in a close game, albeit in a trailing position, to a rout. When you have as dangerous a lineup as the Penguins do, led by Sidney Crosby, who had three points today, a game can quickly get way from the opposition.

Boston lost 5-1, despite another decided edge in puck possession — the Bruins lead the league in that category at even strength — and on the shot clock. They peppered Matt Murray with 45 shots, including 22 shots in the middle period and still emerged down a goal.

Further to that, Boston’s goalie Tuukka Rask left the game in the second period and did not return.

Per the Bruins at the beginning of the third period: Rask was not feeling well and would not return. Enter Zane McIntyre off the bench and the Penguins went on a scoring frenzy that ultimately ruined any chance of a Boston comeback.

Murray provided a little added salt in the wound, as he robbed Brad Marchand with the glove in close. That would not have had an impact on the end result. The Bruins were down four at the time, late in the period. That would’ve made the final score seem a tad more respectable. That’s it. But that missed opportunity seemed symbolic of their struggles to score.

They have lost four straight, although they remain third in the Atlantic Division.

The Bruins host the Detroit Red Wings on Tuesday.