Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Ryan Johansen and maintaining proper perspective


One of the many definitions of this all important word is “point of view”.  Your perspective is your point of view.  Your perspective is an indication of how you see things.

Some have a much better perspective when it comes to certain situations.  As fans, we have a very limited perspective on a lot of the business side of things in the NHL.  This very much applies to us when it comes to the negotiations taking place between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Ryan Johansen.

When the news broke that there was an impasse in the negotiations, many fans started to panic.  Many of those same fans saw the quotes that Johansen gave to Aaron Portzline, and began imagining the worst.  The issue here is that this panic comes from a very limited perspective.  We read a quote, and determine for ourselves what it could mean.  In other words, we formed an opinion based on what happened.  However, a closer look at this reveals a much different picture.  My hope is that after you read this, that you will gain a different perspective of this situation.  You should not have anything to worry about.  Remember, today is only July 2nd.  The season is just under 100 days out yet.  What is transpiring here is normal day to day stuff in the business side of the NHL.

Let’s start by laying the groundwork.  On one side, you have upper management of the Blue Jackets.  They just saw their star 21 year old center come off of a career year, scoring 33 goals and playing in all 82 games.  He chipped in 6 playoff points as well.  But, at the same time, management also recalls that Johansen had scored 14 goals total in his previous 107 NHL games (lockout year, he played in Springfield and scored 17 goals in that limited time).  In addition, Johansen has had his ups and downs, including being benched at times.  Is this for real, or a one hit wonder?

On the other side, you have Ryan Johansen.  It was his best season ever.  His 33 goals were tied for 12th in the league.  His game was elevated to a new level.  He is now a restricted free agent.  His cap hit according to cap geek this past season was $870,000. This doesn’t count the nearly $1.1 million bonus he got.  Being a 30 goal scorer at age 21 has to account for something, right? 
The two sides negotiating each have an agenda they want to achieve.  They meet up, and uh oh, they are on different pages.  Management offers a 2-3 year bridge contract.  Johansen calls this move “A slap in the face.”  He is looking for a longer term and a bigger payday.  Does this mean trouble in paradise?  Not so fast!

What you just read above is COMMON.  It is ROUTINE.  It is EXPECTED. That is the business side of hockey.  The initial meeting established what each side wants.  They departed for a time, and they’ll be back at it again.  Here is the key: they each have a common interest and goal.  Jarmo wants Johansen here.  He on numerous occasions has said as much.  Remember the draft?  If not, “click” your mouse and remind yourself of what Jarmo did to teams who inquired about Johansen. Johansen is priority number one.  Johansen has also stated, even when negotiations didn't go as planned, he wants to be here.  When you are in the heat of a moment, and something didn't go the way you thought, you would react in a certain kind of way.  Think of Johansen’s slap in face comment as that.  If this was a bigger issue, there is no way he expresses interest in wanting to be here. 

So now what?  Most negotiations end up in some kind of compromise.  Each side will back off their initial demand and find common ground to work with.  The eventual agreement is usually somewhere in the middle of what each side is looking for.  Expect that to be the same here.  Management knows what kind of talent Johansen is.  We need to trust that this situation is very much under control, and that a fair agreement will be reached that will satisfy both sides.  Just remember, keep a proper perspective.  If you see the big picture, you will realize that you have nothing to worry about.  Johansen will be back with a new contract, and all will be right at Nationwide Arena.


Saturday, April 26, 2014

Why Jackets/Pens shouldn't be a surprise to anyone.

5 and 0.

Leading up to the beginning of the Jackets/Pens series, that's all you heard. Oh, the Pens went 5-0 in the regular season against the Jackets.  A vast majority, but not everybody, thought that this would be a pushover series for the Pens.  Many deemed this a "good match up" for them.  It wasn't the Flyers.  It wasn't the Red Wings.  Instead, it was against a team who was only making its 2nd ever trip to the postseason.  And to top that off, it was against a team who had never won a playoff game in their franchise history.

However! A closer look at things actually paints a completely different picture.  And quite honestly, we all should have seen this one coming.

Today, we are going to look at the key contributing factors which indicate why this series in fact is tied going into Game 5 tonight.  As you will see, the pieces were already in place prior to the start of the series to indicate that this was going to be a very close series.  Some of those factors were easy to see.  Others not so much, but a little digging into the facts will bring these to light.

