As the pre-season winds down and the flu season revs up, very few major stories hitting the hockey wires on a daily basis. (Gretzky aside, but who didn’t see that coming?) So, here is a smattering of items designed to hold your interest briefly, until something meatier rolls out of my computer.
Chimera/Modin – Saw both Chimera and Modin during the Pittsburgh game Thursday night. Modin did not have crutches, but was walking very slowly and stiffly. Seemed to be bearing up well, however. Except for the lacerations on the face, Chimera looks good. According to Puck- Rakers, he is to undergo tests on Saturday, and will hopefully be cleared for working his way back up to playing. Unsure whether he will be able to answer the bell for the opener next Saturday, but you know he will do everything he can to play.
Back to the Future – The Pittsburgh game was a wild affair, for a lot of reasons. The Jackets fielded a lineup that kept everyone on Press Row scurrying back and forth from their lineup cards to see who these young kids were. Some interesting pairings, with Hejda being the only Top 6 defenseman from last year in the game. Despite that youth, they notched 5 goals in regulation for the third game in a row, and hung with a Pittsburgh lineup that featured most of their regulars (though Crosby left with a bad groin two minutes into Period One). While the young kids brought us to the future, the last half of the third period took us back to the Columbus Chill era, when teams were having a good fight, and a hockey game broke out. Good for the Jackets that they got Pittsburgh so riled up, but I honestly have not seen so much pugilism and outright nastiness since the Rangers game several years ago, when they had players literally hanging out of the penalty box.
Management Summit – Wednesday night’s Q & A forum for the Season Ticket holders with Hitchcock, Howson and Mike Priest was a nice affair, with some entertaining banter between the three of them, some nice background on Howson’s moves to get Moore on draft day, and some general insight on the pressing issues of the day. While they were naturally circumspect, some nuggets emerged. First, discussions continue with the Arena lease situation, with County, City, State and the Chamber of Commerce involved. The COC-commissioned report on potential vehicles for solving the dilemma is due out later this month. Priest sounded optimistic and appeared genuinely pleased at the response they were seeing. (More on this in the final installment of my The Arena Chronicles series shortly) Howson and Hitch were both impressed with Moore’s play, but very vague on his immediate destination, which is to be expected. Hitch would not commit to Filatov being on the team, but did refer to his likely move between second and third lines, depending upon the opponent. All of the broadcasters were in attendance, including Bill Davidge, sporting a sling/brace on his arm – another of the walking wounded. Finally, Hitch did not sound concerned about any of the nagging injuries afflicting the team at the moment, characterizing them as normal training camp types of maladies.
Moore & Filatov – Much of the pre-season hype has centered around young sensations John Moore and Nikita Filatov. Turning to Filatov first, he has been the subject of some bad press in certain circles, beginning with an interview he gave in Russia, characterized by some as threatening a jump to the KHL if he did not get enough playing time. His first few pre-season outings were deemed mediocre, and it was only after the Boston game when the ice began to thaw. While he did not register any points in the Pittsburgh game, he was a factor.
Here’s my take on the situation. Nikita is a young kid, very talented, who is dead set on emulating his hero, Ilya Kovalchuk, and becoming a star in the NHL. If you read the interview in its entirety, it is clear that he has no intention of breaking his contract with the CBJ. The reaction here is reminiscent of the reactions people had when Nash was interviewed up in Canada before re-signing. He always praised Toronto, and issued vague statements, such as “we will see what happens.” Same deal here. Filatov wants to keep the door open to an Olympic berth someday, and would be stupid to openly antagonize Russia or the KHL in an interview in Russia. In terms of his play, I have watched every home game, and found something to like. He is not flashy, but he is smooth. He is perhaps feeling his way a bit more, but as the roster settles and familiarity sets in watch him go. His two assists and SO goal against Boston were positively sick.
Speaking of positively sick, rookie defenseman John Moore has a set of skills that will knock your socks off. His passes are on the tape – every time. He shows little or no indecision in our own zone, has great speed, and shows good instincts in when to press deep, and when to hold at the blue line. Against the Pittsburgh top line last night he had a few shaky moments early, then seemed to learn something new each shift. He has nice puck movement on the power play, and shows a good shot as well. However, it is unlikely that we will see him here this season, due to the institutional paranoia created in the Doug MacLean era by moving youngsters along too quickly (See Rostislav Klesla, Gilbert Brule) The only way he makes the club, in my estimation, is if a) Howson likes him enough to trade Klesla, or another existing defenseman, and packaging with some forwards to get a rocket shot from point and center depth; or b) we have some sudden blue line injuries late in camp. Regardless, this guy is a keeper!
Lots more to come – just 8 days until the puck drops for real!!!