I'm doing my best to withhold my opinion on the team or make any snap judgements until we're a little farther into the season. As we all know, there is truth to the statement that you can't make the playoffs in October, but you can put yourself out of them. With the team starting with a 2-2-0 record after facing the Sharks (twice), Blackhawks, and Wild, they're doing well enough.
It's no secret that it will take time for the team to hit their stride under Scott Arniel, and it's definitely an adjustment for the first time NHL head coach. But there are some questions to be raised that may become a concern at some point this season.
- What game plan does Arniel have?
We've heard about aggressiveness, puck possession, and playing up tempo. All the key words were hit after looking for a change from Ken Hitchcock's system. But what have they really shown thus far in the regular season? I felt that the opening game against San Jose showed the most aggressiveness we have seen. The team continually traded attacks and although there wasn't a lot of sustained pressure in the Sharks zone, the Jackets really limited the amount of time they spent protecting their own net.
For the power play, when the team has been able to set up their 1-3-1, they have looked deadly. Specifically Kristian Huselius and Nikita Filatov along the boards and into the face-off circles. But they've been able to get this successfully set up about once per game, letting a lot of man-advantage opportunities go to waste. Injuries happen, and with Kris Russell and Anton Stralman battling setbacks, reverting to Mike Commodore as your next point man is not a viable option for a team that hopes to make the playoffs. The power play clocking in a a 10.5% conversion rate is simply unacceptable. So who do we need to look at for an answer?
Meanwhile, the penalty kill isn't looking any better. Aside from a pair of shorthanded goals from R.J. Umberger, the Jackets currently sit 24th in the PK, letting in 5 goals on 21 kills.
- When are we going to see David Savard or John Moore?
The Sheldon Souray to Columbus talks seem to have died off, but if nagging injuries to Russell or Stralman continue to keep them off the ice, at what point do we look to make some type of move? Savard has looked the better of the two, as noted by the Dispatch today.
When all d-men are healthy, Commodore and his $3.75 million salary being a healthy scratch doesn't seem to be a great fit either. If a move could be made to clear out another roster spot, maybe it makes some sense to rotate in our 5-6-7 guys. This could help to keep guys fresh and to not overwhelm the younger guys in what is surely to be a long season.
- Where has Rick Nash been?
One player that has seemed to skate in under the radar is Rick Nash along with linemate Antoine Vermette. Nash has 1-0-1 and a minus-3 in 4 games, while Vermette has started with 0-1-1 and minus-2 in 4 games. I read somewhere that Nash just knows how streaky Huselius is, and with Juice's strong start he has just been trying to get him the puck. I might buy that if Nash had factored in on any of Huselius' 3 goals in 4 games. In fact, it's been Nikita Filatov who has had more luck connecting with Huselius, especially on the power play.
Nash needs to be a bigger threat if the Jackets are going to get healthily above .500, and it's no secret that the third and fourth lines have been a big factor in the team's wins against San Jose and Minnesota.
What burning issues do you see facing the team? Which do you think will work themselves out, and which might the team be kicking themselves for not addressing sooner? Let me hear your thoughts. It's never too early to let the season slip through your fingers.