Columbus Doesn't Suck.
It's always a neat moment when you notice a post getting picked up by a larger national blog or hockey outlet, particular when it's one of the "big dogs" in national media like getting linked off NHL.com, or seeing a post highlighted by Puck Daddy. It's a thrill of "Hey, I wrote something that people actually think is good!"
That joy turns into the feeling of a rather un-gentle punch in the nuts when you realize that your writing is being turned around to trash the team you love.
Case in point, a link today in Puck Daddy's "What We Learned" feature. WWL is written by a quote-unquote Humor Guy, Ryan Lambert, who is mostly known for being a consummate ass. WWL has changed over the last couple years from being "wacky and / or funny things on each NHL team from the past week" and is now more of a summary of recent events. (Hence his breakdown of the Alexander Semin contract year vs. future perfomance debate, which is actually pretty good.)
How do the Jackets figure in from this past weekend? Well, here's what Mr. Lambert wrote:
Columbus Blue Jackets: For some reason, people seemed to think the 8-1 bludgeoning the Jackets dropped on St. Louis earlier this week was in some way indicative that Columbus was about to break out, rather than a statistical anomaly. Then they went and got clowned by the Avs and everyone seems resigned to accepting that yes, Columbus does indeed kind of suck.
The article he links? Our recap of Friday night's loss against the Avs.
Clowning though that game may have been, I'm not really sure how resigned we are to that fact. The recap spends time on pointing out the team's mistakes, and the comments that you, the readers, left sure don't seem resigned. Looking around other Blue Jackets blogs, I see plenty of people who were quite upset and frustrated by Friday's game. Resignation doesn't look like this. Or this. Or this. Frustration? Questions? Annoyance? Yep. But not resignation. Resignation implies that nothing will change so just accept it. I don't think Jackets fans accept bad losses. They want to see the team improve and continue to challenge, and I've seen more than a few people who would rather see players shipped out of town than accept another 5-1 or 4-1 loss.
Nor am I sure how a team that is 9-6 and yet to lose back to back games is considered to suck. They're still in a playoff position, still have a +3 goal differential (better than three of the teams in the West who would be in a playoff position if the season ended today, in fact), and went 6-4 in the last ten games.
The New York Islanders have lost their last ten games in a row, and just fired their coach. I'd say it's fair to say they currently "kind of suck." The Edmonton Oilers got bent over for touchdowns in two of their three games this weekend, losing 7-1, 4-3, and 8-2. They kind of suck. The New Jersey Devils, long the bastion of defense first hockey in the NHL, are currently rocking a -23 goal differential. They kind of suck.
At 15 games into the season, the 9-6 start for the Jackets matches last season's point totals for the best start in franchise history (in fact, it improves on it, as last year's start included 2 OT losses). They're slightly ahead of the 7-6-2 pace set by the team which went to the playoffs in 2008-2009, and are one of only two teams currently in playoff position in the entire NHL who have not lost in overtime or the shootout. (The other team? The LA Kings, who the Jackets face on Wednesday night.) I'm not going to start a big debate over the charity point system, but it's worth noting that if it were removed, the Jackets suddenly leap from 8th place to 4th, and one of the teams ahead of them (Phoenix) would be likely to drop straight out of contention.
I'm still not seeing how Columbus sucks.
They're a team that replaced their head coach over the summer - one of four who did so.
As of today, two of those four teams - Tampa Bay and Columbus - are in playoff positions.
Tampa? 3-6-1 in their last 10 games.
New Jersey? 3-6-1.
I still don't see how that sucks.
In fact, I found some fascinating information from Gus Katsaros, the pro scouting co-ordinator for McKeen's Hockey.
One year ago, at the same point in the calendar year, the Jackets had allowed almost one hundred and fourty more shots. (569 vs 437.) They had allowed 63 goals. This year? They've allowed 38. That's good enough for fourth in the West. In fact, it's only one goal shy of third.
Does their offense need to get untracked? Yes, that'd be good - the team's 41 goals for are the 2nd lowest of teams in playoff position at this point. But on the other hand, we're seeing Rick Nash starting to heat up off a slow start, Derick Brassard came one game short of setting a club record scoring streak, and we've begun to see players like Jake Voracek and Antoine Vermette get themselves going.
It's also worth considering that even as their power play struggles and their offense has come in fits and starts, this is a team that is missing it's third leading scorer from the past two seasons. It is a team has been without a veteran checking player brought in to provide defensive responsibility and locker room leadership. It is a team who lost one of their best offensive blueliners for most of the pre-season and the first four regular season games. It is a team who have been without one of the players who was supposed to be their top shutdown defenders for most of the year due to injury or roster decisions. Oh, and they're also a team that played that last loss, the supposed tipping point, without their leading scorer and captain.
But some of the new blood has stepped up. The defense has tightened up, despite some of the rough patches, with Rusty Klesla in particular leading the way. Despite Steve Mason's struggles in some games, he's still been in net for five solid wins, and when he's faltered, the team has a solid alternative. They've delivered impressive wins on the road, and have bounced back from each loss, refusing to fall into a losing streak.
Columbus doesn't suck.
And one way or another...they keep winning.