1. Playing styles:  When comparing these two teams, one of the first things that should stick out is the contrast of playing styles.  Pens love up and down, lots of scoring chances.  Jackets love that in your face, grinding style that can wear teams out.  One key component to this that I think often gets overlooked here is this: The style the Jackets play is the Western Conference style of hockey.  Of course, that's where they were until this year.  It's the kind of hockey that can downright frustrate you when things are clicking.  The Jackets have been able to do a great job for the most part (sans the moments where Pens score in quick bunches) of playing their style of game. Think for a second about waves in the middle of the ocean.  They keep coming relentlessly.  Eventually, when you get hit by these waves enough, you don't wanna be hit anymore.  You lose your desire to want to be in that situation.  The Jackets send lines out (all 5 of them, see what I did there?) like these waves in the ocean.  Eventually, it starts to wear on the opposition.  It hurts. Anyone who plays this kind of style with consistency and success will more often than not be in every game. To play this style is one thing, but to be able to score and stop the other team from scoring while playing this style is something else totally.  This leads us to our next factor.

2. Jackets can do it all: Here is something that a lot of those who don't follow the Jackets don't realize.  The Jackets finished in the upper half of the league in goals for, goals against, and goal differential.  They were tied for 13th in goals for, and 11th in both goals against and goal differential.  In other words, the Jackets were more or less a top 10 team in those aspects.  They didn't get there by accident.  So let's put 1 and 2 together.  They play a style that is bruising, a style that rolls 4 lines, and a style in which they can score.  That adds up to winning in my book.

3. Familiarity: When you play a team five times in the season, independent of how the games turned out, you will get to know each other some.  You see how they handle a lot of different situations.  That knowledge is key.  You can game plan around tendencies that are picked up in these games.  In other words, the most important lesson from the game is not that you lost, is that you see how they played certain situations.  So when the next game rolls around, you will be ready for it.  Clearly the Jackets have demonstrated this.  Couldn't win in regular season.  But they're winning now when it matters most.

4. Leadership: Here is my favorite one, and it's one that isn't getting very much play.  Going into this series, ask yourself this question. "Which team has more leadership?" Many would probably answer the Pens due to the star power they have, and oodles of playoff experience.  Here's my question back to you then, "Are you sure about that answer?" They may have stars, and they may have experience.  But is leadership based on those factors? Last I checked, you can be a leader and not considered a "star".  Last I checked, you can be a leader and have never played in a playoff game before.  Leadership goes way beyond these things.  In fact, I believe there is more leadership on the Jackets than there is on the Penguins.  There, I said it.  Seriously though.  Look at both teams right now, and try to convince me otherwise.  There is an interesting dynamic going on right now.  This is where I believe not having a captain proves very large.  Take a look at guys like Jack Johnson, and Brandon Dubinsky, and Nick Foligno, and they way they are carrying themselves and the team right now.  They are setting an example for the team to follow, and it is paying huge dividends.  You just don't see this with the Pens right now.  The best example of leadership actually came in the form of the owner, Mario Lemieux.  After Game 4, he went to the locker room and specifically went to visit Marc Andre Fleury.  They even had a conversation in French.  Now that's leadership.  Lemieux always had it.  Notice none of the players have done things like this.  Pens are a very prideful bunch.  It's biting them big time now.

So all things considered, we have an even match up.  It is not at all surprising we are in this spot.  The evidence was there even before this series began.  And guess what, it will not be at all surprising if the Jackets win this series.  Let's stop being surprised at what is unfolding here.  The reality is that the Jackets are here to stay, and it's only gonna get better from here.

Saturday, April 19, 2014

So what does it take to win?

It's the 3rd period of Game 7.  You are trailing 4-1 with only 10 minutes left. Things are not looking good at all.  The home crowd is stunned silent.  All hope seems lost.  Then in a flash, quicker than you can blink, the score is tied as we go to overtime.  Then in quick fashion, you win in overtime.  Who saw this coming?

It's Game 5 of the Conference Semis.  You're the top seed.  You find yourself down 3-1 and on the brink of elimination.  You have no choice but to find a way to win or else it's all over.  For the balance of four games, your team hasn't played anywhere near where it could.  Then in a flash, your best player takes over, helps you win Game 5.  Then that propels you to winning both Games 6 and 7 to advance on.

Of course, the two teams I'm talking about above are last year's Stanley Cup Finalists: The Boston Bruins and the Chicago Blackhawks.

We are here today to talk about the topic of what does it take to win in this day and age of hockey.  Gone are the days of dominate, multiple Cup winning teams, like the Edmonton Oilers or the New York Islanders.  Gone too are the days of wide open, high scoring hockey.  It's simply a different kind of game today.  What it took to win back then is distinctly different than what it takes to win today.  More often than not, the clear best team won.  Now, that is hardly ever the case.

