A Tough Start
Three games into the pre-season, the Blue Jackets have been affected in equal portions by bad luck, bad play and bad behavior. Alarmists are already gasping for air, so perhaps it is time to take a detached look at the early pre-season.
Unlike past years, there are some talented players fighting for roster spots, and that is healthy for the team, both short and long term. In terms of surprises, Mayorov has shown some sparks, Moore has a game beyond his years, and Filatov and Brassard have shown some flashes of brilliance. Mathieu Garon has been extremely strong in two appearances , which bodes very well for our goaltending this year.
Dan La Costa has been awful, collapsing against Pittsburgh and allowing two third period goals against Nashville. While the defense did him no favors, he is playing for his starting job in Syracuse against Lalande, and is not responding well to the challenge.
With the exception of the Minnesota game, the Jackets have been badly outshot by their opponents. While we are hampered by no televised coverage of these early games, this is a stat that speaks for itself. The club needs to get shots on net – for some reason they too frequently take an ultra-cautious approach in the offensive zone, as if they are afraid of making a mistake. There is enough talent on the team that mutual trust should be there. Put the puck on net and good things tend to happen – that’s how Detroit and Pittsburgh operate, and they have done pretty well with it. After a nice offensive show against Pittsburgh, including two power play goals, they got shut out by Minnesota, and scored only two in Nashville.
No real seventh defenseman has stepped up to the plate. We really need this to happen, both for injury protection and simply to provide insurance against subpar performances. Not sure, but I suspect that Howson may be working the phones a little harder right about now.
The scary, ugly injury to Chimera is disturbing at many levels, which will be the subject of a separate article. It obviously impacted the collective psyche of the club in Minnesota. Fortunately, it appears that his wasn’t even the most severe injury for the game – Fredrik Modin is once again on the injured list for four to six weeks with a strained MCL.
While everyone was hoping that Freddy would be back to productive status this season, I think that there was a substantial degree of skepticism about that , both among fans and hockey analysts. Indeed, whether intentionally or through oversight, TSN.ca did not include Modin on the projected 5-line depth chart for the Jackets, in a preview published before his latest injury. While everyone hopes he can come back and contribute, it appears more remote with every injury.
The latest scary moment came against Nashville, when Tom Sestito suffered a head injury at the end of a fight with Jordin Tootoo. For the second time in two nights, a stretcher was rolled onto the ice, but fortunately Sestito was able to get to the locker room with assistance. He was taken to the hospital for further tests.
As of this writing, Chimera’s biggest complaint was a sore neck. He faces concussion baseline tests in Columbus this weekend, but he may be back sooner than anyone dreamed when he was wheeled off the ice on a stretcher.
Finally, the ugly category has to include penalty issues. Dorsett took two awful penalties at the end of the Nashville game, which led directly to the loss. While Dorsett has nice hands, and a lot of grit, there is a fine line between grit and immaturity. He has shown a propensity to take childish penalties at the wrong time, and to let emotions get in the way of his game. He needs to overcome that – soon – if he wants to have an established role with the club.
Let’s face it – this is preseason, and the Jackets are taking a long hard look at lots of players. They added only a few pieces this summer, so they do not have the massive integration effort they faced last year, when half the squad turned over. Working together seamlessly is tough when you are playing that many people.
Secondly, all three games have been on the road, and the Penguins clearly were giving their stars lots of ice time to win for the home crowd. With the next round of cuts coming on Sunday, and the first home game on Monday, we should see a solidifying product.
The shakedown period is rapidly coming to an end. Nobody should panic at what we have seen so far, but the time is coming to pull it all together. There are going to be some tough decisions coming up, so both Hitchcock and Howson would benefit from coherent play for three consecutive periods. While Monday’s game will likely feature more experimentation, I expect to see more established lines and pairings by Game 5.
The next seven days will be huge – hang on for the ride.