There was no secret to anyone on what former Blue Jackets’ head coach Ken Hitchcock wanted from his team. He wanted a tough minded, tough bodied, tough defense and if the team could score a couple goals that would be nice too.
Obviously, the path to getting to what he wanted either was a road with too many places that players could get lost or the players could not follow the directions. Thus, the team struggled and Hitchcock was fired.
Enter new head coach Scott Arniel and based off of his past in Manitoba, it was going to be up tempo where he understood their would be odd-man rushes coming back the other way but also he knew that he was going to put more offensive pressure than what the Blue Jackets were accustomed to. Most Jackets fans were looking forward to seven-to-five type games.
The result so far has been anything but high scoring for the Blue Jackets as they are the last team in the league to score more than three goals in a game. The defense is pinching more often and putting more pressure on opposing teams but the goals are as yet to come. What has come in bunches so far are the type of things that would warm the cackles of Hitchcock’s heart.
Do you think Hitch would like to have a guy that is top five in the league in blocking shots. Rostislav Klesla has blocked 37 shots in thirteen games which ranks him fifth in the NHL. To block that many shots you either are tough minded or insane. Whichever it is, his game has benefited from his willingness to sacrifice his body. Klesla is currently the top player in the NHL in plus/minus rating at a plus 12 (tied with Loui Eriksson). This is a player that was a collective minus 60 for his career before this year.
This type of play is catchy as all players have been throwing their bodies in front of pucks including players like Nikita Filatov and Derick Brassard. Players that never seem to get the message of what Hitchcock wanted but is getting and executing that message from Arniel. Because all the players are pulling on the rope together, the team is top ten in the league in goals against. The would make Hitchcock as gitty as a school girl.
The other part of the team right now is their lack of scoring as the Blue Jackets are currently tied with two other teams for 27th in the league in scoring. This would get little more than a shrug of the shoulders as he would go on how the team needed to be better on the penalty kill and move up from their 17th in the league ranking.
Arniel has mentioned very little about the penalty kill and is more on how this team can get pucks into the net. What makes this so frustrating is that goal scoring can be practiced but it really can’t be taught. You either know how to score goals or you don’t. That’s why there are snipers and there are grinders.
As this season has started for the Blue Jackets, it’s evident that hard nosed and low scoring hockey still can win in this league at least for the short term. The problem is the very small margin for mistakes. That is fine for the playoffs where every game has small margin for error but to be under the grind of an 82 game season feeling like your trying to put a piece of thread through the eye of a needle will crush you mentally. Arniel knows that and knows the Hitchcock