Want proof?  Name the last team to win the Stanley Cup and the President's trophy in the same season?  It happens to be last year's Blackhawks team (in a shortened season).  Since 1992-1993, which is 20 seasons excluding the lockout, the team that won the President's trophy has won the Stanley Cup 6 times (including last year's Blackhawks). That is only 30% of the time for you math majors.  In fact, here's the complete breakdown of the fate of President Trophy winning teams:

Win Stanley Cup Finals: 6
Lose Stanley Cup Finals: 2
Lose Conference Finals: 5
Lose Conference Semis: 1
Lose Conference Quarters: 6

Couple of interesting things to note here:

1. Teams made the Cup Finals less than half the time (8 of 20)
2. Teams had same odds of losing in 1st round as they did winning the Cup. (30%)
3. Odds of getting to at least the Conference Finals was decent (65%)

Now that we have this detail, it should give you a perspective about just how hard winning this tournament is.  You have to factor in so many different variables.  Some examples of those are the match ups, injuries, execution, skill, and luck, among many others.  Let's now look at a couple of different variables and see how it can play out.

1. Match ups:  This is a big one.  Every team has a weakness.  The size of the weakness may vary, but the weakness is still there.  Depending on a match up, one team may be able to better expose your weakness than another.  This year, I submit the Detroit/Boston series as an example.  This match up for Boston presents them with challenges.  Detroit can bring an element of speed that can neutralize Boston's physical style of play.  Now does that mean Boston can't beat Detroit?  I'm not saying that.  I'm just saying that Detroit better exposes a potential weakness to Boston's game.  Here is another example, and I'll use the Penguins/Blue Jackets series to explain.  Pittsburgh has a great power play.  Columbus' penalty kill has been better, but can be exposed.  Pittsburgh presents a match up concern in that part of the game.  I'm not saying that Columbus can't stop the Pens Power Play, I'm just saying that Pittsburgh has a better chance of exposing this part of the game than someone else who has a weaker Power Play.  In fact, that's why in my opinion, the Rangers would have been a better match up for Columbus.

2. Injuries: This of course must be factored in.  Whether it is in the form of players getting healthy for the playoffs, or players playing hurt, or getting injured during the playoffs.  Depending on the severity of the injury, a team's performance can be greatly impacted.  Those that deal with this element the best generally have the best chance of winning.

3. Execution: You have to execute.  Just because the paper says you can do it, doesn't mean anything if you can't make it happen on the ice.  This is self explanatory.  Yet, it is important to point out.  Prime example of this would be Bob in Game 1.  If he stops Brandon Sutter's GWG, who knows what happens after. Or how about the disappearance of Corey Perry from last year's playoffs?  His lack of execution led the Ducks to the playoff exits.  One can never underestimate how big executing your game plan is.

4. Skill: This of course is a part of any series.  Every team has skill to varying degrees.  A lot of fans look at this as the end all when it comes to trying to predict a series.  It doesn't always work that way, in fact, it rarely works that way.  The Pens have skill.  Yet, why do they keep getting bounced from the playoffs?  Reread the above to understand why.  And please don't tell me it's all on Marc Andre Fleury.  Yes, he is part of the issue, but not the whole thing.  Pittsburgh does not match up well with Boston and it's style of play. They don't have the speed Detroit has. They couldn't execute anything defensively, which led to many Grade A scoring chances on Fleury, very few of which anyone could stop.  Skill is a factor, just be careful that you make sure you include the other factors too.

5. Luck: You can't ignore this one.  Things happen.  You can't predict them. But man, it can alter the outcome of a series in a flash.  A bouncing puck, a ricochet off the boards in front of your net, are just some of the many "lucky" things that can happen.  Great teams find a way to be in position to take advantage of these situations.  If you are in position, that lucky bounce can literally make a hero out of you.  I just think back to some Cup winning goals to illustrate this.  Uwe Krupp (remember him?), slap shot from the blue line, through all that traffic to beat Florida in Game 4 1996.  How does that puck get through? Regardless, he was in position to be successful. As luck would have it, that moment defined a franchise. Or how about Brett Hull in 1999, the in the crease goal against Dominik Hasek? That referee should have disallowed the goal, right?  But as luck would have it, goal stands, and Dallas owns a Stanley Cup.  I can keep going, but you see the point.

