Friday, January 16, 2009

Jason Blake is looking like a hockey player again

I have to admit I was never overly impressed by Jason Blake when he was on Long Island. His successful was in his final year in New York was a by-product of playing with Alexei Yashin. When John Ferguson signed him as a free agent in 2007 I was convinced that the team would over time regret it. I don't get that excited about hat tricks which included empty-net goals but last night Blake showed a lot of grit on goals one and two. Even on the empty-netter Blake drove to the net, was tripped on the way in and crashed into the goal immediately after the puck crossed the line to ice a 6-4 win over Carolina. Blake's first goal was a slick wraparound and his diving shot (pictured above) that beat Cam Ward later in the same period was a beauty. In addition, he did a lot of the leg work on the winning goal by Kaberle to finish with a career high 5 points.

Now one game doesn’t make up for a season plus of mediocre hockey. But even I have to concede that you have to give Blake a mulligan for last season because of health issues. Not only was he a bad hockey player, but he admits he was also a lousy teammate and spouse. But in the past 6 weeks since being paired with Domenic Moore, Blake has played some decent hockey. He has abandoned his harmless 50-foot wrist shots and has begun to drive to the net to create legitimate scoring chances. The numbers back this up. Last year he compiled the 5th highest shot total in the NHL with 332 but only scored 15 goals. His shooting percentage was an embarrassing 4.5%. This year he has increased his shooting percentage to 9.6% which places him tied for 287th in the league but no worse than stars like Henrik Zetterberg, Brad Richards and Alexei Kovalev. Blake has scored 13 goals this season on 136 shots which still places him in the top 25 for shots on net. However, this does not mean that the Leafs are getting value out of this contact or that he is suddenly tradable. Jason Blake still presents Brian Burke with a significant challenge as he attempts to rebuild the Leafs.