Game 20: Jackets Break Free

The Jackets' trip to Long Island started on a bit of a surprising note, as Nikita Filatov was benched for the game - there was no explanation during the game, but it was later learned by the Dispatch that Filatov overslept today and missed a team meeting, and was scratched as a result. 

With a shuffled lineup where Derek Dorsett was promoted to the second line, Andrew Murray to the third line, and Kyle Wilson came in on the fourth line, it's no surprise that the team looked a bit off-kilter early.

Neither side was able to get much going in the first ten minutes of play, but it would be the Islanders who found some early traction - first from Trevor Gillies jumping Jared Boll after a clean hit on John Tavares, and Boll was really left unable to defend himself, seeing as he was hit from behind and never really got himself into the fight. Despite the fact that Gillies unloaded on Boll without giving the scrappy winger a chance to drop his gloves, he would not get an instigator, though Gillies did pick up a game misconduct.

Taking energy from the fight, the Isles came out buzzing, and Trent Hunter would score less than 30 seconds later, grabbing a bouncing puck across the left faceoff dot from Frans Nielsen and threading the puck into the corner of the net above Mathieu Garon's shoulder. 

However, the Jackets would get their chance to come back into the game a few minutes later when Matt Martin would go to the box for a nasty hit on Andrew Murray, and double up their advantage when former Jacket Zenon Konopka was whistled for grabbing and freezing the puck with his glove after the face off, earning him a delay of game penalty. 

The 5 on 3 power play generated several chances that Rick DiPietro was able to stop, or the Islanders PK to get out of danger, but finally Kris Russel, in the lineup for the injured Marc Methot, was able to get the puck to Derick Brassard, who took a shot at the net from near the right faceoff dot, and Antoine Vermette was waiting to clean up the rebound, popping it past DiPietro.

Even as Jackets fans celebrated and Islander fans took a deep, frustrated breath, the Jackets were right back at it, with R.J. Umberger taking the puck into the Islander zone and passing to Vermette, who took another shot that bounced around the Islander crease, and this time Chris Clark, temporarily on the wing as Dorsett came off for a line change, would be able to take the rolling puck and shoot it past DiPietro at the side of the net. Umberger's assist would set a franchise record for a 7 game assist streak, breaking the previous record held by Geoff Sanderson.

The Jackets would take a 2-1 lead into the first intermission, where the team unveiled their new Third Jerseys, and a new mascot that looks....questionable, at best. Oh, well.

Perhaps terrified by the new mascot, the Jackets came out a bit flat, and the Islanders would jump on it - less than a minute into the period, Mathieu Garon would give up a big rebound to a Frans Nielsen shot, and Michael Grabner would backhand it into the net for a 2-2 tie.

Even worse, just over a minute later, Mike Commodore and John Tavares would go to the front of the net after a Bruno Gervais shot, and the puck would bounce off the glass, carom off Garon's back, and onto the ice at the corner of the net where Tavares would be able to poke it past Garon even as the big defenseman checked the young forward to the ice.

With the Isles up 3-2, the murmurs of "trap game" became louder and louder, but Head Coach Scott Arniel put his foot down, calling a time out and giving the team somewhere between a pep talk and an ass-kicking to settle them down. 

Whatever he said, it worked - the team started pushing back, counterattacking into the Islanders zone, and a few minutes later, Jan Hejda would drill a shot in from the point and R.J. Umberger would fight his way past Jamie Wisnewski, dropping to one knee before roofing the puck past DiPietro to tie the game. 

From there, the Jackets and Islanders would trade power play chances, and the teams would return to the locker room tied at 3-3.

The third period wouldn't solve anything, though there were several "Wow!" plays - particularly a defensive play by Nash with just over 8 minutes left in the period when he launched himself through mid air to break up an Islanders passing play and knock the puck into the corner. The Jackets would also lose Mike Commodore for the last five minutes of the period, but it would turn out to be an equipment issue with his skates, and not another blueliner going down to injury.

Going to OT, the Islanders would dominate the first two minutes of extra time, including a two on one between Tavares and Matt Martin that Garon would challenge and save, grabbing the puck out of midair. On the ensuing faceoff, energized by their goalie's heroic save, the Jackets roared back up ice, and Kris Russell would fight his way through all four Islanders on the ice before firing the puck at Rick DiPietro, leaving a rebound at the edge of the crease off the goaltender's leg pad, and Jakub Voracek, who had been frustrated by several missed chances during the game, would be able to grab the puck and stuff it home into the net, giving the Jackets the overtime win and breaking free of the trap with two huge points in hand.

Your final score: Jackets 4 - Islanders 3 (OT).

At 20 games, they say, you are who your record says you are.

The Jackets are now 14-6, tied for the lead in the Central Division and the Western Conference with the Detroit Red Wings, who they will face in a home and home series this weekend. They are a team that keeps finding a way to win, and in the three times they have gone into overtime, they have grabbed the extra point, not leaving it on the table. They are a team that has gone 8-1 on the road, and have now tied a franchise record with a five game winning streak.

Their record says this team is damned good. I'm inclined to agree.

Standard Bearers: 

  • R. J. Umberger - Perhaps it comes with his experience in Philly, but Umberger just keeps having huge games against the Islanders. Setting up one goal to give the team an early lead, and then scoring to tie the game at a critical moment, he wasn't going to let this one get away.
  • Kris Russell - Though he wasn't perfect tonight, after being asked to work on his offensive production, Russell returned to the lineup and delivered a pair of assists, including setting up the game winner.
  • Chris Clark - The veteran forward saw time on the power play, on the PK, and scored a big goal to give the Jackets the 2-1 lead. His 4 shots on goal tonight tied Dorsett and Nash for the most by a Jacket tonight.
  • Mathieu Garon - He had some shaky moments, and two of the goals that went in on him were just awful, but when the team needed him to keep them alive, he delivered.

Bottom Of The Barrel:

  • Rick Nash - The captain made some good defensive plays, but it felt like the Islanders were able to take him out of this game, especially late. 
  • Kyle Wilson - After sitting out a few games as a healthy scratch, I expected to see Wilson come out and really bring it to show why he should stay as a regular part of the line up. He didn't have a bad game, per se, but he didn't really do much to stand out.
  • Third Period Effort - The team as a whole felt like they coasted at bit at the end of the third period and early in OT. I know it's the fifth game in seven nights, and some fatigue is expected, but it wasn't pretty.
  • Nikita Filatov's Alarm Clock - I can't help but think that with some of the wide open ice, Filatov's skill would have been helpful. Oh, well.

The Jackets will return to Columbus tonight, and take on the Detroit Red Wings on Friday night at Nationwide Arena, where the new jerseys will see their on-ice debut. The puck drops at 7pm.

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