Think of winning as putting the above ingredients in a blender, and making a smoothie out of it.  The right combination of things gets the job done.  What should you take from this?  Never forget how hard hockey is. Never forget how much every player wants to win. Never forget how hard it is to win.  When the team does win, it is worth celebrating, because what they just accomplished was hard to do.  Remember, the competition night in and night out are the best players in the world.  There is nothing to be ashamed of.  Just making these playoffs is an accomplishment in itself, given you had to make it through 82 grueling games.  Remember as well that anyone can beat anyone on any given night. With so many variables constantly in play, there is always a chance.  Some chances may be better than others, but there is always a chance. Don't ever give up as a fan until that final horn goes off, or that goal in overtime is scored.  Winning involves so many things. It is for this reason that hockey is the greatest sport in the world.  Enjoy the moment, and enjoy what the Jackets are building here.  Sooner rather than later, winning will be a constant in the beautiful city of Columbus.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Five underrated keys to Jackets/Pens

Is it Wednesday yet?

That is probably the most commonly asked question in and around Columbus this week, and with good reason.  We are sitting here on April 14th, and we have important games to talk about.  We don’t have to talk about the draft, or free agency, or what next season may look like as of yet.  We can focus on watching the Jackets embark on the Stanley Cup playoffs, for only the 2nd time in team history.  And not only that, but to see the Jackets play none other than the Pittsburgh Penguins.

My goal here today is to share some keys to who will win this series.  I don’t want to dwell in the obvious though (otherwise you wouldn't read it). I’m going to focus on some under the radar keys that will go a long way in determining a winner.  With that in mind, let’s have at this, shall we?
      The other side of the story – Marc-Andre Fleury: We all know his recent playoff struggles.  Jokes have been flying left and right about how he couldn't stop a beach ball, let alone a shot on goal.  But what is not getting a lot of play in the media is what Fleury is thinking.  He has taken his recent playoff struggles very personally.  He came into this season with a big chip on his shoulder.  Talk in Pittsburgh coming into the season was should Fleury even rejoin the team?  After it was determined that Bylsma was staying in Pittsburgh for this season, one of the first things the Penguins did was give a vote of confidence to Fleury as their number one goaltender.  He has taken that and turned it into a nice regular season.  He has had many nice regular seasons.  The ultimate test comes now that the playoffs are starting.  Now let’s remember something from last playoffs.  Fleury opened the playoffs with a shutout.  It was only after that did it all crumble on him.  Truth be told, it wasn’t all on Fleury. He let in many softies.  Yet, the bigger issue was the defense, and how wide open opponents were in getting shots on goal.  The Pens know all this.  They are gonna come into this series with a mindset of making sure Fleury can find his groove early and often.  It will be imperative of CBJ to strike quickly, so that doubt can creep back in.  If CBJ can get Fleury thinking about his past, that will give them a big psychological advantage, one which you need to have over a team as talented as the Penguins. 
      Bottom Six Depth: If CBJ does have an advantage right now over the Penguins, it’s in their bottom six forwards.  The Pens right now don’t even know who all they will play in those positions as of yet.  The Pens acquired Marcel Goc at the deadline to give them Bottom six depth, only to lose him to a lower body injury.  Word is that he won’t be ready for Game 1.  The Pens have mixed and matched the third line all season.  As a result of the line shuffling, there is no chemistry there.  With the way CBJ rolls 4 lines at you, CBJ should be able to get some depth scoring against the Pens bottom six, all this while the likes of Crosby, Malkin, Kunitz, Neal are all sitting on the bench.  So it will be up to guys like Matt Calvert, Cam Atkinson, Derek MacKenzie and others to provide that depth scoring.
      CBJ is better than the NYI – Circle back to last year for a minute.  The Pens played Round 1 against the New York Islanders.  The Isles gave the Pens everything they could handle, and then some before losing in OT in Game 6.  When you look back at that series from last year, the weak link for the Isles was their goalie Evgeni Nabokov.  He couldn’t make a big stop for them when the Isles had momentum.  This year, the Pens are playing against the reigning Vezina trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky.  Goals will be harder to come by.  If the Pens find themselves in a pinch, it will be much tougher sledding, given that CBJ is sounder defensively than the Isles were. Offensively, the Jackets and Isles are comparable in goal scoring.  CBJ scored 231 goals.  The Isles were on pace for 237 had they played 82 games.  The point here is this: Those expecting a Pens sweep, better rethink their thoughts.  It would be of no surprise if CBJ makes this a long series.  CBJ is better overall than the Isles were.  Not sure I can say Pens are any better.
      CBJ must stop: Evgeni Malkin and James Neal – This to me will be the biggest sign of who comes out on top in this series.  Crosby and Kunitz will get theirs.  But if CBJ can clamp down on the Pens 2nd line, they are greatly increasing their chances of winning.  I single these two out because I see them as having the greatest chance of mentally losing focus on the Pens if things don’t go right.  We all know Neal and his careless antics he can pull.  Malkin to a lesser degree is the same way.  They will each take dumb penalties at the worst times.  If you can get them frustrated, you affect not only their 2nd line, but their top Power Play.  The effects of this are seen in multiple aspects of their game.  It will be up to Brandon Dubinsky’s line to get a bit under the skin of Neal and Malkin.  Whoever wins this battle to me wins the series. 
      Injuries, and chemistry (or lack thereof): It is well documented the injuries the Pens have faced this season.  The number of man games lost is over 500.  Hall of fame sports writer Dave Molinari points out that the average number of man games lost per game was just under 7 per contest.  That is a ridiculous number of injuries.  With that, comes a ton of lineup changes and line shuffling.  With that, comes trying to find chemistry.  The biggest example of this comes when you look at the Pens top line.  You have Crosby and Kunitz.  What you don’t have is Pascal Dupuis.  That is a HUGE loss for the Pens.  They really haven’t been able to replace him this season.  Now look at the 2nd line.  Neal/Malkin and many others have played with them.  But there hasn’t been a staple with them.  The bottom six as documented above has been shuffled numerous times.  Now healthy bodies are coming back.  Yet, they haven’t played a lot together.  What does this mean?  To me, it means that it could take time to redevelop (or develop) chemistry.  CBJ has a great opportunity to expose this.  A bad pass here, a mistimed play there, a miscommunication later on, could all lead to great scoring chances for CBJ.  If CBJ can score early on, that will put even more pressure on the Pens to find that chemistry in a short amount of time.  Let doubt creep in, you never know what could happen.

