2010-2011 NHL season preview: Columbus Blue Jackets

2 Comments

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.

The Buzzer: Schneider snaps winless run; Halak posts fourth shutout

Getty Images
Leave a comment

Three stars

1. Cory Schneider, New Jersey Devils

He didn’t start the game, and coming into it, he hadn’t won since December 2017. But when Nico Hischier‘s shot off a rebound crossed the line in overtime, Schneider’s nightmare run between the pipes was over.

Schneider made 15 saves in relief of Keith Kinkaid, who allowed four goals on 17 shots. The Devils trailed 4-1 at that points but rattled off three unanswered to force overtime. Schneider did his job, making a couple great saves to give New Jersey a chance.

And that’s all they needed as Schneider stopped his winless streak at 21 games.

This is what relief looks like:

2. Jaroslav Halak, Boston Bruins

Beating the Anaheim Ducks these days isn’t much of a feat. That said, shutting out any team in the NHL most certainly is.

Halak has his fourth shutout of the season, tying him for third most in the NHL, after stopping all 30 shots sent his way in a 3-0 win.

The Bruins have now won four straight and have points in nine of their past 10. They’re just a point back of second place in the Atlantic, currently occupied by the Toronto Maple Leafs, and more importantly, five points up on the Montreal Canadiens, who are in the first wildcard spot.

3. Nino Niederreiter, Carolina Hurricanes

Niederreiter had himself an interesting night. He scored twice in a 3-1 win against the Edmonton Oilers to push his goal total to eight in 12 games since joining the Hurricanes from the Minnesota Wild.

He’s been a point-per-game player in Carolina, adding four assists in that span. The scoring has been a welcomed addition for the Canes.

Niederreiter was also on the receiving end of a hit from behind, and on the giving end of one, too:

Highlights of the night

Bat flip, run the bases:

Tic-tac-goal:

Factoids

Scores

Rangers 6, Sabres 2
Hurricanes 3, Oilers 1
Devils 5, Wild 4 (OT)
Bruins 3, Ducks 0


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Trade: Flyers add Talbot, Oilers open up space for Sekera

Getty Images
1 Comment

Cam Talbot is lucky No. 8.

The Philadelphia Flyers added Talbot to the fold late Friday night, acquiring the 31-year-old goaltender from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for Anthony Stolarz.

Should Talbot get into one of the Flyers’ final 25 games — which he likely will — they will be the first team in NHL history to use eight goalies in a season. That just shows how weird this season has been on Broad Street. After some early season struggles, which saw general manager Ron Hextall and head coach Dave Hakstol fired within a 21-day span, they’ve ripped off a run that has seen them take 23 points from their last 14 games, putting them eight points out of an Eastern Conference wild card place and the third seed in the Metropolitan Division.

Emerging from the goalie carousel has been Carter Hart, the franchise’s goaltender of the future up until Dec. 17. He’s assumed the title of “goalie of the now” since after helping the Flyers win eight starts in a row and being a vital part of their recent run.

Talbot, who can become an unrestricted free agent on July 1, comes to Philadelphia with an established relationship with Hart. The two have worked out together in the summer. “He’s a good mentor, a great guy, a good goalie,” Hart said on Thursday, adding that he called Talbot the night before his NHL debut for some advice.

This stablizes the goalie situation for the moment as Brian Elliott works his way back from injury down in the AHL on a conditioning stint and Michal Neuvirth is currently on injured reserve. In net had been Hart and Stolarz, the 25-year-old who was their second-round pick in 2012. Mike McKenna‘s been in the mix as well, but he’s only played twice since Dec. 28.

GM Chuck Fletcher will now get a good couple of months to see up close if Talbot, who’s posted a .909 even strength save percentage in 31 appearances with the Oilers, should be considered for an extension beyond this season and possibly act as a veteran backup/1B to Hart going forward.

This move for the Oilers helped them shed salary in order to have room to activate defenseman Andrej Sekera, who had surgery in August to repair a torn Achilles tendon. Stolarz can be a restricted free agent this summer, while they already have Mikko Koskinen locked up after extending the netminder for three years in January.

————

Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Devils’ Schneider wins first game since 2017 after epic Wild collapse

Getty Images
1 Comment

Cory Schneider hadn’t won a regular-season hockey game since Dec. 27, 2017.

Not 2018. Oh, no.

2017.

A 21-game winless streak (0-17-4) and a year and a bit of frustration thanks to injury. Nobody had a bigger monkey on their back.

And when he was inserted into a 4-1 deficit to the Minnesota Wild on Friday night, he wasn’t expected to end that drought either. His job was merely to relieve Keith Kinkaid, who was chased after allowing four goals on 17 shots in the second period.

But the Devils, who came into the game as the worst team in the NHL, Schneider’s appearance seemed to rally the team. Will Butcher snagged a late goal in the second frame to pull the Devils to 4-2. From there, the Devils rattled off two more in the third, including a game-tying goal by Ben Lovejoy with 2:45 remaining in the game to force overtime.

The Wild simply fell apart and Schneider’s 15 saves made sure New Jersey had a chance.

Nico Hischier supplied the overtime winner off a gaffe from Devan Dubnyk, who’s misplay of the puck summed up the second half of the game for the Wild — and utter embarrassment.

“Everyone else was probably more excited than I was,” Schneider said in a post-game interview on MSG+. “For me, it’s just nice to get a win and get two points. It’s been a long time, obviously. It’s just one, but it’s nice to get it.”

Schneider said 2018 was “just a bad year” and he was really looking forward to 2019.

“I’m my harshest critic. I’m hard on myself and I expect a lot from myself,” Schneider said. For whatever reason, it just wasn’t working. I’ve never gone through anything like that in my career, my life, to be honest.

“It seemed like no matter what I did, nothing was really going my way or working for me. I always want to play well for this franchise. For the owners and management who put a lot of faith in me and a lot of expectations on me, which is what I accept. It’s been a while, but hopefully, we can get back to try to play hockey, win games and get my career back on track here.”

So much for Bruce Boudreau’s promise of playoff hockey this season. A 4-1 lead should be an automatic win.

The Wild have been in free-fall mode for a while now, with just three wins in their past 10 games.

The loss of Mikko Koivu was deflating — devastating, really — but the team has failed to even attempt to rally around it. Look no further than Friday’s game for proof of that

Given the race for the final wildcard spots in the Western Conference, if the Wild don’t figure it out, they’re going to fall out of the playoff picture in short order.

For now, they own the final playoff berth.

Bonus content — just listen to the call on Hischier’s goal:


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck

Rangers’ DeAngelo lands one-punch knockout on Sabres’ Okposo

MSG
3 Comments

You don’t often see one-punch knockouts in the NHL, but when you do, my goodness are they devastating.

Tony DeAngelo of the New York Rangers delivered the rare bomb on Buffalo Sabres forward Kyle Okposo during Friday’s game. DeAngelo took exception to an awkward hit by Okposo on Mats Zuccarello.

The two squared up and, well, it didn’t last long:

Okposo was able to get up but he clearly looked dazed and had to leave the game.

The 30-year-old has an ugly history with concussions, including one that wound him up in an intensive care unit. His most recent came in March of last season, his second in less than a year.


Scott Billeck is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @scottbilleck