Either my spam filter is out of order or this post is the real deal. My old boss, Drew, the guy who gave me my break into blogging and is one of the original CBJ non-Dispatch bloggers, has a few thoughts. So without further delays, here you go:
I can already hear the jeers from the peanut gallery: “Oh, that Drew. He quits blogging when he gets bored with it (or, y’know, when things look bleak), and then returns for the playoffs.”
Well, I’m a people pleaser by nature and hate to disappoint the weeping masses, so here it is: my Blue Jackets First Round Playoff Preview from the end of the bench (am I allowed to say that here?).
I figure we could start off with the crap that everybody else is telling you (or that you could very easily look up on your own).
• The Blue Jackets managed six points in six games against the Wings this season, posting a (3-3-0) record. The Wings managed seven points in six games, earning that extra point in an overtime loss to go (3-2-1) on the season against Columbus.
• In six (plus a bit of overtime) games, the Jackets have scored 17 goals. They’ve been shut out twice, and blasted a snowman on Joe Louis ice once. Detroit, on the other hand, has scored 18 goals in those 6+ games, never less than two or more than five.
• Special teams: Columbus has gone 2/21 (9.5%) on the man advantage, and killed only 19/25 (76%) penalties. That’s nearly 3 points below our normally stellar power play conversion rate of 12.2% (you missed me, didn’t you), and more than eight points below our middle-of-the-road PK numbers of 84.5. Detroit’s man advantage conversion rate of 24% is on par with their season average of 24.7%, and their kill rate of 90.5% is considerably higher than their season average of 80.4% (though I’m not sure that’s more attributable to our ineptitude or their outstanding ability).
• Advantage: Detroit. When all the history is taken into account, it’s (too) easy to chalk this up to a CBJ advantage, but we’re still not dominant and we’re prone to statistically abberant stretches. At least… I hope they’re statistically abberant. Plus, history doesn’t get to play in these games, it’s just the 20 guys on the bench.
Datsyuk, Zetterberg, and Hossa, oh my! Detroit rolls two (plus) strong scoring lines, one “sneaky” line, and one “checking” line. Possible line combinations are as follows:
1a- Datsyuk, Hossa, Holmstrom
1b- Zetterberg, Franzen, Cleary
3 – Filppula, Hudler, Samuelsson
4 – Maltby, Draper, Kopecky
Offensively, the top two lines are dangerous. This surprises no one. Both of these lines are going to go out hard, create scoring chances, and cause trouble for Steve Mason. I know that Tomas Holmstrom may want to go ahead and file for protection from my wife, because she is going to want him dead after the next 4-7 games (note to the authorities: she’s harmless… really).
The third line offers a bit of a repreive in comparison to the first two, but in no way should the Blue Jackets take this trio lightly. This line put up a combined 137 points this season (or… 3 more than the Jackets’ second line of Vermette/Umberger/Williams). Playing in the Hitchcock defensive system will be important to help take away time, space, and scoring opportunities for all three lines.
The fourth line does not offer much scoring punch, and is not as defensively sound as you might think given the names you see. Maltby, Draper, and Kopecky are a combined -29 on the season. My first reaction was, “well, yeah… the play against the top scoring lines each night. Not completely unexpected.” Not so fast, my friend. I clicked on over to Behind the Net and found some interesting stuff. No longer is this “Grind Line” facing the studs of the universe each night of the week, but rather they are facing the weakest competition compared to their teammates. Of the 621 NHL’ers who played 30+ games, all were in the bottom third of the NHL in terms of the Quality of Competition Faced. Draper is still a top notch face-off artist (2nd in the NHL at 60.3%), but is third on his team in both draws taken and draws won behind Datsyuk and Zetterberg. So what does this line do? They hit you, and they do it often. Every line can’t be expected to score, but this line will fill it’s time by attempting to wear down the opposing fowards, and possibly more important to us at this time… inexperienced defensemen.
Nash is dangerous most of the time, and after that it’s a matter of who else is feeling some mojo. Possible line combinations are as follows:
1 – Nash, Huselius, Malhotra
2 – Umberger, Vermette, Voracek
3 – Chimera, Peca, Modin/Novotny
4 – Torres, Williams, Boll/Dorsett
With Huselius expected to return to the ice for Game 1, the first line has the expectations of carrying the team offensively. What they need to be prepared for is some extra attention from the opposition, in terms of physical play. I fully expect the Wings to harass this line incessantly. Worst case scenario for them, it creates power play opportunities for the Jackets. And while that’s inherently worse than playing at even strength, I can’t say that I’d be as worried about the worst power play in the league as I would if they were ten points better on the man advantage. Best case scenario for them, it wears down our best players and could result in retaliatory penalties. Not only is this the best offensive line for the team, they are also arguably the top defensive trio, as well, both in terms of production (combined plus/minus of +21) and in terms of Quality of Competition Faced (all three are at the 80th percentile or higher in the NHL using the same qualifications noted above).
The second line is really the wild card for this Jackets team. I feel that if the Umberger/Vermette duo can regain some of that chemistry they had in the 5-6 games following Vermette’s arrival in Columbus, this creates another viable scoring line for the team. Possible additions to those two would be Voracek (as noted above from Puck Rakers), Williams, and Modin. I’d really like to see a healthy Modin on this line to create traffic in front of Osgood. The second line is less adept at preventing goals (combined -6 as configured above), but Umberger (top 15%) and Vermette (top 30%) still routinely face stiff competition. Voracek (bottom 35%) has been used in less of a stopper role and has not played on the top two lines as frequently. This is another area in which Modin (+2, top 22% of QualComp) would be welcome.