       There you have it.  These are the five things I will be watching for as this series starts out.  Remember, #WeAreThe5thLine.  Tweet this every chance you get. Let’s show Pittsburgh that we are a hockey town!!!!

Sunday, April 6, 2014

So where do they stand?

We have made it.  We are now in the final week of the regular season.  The races are tight.  Every game and point matters.  And finally, we can have a discussion about the possibilities as it relates to our beloved Blue Jackets.  That's what this post will be designed to do.  We are going to first answer some common questions in regards to the playoffs.  Then we will look at where teams stand in relationship to the Jackets for playoff positioning.  You'll be able to watch the games this week knowing what to look for.

First, let's define some important terms.  First is ROW.  This is Regulation Wins.  This is also the first tiebreaker if teams are tied in points.  Basically, it is the number of wins you have that didn't go to overtime or a shootout.  When we compare teams, you will see how many ROW each of them have.

Let's now look at tiebreaking procedures.  The first is ROW.  If that is tied, then next is points earned against the tied team.  Here is where it gets interesting.  When there are an even number of games played, look at who amassed the most points.  But when there is an odd number of games, there is an interesting quirk.  Whichever city had more home games (or the odd game), that first game gets dropped and doesn't count toward determining this tiebreaker.  I will illustrate below an example of this, because it will involve the Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes.  If more than two teams are involved, the tiebreaker is % of points earned amongst those teams.  If that is tied, then regular season goal differential is the tiebreaker.

Let's look at magic numbers next.  That number is defined as the number of points gained by higher team, and points lost by the trailing team.  It also factors in any tiebreakers, such as listed above.  This will also be illustrated below. You take the max points of the trailing team (eg CBJ has 85 points and 5 games left, can get 10 more points, max of 95), then compare that to the leading team.  Magic number is Max points -current points. You add 1 point if the trailing team is winning the tiebreaker.

Now that we have a general understanding of the above, we will now look team by team compared to the Blue Jackets to see what possibilities there are.  It will also give you a better understanding of what to root for when it comes to scoreboard watching.  Here we go.

New York Rangers (91 points) - 3 games left
They are 1 point away from clinching a playoff spot.
For Jackets to overtake them, Jackets must have a higher point total, since Rangers lead ROW 39-34. Even if CBJ tied Rangers in ROW, Rangers win season series 5 points to 4 points (one of CBJ wins was a shootout.)
The Rangers magic number to finish ahead of Columbus is 4.  Any combination of Rangers points gained and Jackets points lost that equal 4 ensures Rangers will finish ahead of the Jackets.

