Normally I am an upper deck dweller at CBJ games. My half season ticket package is behind the west goal, which lends a certain perspective on games and how the team is playing. Up high the speed and size of the game are lost, but the puck movement and positioning of players becomes so much more obvious to the eye. At last night’s game against the Flames, I was down in section 116 and only a few rows up from the ice. Several things struck me that I had not been seeing in previous games.
Goaltending and Defense – Steve Mason looked good, almost great. But then again the defense in front of him was playing well. The other five guys on the ice with Mason were fighting for pucks and doing what it took to dig the puck out of the opposing player’s stick. Mason’s play was calm and collected, and even after the one regulation goal he did not tighten up. I cannot fault the Jarome Iginla goal against Mason, a bad penalty leads to a powerplay and a stud scorer with the puck in front of the net and the time to shoot. Even so, Mason almost had that stopped. How many times this year has Mason had an awful game and the real culprit is a lazy or disorganized defense in front of him? Not just games where the Jackets just didn’t win, but games where Mason was his familiar awful self. I bet there is very high correlation.
Passing – I did not keep count, but all too often scoring chances or simple offensive pressure was broken up by bad passing. Not necessarily passes that went the wrong direction, but rather passes where the puck arrived wobbling, floating, or bouncing in some fashion. Watch a replay of last night’s game and count how many opportunities for a shot from the blueline are lost because a puck bounced over the stick blade of a Jacket player. On an individual basis this looks to be bad luck. Sometimes a puck is bouncing or rolling and there is nothing to be done about keeping it in the offensive zone. After a while it becomes a pattern and not being a hockey player myself I am not sure of the answer. Are the Jackets passing too quickly, and not taking the time to properly settle the puck for a pass? Or are they just crappy passers? With as much passing as this team does, one would think they would have it mastered.
Passing, part II – I noticed a glaring passing error right in front of me in the third period, but I know this happens all too frequently. I don’t remember the exact players, so let’s say Jacket A passed across the defensive zone to Jacket B just inside the blueline. The point of the pass was to hit Jacket B who was moving up ice and get the puck into the offensive zone for at least a line change. The only problem was that on the direct line between Jacket A and Jacket B, was Flame C. I think we can all guess what happens in this little geometry problem. To be sure, it did not lead to a goal that time but it’s a giveaway that happens all too often.
Clearing the puck – This is simple, time and again I watched the Jackets dig the puck out along the boards and make the clearing attempt…towards the middle of the ice. Its fairly basic strategy to make your clearing attempts along the boards, and not towards the middle in your defensive zone. Last night it worked out most of the time, because the team was playing some heads up defense and was, frankly, lucky.
Officiating – This is not a gripe that the Jackets got hosed on calls. Quite the opposite. For most of the game neither team seemed to know what the officials were doing. The first period roughing call on R.J. Umberger was weak at best, and I am not sure anybody in the arena had any idea what the unsportsmanlike call on Curtis Glencross was about. Overall just a poorly called game. The only call that did have an impact on the game was the tripping call on Derek MacKenzie that led to the Flames tying goal. It was a good call, and DMac knew it as he said a few choice words to himself on the way to the box. I would also like to have a someway off penalizing a team in the shootout. A look at the box score shows that Jay Bouwmeester picked up double minor for high-sticking at the end of the overtime. Doesn’t seem right that Calgary essentially gets away with that, but I don’t have any great suggestions.
Those are my observations from the good seats. Back to sitting with the regular folks on Saturday. I don’t want to address of where the teams goes from here, I am leaving that for the next post. But I would point out that this roster CAN play well, but a lot of little items are adding up to prevent them from winning. With proper coaching these items could be dealt with one by one, but Scott Arniel appears out of ideas.