The third line is a checking line. Any goals are a bonus from this line. Compared to Detroit’s third line, a Blue Jacket line of Chimera/Peca/Novotny put up 51 points. I see these three used to wear down the opposition third line.
The fourth line is the noisy bunch, with Boll/Dorsett and Torres banging bodies. If Williams plays on this line, there will be some scoring touch, but mostly this line will take energy shifts and create havoc. You could close your eyes and hear this line on the ice. Just listen for the huge hits along the boards.
Advantage: Detroit. More consistent scoring and better defensive play from the top three lines gives them the edge.
Lidstrom and Rafalski lead the way, and that Kronwall kid isn’t bad, either. Possible pairings are as follows:
1 – Lidstrom, Rafalski
2 – Kronwall, Stuart
3 – Lebda, Meech/Chelios/Lilja?
That top pairing is world class in all respects. They score (both had 59 points), they have a fantastic +/- rating (combined +48), and they play against the toughest the opponent has to offer with both men in the top 15 the NHL has to offer.
The second pairing has scoring (Kronwall had 51 points), and are good defenders (combined -1 and both around the top 40% area in terms of quality of competition). As you can see, Detroit gets production from their blueliners. They have three rear guards with 50+ points. Columbus? Zero. Fedor Tyutin is closest at 34 points.
The third pairing is a little more up in the air, and I’m sure that Coach Babcock would love to have Andreas Lilja back in the lineup. At this time, he is questionable. None of the potentials play against particularly difficult competition (Lilja is the highest, checking in at around the bottom 14%). I’d expect to see this pairing (whoever it ends up containing) to see time against the Noise Line where they’ll just have to keep from getting squashed.
A shutdown pairing, and then the rest of them. If there are more than 2 goals from the blueline in this series, I’ll be shocked. Possible pairings are as follows:
1 – Commodore, Hejda
2 – Tyutin, Klesla
3 – Russell, Methot
Commodore and Hejda are the shutdown pairing on this team, with a combined plus/minus of +34 and both among the top 15 in the NHL in terms of quality of competition faced. They certainly have their work cut out for them, whichever of the top two lines they face. Expect heavy hitting, sound positional play, and plenty of blocked shots. Don’t expect much in the way of points.
The pairing of Tyutin and Klesla could be what makes or breaks the entire series. If they can hold their opponents relatively in check, it could be a series. If they lack the competitive composure and discipline to help out their goaltender, it could get ugly.
Russell and Methot will see either of those bottom two lines, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see their ice time drop just a little. Russell is among of the Jacket defenders who seem very comfortable with the puck, which is a positive on the breakout. But his plus/minus of -10 is the worst among the defenders on the team, and he’s faced some of the easiest competition of any NHL’er for the second season in a row. He will be placed on the ice very carefully by the coaching staff.
Advantage: Detroit (sheesh, who’s writing this, anyway?). Both squads have great shutdown pairings, but Detroit gets offense from the back end, something Columbus hasn’t seen consistently.
Chris Osgood is the man of the hour. Ty Conklin has proved more than serviceable as a 1a this season, but until the three-time Cup winner proves that he’s unable to make the grade, I don’t think the former Jacket backup sees the ice. Osgood is a perfectly serviceable goalie who gets a lot of help from those in front of him. On the radio yesterday, Coach Babcock made the following comment when asked who his goalie was, “how many other three-time Cup winners do you know besides Martin Brodeur?” While this is a more than fair point, I’d argue that Brodeur was a much bigger factor in those Devils’ Cups and that Osgood was more of a benefactor of the massive talent pool surrounding him. But does it really matter?
Rookie Steve Mason will be the man. Barring something horrific (yes, knock on wood if it makes you feel better), backup netminder Wade Dubielewicz will only be keeping my seat warm the rest of the season (at the end of the bench… get it?). The 20-year old Mason will have to play as big as he has all season long, and will likely have to face a lot of traffic in front of (and on) him. Expect the Red Wings to not only pepper him with shots from all over, but also to “make life difficult”. I don’t think anyone would condone running a goalie, but please make sure if you’re watching the game with Aunt Berta to have her put down the lead-rimmed crystal before the game so it doesn’t go through your flat screen TV. Just sayin’.
Advantage: Columbus. Yes, experience and all kinds of tangible evidence is on the side of Detroit. But the stats are with Mr. Mason, and if his defensemen can clear his sight lines and keep some shots from getting his way, somebody in Podunk, Ohio will finally realize why Scott Howson didn’t trade Steve Mason for Brad Richards last year.
What it all boils down to
Detroit wins if… they apply pressure, stay patient and play their game. They have a noticeable skill and experience advantage and could go all the way, but if they stumble out of the gate while they’re looking down the road it could be interesting.
Columbus wins if… they apply pressure, stay patient and play their game. Seriously, shouldn’t that be the mantra for any playoff club? They will have to force the Red Wings to be on their heels, and must work the puck in deep to wear down the opposition. They have a size advantage, and will have to methodically use it to make it out alive.
Drew’s Prediction: Detroit in six. If you know me well enough, you knew this was coming. It should be a good series. I expect heavy hitting, an average of five goals combined each game, and a minimum of one shutout. The madness starts in a few days, folks, let’s rock and roll.