Philadelphia Flyers (87 points) - 5 games left
Flyers currently lead row 36-34.  Now if the Jackets finish tied in ROW, CBJ wins tiebreak, as they have won the season series from the Flyers.  As it stands now, Flyers own tiebreak due to more ROW.  This makes the Flyers magic number to finish ahead of CBJ 8 (CBJ max 95 points - 87 points Flyers have).  This race could go all the way to the end.

Detroit Red Wings (88 points) - 4 games left
Jackets lead Wings in ROW 34-32.  Now here will be a good example of the "odd game" season series coming into play in even of ROW tie.  CBJ leads season series 2-1.  CBJ/Wings had two of the games in Columbus.  By tiebreaker rules, 1st game at Nationwide is dropped.  This means they each have 2 points.  Next tiebreaker is goal differential.  CBJ is +8 and Wings are -11.  CBJ wins the tiebreak with Detroit.  So, Detroit magic number is 8 (CBJ max 95 - 88 Wings points +1 point for CBJ owning tiebreaker.) Starting to get this yet? :)

New Jersey Devils (84 points) - 4 games left
Jackets and Devils currently tied 34-34 in ROW.  CBJ leads season series 3-1, so they would win tiebreak with them as of this moment.  This does make the magic number for CBJ to finish ahead of Devils (and make playoffs for that matter) is 7.  New Jersey is right now the team we need to most root against.

Toronto, Washington, Ottawa cannot catch up to the Jackets in ROW.  This makes the CBJ magic number on these teams as follows: Caps 6, Leafs 5, Sens 3.

I'll just make a mention of Carolina for a moment.  CBJ leads in ROW 34-33.  In the event of ROW tie, the Canes actually win the season series Tiebreaker by the "odd game" rule.  They have played 5 games against each other.  The first game doesn't count in determining season series (which was CBJ win in Raleigh by the way).  Not counting that game, series is 2-2, with Carolina getting a point for OT loss.  If Canes were to be back in race, that would be an odd twist.  Luckily, magic number sits at 3.

There you have it.  The upcoming week is going to be intense, drama filled, but most importantly, FUN! My hope is that you got something out of this.  Questions about this?  Drop me a line on Twitter, @cbjtherapy.

Big shout out to @thecbjartillery.  The concept of #WeAreThe5thLine is genius! We are always ready for fight.  And we will always give 100% as fans to this organization.  If you haven't switched your avi, show your support and be part of the 5th line!!

Saturday, March 29, 2014

CBJ Viewers Guide

One of the best things that anyone can be in life is prepared.  You know what to expect.  You know the full story. This version of Daily Therapy will prepare you for the upcoming stretch run.  We are going to take a look at the teams involved in either the Metro Race, or the Wild Card.  We will also view it in the eyes of what is best for the Columbus Blue Jackets (seriously, is there any other way to do this?)

Let's go team by team and see what is coming for them, and what we can expect:

New York Rangers
Current Record 41-30-4 (86 Points)
7 Games Left
3 Home Games (Ottawa, Carolina, Buffalo)
4 Road Games (Edmonton, Vancouver, Colorado, Montreal)

Unless King Henrik all of a sudden falls off the face of the Earth, there's a really good chance they make the playoffs.  Their remaining home games are against teams that most likely miss the playoffs. They are also 6 points up on the teams fighting for the Wild Card.  Their main concern here will be getting home ice in the First Round.  Yet, they have been a better road team this year (figure that one out). The Flyers, as of now, have the inside track to the Metro's 2nd place team (down 1 point, but have 2 games in hand). If things hold, Rangers/Flyers would be a First Round bloodbath.

Philadelphia Flyers
Current Record 39-27-7 (85 Points)
9 Games Left
4 Homes Games (Boston, Columbus, Buffalo, Carolina)
5 Road Games (St Louis, Boston, Florida, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh)

What a roller coaster season this has been.  They came out of the gates about as bad as anyone can.  Their coach gets fired.  Craig Berube comes in, and over the course of the season, they have become one of the hottest teams in the league.  Claude Giroux has turned his game around.  Steve Mason has held his own, even earning a new contract.  Guys like Matt Read, Sean Courturier, and Wayne Simmonds have given them a big boost.  They are 5 points up on the Wild Card pack.  But let's take a look at this schedule.  It's hard. But an even closer look shows that the front end of it is harder.  They have Bruins twice, and the Blues (each still trying to clinch their conferences number one seeds). So if the Jackets want to make a move on the Flyers, it needs to be now! Flyers play the Pens 2nd to last game of the year, when Pens probably already have the number two seed locked up. Tampa might also have their place locked up.  The big game will be that Jackets/Flyers game on April 3rd.  Given the schedules, that game could be for 3rd in the Metro.  Jacket need to beat Canes and Avs.  Flyers need to lose to Bruins and Blues.  If that happens, which it could, Jackets win puts them up to 3rd.  Now or never my friends.

