Tonight is "Beggars' Night" in my town. What is that, you ask? It is central Ohio's version of Trick or Treat . . .but rarely, if ever, actually falls on October 31. Adding to the weirdness is the fact that each community sets its own date and times for the festivities (yes, there are times as well, with most communities limiting trick or treating to a two hour window). I scratched my head when I first heard about it when we moved here 21 years ago, and I'm still scratching my head today. Be that as it may, I have our front yard decked out in appropriately spooky fashion, with various items that scream, screech and go bump in the night.
Of course, Halloween is all about the strange, the bizarre, the macabre. It's about putting on costumes and insuring that things are not what they seem. It about the sheer fun of being scared --- and scaring others. That's the trick. Getting rewarded for your efforts is the treat. Applying that definition, the first ten games or so of the NHL season have certainly fulfilled the Halloween spirit in Columbus and elsewhere. Let's venture out into the darkness and see what is lurking out there.
Of course, the Blue Jackets have been among the scariest creatures on the ice in the early going. We won't provide a full inventory of the Little Shop of Horrors that has been Blue Jackets Hockey in October, but would anyone in their wildest dreams have thought that a club with this talent could go winless in its first eight contests --- and surrender 37 goals in the process? That includes 13 goals surrendered to the province of Ontario (7 to Ottawa and 6 to the Maple Leafs, and an 0 - 4 record vs. the State of New York, losing two to the Rangers, and one each to Buffalo and the Islanders. Sergei Bobrovsky's concession that he had lost his confidence only added to the bizaare sequence of events, and just when you thought that things could not get darker, Ryan Johansen becomes afflicted with a mysterious illness that apparently manifests itself through extreme fatigue. Massive denials of a cardiac issue were made, and Johansen skated on his own yesterday. However, there is a big difference between skating on your own and playing 60 minutes of NHL hockey. He is officially "day to day", which affords some solace, until you realize that Brandon Dubinsky was "day to day" last year . . . until he had surgery. Scary, eh?
This version of the Rocky Horror Picture Show reached its zenith in fright factor for many when Todd Richards was replaced with The Dark Lord of NHL Coaching -- John Tortorella. The moans and shrieks from the fan base in the aftermath of this hire exceeded the offerings of even the spookiest Haunted House. Armageddon was nigh --- except that it wasn't. For those who actually listened or watched his welcoming press conference, he had some astute observations, suggested some reasonable steps, and was both entertaining and intelligent in his approach. Through three games. he has a 2 -1 record, has identified some conditioning issues, and his head has not done a 360 spin once. Although the first period vs. the Devils (coincidence or demonic influence?) was pretty much unwatchable hockey, the third period was one of the best of this young season, and the efforts defensively and in goal were definitely the best of the season. So maybe this guy isn't that scary after all.
Other positive signs that indicate more treats than horrors may be around the corner for the Blue Jackets include the play of Boone Jenner (tied for 6th in the NHL with six goals), Cam Atkinson and Brandon Dubinsky up front, the improving chemistry and effectiveness of the Ryan Murray-Cody Goloubef defensive pairing, and the improved form of Sergei Bobrovsky. Against New Jersey, the entire squad looked more confident, particularly as they fought through some awful play and found their respective games. Thanks to the obliging nature of the Eastern Conference competition, the Blue Jackets are only six points out of a wild card spot in the East. So, that big, black eight ball that they put themselves squarely behind is getting a bit smaller and less formidable.
Lest you think that Columbus has a monopoly on horror, let's move on to other spooky venues. Let's venture just three hours east to the Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh, where Beau Bennett (2) has more goals than Sidney Crosby (1). Crosby is 1-2-3 with a minus-1 through nine games, and is in danger of having his face appear on a milk carton in the near future. The Penguins have managed to eke out a 5-4 record over those nine games, due in large part to Marc-Andre Fleury and the defensive effort, which have combined to limit opponents to just 1. 89 goals per game. That's a good thing, because the Penguins -- with the likes of Crosby, Malkin & Kessel -- are scoring just 1.78 goals per game. Yikes!
Heading 2,800 miles west, we find the only team more offensively challenged than the Penguins -- namely the Anaheim Ducks, who come in with a handy 1.00 GPG average on offense, dead last in the NHL. Unlike Pittsburgh, the Ducks have not been bailed out by defense or work in goal, and have a 1-6-2 record through nine games. That includes wasting a 3 - 0 advantage vs. Dallas in their last game, an effort that had the hair of fans, coaches and front office standing on end. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf have precisely zero goals between them. At least Getzlaf has appendicitis as an excuse. The coaching vultures have begun to circle through the smog in Anaheim, which has now usurped Columbus as the scariest individual venue in the league. However, Calgary is pushing hard to rival Anaheim for the title.
However, the absolute scariest place to be in the NHL these days is the Central Division of the Western Conference. Consider the absolutely horrifying plight of the Winnipeg Jets (who fittingly come to Nationwide Arena for a Halloween contest on Saturday night). Through nine games, they are 5-3-1, with 11 points. That would be good enough for 2nd in the Pacific, but places them only 5th in the Central. If the playoffs were today, they would be on the outside looking in, as the Pacific would land its top three, regardless of point totals, and the Wild Card slots would go to Minnesota (13) and Chicago (12). No doubt about it -- the Central is the scariest place to be for a hockey club these days, as somebody there is going to be left without a chair when the music stops. Then you will hear some real wailing and shrieking.
So, hopefully these tales of scary hockey venues will put you in the proper frame of mind, whether you celebrate Beggars' Night or Halloween. I suspect that the Blue Jackets will provide more treats than horrors as the season moves forward. As for me, I plan to go home, activate my various scary decorations, don my John Tortorella mask and go forth to scare some fans. Think it'll work? Stay tuned. . . Boo!