Columbus Blue Jackets
Current Record 37-30-6 (80 points)
9 Games Left
4 Home Games (Colorado, Chicago, NY Islanders, Phoenix)
5 Road Games (Carolina, Philadelphia, Dallas, Tampa Bay, Florida)

After a slow start to the season which has included overcoming injuries (Horton, Bob among others), the Jackets find themselves in a spot in which they can make their 2nd ever trip to the NHL playoffs.  It's not going to be easy.  There will be lots of anxious moments.  The opportunity is there though.  Honestly, it comes down to which Blue Jackets team shows up.  They are good enough to win the last 9 games.  They are also inconsistent enough to lose them all.  The answer as to how the season ends is probably somewhere in the middle.  Realistically, Jackets probably need 12 points to feel safe about the playoffs.  That would be 6-3-0 finish. Anything less than 12 points, and it's gonna be sweating time.  Jackets played great for about 50 minutes on Friday against the Pens.  Then it all evaporated in 47 seconds.  That is the biggest x-factor in these final 9 games.  The level of consistency will be the reason the Jackets make or miss the playoffs.  Jackets have their last 2 games in Florida.  Tampa may have clinched all they could, and may rest players.  Florida is out.  So, that means the Jackets may have to clinch on the road, as their final 3 games are on the road.  Remember Jackets get 1-0 lead on Dallas on April 9th.  Bottom line, if the Jackets can take care of their business, they control their own destiny.  They own the ROW tiebreaker by wide margin on the other Wild Card hopefuls.  Really there is not much else to say except "Go out and get it.  It's for the taking." You do your thing, you are in the playoffs.  There is some margin for error, thanks to the Wings, Leafs, and Caps blowing their chances.  So if Jackets lose a couple games, keep the big picture in mind. As you will see below, the teams the Jackets are fighting don't have it easy either.  At this point, get in the playoffs, and then see what happens.

Detroit Red Wings
Current Record 33-26-14 (80 points)
9 Games Left
4 Homes Games (Tampa Bay, Boston, Buffalo, Carolina)
5 Road Games (Toronto, Montreal, Buffalo, Pittsburgh, St Louis)

Washington Capitals
Current Record 34-28-12 (80 Points)
8 Games Left
3 Home Games (Dallas, Chicago, Tampa Bay)
5 Road Games (Nashville, New Jersey, NY Islanders, St Louis, Carolina)

Toronto Maple Leafs
Current Record 36-31-8 (80 Points)
7 Games Left
4 Home Games (Detroit, Calgary, Boston, Winnipeg)
3 Road Games (Tampa Bay, Florida, Ottawa)

New Jersey Devils
Current Record 31-28-14 (76 Points)
9 Games Left
5 Home Games (Florida, Washington, Calgary, NY Islanders, Boston)
4 Road Games (NY Islanders, Buffalo, Carolina, Ottawa)

Ottawa Senators
Current Record 30-29-14 (74 Points)
9 Games Left
6 Home Games (Calgary, Carolina, NY Islanders, Montreal, New Jersey, Toronto)
3 Road Games (NY Rangers, NY Islanders, Pittsburgh)

Carolina Hurricanes
Current Record 32-32-9 (73 Points)
9 Games Left
4 Home Games (Columbus, Dallas, New Jersey, Washington)
5 Road Games (Ottawa, Pittsburgh, NY Rangers, Detroit, Philadelphia)

I'm just going to make a couple of points on the 5 teams above (Washington, Toronto, New Jersey, Ottawa, Carolina). Not saying that they will make playoffs, but keep an eye on New Jersey and Ottawa.  They each have a string of home games coming up that are very winnable.  Their biggest challenge is fact that 4 teams have 80 points at this time.  But if any of them stumble, New Jersey and Ottawa could make one final charge. New Jersey could very easily go 8-1 last 9 games, which would put them at 94 points.  That probably makes it in this Eastern Conference.  Carolina is listed here because they play a bunch of teams fighting for position.  They could be an interesting spoiler.  Of the 4 teams with 80 points, there is only one more game amongst them that is heads up, that is tonight's Wings/Leafs game.  We want Toronto winning this game due to games in hand.  Washington already lost today (thank you Boston).  If the Jackets can knock off Carolina tonight, it will dramatically increase Jackets chances of making the playoffs.

There you go.  You now see what is left for the Eastern playoff contenders.  Follow us @cbjtherapy from now til the end for all the latest updates on the playoffs.  Let this finally be the year we break through, and play in the playoffs.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Every game matters

Imagine for just a moment that the Columbus Blue Jackets had just 2 more points in the standings.

That would put them at 80 points.  Not only that, it would put them in the playoffs as of today.  Instead of that however, they have 78 points, and would be out of the playoffs as of today.  Now think about this.  The Jackets have a record which includes 29 non-OT losses.  Even if just one of those losses was a win, that would be enough to put the Jackets in the playoffs as of today.  Now think about last year.  If the Jackets had 2 more points (heck, even just 1 more point), they would have been in the playoffs. 

The above proves one universal truth in hockey:  Every game matters!  It doesn’t matter if the game is in October or April, or anywhere in between, every game matters.  It doesn’t matter if you are safely in the playoffs, fighting for the playoffs, or are out of the playoffs, every game matters. 

It is really amazing to me how many people talk about games that don’t matter.  For instance, when two teams play late in the year that are out of the playoffs, you hear it said that the game doesn’t matter.  Or think of when an East team plays a West team in October.  You hear it said that losing doesn’t matter as much.  Or even more, going to overtime, and losing the game.  You then hear it said that losing that point to the other conference doesn’t matter as much. 

Sigh.  How is it possible that a game doesn’t matter?  No matter what the situation is, the game matters.  It may matter for different reasons, many of which a casual fan may not think of, but it still matters.  Let’s explore some different scenarios, and we will see why every game matters.

Scenario 1 – Random scenario, game 20 of the season.  You are playing against a team in the other conference.  The game is tight checking all the way, but you lose a heartbreaker 1-0.  You had many chances to score, including 0 for 7 on the Power Play.  Now, your season is over. You missed the playoffs by 2 points.  I know you can look at any game, but in this example, if you click on just one of those power plays, the game could have ended up different.  Point being, what you do in game 20 (or any game) can and will dictate if you make the playoffs. 

Scenario 2 – Same as scenario 1, except you get to overtime, and you get a point.  Then you lose in the overtime.  That one point is the very thing that could keep you from the playoffs. This cannot be understated. 

The above scenarios dictate those in the playoff picture.  Now let’s look at those not in the playoffs.

Scenario 3 – It is Game 80. Two teams are playing that are out of playoff contention.  Many will look at this game and say it doesn’t matter.  On the contrary, you learn a lot about teams and players as result of these games.  First, you get a chance to see who plays hard when there isn’t as much on the line.  These are the kind of players you want playing for you.  Those not playing as hard do stick out in these kinds of games.  If they don’t play hard now, chances are, they don’t play as hard when things do get difficult later.  You get a good glimpse of character in these kinds of games.  And trust me, many watch these games.  Higher ups watch, the media watches, fans watch.  Games like this might not matter in the standings, but the impact of these games can be felt in future years.  A player’s performance can be a determining factor in deciding if they will be on a roster the following year.  The game may seem small at the time, but don’t underestimate the impact.

Now that you see that every game matters for a different reason, let’s apply this to the current state of the Columbus Blue Jackets.

I’m writing this as of 8pm on Sunday March 23rd.  At this moment, the Jackets have 78 points.  Those 2 extra points would mean we are in the playoffs if the season were to end today.  So, given how close the standings are, there is a very good chance that the Jackets will either be in or out of the playoffs by 2 points or less.  So that October game we should have won and didn’t, yep, it mattered. 

Let’s look at today’s game against the Islanders for a second.  Jackets lost 2-0.  The Islanders are basically looking ahead to next year.  But it doesn’t mean the game is meaningless for them.  They have players that are showing that they want to be on a roster next year.  They are literally playing for their hockey lives.  That is why it can be very dangerous to play a team like the Islanders late in the year.  They don’t have the pressure the Blue Jackets have.  They already know they are out of it.  So they can just play loose and see what happens.  They can be more aggressive.  When this happens against a team who is struggling with confidence, then games like this can happen.  But it is a perfect representation of scenario 3.  And in addition, when a team has a chance to knock someone else out of the playoffs, there’s more motivation to play. 

Yes, today was definitely frustrating.  But, the season is far from over.  No matter what ends up happening down the stretch, it is still a great day to be a Blue Jackets fan.  There are 11 games left.  No matter where the Jackets are in the standings, each game will matter for some reason.  There will be always something to watch for.  If team does well, the players who rise to the occasion will stand out.  If the team doesn’t do well, the reasons for that will stand out. 

Every game matters.  That will never change.